I think we have over 20 camellia trees here – it is too rainy for me to go out and count them so it’s on my long list of ‘things to do’. Anthony planted most of them when he and his mother and brother first came here (he was 21 I think so it was before I was born and that’s why I don’t necessarily know all the details).
After we got married, he started planting more – I’m not quite sure why and, not being the least bit interested in gardening, I didn’t take much notice. But one day, on one of his rare days off from milking the cows, Anthony coaxed me to hop in the ute and drive one hour north to a camellia nursery called Heavenly Gardens. Booooooring, I thought, as I strapped little toddler Ming into his car seat, but I resigned myself.
When we got there, we were greeted by the owner, an ancient looking woman, almost bent double with a back condition, like an upside down L. She and one of the men who worked there, showed us through forests of camellias while I tried to allay my own boredom by allaying Ming’s. Then, all of a sudden, I saw it, a tree in full flower, each one like a ballerina. It was nothing like any of the camellias we had at home; it was much more beautiful and it was really unusual. My interest sparked, I inquired about it but the elderly woman said it was the only one she had, it was very rare and it was definitely not for sale. Her off-sider pointed out to me that it was planted in the ground and well established so there was no way she would sell it to me.
It came time for morning tea and the elderly woman and her off-sider welcomed us into a shed to share tea and cake and we sat down together while Ming vroomed around the shed with a pretend car. I said to the elderly woman that I was not a gardener but I really loved the tree and, with a twinkle in her eye, she told me that the boys would have to dig it out of the ground, and that she really didn’t want to sell it. “I wouldn’t take anything less than $350,” she murmured, looking into the distance nonchalantly.
“It’s a deal!” I exclaimed. Anthony, who was sitting next to me, had overheard this little exchange and pinched me on the bum, whispering, “Are you crazy? It’s only worth $50 at most. Nobody pays $350 for a camellia.”
But already, the elderly woman had somehow signalled her troops and three men, including her off-sider (who later told us he was a nephew), were walking away from the shed with shovels in their hands. My heart did a grin flip! I pulled my money out of my back pocket and gave it to the elderly woman who smiled softly at me. Anthony sighed and hurried down to fetch the ute. Then he helped the men load the tree on and I shook hands with nephew who told us to drive out and around the side of the nursery. He had a mysterious expression on his face.
Well, we drove around and he loaded three more potted camellias onto the ute. They weren’t the same as my tree but they were still lovely. The nephew said, “The old girl really ripped you off, so this is to make up for it. She won’t know.”
Not long after, we heard that the elderly woman had died and that Heavenly Gardens had closed down. By this time Anthony had planted my tree for me and look at it now – 16 years later!
I am going to pick some now and take them into Anthony at the nursing lodge.