You Make Me Feel As Though Spring Has Sprung

By Chris Collins

Spring has arrived in Canberra in a white dress and has been merrily playing tennis with winter for a couple of weeks. Pear and rowan blossom erupted in late August (which, to a person from the Northern Hemisphere, that’s February and thus unflinching winter) and in the sunshine one bravely left one’s coat at home and stepped out, squinting in the sunshine. It gathered pace, then Wattle Day broke. Since arriving in Canberra last year, this glorious golden tree or shrub with its little yellow puffy balls of flowers in huge clumps has utterly enchanted me. I’d been wondering what the hell all this yellow stuff was on my morning frosty jogs, then on the First of September we climbed the mountain at Camel’s Hump in the Tidbinbilla range and enjoyed the first t-shirt day of the year. The sun shone and golden wattle in full sun smiles choked the blue hills and grey trees. Another colour to Australia’s palette of Blue sky, Red earth and White eucalypt trunks, the very end in definitions for those colours. 

Giddy with excitement as cherry, then apple blossom and then wisteria swelling in pinks, whites and purples, I continued through Canberra with that sort of …stomach smile you have, when you are perfectly happy and all around you is so glorious that a face is not enough to smile with as the joy pierces down deeper. And I am remembering how this time last year, Floriade opened, and I wandered through purple tulips and pink petunias, veritably drunk on fragrance, weeping and throwing my head in the beds.

Now, as a Pom, I really don’t want you to become complacent about the loveliness of Floriade. Perhaps this year, when we don’t have it, it’ll refresh your joy of the thing. To really show you how good you’ve got it, I want to tell you about the British equivalent, on one of our rare public holidays. First, take an English Stately Home of either the National Trust or English Heritage variety. It will have a small walled kitchen garden with espalier apples, pears and cherries, which is all very nice, and a green space before the building with planting. You will enjoy this for the brief twenty minutes between the rain showers in your coat and spend much of the day thinking about how lovely this must be on glorious sunny days, and what a pity it isn’t like that now. There will be formal planting in very regular shapes and patterns, nowhere near as playful or joyful as ‘daggy knit jumper’ (which I had to google), nor do they include homages to nature, like reflecting the shape of the blue Murrumbidgee river in forget-me-nots and pansies. This garden fits into perhaps that space to your right when you enter Floriade from the lake, where the white tent is. That’s all you’re getting. 

There will be no (what seemed to me) full blown music festival, no huge variety of stalls and food places. There will be one café, from which you will be required to re-mortgage your house to buy a salad, served to you buy a snob in pearls who will eye you sharply if you take a cheeky beer from the top shelf of the fridge, as if it was hardcore porn. There will be a gift shop where you will not find cool silk skirts, but the same ‘local’ honey and fudge and jam which will be found identically in National Trust properties from the Orkney islands to the Scilly Isles (just in case those are unfamiliar; that’s north of Scotland and then off the south west coast of Cornwall) with standard wool blankets and books about how you can make your life more ‘hygge’ if you just spend more money on commercial items like more national trust blankets. 

Put this place in the arse of nowhere down dodgy country lanes with insufficient overpriced parking that takes an hour and a half to get to, then by 5pm, get out, get OUT and go home. It will cost you the equivalent of fifty dollars per person, not even including the reviving cup of tea you had to get out of the rain, and the ice cream your children (who are still ravenous, and so are you) begged for, and you can’t afford to come again now, on one of those elusive sunny days, and there isn’t another public holiday for three months anyway, which is a full season back in the UK and you can bet it’ll be gale force winds by then. 

The idea that you combine acres of flowers, festival music, food, and markets in one place, then keep this jazz going for freefor a month is a bloody public service to the well-being and general joy of your town’s populace. Never let it go.

Now the weather will be getting to BBQs. We’ll have our spring public holiday in early October, which, back home is the equivalent of our early April Easter weekends which are invariably crap but last year was 27 degrees! What a glorious weekend that was! The gentleman and I started with Nightfest at Floriade, watching live bands, drinking beers and eating tandoori chicken. Then a super industrious Saturday took us to Epic farmers’ market in which I, at least, enjoyed breakfast oysters, then a trip to Mount Majura vineyard for an incredibly generous wine tasting, in which we bought…a fair few deliciously rose petal hinted bottles of Riesling, then strolled leisurely along the lake under the trees and watched England win the rugby in a pub. Sunday, we both chased our respective running goals, then I put on a BEAUTIFUL silk skirt (which I’d bought at Floriade) and spent the afternoon lingering in the sun at said festival, with a glass of wine, listening to the music. Later that evening we went to a friend’s house for literally THE NICEST chicken I’ve ever eaten and watched a possum in their cheery tree, while we drank wine. On Monday we cycled around the Eastern loop in the dappled shade and entered Jerrabomberra wetlands, that, back home in England, between marking books in my cold, grey classroom, I would stare at longingly on googlemaps before we moved. We stopped for a picnic of fine duck and pistachio terrine, smoked salami, bread, apples, home-made guacamole and a very fine cheese that a cheeky bloody raven stole from us. Saw an egret, watched an eagle. All this is coming to you, Canberra. After five solid days of smiling, which, incongruously, began in an unlikely little garden in a bus depot in Tuggeranong while I ate my lunch in the sunshine with little blue fairy wrens capering at my feet and wattle birds and rosellas flitting above me, my face was quite sore. Relief came when it rained, and a more gentle, background contentment settled in my intestines in place of all this heady, dizzy joy.

But I must take you back to an amusing observation I made at the wonder that is Floriade. As I perched on a stool, in a hat, with my pretty skirt and glass of wine, I watched all the pretty people. Floriade draws people from all over Australia and whole extended families flock to Canberra, dressed in their finest, to gape at the flowers, ‘looking where the lilies blow,’ and picnic on the shady banks of the lakes. It makes you realise Canberra is not as diverse as you think, when whole families in gloriously beautiful saris spread out tangy scented feasts on the grass. And while looking about for my next favourite sari, I saw some lovely looking ladies in a variety of beautiful dresses, some even in high heels.

And I …tensed. See, I’m British. I apologise often, but I can’t help it. And I know bloody well, that if you have a gloriously sunny day that is getting rather on the warm side, lots of wine and beer readily available, and people dressed up to the nines at a free event there’s only one thing that can come of this.

A fight.

So I winced. I tried not to look at the pretty dresses, or unwittingly attract attention with my lazy eye that could be misconstrued. I waited for hostility to vibrate in the air. But it never came! Whaddya know, this might be a country where people can handle the sun with their drink. This isn’t the moat of Rochester castle in Kent, south England on a warm Spring Bank Holiday where shit is kicking off in three directions at once and the safest thing to do is get off the street and go down a bottle of wine in the Italian so you can re-emerge as the new scariest thing in town that night. This isn’t an Essex rural pub garden with a little beer festival on, where everyone’s got their guns out and won’t put sun cream on or drink a bit of water between pints, until you’ve already nearly got caught up in one fight on your way back from the loo and you’re about to enter another as you lunge for the taxi you booked that some idiot is trying to get in. This is a nice place. With nice people.So, it is rubbish that Floriade won’t be the Floriade that we know this year. But the weather sustains us, we can have those BBQs and picnics and hikes and strolls. So keep faith. And hop on your bike and go flower hunting around the ACT!

Chris Collins is a Morris dancing, shanty singing, narrowboating English teacher who writes. Her writing has appeared in Not Very Quiet, Cicerone Journal and Enchanted Conversation, among others. She has been commended in the Rose Francombe award. 

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