At this time of year you would expect gardening guru Margret Sirl’s garden to be overflowing with all sorts bright of colours and contrasts like the Australian equivalent of Monet’s garden. But it’s not.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be. A pile of mulch lays on the flowerless front lawn and pot after pot of cuttings line the edges of her new yard.
“I’ve gone from a one acre block to this, I’ve only been here three months. I’ve already started planting. Just a little bit each day but it will get there.”
Margaret has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2019 Australia Day Honours for her service to domestic horticulture, and to the community.
Among her OAM citation’s notable roles and achievements are as a host of the regular gardening segment on ABC South East Radio since 1988 and as co-owner of Sirl's Garden Centre, 1979-1995.
She is also a life member and patron of the Bega and District Garden Club, in which she has been a member since the 1960s; founding member of the Beautiful Bega Committee in the 1980s; inaugural president of the Bega Floral Art Group (1988) and current patron; patron of the Batemans Bay Garden Club; member of Bega Evening View Club since 1979; and a volunteer at Hillgrove Nursing Home “for many years”.
Margaret recently left behind a well established garden and nursery in North Bega for a smaller house closer to town. A life-long passion and dedication to gardening meant that as well as packing up her beautiful collection of delicate floral tea cups, her long-time companion Matilda the cat, and her trusty horticultural books, she also took her collection of rare bulbs and plants.
“I was cutting, taking bits off, and propagating to bring with me. Many of the plants I can’t get rid of – they are a part of me.”
Planted in a large pot behind a small dry stone wall that Margaret has been building, is a rose cutting. A rose that Margaret said “goes way back when”. She described the roses that will grow as “blousey, mauve pink, cabbage roses the size of a teacups. The fragrance is to die for”.
The freshly watered cutting sits among smaller pots of cat nip and rose geraniums. Planted (for now) in an earthen terracotta pot this cutting will take pride of place.
“I haven’t got it in the ground yet, but I have got a spot for it. First planted at a farm house in Kameruka in the 1800s. It was in my mother’s garden. If I hadn’t have gotten a piece of it, it would have been gone.”
Margaret believes it is important to keep things going. “So you can share with others – giving is part of the growth of your personality,” she said.
This inherent generosity does not only flourish in her garden. The Bega district community and beyond have been recipients of her giving spirit.
“I guess you could call me a horticulturalist slash botanist slash garden designer slash floral artist slash radio announcer – and they have all come together as one.”
When she received the letter stating she was to receive an Order of Australia Medal for service to domestic horticulture and to the community, Margaret humbly didn’t seem to know what all the fuss was about. Gardening and community have always been a natural part of her life.
“I was born on the first day of spring, maybe that’s got something to do with it,” she joked.
“Ever since I could walk I’d carry around flowers, nasturtiums, a snap dragon, a rose. I always had the vibe in me.
“Rather than playing with the other kids I’d be over the neighbours fence helping out in the garden.
“I used to help my dad in the garden, he’d show me how to get the little tin of water and how to firm the seedlings out with my fingers.
“My aunty taught me about floral art, the lady across the road gave me treasured tips – it’s just been with me my whole life.”
Now in her new backyard overlooking the Bega Valley, an empty wrought iron garden arch hangs over the back gate. Potted cuttings are on on either side of its feet.
“That’s the clematis, I think they will be very welcoming there don’t you?”