While I feel like I have always had the green growing energy “in me”, the earliest gardening that I can remember is when I was 5 years old and one sunny Irish day my grandfather let my sister, who was 4, and I plant some carnation seeds. I think he realised fairly quickly that it was a haphazard exercise as he tried to direct us where to put the seeds, but surely they went everywhere!
My grandparents had bought a one-acre plot for retirement and plopped a small bungalow in the very middle of it. Grandad had a greenhouse where I remembered tasting the best strawberries of my whole little life that Summer.
So I had strong gardening influences from early in my life. Besides Grandad, there was (great) Aunty Essie who lived in a thatched cottage bordered with blackberry hedges and filled with ducks and chickens, visiting her was reminiscent of being inside a Enid Blyton book. My parents moved to Australia after that, my mother loved growing flowers and a select couple of vegetables and my dad kept a perfect lawn (he was a keen golfer and lawn care was paramount).
Fast forward to secondary college, I was about 15, and it was compulsory to select one subject from the “Science” or “B” section, so I chose “Gardening”, tried to grow the best beans on the school’s plot, and it reminded me a little that I liked to grow things.
My early 20’s took me away from regional Australia and to bigger cities and around the world, where there was only time and room for a pot plant here and there, the excitement of career and travel really took over.
When I met my (now) husband on my return to Australia , we built a house in a rural farming area and while building we stayed at a relatives farm that contained the most brilliant vegetable patch I had ever seen, I still remember pulling out the large plump orange carrots from the spongy rich earth, they were unlike any carrot I had ever eaten before, so I tended their patch carefully while they were away. This is when my curiosity was sparked, and I started to timidly look into gardening literature.
All inspired by this experience meant that on the weekend we moved into our house, the first thing I did was put in two vegetable patches and my immense learning curve began. I consumed as much T.V and literature, short courses and visits to other gardens than imaginable. I trialled many heritage vegetables, picked out fruit trees and our empty block began to fill up.
Eight years on , our 1/3 acre north facing block contains 13 apple trees, 3 citrus trees, 2 pear trees, 1 olive tree, dwarf bananas, 7 veggie beds (with more planned) out back, greenhouse, hedgerow out front, sunflower patch, and recently a small patch of wild garden.
We compost, have a worm farm, plus 5 chickens called Yoko, Zelda, Robot Chicken (aka Sam), Buttercup and Blondie. Can you tell which one the kids named?
When my eldest son was 3 1/2 he was diagnosed with Severe Autism and was non-verbal until he was 6 years old. In the years that followed I found great solace in my garden. When times were stressful I found it a great relief to divert attention to growing vegetables and fruit, plus there were many chickens to cuddle!
Another upside was actually being able to do little jobs with him in the garden, where he struggled in other areas of his life, he could easily come out and water, sow and pick vegetables. Because he could see how vegetables were grown repeatedly each year, we had less problems getting him to eat vegetables. Demonstrating how food is created really worked in that way and while both our kids were small the garden became a great green space that we all could enjoy together, no matter the weather. The two boys were always picking, eating, digging or watering with us.
Since returning to the garden these past 8 years, I have found my own form of meditation and rekindled a Celtic-like deep seeded love for nature, like something was awoken in me that the busy modern world had been only too happy to let me forget.
I love nothing more than to take off my shoes and go for a ramble in the garden, finding little jobs to do as I go along. The longer I spend out there in my green patch, the more I wish to be out there with the plants, birds and rogue animals such as hares, it’s a bit like an Enid Blyton book here too sometimes. Planting my first “wild garden” this past Spring has spurred me on to get rid of more lawn and green up my little patch of the earth. I agree with fellow gardener Mary Reynolds that if we can all start small by re-greening our own spaces, it will make all the difference to the world as a whole.
Having a garden has taught me as well, to re-use, recycle, waste less, compost and be thrifty. I feel the better ways of living do not cost the earth.
Last year I enrolled in Melbourne’s infamous “Disco Hort” at Burnley College to enhance my skills further and I will continue to go back there to learn more. I also joined my beautiful local Yinnar Community Garden, which contains a gaggle of great gardeners and I love to pick their brains while we do our jobs.
The great challenge of gardening is that you will never learn it all. It’s a lifelong pursuit that comes with so many benefits. The continual movement through the garden provides exercise for longevity of life, the food provides sustenance and the skill sharing encourages lifelong friendships. Gardening is the very best hobby to have, because unlike some others, it costs very little to begin, enhances your mental and physical health, plus you get tomatoes!