I don’t buy it

Over the years some have dismissed my growing, dirty passion of gardening as being “not for them”, or laughing it off with “we’re so different”, or saying, almost proudly, that they “don’t have a green thumb”.

All things that I’ve not really known how to take, because, actually, we’re not “so different”, we all have to eat and drink from and walk on the earth beneath us. The planet has to be fit and healthy to provide food, water, shelter and air for us all, not just the different ones among us.

Through history people have had next to no choice in sourcing their food from the land immediately surrounding them, it is only in the last fifty years or so that this has changed in Australia.

The “Dig For Victory” campaign in Britain during WWII had near on the entire population growing food so that they could survive the war. It is actually inspiring scientists to measure the contribution of own-grown food to national production in Britain today. There was no: “This is not for me” back then.

Because we actually are the same, they too have to eat. Their alternative to growing the food that they eat is to buy it. So, presumably, growing food is “not for them” but buying the food that other’s have grown, sprayed, shipped and displayed is “for them”.

Well, let me say that that’s not for me!¬† (Though I do buy what I can’t grow.)

Is this just an ignorant statement, as I find their statements to be? No. Because it is based on information. It is an educated response based on the possible destructive impacts of monoculture, the long-term impacts of pesticides (including on bees) and fertilisers on crops, our bodies and the wider environment, the impacts of transporting food hundreds of miles to a local grocery shop and the waste that is emitted from the supermarket backend due to unsaleable products and in our kitchens due to food that is undervalued in terms of personal effort.

I was not born a gardener. I’ve eaten food all my life as every other living person also has, in just the same way, thereabouts, as every person I am in contact with in my daily life.

I am no different, but I have educated myself about the impacts of my actions. I have not always known how to grow a carrot, in fact I don’t even consider myself very good at it today, because actually, it grows itself, I have just had to learn how to provide a favourable environment for it, though I still often kill things. My husband often groans at my slap dash approach, so if I can do it, anyone can!

It’s been year after year of learning and accumulating mistakes and lessons until I can finally cobble together a garden which does give me beans, tomatoes, corn, carrots, cabbages, squash, lettuce, herbs and numerous other offerings as well as a tranquil environment which soothes daily troubles and assuages the need to go out for my entertainment – while providing a venue for my own visitors.

It is a full on benefit in every way, there really is no downside!

It could be that this is a mere matter of semantics, in which case please don’t do yourself a disservice with your words, instead try something like this: “I tried that and I gave up” or “I’ve killed everything I’ve tried to grow”, or even, “I’d like to learn how to do that”.

You can do it! I believe in you! Growing things in a garden is just a matter of learning how (and it’s so easy) and a little bit of discipline.

* I will concede that modern pressures can leave us exhausted at the end of a full work day and pottering in the garden can feel like a torture best left undone. This is entirely understandable but does not leave growing a small plant or two completely out of reach!

The hardest part is to get started. Start small: a pot of Thyme on the bench, add some Basil in Summer. Next Summer grow one tomato bush. Leave the carrots for later.

Planting

We planted our garden. I had planted seeds out in pots on the verandah probably about a month ago, they’ve grown into a good size for transplanting now. Coriander, tomatoes, beans and cucumbers. I also direct planted the seeds of sunflower seeds, daisies, beans and radishes (a beautiful variety with a pink ‘heart’).

Radishes are a great starting vegetable to grow, they almost never fail and are quick to produce so the beginning gardener can get a bit of an encouraging pat on the back. They are also so easy and great to eat, either absolutely fresh straight from the ground-to the tap-to your mouth, or in a salad. There are lots of varieties too, if the usual pink skinned, white flesh variety is to zingy for you, hunt around for a more mellow one. The wonderful thing about vegetables is that there is variety within varieties and we, as their cultivators, should embrace this and enable this genetic diversity on our planet by selecting the interesting, unusual and different (which, think about it, are only ‘unusual’ because we have become unused to them, not their fault – ours).

Anyway, enough about that.

Here are our small beginnings:

Planting001 Planting002 Planting003 Planting004 Planting005 Planting006 Planting007

A tip for gardeners with children – allow space for a mud puddle – really. It doesn’t kill them, in fact makes them stronger and no one ever got dumber from playing in a bit of dirt. If the alternative is TV I’d rather my kids get a little bit dirty.Planting008

We had special friends down for the weekend and the kids couldn’t get enough of climbing up our bean trellis. I’ve given up trying to stop my children doing this. If there’s a way to go UP then they will find it, it develops good skills. As my husband says “I’d rather they learned how to hold on than learn not to do it.”

Eating Out

So, the other day we took a little break from the bus for a photo shoot.

I was merrily doing my thing, building a new garden, when I heard ‘TULI!! LOOK UP HERE! I looked up to see Henri, photographer extraordinaire, with huge camera mounted on impressive tripod with a…towel?…thrown over his head and camera – like the old school guys, like everyone knows you should have if you’re the real deal, as Henri obviously is.

Well he got me posing for about fifteen minutes…until I fell into the Mulberry bush. Too much prancing.

Anyway after that we just ate mulberries together and while I was tempted to call the kids and have some much coveted family time, I reconsidered and it was just the fella and I dining out.

I loved this day. Everyone is away at the moment and I am living on this property like it is my own. This is my dream life. Living on land among fruiting trees, digging in the garden, surrounded by ducks. So I’ve been living it for the last week or so. This is the good life. Dreams may yet come true. ;) This day they were alive and kicking.

Mulberries003 Mulberries004 Mulberries005 Mulberries011 Mulberries014 Mulberries016 Mulberries020 Mulberries022 Mulberries023 Mulberries024 Mulberries025 Mulberries027

This garden is attempt #2. I had an absolute failure with my first attempt. I learned a few things. 1) This soil in this climate does not require much drainage, 2) definitely more poo needed (duck poo, that is), 3) mulch, mulch, mulch, 4) I need to encourage worms.

In between attempt #1 and attempt #2 I read a great book by Esther Dean about the no-dig gardening method, a similar concept is also known as lasagna gardening. I realised that in my first attempt I had marginalised the worms and good grubs needed to get my soil going. I hadn’t fed my soil with either lucerne mulch or manure of any kind (though I had planted broad beans, which unfortunately suffered due to some weed killing done in a nearby area, not by me of course – I hardly endorse any use of chemicals in a garden!). I hadn’t mulched either. The garden suffered. In fact it looked like a desert!

It’s funny, our obsession with ripping out weeds. Weeds are usually natures (God’s?) soil savers, Mallow, Dandelion, Plantain all take root where nothing else is growing, they send down their deep roots and draw water and nutrients up into the uppermost layers of the soil where other plants can access it. They are called ‘rescue weeds’, they rescue barren soil. We see them, us know-it-all humans, and rip them up as they do not fulfill our ideals of flat, uniform lawns or edged and formal garden plots. As we do this we rob the soil of its life savers and if the soil is deficit so will our ‘wanted’ plants be deprived. The fact is, we do not know what we want. It’s like the woman who tries to change her husband and when she finally ‘breaks’ him she realises that she did not actually want him to change (not that I have any experience in that…yes). We should want what nature provides us with and if we seek to understand it then we will be in a far better position than if we try to force nature into our moulds.

Well, I did it. I ripped out too many weeds, I forced this patch of dirt into a mould of mine. I had an idea and I created it, but because it did not fit in with nature’s needs it failed. It totally F minus flunked.

But I’m trying again and I’m trying to be more aware of what is already happening around me to fit what I am doing into it and not vice versa. I am hoping that layers of mulch, duck manure, good soil and more mulch will draw the worms up. I am hoping that more plants all together will thrive this time around.

Mulberries037 Mulberries038