Through the process of creating his suburban oasis Matt Neville discovered an interest in gardening – so much so that he developed garden withdrawals while living in a big city!
Here is Matt’s garden story.
First of all how would you describe your garden?
We live on a suburban block in Brisbane and it’s our first home. In our garden we grow vegetables, fruit, Orchids and Natives. Our Vegetable patch has eight beds of various sizes and heights and continues to expand. I’m hooked on growing my vegies from seed and I’m learning heaps about germinating seed. I’ve had lots of success with Tomato, Eggplant, Peas, Beans, Chilli, Pumpkin and I’ve recently started to grow root vegetables. I’ve also had some cracking luck growing Ginger, Turmeric and Galangal.
When my wife and I bought the property there was a sensational mango tree in the backyard (would a Brisbane backyard be complete without one?) but since then we’ve managed to squeeze in a Paw-Paw, Banana, Figs, Cumquat, Passion-fruit and Native Finger Lime.
My other great interest is growing Natives and my curiosity germinating seed has expanded to include Natives. Some are trickier than others but I’m learning and getting better with practice. I think that Natives are great companions for our vegies and it was very exciting this year to discover Native bees in our garden. The front yard is strictly Natives except for a large pot with Malay Dwarf Bamboo which is my wife’s sole act of defiance against a front aspect full of Natives.
Growing Orchids started as my wife’s interest but I’m starting to get the Orchid bug. We’ve found a local grower who has given us lots of great advice and we have a small shade house with an expanding collection. We’ve just enjoyed the first display of flowers and we both got kick out of our early success with Orchids.
How did you get started in gardening?
I guess it was moving into our first home that got me started. At the time, we didn’t have much money and ‘whipping the garden into shape’ seemed like something I could do to improve things. I wanted to make my mark on our new home without spending lots of money. That was six years ago now and it’s still a work in progress… one day I’ll get the garden ‘into shape’.
What motivates you to get up and garden?
Gardening is a part of every day. I have a good work mate who is really into gardening too and we spend most lunch breaks talking vegies, sharing tips or discussing a weekend project passed or planned. Most of our work mates think we’re a bit mad but we’re both obsessed with seed, compost, worm farms and all things gardening. Late at night I like to finish the day with a gardening book or magazine. It’s a great way to get ideas and to stimulate new plans for the garden. But most of all, it’s the garden which motivates me. There’s nothing better than seeing a seedling emerge, the progress of plants or picking fresh things to cook and eat.
Recently, I spent a few months working overseas in a big metropolitan city and living in a small apartment. The first few weeks were OK and the pictures of our garden, sent by my wife, were enough. However, towards the end of my time I was experiencing serious gardening withdrawals. I desperately missed digging in my soil, sowing seeds, pruning and even dare I say it… weeding! I seriously contemplated buying a seedling tray, a mix and a packet of seeds to grow on the small apartment balcony. If I’d stayed any longer I may have developed uncontrollable shakes.
Ultimately, it’s harder for me to stay out of the garden than it is to get out and get into it. There’s always something to do or a new addition and new ideas are constantly stimulated as the garden develops or as the seasons change.
What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your garden? How did you deal with them?
The most difficult hurdle has been the loss of plants from attempting to grow them in the wrong position. At first, it was the usual novice mistake of trying to grow plants in unsuitable spots. Then, it took me a while to understand my garden and how positions change during the different seasons. While a plant may prosper in a position in one season there is no guarantee that it will suit that spot in another. I now have a good understanding of my garden but I continue to observe it and learn. These days I’m much better at plant selection and savvy at making the different situations work in my favour.
What were some of the unexpected benefits from gardening?
Patience. Germinating seed and growing plants does not happen instantly and that’s a good thing in our modern world. My work life and personal life are full of instant ‘things’ and it’s good to have something that you have to plan, takes time and demands patience. Observation is a big part of gardening and I always marvel at how clever plants can be in the way they grow or adapt to their environment but you’ve got to be patient and pay attention to see these marvels.
Is there a gardening moment that stands out for you?
I grow mostly Eucalyptus, Acacia, Melaleuca and Banksia and it always makes me pause when a Native is bursting with flowers. Natives seem so transient and there’s always a magic moment when their blooms are at their peak. The exception is the Acacia Fimbriata (Brisbane Wattle) which produces a mass of seed pods during summer. When they begin to burst in the hot afternoon sun the Galahs descend to pick the seed. It’s always good fun to watch a goofy Galah hang upside down from a branch while squabbling with a mate and trying to pluck seed from an Acacia pod.
What has your garden taught you?
I’ve learnt a lot about the food we eat by growing vegetables and fruit. I think it’s a good thing to know a bit more than most of us do about what we eat. These days when my wife and I travel overseas on holiday I’m not just interested in what people cook and eat but how they grow it too. Once you’ve had a go at growing edibles you become a lot more interested in how all food is produced. Sometime in the future I’d love to keep my own chooks and learn more about the eggs we eat.
If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
Eggplant. I have lots of good memories eating Eggplant on overseas holidays and it grows so well during Brisbane summers. I’m more a summer person myself and I’m not so keen on cold weather, a bit like Eggplant really. My wife and I love to grill Eggplant with fish or meat, serve with rice and an Asian salad. Grilling and eating alfresco on a summer evening out in the backyard is a great weekend recharge. It’s also a perfect way to sit back and admire your efforts after a hard day of labour in the garden.
What tips would you offer first time gardeners?
Start. That’s it! Everything you need to know you’ll learn as you go along. All gardeners experience failures but that’s why we keep compost bins. It’s simple, just get started.
My advice on vegetables is to choose vegies that have a better taste or texture than market bought produce. Snow Peas grown at home have a better texture, corn is so much sweeter and, as everyone says, home grown tomatoes have an amazing flavour.
My advice on growing Natives and Indigenous plants is to do your homework first. So many attractive Natives come from Western Australia and just won’t perform in subtropical Brisbane. Know your plant and consider the suitability of your local conditions when making your plant selections.
Finally, my advice on growing Orchids is to find someone who can provide you with good advice. A few tips and a little bit of guidance really helps when getting started with Orchids.