My Garden by Rhea Ng
First of all how would you describe your garden?
My garden is geared towards productivity, so all the plants are edible in some way. It’s even better if they fulfill some other function as well, such as acting as a windbreak, providing shade, providing groundcover or providing mulch. I also work very long hours, so the plants have to be productive in terms of my time- no fussy plants! I live on the Gold Coast where the climate is subtropical.
How did you get started in gardening?
I was a garden virgin when I arrived 5 years ago from New Zealand to set up a cancer service at the local hospital. The house we bought came with an established citrus patch and rainwater tanks. I was quickly seduced by the climate, which is frost-free and has daytime temperatures above 20 degrees year round, and I was also inspired by my neighbours, who are self-sufficient for most veges. Very soon I had put raised beds around the rainwater tanks and was astounded at how productive the garden was, even when I had a pathetic germination rate and frequently forgot to water.
What motivates you to get up and garden?
My job is physically and psychologically demanding, and any doctor who works with cancer would be lying if they didn’t admit to bringing some of those demands home. The garden is my therapy. I would much rather take my stress and turn it into veges for my family, than take it out any other way. When I get really worked up, I grab a pitchfork and can get a whole raised garden bed turned over in half an hour!
What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your garden? How did you deal with them?
Coming from New Zealand, I had taken the rainfall for granted, but on the Gold Coast we can go for 4 or 5 months without any decent rain. I learn very early to monitor the rainfall and top-up with irrigation as required. Since we moved in, I have doubled the rainwater storage capacity in order to cope better with periods of drought.
What were some of the unexpected benefits from gardening?
The kids spend a lot less time in front of the TV and computer. They come out to see what Mummy is doing and often end up getting involved with the watering, planting, and weeding. But I haven’t let them prune yet because they are too little and might chop a finger off!
There is also so much fun in the garden- I give them a stick or a trowel and they will chase butterflies, or whack bushes, or run along the fence making noise, or dig holes for mudpies, or build forts with my prunings, or…..!! These are such simple childhood pleasures, but they get forgotten in our busy, modern lives.
Is there a gardening moment that stands out for you?
The first year, because I was a garden virgin I put the trellis against the fence and planted 16 cucumber plants because the packet said to plant them 30cm apart and my germination rate until then was only 50%. Of course, now I know that I only need 2 plants to keep the family fed! Those plants took over the trellis, went over the fence and onto the neighbour’s lawn, and kept my family, the neighbours, and the nursing staff in cucumbers for months.
What has your garden taught you?
Keep trying, and even if you don’t get what you want, there might still be unexpected benefits. Did the leafy greens get water stress and bolt? Let them flower and collect the seed. Did a bed lie fallow for so long that it’s now all weedy? Pull out the definite ‘weeds’ and be surprised at the number of ‘volunteer’ plants (I think that’s got something to do with letting things set seed.)
If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
A Chinese bittermelon- a tough plant, with fruit that is very bitter but also very good for your health. (Added bonus- the possums hate it. I can keep the possums off most of my garden by ‘book-ending’ it with bitter melon plants).
What tips would you offer first time gardeners?
Just start. The garden is the ultimate lover- it rewards you even when you forget about it sometimes.