My Garden by Helen Holmes
First of all how would you describe your garden?
I live in the dry tropics near Townsville. This means we have about nine months of dry weather (with lovely warm winters) and three months of wet season (with high temps and high humidity) On arriving here twelve years ago the property had lots of mango trees and a few gums – and that was it. We now have a wide variety of fruit trees, endeavour to grow as much veg as possible and then preserve the produce in jams and chutneys. We also have chickens and ducks and work on a closed-loop system so that everything possible is used. Paper is shredded for chook bedding which then goes on the vegies and fruit trees. Cardboard is scrounged from everywhere and is laid down as mulch.
I love growing unusual plants and now that we run a small bed and breakfast a tour of the garden is often a highlight for guests
How did you get started in gardening?
I’m not sure where my gardening genes come from – I grew up with a tiny backyard in southern England and neither my parents nor grandparents were keen gardeners. However as soon as I had a garden of my own (even though it was rented) I started veg gardening. We now live on acreage in the beautiful tropics – I couldn’t think of a bigger contrast to my first little garden.
What motivates you to get up and garden?
I don’t need much motivation at all. The easiest thing in the world is to go out into the garden, even if I’m just pottering around, pulling up the odd weed here and there – I love it.
What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your garden? How did you deal with them?
The weather was and still is the main hurdle. Plants have to live through such extremes of dry and wet and humidity. Every plant needs a water supply for at least two years. Although I quickly found that the local native trees and shrubs were the best to grow. To cope with this I am turning towards tropical veg for summer and I’m setting up wicking beds to try and ease the problems. There were also issues with wildlife eating the produce – fencing the veg patch and growing things in hanging baskets around the house has pretty much solved that problem.
What were some of the unexpected benefits from gardening?
The extra wildlife that now live around the house. Lots of native plants bring in native birds while resident green tree frogs enjoy the extra tree cover. Getting the balance right between keeping things tidy and fire-safe while leaving plenty of wild areas is one of the secrets to a good garden here.
Is there a gardening moment that stands out for you?
While working in the veg patch I heard a noise and was delighted to see our resident wallaby matriarch and baby sorting through the weeds I had thrown over the fence. She carried on eating contentedly a few metres away while I went back to my work – magic!
What has your garden taught you?
Whatever time and effort you manage to put in you will reap four-fold. You might not get all the crops you hoped for but the personal benefits of exercise, fresh air and the feeling of achievement when it does go right make up for that.
If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
I’m a fairly practical person so I think I’ll choose the rosella – the leaves can be eaten like spinach (an acquired taste!) the flowers and red stems are attractive but are quite prickly if handled the wrong way. Finally, the rosella ‘fruit’ can be used for tea, syrup or jam. It’s useful at all stages of its life and besides, my Rosella and Lemon Myrtle Jam is legendary.
What tips would you offer first time gardeners?
Just do it! Start with something small but useful like herbs – even if it’s only a couple of pots on the window ledge give it a go. To start an ornamental garden walk around your neighbourhood and see what other people are growing successfully. If you don’t know what a plant is maybe knock on the door and ask – keen gardeners are usually happy to share their knowledge and often will share cuttings too!
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