Keith Gilbert started gardening late in life. But he has found his calling and now runs the Kin Kin State school garden and has a garden design business called, The Plot Thickens. (I just love that name!) Thanks Keith for sharing your garden story with us.
First of all how would you describe your garden? (What do you grow? What is your climate like? )
I’m a professional gardener working in a number of gardens. My dream job – which I have – is working in the Kin Kin school garden. A large area of the grounds was handed over to food production a few years ago, when we got a grant from the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. We raise seedlings, keep chooks, have many beds for veggies and herbs, as well as a young orchard and a bushtucker area. Every Friday the kids do a garden class with me, then do a kitchen class where they prepare a community lunch in the ‘Kookaburra Kafe’.
How did you get started in gardening?
Although I have fond childhood memories of pulling weeds and planting bulbs with my dad, and harvesting plums with Mum, in fact I used to see gardening as a funny way to spend your time (after all the grass and the weeds are only going to grow back!) It wasn’t until my 30s that I got an appreciation of gardening – I was between careers and decided to overhaul the little Melbourne courtyard in my rented house. From there I’d earn some pocket money from friends and family doing odd jobs. I then moved to Queensland, and lived on and organic food farm whilst studying horticulture at Gympie TAFE. After that I started up my little business, The Plot Thickens.
What motivates you to get up and garden?
Living across the road from the school, it’s often up to me to let the chooks out and put them away – that’s a good motivator. In any case, the kids are a joy to work with, so that’s a motivator too. They can get delight from simple things we take for granted – the feel of a lettuce leaf, a seed sprouting, how a leaf captures water etc. And as well, they keep eating my garden, so I have to keep renewing it – that’s a major motivation.
With other gardens, I really love the challenge of a new garden – how to incorporate some of my favourite plants into the design – especially how food plants might be a part of an ornamental garden.
What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your garden? How did you deal with them?
The biggest challenge I would say was the poor soil that was bought in for the raised beds. I’ve spent a lot of effort incorporating organic matter, and luckily we are in a rural area with lots of farm animals – including alpacas – and their owners have been more than happy to donate their poo.
The soil also contained nutgrass, which is an ongoing challenge – the best success we’ve had with it is growing groundcovers to smother it – oregano and sweet potato are the most effective.
What were some of the unexpected benefits from gardening?
The links to community have proved wonderful – people get involved in all manner of ways – donating things, coming to working bees, the community lunch, and sharing their knowledge and skills with the kids in our regular days “Art in the Garden” and “Animals in the Garden”.
We also were recognised with a Glossy award from Sunshine Coast Council a couple of years ago for Best edible landscape (non residential) which was great.
Is there a gardening moment that stands out for you?
Many discoveries – too many to mention – but I do like finding a new food plant that is easy to grow and delicious (Ethiopian Spinach springs to mind). I also like seeing kids learn stuff about science, maths, health, language, the environment etc in really practical ways.
What has your garden taught you?
That EVERYONE can get something out of gardening, and that EVERYONE has something new and unique and useful to bring to gardening.
If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
My partner says tamarillo, a bit different, spicy and tasty.
What tips would you offer first time gardeners?
Start off small – don’t set yourself up for failure. Go organic. Talk to other gardeners. And get your soil right – then the plants will look after themselves.