Susan Glenn-Hume and her partner, David created their current garden from scratch. The difference three years can make, with planning and hard work is amazing! Thanks for sharing your garden story with us Susan.
First of all how would you describe your garden? (What do you grow? What is your climate like? )
The locals round here call this area “paradise” and it does feel a bit like that. We are on a small acreage in Diamond Beach on the mid north coast of NSW. Found this block of land 5 years ago while we were grey nomads doing a long, slow trip up the eastern seaboard of Australia to find the perfect spot to, quite literally, put down roots in retirement.
The boxes to be ticked included
- Four season climate
- Lots of rain
- Good soil
- Semi-rural but close to the beach
- Permanent water
- Gardening potential.
That last one is a bit hard to define but we knew it when we saw it. This two acres had been farmed then grazed, had a dam and an existing stand of trees in one corner. About 12 metres of fall, from back fence to road. A blank canvas. Perfect.
Built a house and then started the garden just over 3 years ago. It is our fourth garden from scratch. The third together, we had both done one with other partners in our earlier lives. Need I mention gardening is a common interest? Mind you, those other gardens were in a cool temperate climate and this one is warm temperate bordering sub tropical – a whole new world!
We are trying to live more lightly on the land. This garden is inspired mainly by permaculture ideas. Like all gardens, it is and always will be a work in progress.
How did you get started in gardening?
I can’t remember starting! I remember being delighted by bluebells and snowdrops and hyacinths as a 5 year old in England. My parents were gardeners, it gets imprinted on you and it must have been in my genes as well. I did my own hedge of geranium cuttings at 10. Started my own first full garden at 22. You just keep learning. The plants teach you.
What motivates you to get up and garden?
There are so many dimensions to gardening. It’s creative – you make beauty with living things. It’s spiritual – the eternal cycle of life and the seasons. It’s absorbing – you are constantly challenged to experiment and evolve. It’s sociable – gardeners are enthusiasts and sharers and have a sort common language even if they have nothing else in common. It’s healthy – physical and mental exercise all in one. It’s relaxing – it clears your mind and calms your turbulence and you sleep like a baby after doing whatever is, for you, a good day’s work.
Our garden has been on display a few times already and I love that it gives pleasure to others, even those who are no longer able to garden themselves. There’s nothing like a fundraiser coming up to get you out there and on the tools.
What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your garden? How did you deal with them?
I never expected to have to deal with too much water! We get 1200mm rainfall per year and plants do drown sometimes. We use mounds and swales and a home-made creek to harvest and redirect the water to where we want it. Also, the benevolent conditions mean that every disease and bug known to horticulture likes to live here. We are learning lots about organic pest control!
But the toughest thing is that we were away with a sick child when the finishing earthworks were done after the house was finished. All that carefully preserved topsoil disappeared somewhere and the worst subsoil imaginable was scraped into the areas closest to the house. I’m still struggling to create half decent soil in my most visible beds, using our own compost, plus mulch, hay and manure from the animals on adjacent properties. Getting there.
What were some of the unexpected benefits from gardening?
I didn’t expect our gardening efforts to be so inspiring to others, but people do seem to be genuinely interested in what we, a couple of old fogies in our sixties, have taken on, here. I didn’t expect that it would be such a significant contributor to our own health and well-being. It keeps us fit and flexible and staves off some of the downsides of getting older, such as mobility issues and loss of muscle strength. Plus it’s a living artistic palette, always changing. So you have this interaction between your vision and the reality of how things actually grow (or don’t grow!)
Is there a gardening moment that stands out for you?
We had this idea of restoring the seasonal watercourse that runs through our property, from the weedy, degraded mess it was, to something more resembling what a creek in this district might have looked like before settlement. This project is still underway, of course.
The gardening moment that stands out for me was when we first switched on the solar powered pump and water from the dam began to run through the restored creek bed, from its top, at our boundary, back down to the dam. Wetting all those river rocks we had put there and pooling in the little ponds along the length. And in just a few days – the first “tock” from a frog that had just moved in.
What has your garden taught you?
It has taught me that the answer lies in the soil. The health of the soil matters more than any other factor. Feed it, aerate it, keep it moist, add good natural things, improve the organic content and the life within the soil picks up. With activated, lively soil, the nutrients for your plants become more available. Just add a healthy little well-rooted plant and you are away.
The other big learning from doing this particular garden is the value of good quality tools. Tools that are fit for purpose, such as a special fork for turning the compost or a particular shaped spade for doing edges.
If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
A Passionfruit. Definitely. A few minutes ago my husband said: Come out and look at the passionfruit. I’m busy, I said, I’m writing this email thing to Gardenware. Come on, he said. Oh all right. So I went out into the twilight. We only planted this passionfruit, a Panama Red, a couple of months ago, with lots of manure, on a north-facing frame made of reinforcing mesh. It’s gone crazy. Growing like the clappers. And you know what? I was amazed to see there are five fruit already. That’s what I call thriving. Just how I want to be, thriving!
What tips would you offer first time gardeners?
Believe in yourself and just have a go. You will learn by doing. If a plant doesn’t work, it’s the wrong plant – try a different one.
Get some good quality basic tools – secateurs, a spade, a fork, a mattock, a hoe.
Get in early with weeds, poison them or snipper them off or cover them up with mulch or pull them out before they seed.
Spend your money on the soil and on your tools.
Cheap little plants are just as good as expensive big ones. Learn to propagate. Talk to other gardeners and they will probably want to give you things. And above all, nurture your dirt.
So that’s my thoughts. David had a read and approves. He says he got his start in gardening from being paid a penny by his Dad for each grub on the cabbages.
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