THE SUMMER PALACE – Michael Leunig
Make a little garden in your pocket,
Fill your cuffs with radishes and rocket,
Let a passionfruit crawl up your thigh,
Grow some oregano in your fly.
Make a steamy compost of your fears,
Trickle irrigate your life with tears,
Let your troubled mind become a trellis,
Turn your heart into a summer palace.
I haven’t always been a gardener, but I have always had a deep love and respect for nature.
My Grandmother, Phyllis Archer was a magnificent gardener and one of my earliest memories is of her rambunctious garden. Paths drooling with Roses, Alyssum, SweetPeas, Dahlia’s and all manner of bursting blooms would lead you to pockets of vegetables and fruit trees straining at their roots with vitality. I remember going to the asparagus patch with a bone handled knife to cut the asparagus. It was such a satisfying job for an 8 year old, sliding the knife below the surface of the black humus rich soil to lop off a giant asparagus spear. My Grandmother’s garden was a perfect reflection of her – beautiful, generous, strong, bold and a little bit wild …..!
For those of you who know us, you will know that Onno and I have developed a massive garden in the 18 years we have been living on our paradisiacal 25acre property located on the north-west of Tasmania. “ANAHITA”. What started out as a modest vegetable patch and a few prized fruit trees has expanded into a jungle of vegetables, berries, fruits, nuts, flowers, herbs and of course, our favourites, weeds – all humming with the deafening sound of bees thanks to our 6 or so resident beehives that live here permanently.
We don’t really have a gardening philosophy as such and I put the ferocious pace that the garden has expanded down to Onno’s “just get on with it” attitude. I think it is honest to say that Onno is very much a do-er and I am very much a thinker/dreamer/planner – a match made in garden heaven!If all the gardening was left up to me we would most likely have a very small but artistic garden and an incredibly long “to do” list! Thankfully Onno and I are the perfect combination of brains and brawn and while I sit with books and magazines up to my eyeballs with plant botanical names and mineral analysis, Onno is busily digging up a storm. The main focus of our garden is to provide organic, nutrient rich and interesting food for our family and friends and a place to delight in the mysterious wonders of nature.
Because we live in an area that is prone to heavy frosts, we have erected a large glasshouse and 2 polytunnels. They all measure about 20m x 4m and accommodate some of our more frost tender plants including; Banana, Passionfruit, Citrus (Oranges, Limes & Mandarins), Tamarillo, Cape Gooseberry and other assorted and experimental plants. The greenhouse growing has given huge scope to our garden and has also provided us with an extended growing season and plant propagation area. It’s also a wonderful place to work in winter, a place where you can be happily ignorant of the freezing, blustery, Tasmanian wild winter weather!
Our berry garden is fully enclosed and contains a variety of berries including; Raspberry, Blueberry, Black and Red Currant, Jostaberry, Silvanberry, Marionberry, Youngberry, Gooseberry and Thornless Blackberry (staggeringly prolific). All berries that aren’t eaten or used straight away are frozen for later use. Our 100+ fruit trees provide us with plenty of fruit if we can get to it before the wildlife!
The development of a flower garden was pretty much ignored for the first few years in favour of edibles, but in the last couple of years we have slowly been turning our attention to things of a more floral nature. I have thoroughly enjoyed this and so have the thousands of bees that we keep here! We have planted thousands of native plants around the property thanks to our generous and exceptionally knowledgeable friend Jim from Oldina Nursery.
We are aiming to have something flowering at every part of the year to not only keep our animal kingdom friends happy but to also appeal to our own senses, plus provide us with another item that we can add to our Market stall. We grow pretty much everything we can from seed and I recommend the wonderfully knowledgeable and passionate people from Southern Harvest for all your local seed needs. For anything that we aren’t able to source locally we can usually find it at The Diggers Club or The Seed Collection.
The most common comment that we get from people in regards to our substantial garden is “It must be so much work”. To be completely honest, a garden is as much or as little work as you want it to be and it depends on your objectives. If you want a beautifully manicured garden with not a weed in sight, then yes, that is going to be quite a bit of work, because nature is ferocious and rampant and you can never truly hope to control it completely. We see ourselves more as harmonious facilitators in the growing process. We are not at all pedantic about weeds, only eradicating the ones that are in direct competition with vulnerable plants. Some of the weeds that have come up have been a crop in themselves and quite a tasty and medicinal bonus to our garden (e.g. Chickweed, Dandelion, Selfheal etc.).
A natural evolution of our expansive garden and exuberant, social personalities has been the development of “Anahita Farmden” a sort of “don’t come to us, we’ll come to you….” market business. We have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of attending markets with our brightly coloured caravan and equally brightly coloured stall, full of plants, produce, honey, tonics, flowers and other whims. Honestly, the best part has been the people that we have met. I could tell you some outrageous stories about the people that we have encountered and formed friendships with due to our market goings………….. (a whole other blog post would be required for that….!)
It wouldn’t be fair for me to paint an idyllic and easy picture of large scale gardening without mentioning that we have made a commitment to our way of life that includes me being at home full time and Onno only working part-time in his catering business. This means that we have a generous amount of time to spend growing, maintaining, harvesting and educating ourselves in gardening.
Gardening for us has been trial and error and over the years we have gained a greater understanding of all the aspects of gardening and we continue to learn and become excited about new information or ideas that we may be able to use. Gardening isn’t just about growing food for sustenance, although that is a very rewarding aspect. Gardening is also about tuning yourself into the rhythms of nature, about finding your own nature, about being comfortable with mystery, about patience and disappointment as well as the elation and awe felt from witnessing a seed transform into a unique plant instilled with an intelligence that understands its own need for survival. I hope Grandma would be proud of us and our garden and I hope our garden too is an accurate reflection of us …………..
I would like to share a final poem with you from Naomi Long Madgett which I think speaks to not only the outer garden but also the inner garden within each of us.
I wouldn’t coax the plant if I were you.
Such watchful nurturing may do it harm.
Let the soil rest from so much digging
And wait until it’s dry before you water it.
The leaf’s inclined to find its own direction;
Give it a chance to seek the sunlight for itself.
Much growth is stunted by too much prodding,
Too eager tenderness.
The things we love we have to learn to leave alone.
I would love to hear about your garden and if anyone would like me to write in more detail about our garden and any particular aspects about it, then please let me know as I am happy to share what we are doing and what we have learnt along the way.
Love and Lovage,