Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My life as a gardener

Its difficult to know how to describe my life as a gardener and make it simple. Because gardening is simple when you think about it, but the learning process is not. My mum was a gardener, and so were both my Nan's. Watching them and loving to be outside myself, impressed me to continue the gardening tradition in my own backyard.

 Tools of the trade

We're not fancy gardeners though, it was mostly born out of necessity for food - the older generations being from a farming background. My gardening journey however, hasn't just been limited to food acquisition, thankfully, as I don't grow food very well (yet) because I'm still learning how to.

Everything I put in the ground nonetheless, requires a practical purpose. Shade, shelter, food, wood, windbreak, mulch accumulator, nitrogen fixer, ground cover - it all has to fit together like a layered cake or it doesn't work.

Cover the soil with ground covers

I've had my fair share of failures too. So many failures! They're my learning pegs though, and has made my life as a gardener all the more interesting for it. Failing made me pay attention to other elements more than just the usual suspects of climate, soil and moisture. Failing made me experiment with different types of plant combinations, and where to plant them outside the norms! Failing made me look at permaculture more seriously too, which had a lot of valuable information to contribute.

When all else fails, garden in pots

I still wouldn't consider myself a successful gardener, but I haven't given up and that's the main thing. I take sabbaticals, when my life gets too full of obligations elsewhere, and that's when it really tests my garden. How it survives and produces without me, is something I learn from too. See, I'm not sure we should become slaves to our gardens. It should be a relationship where the gardener and the garden have equal expression. To dominate completely, means you miss out on half the conversation and take on all the work.

French marigolds

I've probably missed the most obvious point about having a garden, and that's the beauty aspect. They awaken all your senses. But that's not why I build a garden - the best part of my temperament is expressed when I can pour myself into nature. It centers me. Something about the energy, the simplicity and the diversity all merging together, subdues me. That's what I love about having as many plants as I can. It's what inspired me to keep at propagation, even though I failed consistently for several years. I wanted more of this centered contentment, which wasn't fleeting like everything else.

New plants from old

Once I learned to propagate successfully, I haven't stopped! We all need a driving force in our lives, and I guess gardening is mine. I'll grab my secateurs and take some cuttings, or I'll pop some seeds in the ground and wait for the rain to arrive. It's the promise of something to come. Something to germinate. Something to surprise me later on.

Fallen frangipani

So even though my life as a gardener hasn't been perfect, its still been very worthwhile. I look forward to the seasons, the shapes and the smells. I'll look at that bare patch of earth and imagine what I'll plant there.  What's more, I hope all this activity and experimentation will lead to growing more food successfully. That is my ultimate goal.

Kent pumpkins on the brew

What is your present goal, or what would you like to do more of as a gardener?


  1. Saving for a rainwater tank or two. Water is too expensive here so I need more free from the sky.

  2. I hear you there, Stewart. We need another rainwater tank too. Our family of four seem to do well on 54,000 gallons, but we cut it awfully close between rain spells sometimes.

    How expensive is water in Toowoomba? Do you get a certain amount allocated free, and then you pay for extra (how it used to be when we lived in town) or do you have to pay for it all now? I'm sure things have changed since we lived there seven years ago.

    By the way, happy gardening in your suburban backyard, and at your allotment at the Toowoomba Community Organic Gardens (if you're still there). I haven't visited there for years but it was pretty impressive last time I saw it. :)

  3. The access charge is muder at $720.00 pa and then it's the first tier consumption charge is $2.20 per kilolitre (kl or 1000 litres) and the second tier charge is $3.47 per kl.
    2ndtier comes in at 125 kl.

    I don't get to the Toowoomba Community Organic Gardens. I'mjust too time poor atm.

  4. Holy smokes! That is sooo expensive. I remember when we last lived in Toowoomba, you were allotted a certain amount of kiloliters and then you paid for any excess over that amount. Now they charge you for access to town water???

    We were paying roughly $1,200 pa just in Council rates, I imagine it could be double that now. There was no water authority/board, or whatever it's called now, back then. I'm shocked they charge so much for water. No wonder you want rainwater tanks.

  5. Your photos in this post are gorgeous!
    You are also opposite from me-I can grow annual foods but other types of plants and even trees challenge me a little. Flowers are hard for me even though I love them. And the trees grow but getting fruit is another story. So I would say that you are a great gardener really. lol. I have been installing a more perennial garden this year as the budget allows and those plants seem to be very happy to not be minded by me. I like that so far though most are not foods-some are herbs. Its still a wonderful pastime.

  6. Thanks for the compliments, re photos. :)

    I still have my challenges with trees, but they generally take a few years to fruit. After watching a few Youtube videos, I'm convinced its because I don't give them enough water when they're fruiting. Still learning. ;)

    I think with all those perennials though, you are producing food via your honey bees. They'd love all those flowers. We have grevilleas which the honey bees like, but I don't have enough of them. I planted another one yesterday, and a few acacias. All natives and produce food for birds and the bees.

    You're fortunate to be able to grow a lot of veg. That's my goal, but we need a different growing system. We don't get enough rain to keep them going and only one rainwater tank for all our other needs. But I'm working on it. :)

    1. Did you mention you were going to look into wicking beds?
      As to the bees, we do try to plant as much as possible but literally there are thousands of them in our hives and we just cannot plant enough. We do selectively weed for their sake though and hope for the best. Alfalfa growers help us a lot too.

    2. Yep, wicking beds and serious ones at that! We don't have the right climate to grow a lot of our food without them. They're very water efficient and you can shade them too, which is part of our intended design.

      How long it takes to finish though (or even get started for that matter) is anyone's guess. I'd like to tackle the chicken coop renovation too. We have can come across a free greenhouse frame, and if we can move it, we'll use that too.

      Plans, plans, plans, we need action though. ;)

    3. That greenhouse frame is wonderful luck! I hope you can move it! We are still planning on a green house but locating it is a little tricky for us -as well as having a million other projects ahead of in the queue.

  7. Interesting post, Chris, and interesting comments too. I've been thinking a lot about gardening lately, and we've been discussing the need for more rain collection tanks too. We've had a hot dry spell that hasn't been kind to anything, and the tanks drain out too quickly when the water is needed for irrigation. Dan set up an empty one on another corner of the house and after a gentle rain we calculated we could fill it (275 gallons) with only an inch of rain. We need bigger tanks!

    My personal garden "fail" is never getting everything mulched in time for that summer dry spell. Since we work toward self-reliance / self-sufficiency, we don't buy the popular wood chip mulch (too expensive for all our gardens anyway), and there are never enough leaves to cover everything. I sometimes wonder if I don't plant too much, then when the harvest is moderate I think I didn't plant enough. It's an ongoing puzzle!

    1. What has worked for me in the past Leigh is planting clover as a living mulch. It didn't create competition. We broadcast the seeds after the food plants were partly established so timing is key. This helped us to water much less in drought and brought a lot of pollinators when the clover finally flowered.

  8. I do believe if the rain patterns continue as they are, rainwater tanks are going to make the difference to veggie growers. There seem to be longer gaps between rain events but the food crops still need water.

    Mulching is a conundrum I've contemplated a lot too. I grow mulching plants like arrowroot, bamboo, lemongrass and pigeon pea, but it never seems to be enough. I also don't like to use the pigeon pea, as it seems to be a winter feed for the lactating kangaroos and their previous year's offspring.

    Without mulch though, the land just turns to dust - that's what it literally does here. I have an upper swale above the house and its great during the storm season, but dry for the rest of the year. So the plants I grow up there are really struggling in the soil. I've been reworking the area lately though, and implementing new plans.

    Tick - tock...but it all takes time. ;)


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