Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Retrospective Gardener

Most posts about gardening focus on the present - what people are growing in their gardens in the current season or about the future - their plans for their gardens and what they hope to achieve with lots of hard work, determination and hopefully, equal doses of sunshine and rain. This is a post about looking back which is why I've entitled it the 'retrospective gardener'. Sometimes it is easy to become discouraged when you are establishing a garden. The seeds that failed to germinate, the plants that withered on a hot day when you had been away, the lovely lettuces that were munched in one night by a hungry caterpillar or worse the garden that was destroyed by rampaging animals - the neighbour's cows, wild rabbits or pesky possums. Then sometimes nature unleashes her fury - wind, storms, floods, fires and you have to start all over again. I am thankful that this has not been our experience and have great admiration for those who do not give up on gardening after such events!

Then there are the days when it seems all too much like hard work, particularly if you have a larger acreage. This is what I face in a climate which is a both a blessing and a curse. There are certain weeds that are so invasive - you rip it out and it grows back. This is one of the plants that I loathe - morning glory. Nothing glorious about it here. It smothers trees and shrubs and even dares to take over the tibouchinas - I do declare it is jealous, the purple flowers of the tibouchinas are far more resplendent.

I was feeling despondent about our garden in the bush, the attempts to grow gardens under gum trees which cast shade and compete for nutrients in the soil. The mistakes we had made when we first planted vegetable gardens. I was being very pessimistic about the pests that inhabit my garden after discovering leeches attached to skin and so many ticks embedding into my legs - they are really awful at the moment after a wet and ever so humid summer. I had just spent a morning pulling off the morning glories - I usually snip them at the base and wait for them to die back before ripping them off the trees they have so ferociously entangled. 'Is it all worth it?' I was asking myself. 'Why did we choose to buy a property that needed so much work?' Those idealistic dreams and notions of romantic country gardens with colour co-ordinated flower beds and perfectly planted potagers with not a solitary weed that I had gushed over in magazines were not helpful at all!

And then I recalled the words cut out from a magazine that decorate my family vision poster that state 'This Other Eden.' This is my garden of Eden after the fall - there will always be weeds (and snakes - this is Australia after all!) but we have faithfully tended it and achieved so much over the past nine years. I needed to stop and look back and give thanks and recall the lessons we have learned from our time in the garden. And that is what I am about to do right now - point by point, to remind myself that I need this garden as much as it needs me. That God is being faithful to His promises in His Word - that our land is yielding produce and the trees of our fields are bearing fruit (Leviticus 26 3-5)

So here goes - the purpose of this post to encourage us all to garden with gratitude! By sharing this list I hope I can encourage others to keep on gardening and to document the history of their own garden. Its successes and failures, the lessons learned, the fruit of our labours!

1. We built a chicken house and a really big chicken run. We have enjoyed free- range eggs from our various flocks over the years. We have lost some to foxes and goannas have taken eggs. We have relocated numerous pythons each summer who find their way into the coop but have not yet had a snake swallow a chook. Lessons learned - build a secure fence and fix holes as soon as you find them. Daily check feed and water. Provide a clean and cozy straw- filled abode with plenty of perches and nesting boxes. Ensure a few cloves of crushed garlic find their way into the kitchen scraps. Our latest flock which arrived in the spring have been faithfully laying right through the hot days of summer. They all look happy and healthy. We are no experts but must be doing something right!

2. We established vegetable gardens and were prepared to move them and build new raised beds when we realized that the first plot had too many drawbacks. We had wanted our gardens close to the orchard and chook house but it was too far from the house - trekking down in the rain to pick leaves for a salad is no fun! We did manage to grow some produce here but the garden did not flourish. Too much shade and depleted soil on account of too many gum trees in that area. We had to find a better location!

Vegetable gardens mark II - raised beds were created from recycled crates. 3 long beds in total on a concrete pad where an old ramshackle dwelling once stood. It was such an eyesore - just seeing it gone was progress. This proved to be a much better location for our food gardens. Closer to the house, better sunlight and we now appreciated the value of manure!

The first harvest! Spurred on by the results from our new gardens and experiencing the delights of eating fresh, organic produce that we had grown ourselves we set out to improve the packing crate beds by encasing them in a more durable material - corrugated iron. We also decided to totally enclose and net the garden after the possums and bandicoots discovered our new garden and were hosting banquets' and inviting their neighbours the bush rats!

Almost finished - just needed a roof!

It ain't pretty but it works for us! I have christened it 'Mount Eden'. If you are from New Zealand you will realize what facility is located in that part of Auckland! I know it looks like a prison exercise yard. We are hoping that the beans flourish and grow tall to cover the netting.

So far so good. One of the varieties is called abundant harvest - I hope it lives up to its name!

2. Having established our gardens our next achievement was discovering what grew well in our climate and which plants preferred our acidic soil. We found that this could change from season to season. Weather was a huge factor. One season we had tonnes of zucchini, the next year the constant rain saw them rot before setting any fruit. Tomatoes were difficult to grow on account of the grubs but cherry tomatoes did better. We may never be self sufficient but we may become rhubarb sufficient! And lettuces and other leafy greens do better in the autumn!

3. We discovered that old bath tubs make great beds for raised gardens! Grow something that will spill over the side. In our climate, ceylon spinach flourishes. See the mulch in the background? Sugar cane mulch is my best friend - I just want to hug those bales when my husband unloads them from the ute. Weed suppressant, moisture retainer and to think once upon a time I thought garden beds covered in straw were unsightly!

4. Discovering plants that are real kitchen gems that you harvest and they just keep on growing giving what seems like an endless supply. Lebanese cress is one of those plants. It grows in a big pot near the kitchen door. Having problems with frilly lettuces bolting? Still want something attractive for the salad bowl that tastes good and makes the most gorgeous garnish for savoury party food? Try growing Lebanese cress - it is now one of my 'must haves/cannot do without' garden plants.

A simple but delicious lunch - egg and cress sandwiches. The bread is home made - not sourdough on this occasion but Annabel Langbein's 'Busy Person's Bread' from her book the 'Free Range Cook' which is so moist and delicious, especially when made with freshly milled whole wheat flour and packed with sunflower seeds. The eggs of course are from our chickens and even the tomato was found on a robust self- seeded vine nowhere near the vegetable garden! My own pictures which I cannot get to upload in the right position are making me feel hungry so its time to conclude this post and I have only just started to document our progress in the garden. In my next post I will show you some of the fruits of our labour including some of the more unusual tropical fruits we are attempting to grow here which are hopefully going to be coming into production next year.

I wish I had taken more 'before' photos. It really gives you a real appreciation of how much has been achieved when you can look back and see what it was like when we first moved to this property . Even Bear Grylls would have had problems finding his way through the undergrowth. Lantana was rampant and encroaching on the house. Rubbish was strewn all over the property - hundreds of plastic pots and plant labels were evidence of its former life as a wholesale nursery which the owner just tossed into the bush. Beer and whisky bottles were partially buried under shrubs. Yes, we have come a long way! Still a long way to go and when it all seems too much and I am found once again complaining about how much work is required, I have to become a retrospective gardener and look back with thanksgiving for everything this garden means to me and is providing for my family. It is not just a place to garden. It is a home and a place where you truly do live close to nature!

'He will make her wilderness like Eden.
And her desert like the garden of the Lord;
Joy and Gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.'

Isaiah 51.3

With Love and Joy and Gratitude for a Garden


Fruitful Harvest said...

What a lovely garden!
I love the so colorful!
What yummy looking food!
Cute models too!
Your kids are growing so fast!
Peace and Love,

Pam said...

Okay, I'm just loving it. Its funny because I have spent the last few days making plans for our garden. And now here you are giving reflection and encouragement. With my son Luke home (along with all his enthusiasm - "joy"), I am feeling ambitious and so is he. The last several years we have had some small beds near the house and have loved them, but am wanting to grow quite a bit more this year. Groceries are so expensive and still rising, and economy is not getting any better, so decided to go all out this year (well.. its not planted yet). Love the inspiration and all the pictures. It really does do a world of good to reflect back how far you have come doesn't it. It make you realize that there really has been much progress, and you can rejoice and give thanks in all the blessings and rewards that He has given us.

Your garden's look great. I loved the bird too. It is really fascinating to me to hear all about your experience in Australia. Its funny, because we try to grow Morning Glories here just to add green and color... its hard to make them grow because of the dryness. I hear in North Carolina (Southern part of the U.S., they have way too much Morning Glory growing as well).

Your cooking looks lovely and is making me hungry too. I think I will have to see if I can find the "Lebanese Cress". It sounds really good.
Many Blessings,

Camille said...

I *love* your photo at the top of this post...sooo pretty! Is that an orange tree I see one of your children plucking fruit from?? How wonderful!! And...eeekkk...leeches??? And ticks??? Hang in will all be worth it! :)

I do want to thank you for your sweet words of encouragement last week on my blog...thank you Ann! What a blessing to my heart. :)

Many blessings to you!

Renata said...

Love, love, love this post! I need the encouragement as I've had a crazy cow in our garden a couple of weeks ago - who knew cows loved roses??
We have tried & tried again as well - this climate is so different from Qld where I could put almost anything in & it grew! Oh well it's all about learning. As you say it's when you look back that you realise how much you have achieved.


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