I love seeing what other people have done in their gardens and one I admire in particular is that of a friend, Paola. Like me, she is a champion tip-shop forager; unlike me, she actually gives those trinkets a new life decorating her beautiful garden, instead of letting them pile up in a back room waiting to be used! She has created a backyard somewhere between boho and magical faerie garden, using recycled and found objects; but not only that, it is also productive with beans, sweet potatoes and nasturtiums growing up the fence, a variety of greens and herbs and spices, and small wicking beds of veg made from whatever she can find.
Paola started gardening while in a share-house in her twenties, beginning simply with potted succulents and mosses in her room, before venturing out into the garden. Five years ago she moved into a rental with a mango, bottlebrush, banana, and not much else. The soil was like rock and impossible to dig; but today she has a cool, green sanctuary, and a garden full of worms.
The soil was the biggest challenge to begin with: she added an enormous amount of compost, manure and coffee grounds. She believes the coffee grounds are the secret to the lush, healthy growth of her plants. Although some recent research has cast doubt on the usefulness of coffee grounds, many people have had great success with them – and looking at Paola’s garden the proof seems to be in the pudding!
The large mango tree, though providing the most wonderful shady spot to sit and enjoy the garden, has prevented her from using a large area due to the shade it casts and the roots under the surface. She found that other limitations were having very few areas with enough sun to grow veggies, and her dog – the adorable Astro – who loves to jump up along the fences, preventing her from making full use of them.
Despite these challenges Paola has managed to grow an enormous variety of plants, including many edibles. As a full time worker and mum she tends to favour plants and vegetables that don’t need much attention; she has many succulents and is ever on the lookout for cuttings and bargains in op-shops.
But not only is she a great gardener, she is amazingly handy; with the help of her mum, she constructed her lovely pergola using old drums, used timbers and other recycled materials. (The construction was such a success that we used the same idea in our community food forest to build our eight sided pergola.)
For Paola, her garden is one of her greatest joys, ‘It’s a place just to come out and escape’.
So what advice would she have given herself as a beginner? ‘Compost first!! Then start gardening.’
And to anyone thinking of starting? ‘Just do it. Put something in a pot or in the soil and take it from there.’