This post is brought to you by Maze
I tiptoed outside to the tiny but sunny little courtyard of the suburban two bedroom rental where we lived in 2018 to so some ‘gardening’. I very carefully lifted up a leaf on the zucchini plant I had tenderly placed in the raised veggie patch a few months earlier. I was checking on the little nubby zucchini who’d just recently popped his little head out of a flower. When he was ready for picking, I made my partner film me using my floral handled gardening shears to snip him free of the plant. I then placed him proudly on the kitchen bench, gazing lovingly at him several times a day. I put him in a cute little basket and posted a photo of him to Instagram, probably flanked by obnoxious hashtags like #homegrowngoodness and #cityhomesteader.
My new found passion for gardening was going extremely well until we had to go on a last minute overseas trip and when we returned my little zucchini had shrivelled into a tiny, dark green, turd-like creature. I was devastated. Mainly because I had absolutely no idea how I managed to grow the little guy in the first place. There must have been a miracle combination of accidents because I basically plonked the plant in the ground and splashed some water on it a few times and then acted like I was a host on Gardening Australia when something actually grew there. So I had no idea how to replicate this phenomenon.
Truth be told, I’ve been wanting to ‘garden’ for a really, really long time. I tried indoor/windowsill gardening several times but dark apartments/colder climates consistently thwarted those efforts. The first proper outdoor garden I ever had was in a rental property we weren’t planning on staying in for long so I didn’t want to spend a lot of time and money on it.
After a decade spent in Fitzroy in Melbourne (followed by a very short stint in Brunswick) we moved to the North East of Victoria and now own a house on 2 acres. We inherited a very healthy herb garden, a veggie patch that needs a serious makeover and over 100 trees of different varieties.
My desire to ‘garden’ (I keep putting the word in inverted commas because I feel like I’m not a gardener yet, I’m a ‘gardener’ – I reckon I need to do a full turn of the seasons before I earn the right to drop the implied ‘alleged’ from that statement) has come to fruition in full force. We’re needing to teach ourselves a lot of stuff, really quickly to keep our property functioning.
We are RIGHT at the beginning of our journey and here’s some stuff we’ve discovered and found extremely useful.
1. Understand your climate
I cannot stress this enough. No matter how much you want it, it’s going to be extremely difficult to grow avocados and mangoes unless you live in Queensland. I didn’t say impossible – there’s always a handful of plant whisperers in every region who manage to grow weird stuff – but generally speaking it’s best to stick to what the experts say.
Here are some good resources for finding out what grows well in your climate.
Another hot tip is to chat to the locals. Our little town is chock a block full of people who grow their own veggies so they know the exact weekend to start planting your tomatoes in spring. We have a little volunteer post office in our town and the main topic of conversation there is generally ‘Zucchini planting weekend’ or ‘Apple harvesting time’.
2. Get serious about composting
When I lived in Fitzroy in Melbourne I become quite obsessed with the Zero Waste movement. More specifically Trash is for Tossers. If you haven’t checked her out, do it now. She’s the Reece Witherspoon of low waste living. The reason why I was so obsessed with her is because she was an apartment dweller like me. I’d been wanting to compost our food scraps for ages and she suggested freezing food scraps (to deal with stank smells in a tiny apartment) and then taking it to your local compost centre. Would you believe I couldn’t find a local compost centre in Fitzroy? I couldn’t even find a community garden nearby to give my food scraps too. I had to put my composting dreams on hold.
- It improves your soil with slow release nutrients to keep your soil fertile
- It’s way better than chemical fertilisers because is doesn’t burn or pollute your garden
- It keeps organics out of landfill where they produce methane which is no friend to the environment
- It saves you money on chemical fertilisers
- Helps you waste less water because yummy composted soil is ace at water retention
We have a very small under sink compost bucket which we empty every day into the back door step compost. That is then emptied every few days into the compost turner. Each evening we do a turn of the garden and give the compost turner a spin.
3. Dress appropriately
Here’s my typical gardening attire.
I also slather myself from head to toe in sunscreen several times a day and I use a natural insect repellent to keep flies away. I really, really hate flies and also I’m a honey pot for mossies. They just love me so I need to wear some kind of repellent every day and I’m not too keen on putting deet on myself every day.
Weird side note – I’ve always been very tasty to mosquitos but for some reason when I was pregnant with my daughter they left me alone for the full 9 months. How bizarre is that? Now that she’s born they’re back in full force. Damn it.
4. Only grow stuff you like or that you find useful
I like growing veggies, fruit and herbs. I don’t hate flowers (in fact I think they’re quite gorgeous) but I’d rather spend my time and energy on something useful. If I ever have the time or the inclination I can definitely see myself getting into roses but for now I’m a veggie, fruit and herb gal.
5. Learn to trim, prune and weed
Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
1. Get a Fiskars weed puller. This thing changed our lives. It’s unbelievably effective and you don’t have to spend all day on your knees pulling weeds out.
2. Felco 5s secateurs are amazing. We’ve bought several pairs of cheap ones over the years and we splurged and bought these awesome ones and we have no regrets. My favourite thing about this brand is that you can go to their website and purchase individual parts so you can get them mended. We’ll have these babies for life.
3. When you prune, (mostly) go hard. Plants love a really good hair cut.
6. Consider a greenhouse especially if you live in a cold climate
We live in a sub-alpine environment which can be unpredictable so we wanted to get a greenhouse for the following reasons.
- Plant protection – we get a lot of frost so for some plants, it’s best to keep them in a greenhouse where we live
- All season gardening – one of our neighbours has a greenhouse and he eats beautiful tomatoes in the middle of winter
- We can grow seedlings over winter
We chose the Bella Greenhouse because it looks like a mini chapel and also the bell design stops build of leaves/water/snow on the roof which requires less maintenance. Win. Oh and you can get this greenhouse (and others in the range) at Bunnings.
The panels are made of super sturdy double wall polycarbonate and the whole thing is made of rust resistant aluminium. The panels are also UV protected specifically for the harsh Aussie sun.
Here’s some other cool things about this greenhouse…
- Lockable door handle
- Low threshold and wide double entry doors for easy entry
- Magnetic door catch to keep greenhouse open when required
- Galvanized steel base
- 3 x roof vents included for control of air flow and temperature
- Plenty of room for cultivation of plants
- Plenty of room for storing tools and equipment
- Easy to put together using sliding panels assembly system
- Maintenance free
- It was really easy to put together – it has the cool kind of slide style technology (I’m sure that’s a word) so the whole thing slides and clicks together and then it’s secured with nuts and bolts.
Here’s a time lapse of us putting it together being helped by our 11 month old daughter.
It’s early stages yet so we’ve only just put it together but we have plans to build a short stone wall around it to give it a real secret garden vibe. We just have add some garden beds and a potting station and we’re good to go!
Our plans at the moment include cherry tomatoes (it’s pretty much the only reliable food our 11 month old eats!), strawberries and basil because we live in a cold climate and these types of plants need protection from frost.
If you have any other ideas let me know!
7. Have a positive attitude
Gardening is a lot of work and although it’s thoroughly enjoyable and very good for you there are parts of it that kind of suck. Like chipping away at baked-in grass around the foot of a tree it’s slowly killing. Jobs like that.
Thankfully I love most gardening jobs. I love weeding (weird I know but I’m a Virgo – tidying is in my blood), I love pruning (for similar reasons), I love watering, I love (LOVE!!!) mowing the lawn on the ride on, I love getting mulch for the garden beds.
I HATE turning soil and prepping garden beds. Hate it so much. My partner doesn’t mind it, so he does that job.
It’s all about finding what you like, what you tolerate and what you love and splitting it up evenly amongst the people you live with.
8. Keep a checklist
And pop reminders in your phone of what needs doing each week/month/season. Otherwise you’ll go out the back to grab a handful mint and your whole herb garden is being choked to death by a rogue blackberry plant.
9. Understand your plants
Label them, keep notes and refer to these notes regularly. My biggest gardening mistake in the past as been being too smug about my knowledge retention. Most gardeners I know are always like ‘Oh yeah, that’s a perennial – you want to trim those in the second weekend after spring starts.’
I’m 90% sure that sentence is incorrect but it takes years and years to remember that kind of stuff. In the meantime, keep some notes.