Jerry’s ‘Bellis Garden’

The Gardening Australia expo, Brisbane, was a big success. Better plants, better displays and keen gardeners determined to succeed, whatever drought may bring. We were there too, mostly at ‘Jerry’s Bellis garden’ display.

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I’d like to say a big thank you to Expertise Events – to Gary, Dawn, Matt and Rudi – the team who made the expo work. Expertise sponsored the ‘Bellis’ display. Thanks guys for your timely help and support in getting things right.

It’s taken me two hours to answer the questions you’ve sent via our website.

Information
Each day I gave slide presentations, two per day on my productive garden, discussing and showing how I’ve been growing a lot of the food my household eats using 350 litres of recycled water a day – on an 813 square metre property that’s less than a litre per square metre per day. The expo slide shows are in the video section.

I talked about why Seed Saving is giving gardeners the cutting edge on Climate Change whilst conserving traditional food and medicinal plants. One daily session covered how our ornamental front garden is ready for Climate Change and how it’s coping with natural rainfall during SE Queensland’s water state of emergency.

All of our brochures on how to become a Seed Saver were snapped up, all of our Queensland Conservation brochures went – and some of our interpretive signs disappeared too. People were particularly excited about our ‘First Fleet’ coffee and our ‘Purple Osaka’ mustard signs, which had to be replaced daily. Our greenie attitude problem got in the way, we should have printed a couple of dozen…

An entire ream of our sustainability quizzes evaporated too.

The subtropics are often a neglected bioregion. Loads of people expressed an interest in buying copies of the DVD that the ABC produced for the display, which covered topics like the benefits of seaweed, value-for-money fertilisers, Pete Cundall’s visit to Bellis, how to make your own potting mixes, how to trench dig a vegetable bed, etc.

The best thing were the audiences, of course, keenly aware that living and gardening the right way can help fight Global Warming, manage drought, whilst keeping ourselves well fed and healthy.

For those of you who asked when you could visit our garden, we’ll be open to limited numbers in August 2007 and May 2008 as part of the Australian Open Garden Scheme.

We could have done with an extra set of bleachers – the audiences were always double or more than double the seating allocation. My apologies to those of you who had to stand or sit on the concrete floor!

Our drought-affected produce
Since November 2006 I decided our rainwater was too precious to be used in the garden, so I’ve just been using the 350 litres of recycled water a day to grow food in our 400 square metre back garden. That’s less than one litre per square metre of soil.

The sweet potato, cassava, passionfruit, arrowroot, lemongrass and winged yams on display were small, and some things, like our cinnamon, were showing symptoms of drought-induced nutrient deficiencies. I even showed our last lemon – the last of the eight fruit I allowed my three year old tree to produce.

I wanted to show people our produce warts and all. People need and want to see real life. We’ve demonstrated that despite enduring Australia’s worst recorded drought, our Wynnum garden in Bayside Brisbane can still feed us. Despite all these faults people were asking to buy our food…

Negative feedback
Unfortunately many thought that the plasma screen was too small for a slide show. We’ll bear this in mind if I’m asked to do the display again. And whilst on the main stage, after bagging Beattie I was ticked off for not criticising the federal government enough… Sorry guys – no favouritism intended! You’re as inadequate as each other. You’re both very fine examples of your type.

Celebrating Three Years of Drought

This was the topic of my main stage presentation, in which I wanted to hear and share positive ideas and practices that have arisen out of the drought.

This is a summary of audience views:

South East Queensland has a better appreciation of the value of water;

* We’re watering strategically to make best use of water. One family decided not to grow any winter vegetables at all so they can instead water their mature fruit trees. Another family is layering their garden – mounting epiphytes on trees, and planting shrubs, vines and perennials underneath them so that they can water one patch and keep it green. One gardener is putting all their effort and water into a container garden on their balcony;

* We’re mulching more than ever, and that’s good for water conservation and soil health. One gardener is sweeping the street gutters of Manly so she can collect leaves for mulching and home composting – that’s good for improving stormwater quality too, well done!

* We’re learning about green cleaners and how they improve the quality of grey water – which is good news for our plants and our soils;

* We’re growing more food at home because the drought is making shop produce more expensive;

One big message was: gardeners vote and we’re not happy about unfair watering restrictions penalising us – especially those of us who grow food – when swimming pools and luxury golf courses are kept watered.

My contribution was replying to questions:

* Beware of killer winter winds: the East Coast Low Weather systems, which include our famous ‘Ekka winds’. They can pack winds the strength of a Category 1 Cyclone and the nights after they pass can often be frosty, even in areas that are normally frost free (like my Wynnum garden). With parched soils and stressed plants, these desiccating cool season gales will be tree killers in 2007. Mulch and water your favourite trees and hedges, evergreens in particular, but not too deep, otherwise light falls of rain won’t soak through;

* Rest your garden in spring and make compost in readiness for the summer rainy season. After what will be an amazingly hard winter, our traditionally hot, dry, windy spring will be even harder. Turn this to your advantage, crisped seed pods make seed saving from non-hybrid crops dead easy. Compost needs a little water to mature, so keep it damp while you rest your garden. Save your water for your fruit trees, they are long term investments;

* Prepare for bush fires – prepare for more of them and fires of greater intensity. Visit the SES website for risk-reduction advice;

* Plant more tropical dryland plants. There are many regions like Brisbane across the globe – with long, dry cool seasons and hot, humid, briefly wet summers. If plants can cope with slightly hotter, drier conditions than Brisbane currently experiences (like Townsville) these will be Climate Change winners. The overall message is – plant species that stress well in drought, can cope with hot, humid summers, and which respond to erratic rainfall;

* Plant a few water-demanding annuals – like coriander and snapdragons – in autumn and winter. Annuals add vibrancy to our lives and grown during the cool season you’ll get the best value from bucket watering. Level 6 watering restrictions are likely to start in September and by then annuals will be ready for composting;

* Sprout seeds on your windowsill. They’re highly nutritious. Kids love sprouting seeds because they’re quick and easy – and they need little water.

In closing I’d like to thank all of the people involved in helping set up ‘Jerry’s Bellis garden’ display, and especially Brendan Lee (ABC), my housemates Jeff Poole and Damien Andrews. The last three had to put up with a very drought stressed gardener…

Jerry Coleby-Williams
Tuesday, 1 May 2007