‘The Good Life’ … the birth of Diggers

By Clive Blazey, Founder of The Diggers Club

The Diggers Club began 40 years ago just as that life-defining BBC programme called The Good Life was all the rage amongst gardeners seeking a ‘back to basics’ lifestyle.

Inspired hippies migrated to Nimbin in NSW, whilst we settled to garden in South Melbourne. Instead of mowing the lawn we kept a lamb to mow it for us and we created a pond for our Leunig ducks which have remained our favourite pets for all of our 40 years.

But our new alternative lifestyle had a difficult birth because I had been out of a job for seven months and we were also without a house, and to make it worse, our third child, the fifth mouth, was about to arrive, literally in a stable without a kitchen or a bathroom.

But we were blessed in the sense that the Convent of the Good Shepherd sold us a huge, vacant piece of land facing north with a 200ft brick wall on which we could espalier our fruit trees and, on the southern end was an unused stable that we could renovate into an amazing modern house and office.

I was only 33 at the time, a marketing graduate obsessed about seeds – quite an infant in the sense of gardening experience, but still confident enough not to be intimidated by what I didn’t know!

I was in for a rude shock on the very first day (1 July 1978) of Diggers’ existence when a very knowledgeable gardener knocked on our door asking for plants I had never heard of. That created a such a panic for a self-taught gardener that I spent every night after work for five years reading every garden book I could find and every weekend visiting the Botanic Gardens with our family.

I now know what I don’t know!

40 years later I know that there are lots of gardeners with more knowledge than us – so-called ‘experts’ – but I ‘now know what I don’t know’.

Humus and humility beget the getting of gardening wisdom.

To understand the bigger garden picture, we needed to travel outside Australia and to become a member of the Royal Horticulture Society in the UK which began in 1804.

Penny and I have been to the RHS’s Wisley garden many times, read every RHS garden magazine and every Encyclopaedia and, although inspired by the RHS, sadly the British garden travels poorly ‘down under’ because of our cloudless skies, arid soils and frequent droughts.

The huge gap in gardening competence between our two countries has widened over time as surfing, dining and footy have displaced gardening as our major hobby.

Gardening is to the British what sport is to Australians, and the contempt we feel to the British on the sporting field is reciprocated by the British when viewing our gardening endeavours. So Australians need to create our own gardens that suit our varying climates, our cultural diversity and our very different lifestyle.

Inspired by the achievements of the RHS, we established the Diggers Garden Trust about 10 years ago in order to preserve our best seeds, plants and outstanding gardens.

It’s what you know that leads to success, not how much you do!

Clive Blazey (12 April 2018)

Picture below: The Good Life, produced by BBC television, ran from 1975-1978

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Clive Blazey

Clive is the founder of The Diggers Club, a pioneer in the rescue of heirloom vegetable and fruit varieties and author of seven books on flower, vegetable and fruit gardening.

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