Becoming a ‘hands-on’ gardener again

By Clive Blazey, Founder of The Diggers Club

Many of our members when we meet are under the mistaken impression that I am out there physically gardening; planting, weeding, watering and mulching.

Well, that was a long time ago when Diggers employed just 6 staff but now that we have 130 staff, I have been forced into ‘cerebral’ or ‘desk gardening’ i.e. managing gardening rather than actually getting my fingers in the soil. Not surprisingly none of our garden staff are interested in working indoors and now I see why.

I have been stuck behind a desk for ten years

Becoming a real gardener again (not a desk gardener) is like entering paradise. I don't have to consult anyone; I can draw up a plan, select and plant my favourite plants — as Vita Sackville West was fond of saying “everything is choice and well chosen” — before enjoying the trembling anticipation of fulfilment.

This is my fifth garden and although none of my plantings have ever been a wholehearted success I am perpetually optimistic.

We now have an 1880s double-fronted Victorian house on Ruckers Hill in Northcote with a view towards the Yarra Valley and the Dandenongs.

We are a 15 minute bike ride from the city, Melbourne's botanic garden and the MCG. Every street I ride through has 100-year-old, shady street trees, as beautiful as any boulevard in Paris, and the High St street food is the best in the city.

This charming house is perfectly located on 800 square metres of soil so the garden is a perfect size. I have just planted a herbaceous border (over the front lawn) between a Jacaranda and Chinese Lantern tree. Along the sunny north side I planted Mermaid, Albertine and R. laevigata Roses, intermingled with cottage garden Lupins, Hollyhocks and Delphiniums.

My granddaughter and I planted her favourite vegetable, Sweet Corn, and we have naturally seeding Silverbeet, Potatoes and Arugula.

My granddaughter

Our neighbours have high hopes and we mustn't disappoint

The garden has two gigantic, 100-year-old Washingtonia Palms and the most beautiful Pomegranate I have ever seen, which produced about 800 fruits (that we plan to list for sale.)

So the garden is large enough to find a place for all my favourite plants and we are just 500 metres from our grandchildren.

Our borrowed landscape features gigantic Moreton Bay Figs and our neighbours have loads of old Orange, Peach, Almond, Avocado and Lemon trees.

It seems from the chats that we have with our neighbours and passers by that our gardening passion is infectious. They have high hopes and we must not disappoint them. And so the indescribable pleasure we are enjoying from gardening again is akin to a lifestyle currently described as wellness doing the rounds of the internet.

I guess our greatest gardening pleasure this winter has come from connecting directly with nature. The birds are singing at daybreak; mushrooms emerge every morning through our copious spreading of Zoo poo.

Starting the landscaping

Why is gardening falling in popularity?

Our passers by, mostly hipsters, are sharing a displaced pleasure in the sense that they, by juggling the work/family imbalance, are as disconnected from life itself as I felt being a desk gardener rather than real gardener.Apart from the extraordinary pleasure of being a hands-on gardener, again the benefits will astound you. Dr. Mercola in the US describes the benefits of gardening as follows:

1. Happiness: it seems that gardeners in the US record 80% satisfaction with life compared to non-gardeners (of which only 67% are happy).

2. Health: gardening improves health from the exercise needed as well as by reducing stress, attention fatigue and the risk of dementia, which drops by 30-45% compared to non gardeners.

3. Better nutrition: in the US it costs about $70 to buy seeds and plants for one person but it returns $550 in fruit and vegetables with better nutrition.

So one has to ask why is gardening an activity that is falling in popularity when it gives such pleasure and healthy wellbeing?

Clive Blazey (8 Nov 2016)

Pomegranate at Northcote

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