Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

The embryonic gardener

by Hannah Parris, March 2010

I’ve learnt to fear the words “honey, can you bring me the colander please?” Usually it is from my husband out in the garden and inevitably presages an avalanche of just picked garden produce about to land in my cooking pot. Welcome to the world of the home gardener. Sweet darling little zucchini one day, huge ‘what the bugger do we do with them now’ marrow the next (answer: they actually barbeque up quite nicely).

Really, this whole gardening thing started as a birthday present for my husband who has an urge to nurture things. But on Sunday afternoons I have the urge only for a cuppa tea and a good book, so it seemed that taking the plunge – even hiring a gardener to get the big stuff done – and growing a few veges would satisfy us both.

But the thing is, we are now both hooked. And I now find myself regularly out in the garden marvelling at the tomatoes or greedily coveting the freshly picked raspberries….this is now not a hobby, but a (particularly yummy) part of our lives.  (mmmmm, although maybe I DO need to get out more).

To say that we are novice gardeners is an understatement (embryonic is probably more accurate).  And my husband and I have had a few ‘experimental’ disasters (for example, we planted a kaffir lime bush in our south facing garden in the middle of winter and then were ‘surprised’ when it died during -6 deg frosts……I am not kidding here).

In the 6 short months we’ve had a garden we discovered that:

  • The person who wrote ‘full sun’ instructions on most vegetable seedlings instructions obviously hasn’t spent time under the moisture-sucking glare of a hot Canberra summer afternoon sun. Seedlings often don’t make it under these conditions – but we have had successful experiments using a bit shade cloth over them.
  • Digging ‘compost trenches’ around the garden is an easier option that having a proper compost but do expect rogue vegetables to randomly sprout from them. We already have about 5 pumpkins grown in this way (see below).
  • Garlic takes a long time to grow, and they don’t appear to like being pulled out of the ground to ‘check’ how they are doing.
  • Pumpkin vines are destined to take over the world, starting with our backyard. I feel like I am on the set for a “day of the triffids” remake. Pumpkin recipes anyone?
  • Keep watering the sticks. I gave up on a few ‘dead’ things but luckily my husband didn’t and we’ve watched in amazement as seeming old vines and a fig tree have come alive. Although on the other hand, some haven’t…….

The point is, in the quest to make our lives sustainable we are plunging in and doing what we can, learning as we go and, most importantly, having a laugh at the same time.  To me, this seems like the essence of the search for sustainability in our suburbs.

With thanks to our


  • ACT Government Environment and Planning
  • The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT (AISACT)
  • Catholic Education Office (Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn)
  • Education and Training Directorate
  • ACT Government