July 2013

I have started to write a gardening blog for the one and only Dumbo Feather...

January 2013

Our first video, how to plant seedlings.
Summer 2012

Published: North and West Melbourne News, December 2012


I often take my little family on walks through community gardens in search of inspiration and sometimes just to admire a well-made vegetable bed. What I love about a beautifully designed veggie bed is that it is abundant with produce, with a lovely balance of form and function. I am a real sucker for colour so any bed with a mixture of herbs, flowers, fruit and veg will win my heart.

It does take some knowledge to choose the flowers that work best in a vegetable garden. I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the good flower companions and also 
to make you aware of some common flowers that are poisonous.


These sweet little flowers look like hundreds of tiny boquets. You can plant them from seed or as seedlings and they will attract hoverflies which produce larva that will eat aphids. Alyssum also attract bees to pollinate your garden. Once planted, Alyssum don’t need to be repurchased as they reseed freely and make a beautiful groundcover every year.


I love Borage. I’m not really sure why. It can take over your garden and is a tiny bit ugly but there is something endearing about it. Borage is a great companion plant for tomatoes, squash and strawberries and is one of the best plants for attracting bees and wasps. The small purple flowers of Borage can be eaten. Someone once told me they taste like oysters but I don’t believe it (crazy gardeners!).


I have always grown nasturtiums in my gardens. They are a wonderful companion for many vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, radishes and mustards. They also deter loads of pests such as aphids and whiteflies. It seems there is nothing this plant can’t do. You can eat the flowers, the leaves and even the seeds. My favourite part of this flower is that they self-seed like crazy. Their seeds look like tiny brains and I love getting the children in my classes to gather as many brains as they can find to save and replant the following season.


These bright yellow beauties are a real treat in the garden. They are super easy to grow and self-seed like their lives depend on it (a little gardening humour for you there).

Along with marigolds, calendulas are said to be the best companion plants for repelling insects. However the books I have read on the topic vary in their descriptions of the insects they repel and I remain skeptical of their results. Calendulas do attract slugs and just this week I found cabbage moth caterpillars hiding in my older plants. The jury is out 
on how effective they are, but my word they look good!


Sunflowers are planted for children and big kids. They are the beautiful summer triphids of the garden and a good companion for corn. Also their seeds can be eaten or saved and sown the following year.  

Many years ago I was surprised to learn that rhubarb leaves were poisonous if ingested, causing nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. As a gardening teacher I set about investigating what other common garden plants were also poisonous. Here I have listed nine poisonous garden plants common in Melbourne.

Daphne (**). All parts of the plant, especially the berries and bark.
Delphinium (**). All parts, especially seeds.
Foxglove (**). All parts.
Hellebores (**). All parts.
Hydrangea (*). All parts when ingested
Lupins (*). Dried and fresh leaves and young stems.
Lily-of-the-valley (**). All parts, especially the berries.
Morning glory (*). Seeds.
Sweet peas (*). All parts, especially the seeds and pods.

* = toxic (causes discomfort and irritation but not dangerous to human life)
** = highly toxic (capable of causing serious illness or death).

A general rule-of-thumb is that all plants with dripping, milky sap should be treated with caution. Euphorbias and frangipanis are good examples of these. Cutting these plants causes them to drip with sap which causes a burning sensation on the skin. When working with these plants, wear a hat, gloves, long-sleeve shirt and long trousers. Be careful not to make the rookie mistake of wiping your brow as this can lead to a world of pain! Also children are often interested by plants that create this milky sap so make sure you alert them to the danger.

Toxicity is a part of some plants’ natural defence systems and they can be surprisingly lethal to humans. However, now that you are armed with the knowledge of which common plants to avoid, you shouldn’t let this deter you or your kids from having fun in the garden. So enjoy the summer and take time to stand back and enjoy your colourful gardens and your hard work. No matter how big or small your garden may be.

See you in the dirt!

Natasha Grogan


Spring 2012

Published: North and West Melbourne News, September 2012

On the weekend I made the classic mistake of not reading an entire recipe before deciding on it as my dinner dish (yes this is still a gardening article, bare with me). At the tail end of winter, and on a freezing Melbourne night, I served my husband a cold noodle salad with salmon and herbs. Not the ideal winter dish, (but truly delicious) however it did serve to remind me how amazing herbs are and how easy they are to grow. So lets talk herbs.

Classically herbs are put into two groups: soft and hard herbs. Soft herbs such as mint, parsley and basil are best used fresh and mostly last one season, while hard herbs thyme, sage and rosemary are best used dried and are perennials. Herbs will not only liven your dishes, but in the garden they attract beneficial insects and serve as companions for the other crops in your garden. In honour of the herb, here are a few of my favourites and some growing tips and suggestions for companion plants.


I have two recommendations when it comes to growing mint. One: don’t buy mint, take some cuttings and plant directly. This is not only free but it grows faster and produces a better crop. Two: Mint can take over a garden. I recommend planting in a spot that you want covered or in a pot. If you have planned a spot in your garden for your mint but it runs the risk of taking over, plant it in the ground in a big pot to contain the roots. Mint prefers damp, partly shaded areas of your garden. Don’t be concerned if your mint looks a bit worse for wear in winter, it dies down but will come back strong in spring and once established will grow for many years. Mint can be grown with cabbages and tomatoes.
Parsley. A popular herb, which is easy to grow in Melbourne. It can be grown as a seed or bought as a seedling. The good thing about parsley is that it will self-seed in your garden, which means you should only have to do the growing once! There are two types of parsley readily available: curly leaf and flat leaf. It is a personal choice but I prefer flat leaf. They like to be planted with carrots, chives, tomatoes and asparagus; but not potatoes.


A classic warm weather herb, you can grow your basil in seed trays and transplant out after 5 weeks or buy as a seedling. There are different varieties of basil on the market now, including cinnamon, thai and lemon, so why not try a few. To keep your crop growing for as long as possible, remove the flower heads as soon as they appear. Basil is the timeless companion to tomato.


A trusty hard herb which can be grown from seed; I have never done this, I buy it as a seedling or from a cutting and plant direct into the garden. If you have pavers in your garden or little gaps that need to be filled, pop a seedling in there. Thyme that creeps between pavers releases the most amazing aromas when you walk through your garden. It likes to be planted near other hard herbs such as sage and oregano.


Although sage is a perennial herb, lasting in your garden for years, it will die down each winter and come back again in the spring. So don’t be disheartened when your sage looks like it is on its way out in the cooler months. Avoid planting sage in a spot that gets too wet. It will like being planted near broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots and rosemary.


Not only my lovely mother’s name, but a herb for the community. Take some rosemary from your best mates garden, strip off the leaves close to the cut, dip in honey (I’m deadly serious), then plant. Rosemary will become a large shrub if you let it, so choose your space wisely and prune to maintain the shape you are after. Plant with beans, carrots, cabbages and sage.

My feeling is this… there is no reason why every house in Melbourne shouldn’t have fresh herbs growing. Not only is it cost effective but it is so easy. At the moment we live in a small apartment, I am growing basil, parsley, coriander, mint, thyme, sage and rosemary. So go on, get growing and add deliciousness to your meals.

Until summer time,

See you in the dirt!

Natasha Grogan


Winter 2012

Published: North and West Melbourne News, June 2012

In the depths of a Melbourne winter it can be hard to motivate yourself to get outside among the elements to enjoy your garden. So how can we be successful as home gardeners while rugged up by the fireplace?* The answer is simple: green manure.
This non-stinky variety of manure rejuvenates the soil while you get to sit back and watch. It just takes a little preparation while the sun is still out.

Green manure is a crop of annuals, consisting of grains and legumes that are grown for the sole purpose of putting organic matter and nitrogen back into the soil. Let me be clear: none of this crop will be eaten, it is grown for the soil’s belly not yours.

The process of growing a green manure crop takes about eight weeks in an empty bed and then a further four weeks before it is ready to be planted in the spring (that’s 12 weeks in front of that fireplace, folks!)

As I mentioned in last year’s winter edition, the process of crop rotation is a vital part of caring for your soil. So although planting for green manure may seem like a lazy option, it is a valuable part of your yearly gardening ritual.

Green manure is grown by seed. Commonly used seeds are rye, corn, tick beans, oats, barley, wheat, lupins and yellow and black mustard seeds. You can buy pre-mixed seasonal packets of green manure seeds at your local nursery.

Now, since I’m about to give you an eight to twelve week gardening break, we had better get the preparation for this crop right.
·      Prepare your empty bed with some organic poultry-based fertiliser by digging it into the surface of the bed and water it with seaweed liquid.
·      When sowing your seeds you will want complete coverage unlike sowing a crop for produce. Spread the seeds evenly and close together. If you are sowing a large area you can sow the seeds in sections to ensure you cover it thoroughly.
·      Rake over the seeds lightly so that they roll around in the soil a bit. The rule of thumb for planting any seeds is: you should cover the seed with soil as deep as the seed is fat (I love watching the children I teach absorb that fact). Once the seeds are all good and dirty they must be watered in. Now sit back and watch green manure grow.

After 8 weeks or when the crop is half a meter high it is ready to be cut down and added to your existing soil. Keep an eye on your legumes (beans, peas etc) around this time, as they need to be cut before they come into flower (Yes, this means you will have to put down your book and pry yourself off the couch for just a few hours. Go on, you’ll need the sun.)

When you are cutting the crop remember you want to keep all the plant material in the beds. Slash the plants into short pieces then leave them for a few days so that they wilt and break down. Then dig them into the top layer of the soil, water and cover with a light layer of mulch. It is important that you keep the garden beds damp while plant matter is breaking down.

Now back inside to put the kettle on. After four weeks (six if you are really lazy… I mean relaxed) you are ready to plant a spring extravaganza. But we can leave that until next time.

This issue is the lazy gardeners guide to gardening! However if you have a little bounce in your step and want to eat some of your own vegetables this season here are some veggies you can plant: broad beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbages (red, green and Chinese), fennel, garlic, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, radish and spinach.

Until spring…

I’ll see you in the dirt

Natasha Grogan

* Note to readers: I don’t actually have a fireplace, but I don’t have a garden at the moment either so I’m allowing myself a certain poetic liberty!


Autumn 2012

Published: North and West Melbourne News, March 2012

Autumn days are here and I, for one, can’t believe it. I am happy to report that my first child, Gretchen Peta, arrived safely two days before Christmas. The rest of the season felt like one long day.

Gretchen has already joined me many times in the garden, sleeping (like a baby), while I tend to the beds. It would seem the little love has no choice but to become a keen gardener.

With my new arrival taking up most of my time, you’ll have to forgive me for taking a blunt approach to my gardening advice.

Inquisitive gardeners often ask me “What should I plant now?” and “How and when do I harvest?” For those posing the same questions I have provide a list of my Autumn favourites and a guide to what to look for when harvesting:


Rarely will a home-grown broccoli head reach the size of those in the supermarkets, so don’t wait for them to grow to that size. Believe me, I made this mistake when I first started gardening and they went to flower before they grew any bigger. I now harvest broccoli when the buds on the florits (we called them trees when we were kids) look full but are still tightly packed. If you harvest the broccoli an inch under the main head you will be able to harvest small florits from the stem for several weeks. The stem is delicious and full of nutrients so don’t leave it out of your cooking once you have removed the plant.


When harvesting carrots from my garden over the holidays my Dad asked, with a concerned frown, if they were “OK to eat”. I reassured him that, like us humans, organic produce comes in many different shapes and sizes.

I love carrots, but have grown very few that look like those in the supermarket. Instead I have taken to calling mine “crazy carrots”. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some have two legs, some twist and twirl and some split down the middle. Make no mistake, they all taste terrific.

Carrots love fluffy, deep, loam soil. After years I have not mastered the perfect carrot growing soil and as a result they are a little on the wonky side. Your carrots will be ready to harvest when you can see their tops pop out of the soil. Simply pull out, wash and eat.


Leeks are great for the simple reason that they can stay in your garden for up to a year. If you forget you have planted them they can be a great surprise months down the track.
Leeks are tricky to plant if bought as seedlings. Each single ‘strand’ is one leek and there can be as many as thirty in a punnet. Do not make the mistake of planting them all together (this also applies to carrots, spring onions and beetroots). Take the time to separate the seedlings and you will be rewarded all entire year round.

To ensure that all plants have enough space you can plant leeks from seed and then thin out (remove some of the seedlings that emerge). Harvest the leeks once they have reached your preferred size by pulling out the entire plant.


I try to avoid buying lettuce for my kitchen. The plastic bags seem like such a waste for the few leaves that I require and often half of what I buy ends up in the bin. Besides, lettuce is super-easy to grow all year round. You can buy seeds and thin out or just buy seedlings. Either way, having lettuce in your garden is a money saver.

Harvest your lettuce by breaking off only as many outer leaves as you need for your meal, leaving the plant in the ground for your next dinner.


Silverbeet is another plant that is hardy and reliable. I always plant rainbow silverbeet (why go for green and white when you can have green, yellow, red and pink?). Silverbeet is much like lettuce: harvest the outer leaves you need, when you need them. You’ll use the entire leaf when cooking so harvest each leaf from the base of the stem.

So there you have it! A few treats to put in your garden over Autumn. This time last year I told you to add some love to your soil in the way of manure, compost or both and to give your garden a good water with seaweed liquid. This should become a part of your Autumn gardening habits.

Until winter,

See you in the dirt

Natasha Grogan


Summer 2011
Published: North and West Melbourne News, December 2011

Summer is here and the hot weather gets Melbournians outside, eating and drinking with friends. Now is the time to show off your garden and its weird and wild summer fruit and vegetables. With the hotter months upon us you will also need to be vigilant in protecting your garden from frying in the harsh summer sun.

There are a few simple measures you can put in place to ensure your garden survives the sweltering summer heat. Watering is obviously the key to a bountiful summer crop.

Installing an irrigation system on a timer is not only water efficient but terrifically easy to manage once installed. Of course not all families have the means to set up such a system. Products such as water crystals and Solid Water can assist with water retention so that you don’t have to spend your whole summer holding a water hose. Sometimes I bribe my kindly neighbours with some fresh fruit and veggies in exchange for a helping hand with the watering if I am away. 

Mulching is fundamental at any time of year and should be a big part of your gardening ritual. During these hot months give your garden bed an extra deep watering and then cover with mulch.

Shade covers are a great way to protect your garden from the powerful summer rays. They don’t need to be an architectural masterpiece. Just make sure you build them wide and tall enough for the plants to grow, with easy access when harvesting or maintaining the crop. I would go as far as saying all open gardens facing north or west should have some shade covers installed. There is nothing more disappointing than a sunburnt crop of tomatoes.

Summer is also the time I start dreaming of the varieties of tomatoes I will be planting. With so many varieties to choose from it seems a shame to fill your garden with the trusty red. This season look out for the Valentine tomato with sweet trusses of heart shaped fruit. They appear just before Valentine’s Day and to me they’re better than a box of chocolates.

Also keep an eye out for some of my other favourites: Zebra, Tigerella, Black Russian and Yellow Pear. The mixture of colours and shapes will really liven up your garden and they look fantastic displayed on a plate with fresh basil and olive oil.

There are some simple steps you should follow when planting tomatoes.

Before planting, spread some compost and manure and apply a deep watering. If you had tomatoes in your garden last year try to plant them in a different part of the garden this time. Choose strong looking seedlings with roots that haven’t filled the pot. When planting, take heed of the available space: tomatoes will fill the space no mater how small they appear when you buy them.

Almost all tomatoes need to be staked. Some gardeners will tell you to build a tee pee but I have found that a tall (1.5M) single stake works best. After planting, spread some sulphate of potash and water in with seaweed liquid.

Tips for a good crop of tomatoes:
·      Keep them well watered
·      Alternate watering with fish emulsion and seaweed liquid every two weeks
·      Pinch out the armpit hairs. When left untended, these stems that grow between the main stalk and the lateral leaves will grow like main horizontal stems and become a real pain to stake as well as detracting from the main stem.
     ·      Tie the tomato stem to the stake every 30cm

Show off your creative flare in the summer months and mix up your planting. I love to grow corn, in between the stalks I plant zucchini or cucumber to create edible mulch. Last summer I grew pumpkins in between tea trees and trained them up the trunks, the fruit looked amazing hanging from the branches.

By mid summer your garden should be a sensory delight and filling your plates with deliciously sweet produce. It’s easier to get the kids out in the garden in summer too as there is so much to be done and crops grow large quickly. Give your children a variety of fruit or vegetable to grow and encourage them to monitor the growth until harvest. You can create a growing chart, with pictures, photographs and weekly measurements. A little healthy competition will see the children taking care of their plants even better than you!
Next issue we are back to autumn planting but before then I have to work on my own garden as well as having my first child, due next month. It’s going to be a busy summer!

Enjoy the festive season and remember to slip, slop, slap, regardless of how long you are out in the garden.

See you in the dirt!

Spring 2011
Published: North and West Melbourne News, September 2011

“Spring is sprung, the grass is ris. I wonders where the birdies is.” This is how my spring started every year during my childhood. My best friend’s Mum would shout it out to herald the first sunny days in months. Twenty years later she says the same to her grandchildren.  
There is something about spring that makes us a bit sillier, a little more childish and more optimistic. I am feeling this now even though it is still August - the sun is out and the clouds are whipping up warm gusts of wind. Spring is in the air! Time to tidy up your garden, to plant tasty, warm weather treats such as strawberries and to enjoy time outside with friends and family.
As gardeners, spring invites us back outside into our sometimes neglected gardens. Like many things in life, we must tidy up before we get started. Towards the end of winter and the start of spring I walk through my garden deciding what should stay and what should go. At this stage of the year many plants, such as lettuce, broccoli, bok choy, coriander and parsley have gone to seed. My advice is to pull out most of these plants and pop them in the compost. I do, however, suggest you leave one or two of each so that they might shed their seeds and replant, saving you some of the hard work.
Coriander is a plant that can benefit from being left to seed. For years I have battled to grow coriander. It was my greatest antagonist in the garden. Earlier this year I gave in and allowed the plants to go to seed early. Basically I ignored them. This winter I have had healthy coriander everywhere. I have now dubbed coriander the cat of the plant world: the more I ignore it, the more it seems to like me!
Once you have cleared out your old plants you can see what you are working with. I recommend you use this opportunity to aerate the soil. This is a simple task of pushing your fork into the earth between the plants as deep as possible. Soil is often compacted and dry and will benefit from the addition of water with seaweed solution after the aeration. I like to add a mixture of manure and compost to the soil and tuck it all in with a ten centimetre layer of mulch. My preference is to use sugar cane mulch rather than pea straw as an annoying side effect of pea straw is that peas can start to grow throughout your garden. Remember not to push your mulch right up against your plant as this causes rot. The rule of thumb is to keep the mulch five centimetres off the base of your plant.
Now for the fun stuff … spring is the time to plant your delicious new season vegetables like chillies, eggplant, fennel and capsicums. In mid to late spring I recommend planting beans, corn, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes and zucchini. This is just a small selection of the choices available during spring. As always, I suggest you take a visit to your local nursery and see what they have. If you’re not sure what a particular plant is, just bang it in the ground and see what happens!
Remember to rotate your crops and avoid planting any new crops in the exact same location as last season. I like to draw up a map detailing the location of my plants to help me remember the following year.
If you’d like to try something sweet, plant passionfruit, rhubarb and strawberries. A little note about strawberries: I planted three in my parents’ veggie patch last spring and there are now over fifteen plants all producing runners (the arms that become a new plant). I suggest pinching off the runners and planting them throughout your garden - they look beautiful as garden borders. A lovely activity for your children is to plant small pots filled with soil around your strawberries to catch the runners. They will root easily and you can then cut them off the parent plant. Your children can then give these as Christmas or birthday presents.
Strawberry plants are a great choice for young families as they are easy to harvest and eat on the spot. To grow beautiful strawberries you need to be aware that they have shallow roots and therefore require a deep watering about once a week during the hot weather. They will also benefit from a good mulch, make sure you keep the berries on a bed of mulch and off the soil as wet soil can cause them to rot.
Nothing beats home grown strawberries. They are smaller than the kind you will find at your local grocer but are loaded with flavour.
I hope you enjoy your spring gardening. In my next column I’ll be providing tips to keep your garden alive and kicking during the hot months as well as some inspiration for summer plants and garden activities.
See you in the dirt!
Winter 2011
Published: North and West Melbourne News, June 2011
Ready or not the cooler months are upon us. Although seven degrees mornings may seem horrible at first, once you have warmed your bones walking around your garden with a hot cuppa it is actually a real treat to be out in the crisp air. There is magic to a winter garden:  the dew that has settled on the leaves reflects the morning sky and the produce looks healthy and vibrant in the wet soil. This is a great time to wander around your garden and think about what you would like to grow and eat this winter. The winter months are also a good time to look at your soil and assess what you can do to make your garden spring ready.
I am an advocate of organic gardening and believe that we should not use pesticides and other chemicals in the garden, particularly where children are involved. Companion planting is a great way to work with Mother Nature to achieve a healthy and sustainable vegetable garden whilst discouraging those nasty pests. Companion planting is based around the idea that certain plants, when planted in close proximity of each other, will assist with natural pest control, nutrient uptake and a higher crop yield. Basil and tomato, for instance, is a well- known couple, both in the garden and on the plate. When planted together both plants increase in strength and flavour.
In addition to companion planting, crop rotation is another means to organic pest control. The trick is to not plant the same type of plant in the same spot in consecutive years (ideally, each plant would not return to the same spot for four to six years). The benefit of crop rotation is that the beds have moved on before pests and diseases have had an opportunity to establish. 
Winter is the time to plant cabbages and celery. Remember to plant them together as celery is known to keep away the dreaded cabbage moth. If you planted legumes (peas/beans) over the summer plant these vegetables in their place, as they will also enjoy the nitrogen rich soil. I like to wrap my celery up in newspaper parcels to blanch the stems and to keep their shape.
Plant your winter peas and beans in the place of your last crop of leeks and onions. You will need to build a vertical structure on which the peas can grow. This can be a great opportunity to get the kids involved. Create a tepee with bamboo sticks and have the children weave coloured wool from the bottom to the top.
As always I promote growing heirloom and interesting varieties of produce. Why not try and grow a range of potatoes this winter: Cranberry Red (to mash & roast), Sapphire (boil, salad, roast), Kipfler (boil, salad, roast), Desiree (mash, boil, salad, roast) and Royal Blue (mash). You will have the most amazing mix of pink, purple, blue and white potatoes to spice up the old spud. Plant your potatoes among your broad beans as a good companion. I recommend planting potatoes in a self-contained raised garden bed so that they can be easily harvested.
Your soil
Soil nutrition is a complicated and at times dull topic full of scientific statistics so let’s stick to the basics. Firstly the health of your soil is the most important factor in having a healthy garden. Go outside and dive your hand into the soil of your garden. Grab hold of enough soil to make a ball.
  •  If your ball fails to hold shape then it is sandy and will require you to mix in mushroom compost, chicken and sheep manure and blood and bone. I also like to mix in a little sugar cane mulch for good measure. 
  • If your ball of soil holds firm and is hard to break apart your soil is clay based and could do with a dose of gypsum and a mixture of organic compost and manures. 
  • If your soil forms a ball but is easy to break apart you have lovely loam soil, perfect for vegetable gardening. That said, it is still good practice to add blood and bone and some manure to ensure your soil stays healthy and is ready for a bumper spring crop.
Remember to use your senses. You want your soil to be a lovely deep brown and to have a sweet earthy smell. Trust your instincts and adjust your methods accordingly. 

Autumn 2011
Published: North and West Melbourne News, March 2011

Welcome to the North and West Melbourne News gardening column. In this new column I will be providing tips and advice for your home vegetable garden as well as ideas to get your kids involved in your gardening.
Before we get started, let my introduce myself.
My name is Natasha Grogan, I grew up in a suburban Melbourne household in which my parents maintained a functional garden filled with Camellias, Japanese Maples and ferns. We never grew fruit or vegetables, although I have a vague memory of a pot of parsley trying to grow outside the back door of the family home. It was a surprise to my family then, when I returned from a year in London in my early 20s, and announced that I was determined to start a career as a food-growing gardener.
While working as a nanny in London I had cared for a little girl whose parents fed her only organic produce. I was fascinated by the benefits of growing and eating organic food and began to research the topic and seek work in the field.
I soon made the decision to combine my two passions: organic gardening and working with children. With an advanced diploma in Steiner Education, a Bachelor of Primary Education and a Diploma in horticulture under my belt I set about chasing my dream: to establish a business teaching children to grow and enjoy organic produce in their own back yard.
I volunteered at the Collinwood Children’s Farm and worked on my own garden patches at home. Each season I was growing and harvesting food I had never seen grown before. I enjoyed watching eggplants spring from delicate purple flowers and walking out my back door to add basil, parsley, and coriander leaves to a salad.
Naturally, I also made all the first-time-gardener mistakes and learnt from them: Never plant mint in a garden bed, don’t over fertilise lemon trees in pots, and prune your tomatoes so as not to have six stakes to one plant!
I also commenced work as a Garden Specialist with the Stephanie Alexander Foundation and was thrilled for the opportunity to use my skills and to be a part of a foundation that had the same hopes for young children that I did.
My weeks were filled with gardening and children, and I loved every moment. Some families were beginning to build their own veggie beds at their homes and were asking advice. Others were keen to get their kids involved but didn’t have the time to dedicate themselves. It was these families that I was most keen to help and so I established my own business, “The Sage Garden”, to offer a series of home-based programs to educate and encourage children to grow fruit, herbs and vegetables in their own backyards.
It has been a great pleasure for me to assist families to transform their backyards and introduce their children to the joys of growing their own food and I hope I can share some of that fun with you in this column.

Autumn Gardening

Autumn is a great time to stand back and assess your garden. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Do I like the design?
  • Have my plants been receiving enough sun and water?
  • What would I like to grow this year?
  • How can I get the most out of this space?
Take your time answering and then prepare yourself to make some changes in the near future.

What to grow in Autumn

Choose food your family enjoys eating. Now is a good time to plant vegetables such as beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, carrots, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsnips, silverbeet, and turnips. Try and buy heirloom varieties, the children and I at North Melbourne Primary school have been enjoying heirloom eggplants that are purple and white stripped. 

Gardening activities for kids

A great activity to engage children outside the garden is to start a garden calendar, recording planting dates and when they expect to harvest the crop. Conversations around the dinner table about what your family plans to harvest that week and how it will be cooked is a fun way to introduce the idea of ‘from garden to table’.

At this time of year another fun way for kids to help in the garden is through bug hunting. Cabbage moths and their bright green caterpillars have started appearing in my garden already. Encourage your children with competitions to collect as many of the caterpillars as possible and then leave the caterpillars in the open for the birds to enjoy for lunch!
I look forward to writing in the next addition of the news, and helping you with ways you can improve your soil over the cooler months and talking you about the good companions for winter vegetables. Remember the best thing to do is get out there and see what is happening in your own gardens.

See you in the dirt,