GOOD GARDEN WITCH. One of my many hats. With two of my garden fairies at the Mullumbimby Community Garden Living Earth Festival in 2014. Our ABC Gardening Australia award winning garden.
March 2023. I’ve had many wow moments in the garden, but I think they started when I dug up my first crop of potatoes; I was about eight and with my father on his allotment on a railway embankment in London. He grew all manner of food there from rhubarb to raspberries and peas to parsnips, with everything else in between. As long as he paid 50 pence per year to the local council he could keep on cultivating this piece of wasteland and help to feed his family. What an excellent idea?
Cooking and feeding people is in my blood too. My maternal grandmother, Angelina, started her own catering business, by dire financial necessity, from the front window of her house in Birmingham in the 1920’s – faggots and peas were her speciality! She went on to own pubs and restaurants, with my mother becoming a restaurateur herself in London in the 1960’s. I spent my childhood in the kitchens and cellars of these places – getting up to no good with my brothers and cousins – the only girl to eight boys.
My name is Diane Hart and my journey has been an eventful one; taking me from London to Sydney, Australia in the 1970’s as a young newly married migrant, and for the past seventeen years on the North Coast of New South Wales – close to beautiful subtropical Byron Bay in the coastal country town of Mullumbimby. I have moved many times in my life and this is, by far, the longest I have ever lived anywhere – and I’m not going anywhere. I’m home.
They say that one definition of an Aussie is that they change professions at least once in their life – this is certainly true of me, as I left behind my early training and work in medical research and took up the challenge of studying horticulture in Sydney, once all my children had started school – this was my eureka moment– I absolutely loved it from day one. This lead to my own landscaping business – specialising in edible and coastal gardens, then, after more study, as an arborist, bush regenerator and environmental educator. It also gave heart and knowledge to my increasing awareness and love of the Australian Bush and my ongoing endeavours to try and preserve it for future generations.
TEACHING WORKSHOPS. I’m deeply rooted in the SOIL and have a passion for handing on my knowledge.
These days I’m retired but, like most retirees, I seem to be busier than ever. Over the past 17 years, since we moved to the North Coast, I have run all manner of workshops and taught organic gardening and cooking classes in my garden. These days, I am mostly engaged in volunteer community projects and being on grandma duties. But, my passion for growing things, cooking healthy food and sharing it with family and friends just seems to grow – like my family. With three children and eight grandchildren, all living around me, there are always plenty of mouths to feed – and they love to help out too, and four year olds’ always think it’s fun to be taught knife skills by their grandma!
One of the most responsible jobs I have ever had is to feed my family. Growing your own food is a positively empowering experience that connects us to the earth and joins us with collective wisdoms that are thousands of years old – skills and knowledge that nurture you in a way fast food doesn’t. Oh, and did I say that you will find yourself out in the garden in your pyjamas at sun-up watching the butterflies flitting through the broad-beans, or thinking that a raindrop on a nasturtium leaf looks just like a pearl?
MY SUBURBAN GARDEN with, at the last count, over 70 food plants and about 500kg of produce each year. You don’t need a large space to feed yourself – you just have to start. There are lots of tips here to show you how.
It’s hard to deny that the past fifty years have seen rapid changes in the way we shop and eat. The industrialization of our food – with large supermarkets taking the place of the local shops – may have given us convenience, but the cost has been great to our health and the health of our planet. I often hear from people that it is much cheaper to shop at the supermarket and live off convenience foods– apart from the negative health and nutritional impacts, this is just not true. It makes more sense to me to pick a few lettuce leaves from the garden – when you want them – rather than a plastic wrapped, trucked in one to the supermarket – where half of it will get wasted? Those few home-grown lettuce leaves are what I call convenience foods.
Food ethics is a can of worms; believe me, I know. To many in my hood I am The Octopus Lady – but that’s another story – so living and eating consciously is my mantra – it’s a way of life that is both empowering and nurturing.
There are many lessons to be learnt for us all about being more resourceful: reducing our waste, cooking at home, composting, growing an organic food garden, becoming energy self-sufficient, using the car less and the farmer’s market more. This also means getting back to eating what we have around us – making a small footprint on this beautiful planet and, for me personally, trying to be the person that I would like my children and grandchildren to be – well, at least giving it a go.
BEING PART OF THE CHANGE I WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD. This has always been important to me and I have realised that if I am not part of active attempts to make a change for the better – then it changes me.
I feel very fortunate that I have found my people in the place where I live now – a rich and vibrant community of like minded wonderful souls. They were the imperative for my current passion – steering a group that initiated, campaigned for, and has been successful in being granted a piece of Council owned land to have the first Natural Burial Ground within our shire – which will also be a nature conservation area – forever. What a wonderful project to be involved in that has sent me on many interesting paths of research and has done nothing but enrich my life. Having reached my three score years and ten, I know that time is not on my side and I am trying to make every minute count. (2023 update. We have had a hugely disappointing hiccup with Council, but I hope that’s all it will be – temporary – and the project will come to fruition SOON)
Since my beloved husband Michael died in 2020 my life, after 54 years together, has taken on a huge period of upheaval and adjustment – one that I am still trying to get used to. I am doing my best to appreciate the little glories of life – but I can’t deny that it is challenging and I don’t always feel up to the task. I find grief to be like the weather – you never know what you are going to get? But there are some constants that help: the garden is my solace; swimming is my saviour; cooking is my distraction; choir is my blanket of love; painting helps me to forget; my family help me to remember and every act of kindness is a warm hug.
Sri Lanka 2019
This website started because the six o’clock phone calls from my adult children were getting a bit repetitive. “What do you put in your fried rice Mum?”. “My lemon tree has gone black – what do I do?”. Then I got thinking, and then I got busy. I realised that I really thought it was a shame to waste all of my years of knowledge and experience – so here it is – a website that shows exactly what it is – handmade with love.
Apart from gardening and cooking, you will also find some jottings about my other passions: travel, adventure, wild places, beautiful places, sketching, singing with my choir, people that inspire me and swimming – everywhere and anywhere. I hope you find something here that may be useful to you, or just an interesting way to spend half an hour on a rainy afternoon. Please feel free to contact me with questions or leave a comment.
I feel very privileged to live on the rim of this ancient caldera, with views up the valley to Gondwana rainforest and I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Arakwal People of the Bundjalung Nation, and pay my respects to elders past and present.