At the Mullumbimby Community Garden Living Earth Festival 2014 with two of my little fairies
July 2011. I’ve had many ‘wow’ moments in the garden, but I think they started was 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 50pence per year he could keep on cultivating this piece of wasteland and help to feed his family.
My name is Diane Hart and my journey has been an eventful one, taking me from the UK to Sydney, Australia in the 1970’s, as a young newly married migrant, to the North Coast of New South Wales – close to beautiful sub-tropical Byron Bay, where I have lived for the past five years.
They say that one definition of an Aussie is that they change professions at least once in their lives – 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 once all my children had started school – this was my ‘eureka moment’ – I absolutely loved it from day one. In the early years in Sydney I had my own landscaping business – specialising in edible and coastal gardens, then, after more study, as an arborist, bush regenerator and environmental educator.
These days I’m retired but, like most retirees, busier than ever, running organic gardening and cooking workshops in my garden and teaching all kinds of classes – and enjoying my grandchildren. 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 five grandchildren there are always plenty of mouths to feed.
One of the most responsible jobs I have ever had is to feed my family – after all, you are what you eat. 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?
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.
The ravages of recent heavy rains and floods in our region have seen the price of staple foods in the supermarket skyrocket while the price of local and home-grown food remain the same – just in shorter supply. Situations like this are a lesson to us all in being more resourceful and getting back to eating what we have around us.
One of the things I love about living on the North Coast is the constant sharing of home-grown produce – reminiscent of how I was brought up in the 1950’s. We had a pumpkin curry last night for dinner with poached tamarillos for desert – the beautiful orange pumpkin was from my son’s garden (fed by his horses), the chillies and tamarillos (along with bananas) from my friend Grant and eggplant from my neighbour. I had made some yoghurt and had cucumbers and mint for the sambal together with last seasons mango chutney and, hey presto – dinner!
I live on a small suburban block on terrible clay soil but it is chock full of flowers, food, herbs, spices, tea plants – in fact, over 70 useful plants. You don’t need a lot of space to feed yourself – you just need to start.
Update February 2017. It is now eleven years since we moved to Mullumbimby and we unbelievably have seven beautiful grandchildren and, thank goodness they all enjoy our garden, but I am looking around for something bigger for them to play in because number eight is on the way!