Helen Simpson, from the Mushroom Shed, interviews Margot Meredith and Jim Cunnington, from Greensborough.
Walking down the side road to Jim and Margot’s corner block house, I immediately know I’m going to the house of creative gardeners. Masses of luxurious plants grow down the outside of their side street fence and, as I turn the corner and open the picket gate, I am delighted by the sun-dappled front yard with a number of fruit trees, a huge rhubarb plant, plus pretty bee attracting, flowering shrubs.
Margot has made a delicious carrot cake, so we firstly sit around the table to chat over morning tea. Margot and Jim moved to their Greensborough block around 13 years ago, where the existing garden was predominately lawn with strip garden beds around the perimeter, plus lots of brickwork for car parking. They set to work improving the hard, compacted ground, pulling up the bricks, creating compost and building the soil up. Jim jokes that Margot taught
him that it was good to have a jungle, with things hiding in unexpected corners.
Jim tells me he grew up not far from the beach in Edithvale and his family followed concepts similar to today’s permaculture practices. With a dairy farm at the back of their block, cow manure was plentiful, plus they had over a dozen chooks. Jim and his siblings all had their own veggie patch as children, with the produce and the chickens used for the family meals. It was a time when footy and other games were played in the street with the neighbours, there were few cars on the roads and a spare block next door provided plenty of room in which to play. Since then, Jim has always had food growing in his garden, even though his job as a Church Minister has taken him to metropolitan and country places, and Fiji for a year.
Margot’s father was a keen gardener and, after the war, he liked the peacefulness of pottering in the garden. Though he was not into veggie gardening, there was always a compost heap where potatoes and pumpkins grew, with this produce being used for meals. In her 20’s, Margot read Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring and this provided the catalyst for her becoming sensitive to world and earth issues. Whilst her children were young, she grew vegetables such as tomatoes, silverbeet, potatoes (fun for the children to hunt) plus a few herbs. After moving to Greensborough, Margot and Jim joined local groups such as the Monty Food Growers Group and Transition Banyule, and became inspired by other people’s gardens and the food they were growing.
Today Jim and Margot’s garden supports an extensive array of vegetables and fruit trees. Much of what they have was obtained at no cost from workshops and food-swaps, where trees, plants and seeds were available. The lawn is long gone – now paths meander around well laden fruit trees and flowering plants and an extensive sunny section in the backyard provides lots of different vegetables, plus edible vine fruits which trail over the back shed.
Harvesting water is one of their interests and grey water from the shower and washing machine runs into piping that goes around the garden into a dripper system. A 2,500 litre tank is connected for garden watering and toilet flushing. Other self-made tank systems direct water from gutters into the garden. These systems mean that they are under the average person’s mains water usage, even in Summer.
Margot and Jim have recycled a number of items to assist their gardening:
- An old bath for a worm farm. The worms live in ‘soil’ in the bath, with recycled damp cloths, then wooden lids over the bath. The ‘worm juice’ drips out of the plug hole into a container.
- Coffee grounds from a local cafe. Margot has found these to be great in the compost, also as a weed suppressant (spread over newspaper), so they make a good basis for garden paths.
- Water-filled old fruit juice bottles, used as garden edging provide good insulation. Unfilled, with the bottoms removed, the bottles provide a cloche over tender seedlings at night.
- An old sink, for washing vegetables outside.
Margot’s science graduate education comes to light when she mentions the testing she has done in comparing their Acacia tree prunings to shop-bought straw as mulch. She found the nitrogen-rich Acacia prunings kept soil moister in Summer, and plants growing in it were greener.
Jim and Margot are active in the Greensborough Food Swap, run at the Diamond Valley library, where Margot is one of the two contact people. And they also volunteer at the Watsonia Library Community Garden, where Margot enjoys the opportunity to combine two of her pleasures – reading and gardening.
And favourite pumpkin? The one pictured with Jim and Margot, which can grow to a considerable size – the ‘galeux d’eysines’ pumpkin.