When I was 14 I asked my parents if I could have a spot in the garden to grow vegetables. I am not sure where I got the idea. Perhaps it was from growing up watching our elderly neighbours harvesting cabbages and cauliflowers from their backyard. We used to skip in and out of their yard, picking mulberry leaves for the silkworms at school and crouching beneath their old camellia bush to peel the petals from the fallen buds. I planted tomatoes, capsicum and snow peas in two rows with a neat sawdust path running between, and would tend to it each day, watering and weeding and breathing in the smell of tomato leaves between my fingers. While my friends were in the city shopping and chasing boys I was wearing my mum's old overalls and harvesting tomatoes with dirt between my toes. I still remember the pride with which I served them for dinner - bowls filled with luscious red fruit bursting with flavour.
For many years I have been a frustrated gardener, whose dreams were far bigger than the patch of earth in which I planted. I don't know whether I have succeeded in growing a decent tomato since I left home. But here I have found a garden to fulfill my yearning to feed my family. For the first time in the 20 years I have been keeping a vegie patch I have six beds to rotate vegetable crops through, all of them flooded with sunlight and irrigated by rainwater via a tank that collects the shed's runoff.
Down in the backyard the fruit trees, most of them just bare branches when we moved here in winter, are revealing their secrets. There are two big plum trees, a nectarine and an apricot, two almonds, three apples, four pears, a fig tree, four loquats, a mulberry, a quince, grape vines and a lemon. I uncovered two tiny citrus trees which were being swallowed by the weeds and choked by the tubers of flowers I have since dug out and replaced with a bed of asparagus. There are oranges and mandarins and I have planted avocados, grapefruit, pomegranate and limes, rhubarb, kiwifruit, passionfruit, gooseberries, guavas and beds of strawberries. I have weeded and mulched around each tree, scattering pellets of organic blood and bone while the chickens scratch happily alongside me, gobbling up grubs and worms. They now scratch in the mulch each day and are keeping the weeds at bay without any effort on my part.
Lovely big piles of compost are breaking down in our three compost bays, and I fork them over while the boys work alongside me in their sandpit, constructed from the lengths of cypress left when we felled the big old tree. They kick footballs amongst the fruit trees and ride their bikes down the gentle slope to the chook pen to check for eggs and cuddle their girls. It is a garden we all love to be in. With time it will feed us. Every time I walk through it it makes me happy.