Amanda Stewart and her husband Paul, are the proprietors of Barrow and Bench Mitre10, a delightful hardware store and garden centre, located in Adelaide’s inner Southern suburbs. Amanda has long had a connection to the land and the natural environment. Her childhood was spent on a broad acre farm in rural South Australia, where local provenance natives were protected from stock and growing and producing your own food was the norm. So began a lifelong interest in plants, the environment and the animals who share it.
Amanda’s working career with gardens began in an entirely different field. She worked as a personal assistant for a number of Labor State Government Ministers and Opposition Leader, Mike Rann, for almost 20 years. Treatment for leukaemia in her early 30’s was a catalyst for change and she made the decision to study Horticulture and a Diploma in Landscape Design. She now offers a garden design and horticultural advice service through the store. In 2015 and again in 2016, Amanda represented Mitre10 as a garden expert on Channel 9’s renovation TV show The Block, and she regularly appears on locally produced TV show In the Garden, hosted by garden identity, Kim Syrus.
Amanda and her family live on a rural property in the Adelaide Hills where she has undertaken revegetation and creek management; grown woodlot plantations; has a productive orchard and vegetable garden, and tends to the flowers that fill her home. Like all gardens, hers is not without its challenges she gardens without access to mains or bore water, and battles very cold winters (with frosts to minus 5), and hot, dry summers. When you consider she ‘shares’ her fruit, vegetables and flowers with hordes of hungry rabbits, cockatoos, and when the kids forget to shut the gate, cows as well, you will begin to get a picture of how tough her garden really is. Happily, she also shares her garden with dozens of blue wrens, pardalotes and other native birds, microbats, and blue banded bees, along with a band of busy hens, geese and guinea fowl.
No matter how big or small your garden is, Amanda shares her tips below, for a sustainable spring garden.
Here are Amanda’sTop Tips For a Sustainable Spring Garden
What a delightful time of the year. Bulbs, which emerged from the ground during the depths of winter, reveal their beautiful blooms; trees laden with blossom herald the promise of summer fruit; and the last of the winter lemons hang gracefully from their branches.
Spring, of course, brings warmer weather and longer days. In most parts of Australia, signs of spring have been with us for some time now. As the days have lengthened, buds have been swelling and bursting into flower, birds have been busy nesting and raising young, and very organised gardeners may already have prepared their summer veggie beds!
Spring can also be out of control, disorderly and downright chaotic. Left unchecked, weeds, which had barely 5 cm of growth yesterday, will be smothering your veggies next week. Aphids begin to appear in plague-like proportions, feasting on sappy, fresh growth, and if you pop your head into a garden centre you might feel overwhelmed by seedling choices which await you… Organic? Heritage? Heavy bloomers? Dwarf forms? Repeat croppers?
Now is the time to pour yourself a pot of tea and sit in your favourite part of the garden to begin planning. While spring is about abundance and planting, it really is also about preparation.
1. Be Observant
Look around your garden. Make a note of those plants that performed well over winter, and those that have not. Do you have plants that tolerated wet feet, frosty conditions or wind, better than others? These are the kinds of plants that will do well in your garden. Those which have suffered the conditions, may not be the best choices for planting again. Consider the sun angles, wind conditions and soil type. Speak with your garden centre about plants that will enjoy your particular garden conditions and aspect.
2. Be Grateful
The greyness of constant wet days during winter, can drain your enthusiasm for gardening. Wet winters are, however, like money in the bank. Always be grateful for the benefits of water in the soil, as it flows through to summer. If you are lucky to have had a wet winter, it will provide your garden with the buffer it needs against hot summer spells, and helps your plants better withstand summer’s heat. Remember that those people in areas suffering from drought, will be in an entirely different, and difficult, situation.
3. Avoid Disturbing Waterlogged Soil
A note of caution for gardens which are particularly waterlogged – refrain from digging or walking over the garden until things have dried out a little. Constant foot traffic will compact the soil and digging wet soils can alter the soil structure. Allowing the area to drain and dry out before planting, will help to preserve your soil structure. Heavy clay soils will benefit from the addition of gypsum and organic matter.
Hand pull weeds out if you are able – it keeps you fit and strong, and while you are weeding, you get the chance to really observe your plants and your soil. It is amazing what you notice when you are up close to your garden. Other weed options for smaller areas, or over paved sections, are gas flame guns – these are most effective on small weeds and do work well on driveways and paths.
You can make a ‘chook tractor’, and allow your hens to work over a bed – they really are very efficient, and while they are scratching over the bed they will remove any pest bugs and insects in the soil. ‘Chook Tractors’ can be as simple or as elaborate as you like, but be sure to keep your girls safe from predators, and make sure that they have adequate fresh water. Sheet mulching also helps to reduce weeds. Use whatever organic matter you can get your hands on (biscuits of straw works well, as does commercial mulch, newspaper or cardboard).
5. Prepare Summer Beds
Hasten to prepare summer productive vegetable beds now. Remove weeds and spent vegetables (give them to the chickens or compost them). Dig plenty of compost and organic matter through your soil – homemade is great, but if you don’t have a compost bin or access to aged manures, then bagged compost and manures are fine too. Apply some blood and bone to your patch and dig lightly through.
6. Plant Productive Vegetables, Herbs and Flowers
Now is the time to plant out summer productive vegetables and herbs including: artichokes, basil, chilli, chives, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, pumpkin, radish, squash, zucchini, melons, strawberries. In frost prone areas hold off planting potatoes, pumpkins, spinach squashes, tomato, basil and other frost tender seedlings, until all chance of frost has passed. If flowers are your thing then think petunias, zinnias, cornflowers, dahlias, dianthus, geranium, impatiens, lobelia, marigolds, portulaca, sunflowers, wall flowers, verbena and vinca … to name just a few!
7. Move Plants if Needed
Early spring is the perfect time to move evergreen trees and shrubs. Try to dig up as much of the root ball as you can. Dig your new hole twice as wide as the root ball; fill the hole with a couple of buckets of water prior to planting, and allow it to drain through. Once you have moved your plant give it a light prune, and water again, this time with seasol.
8. Feed Lawns, Bulbs & Flowering Shrubs
- Lawns: feed with a specially formulated lawn fertiliser. Water in your fertiliser and refrain from mowing for at least 3-4 days.
- Bulbs: feed with a balanced fertiliser once the flowers have finished, but before the leaves die down
- Camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons and winter flowering shrubs: feed with a balanced fertiliser after flowering
9. Harvest Winter Veg
Harvest all winter veg, so that you can make room for summer plantings. Pick the last of your winter lemons and share them with your neighbours and friends; turn down onion leaves and stop watering plants to allow the onion to mature.
10. Look out for…
Sweet, sappy spring growth is the preferred food of animals and insects of all shapes and sizes. Keep an eye out for aphids (green and black). You can protect plants from aphids by giving them a sharp squirt with the hose, or by using a horticultural oil. Beetles will be bustling about leaf litter; and snails become abundant in spring (go on patrol in the early evening with your torch …. step on them if you are game, or pop them in a bucket and feed to your hens or ducks). Possums in some areas will cause heartache as they devour fresh shoots and flower buds, along with rats that will happily eat the skin and zest of citrus hanging on trees. Discourage them from your garden by using wind chimes, plastic plant collars or netting.
11. Prune Evergreen Shrubs and Winter Flowering Plants
Prune and shape evergreen, winter flowering shrubs and straggly, winter affected perennials. A word of caution here – only remove frost damaged growth once all chance of frost has passed. In some regions this may be as late as early November. Despite their straggly appearance, damaged leaves will offer a level of protection to fresh growth beneath. It also pays to give your bougainvillea a prune before its summer growth and flowers
12. Check Your Irrigation
Whilst in many regions you won’t need irrigation just yet, be sure to check your system and repair any faults so that it is working and ready to go as soon as your garden needs it. It is always best to presume we will have periods without rain and preparing watering systems, composting and shade, are vital.
13. Refresh Indoor Plants
Refresh your indoor plants by popping them outside in the gentle morning light of spring and give them a squirt or two with the hose to rinse off household dust and grime. Trim off any old or damaged leaves and fertilise them before popping them back inside. Re-pot into a larger pot if necessary, or if you need to refresh the potting mix with a quality mix.