Annette McFarlane: My Love of Gardening
Spring has sprung, so Feature Magazine caught up with garden writer, author, broadcaster and 2018 HMAA Gold Laurel Award recipient Annette McFarlane to talk about her love of gardening, what spring means to her, and the best way to get kids to eat their greens.
When and how did you start gardening?
“My love for gardening started in the way most people’s love for something starts, and that is through the passion of someone else. As children, my siblings and I spent a lot of time with our grandparents who were great gardeners, and I guess that influenced me. My grandmother grew lots and lots of ferns, and my grandfather’s passion was the vegetable garden.
What was the first thing you grew?
“Vegetables. Ferns are way too hard when you’re a child. I recall asking my father if we could dig up a big patch of the back garden which he agreed to, and we grew lots of vegetables and I really enjoyed that as a child.”
Tell us about your garden.
“We’re on ten acres and most of it is devoted to native plants so we’ve got lots of huge trees and bushland. In the area immediately around the house there is lots of edible things. We’ve got a whole menagerie of different types of fruit trees and twenty-six different varieties of citrus, but we’ve also got natives, ornamentals, vegetables and herbs.
“For me it’s important to grow all those things because when people ring me on ABC radio or when they write me letters through the Sunday Mail or my website and say ‘we’ve got this happening in the garden’, chances are I know because it’s happening in my garden too or I’ve had it in previous seasons. I’m also aware of the pests and diseases that are out there because I’ve seen them in my garden or I’ve seen them in other people’s gardens.”
Do you have a favourite spot in your garden?
“Probably my bush house, because that’s where I grow all my young plants and where I do my propagation and put all my seeds in. It’s on an automatic watering system, so to pop down there in the morning and see the plants freshly watered and the seeds sprouting well - that brings joy to a gardener’s heart.”
What does spring mean to you?
“Spring in Queensland is very much a changeover season for us. We’ve got a lot of native plants coming into flower, so sometimes that’s a wakeup call to encourage people to get planting. We should already have lots of colour in the garden because we’ve planted our seedlings and flowering annuals much earlier, so if you haven’t done that get some instant potted colour in and enjoy that. Spring is also a bit of a changeover season in the vegetable garden, because we’re looking to grow all those crops that will cope with the summer heat.”
You recently updated your ‘A Guide To Planting Times for Good Growth of Vegetables In the Subtropics’ which has proven very popular.
“It’s had more shares and more hits on my Facebook page than anything else I’ve ever put up in the past. It’s true that sometimes people in Queensland make mistakes about what to plant when, and that’s because we read magazines and we watch television programs that are primarily oriented to Sydney and Melbourne audiences. Also, the information sometimes on seed packs or the things available to buy in stores is misleading. Just because it’s in store doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right time to plant yet. So I encourage people to start with the guide and then expand as they become more experienced.”
You are a strong supporter of local producers, recently visiting Burpengary’s Basilea Farm’s open day.
“I like to go and visit small producers and people in the community that are really doing something different and unique, or just carving out a little niche for their business. While I’m there, if they ask for advice I’m very happy to give it, but I’m really just there to have a look and be inspired by what people are doing.
“Also, because I’m out and about in the community and running workshops, if I can advertise what these people are doing that’s great, because I really do believe in supporting those local businesses, and people do these days have an interest in knowing what’s going on in their community and supporting those people that are working hard to make a living.”
You are also a strong supporter of school gardens.
“If you want to get children into gardening the best thing that you can do is to grow, harvest and eat, and that’s why I think veggie gardening in schools is such an important thing. If you want to get children to eat their vegetables, just get them to grow them and you’ll find that suddenly silver beet is their favourite vegetable. If you try silver beet muffins, that’s enough to convince any child to eat silver beet and their greens.”
LISTEN to Annette on ABC Radio 612 Brisbane during Gardening Talkback each Saturday from 6am–7am.
READ Annette’s weekly gardening page in the U on Sunday magazine in the Sunday Mail
VISIT Annette at www.annettemcfarlane.com or on Facebook.