Garden harvest – Lydia, Wahroonga

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Sloping block? Rocky ground? Bad site layout? Lydia from Wahroonga experimented with her challenging block until she successfully created a fertile and abundant garden.

Tell us about your garden

It’s a constant work-in-progress! It’s mostly fruit trees and raised beds of vegetables plus some carefully placed flowering plants.

I have all kinds of fruit trees – bananas, figs, grapefruit, nashi pear, loquat, brown sapote (chocolate pudding fruit), apples, nectarines, mangoes and peaches. I’ve been experimenting with the bananas. They are shallow-rooted and needs lots of water so I planted them on the lower slope where water collects after a downpour. I’ve got ladyfingers, sugar, goldfingers, Cavendish and blue java.

What sort of challenges have you faced?

The site itself! The house is at the bottom end of a sloping bloke and the backyard rises steeply behind the house. We have a massive gum tree dominating the middle of the yard and most of the ground is natural bedrock. When I started out there was hardly 10cm of soil cover in most parts of the garden.

I had to do a lot of research (she recommends books by Annette McFarland and Jackie French) and planning and monitoring weather conditions just to know where I could plant. There’s been a lot of failures along the way but I’ve learnt from each one.

What have you learnt?

So much! I now bury my potted plants about three-quarters deep into the ground. The pots help keep out invasive weeds but they were just getting cooked in the sun. In the ground they don’t need as much water. I also have shading that can be rolled down to protect cucumbers and other plants in the raised vegetable beds depending on the time of day and season.

The top end of the garden was a particular struggle. The soil used to be so poor even grass wouldn’t grow. I enriched the soil with lots of liquid fertiliser which I make myself. My best mix is chicken manure with water - the plants seem to absorb nutrients better in liquid form. Nothing goes to waste. Even the fish tank and kitchen waste water go in the fertiliser. I’ve got dwarf macadamias, guava and basil growing well here now.

My other tip is to use plants for multiple purposes. I have iris and agapanthus around the steep edges to shade soil and form an erosion line barrier. The agapanthus also stop the brush turkeys - they can’t seem to stand on the edge.

What’s your gardening motto?

My motto is simply to work with what you have. If part of the garden is prone to flooding and poor drainage, plant pomegranates, mulberries and bananas. I used flexible garden edging rolls to reclaim and enrich the soil. I could have added gypsum but instead of fighting the natural conditions I tried to work with what’s there.

I make my own vegetable beds with paper, food scraps, garden waste and cow manure and let nature create great soil. I put worm towers in my raised beds to keep on building and aerating the soil.