A full and sustainable garden

Susan Parsons
Jacki Warburton from Oxley with some of her dehydrated figs in her garden.
Jacki Warburton from Oxley with some of her dehydrated figs in her garden. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Those of us who care about kitchen gardening are not surprised that "the culture of backyard vegetable growing" was included in the list of "100 Things to Like About Canberra". It is not only the fact of the vegie growing, but the idea that it is a culture.

Jackie Warburton, of Oxley, was born in Canberra and has an appreciation of the local gardening bounty and the culture of sharing ideas among gardeners. When she was young, her grandfather, Ken Donovan, grew vegies and kept chooks in Turner.

From 2004, Warburton studied at Canberra Institute of Technology for a horticulture qualification, based in Weston. She is a volunteer at the Fetherston Gardens at that same site in Weston and is a committee member of Open Gardens Australia. For three years, she was the sole gardener on about 1.5 hectares at the historic Huntly property on Uriarra Road. Now, with husband Bret Warburton, she runs a horticultural maintenance and consultation business called Terra Solaris.

Jacki Warburton from Oxley picks some rhubarb in her garden.  1
Jacki Warburton from Oxley picks some rhubarb in her garden. 1 Photo: Jeffrey Chan

At home, her aim is to grow as much food as she can and to have one of everything. She says the fresh produce encourages their son Tommy, 9, to eat vegetables.

Warburton gets ideas on sustainable gardening from Earth Garden magazines, which give examples of low-cost projects and using recycled materials. She takes old dinner sets and turns them into mosaics that decorate garden urns or vases.

Warburton has raised 3000 cactuses and succulent plants and, beyond her greenhouse overhung with a muscat grapevine, is a herb garden. It is overflowing with huge rhubarb plants, their vivid red stems adding glamour to the bed. She has Jerusalem and globe artichokes, sage, asparagus in a tub, borage to encourage bees, snail-attacked comfrey for the compost heap, sorrel for cold soups, oregano and Vietnamese mint to go in fresh spring rolls.

A small orchard in a raised bed is planted with two young apple trees, a pear, cherry, persimmon, peach and nectarine, all dwarfing varieties that fruit on first-year wood. Between the fruit trees, she has planted cabbages to take the place of a final crop of beans. The soil is enriched with chook poo from the hens and she uses Healthy Earth from the Heritage Nursery as a foliar spray.

She has planted calendula under rose bushes to attract hover flies that eat aphids, so no spraying is needed in the garden. She has plants with hot-coloured flowers like salvias, sunflowers, cosmos and dahlias, which are mulched in winter with forest litter from local suppliers. Ten three-year-old citrus trees in pots are all carrying a crop.

Warburton has a hydroponic system for Asian greens and she has been harvesting tomatoes, chillies and eggplants throughout April. Her violetta lunga eggplant, bought in Gundaroo, has produced 60 slender eggplants during the season, some of which she has dried.

An established fig tree has masses of fruit this year. The family eats them fresh and also slices them and dries them overnight in a hydrator.

>>Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.