How Verity Alexandra blends biodiversity with balance at her Canberra garden

Verity Alexandra at work in her wicking bed.
Verity Alexandra at work in her wicking bed. Photo: Graham Tidy

Verity Alexandra has a young garden but a well-established ethos. The concept is to introduce biodiversity with a variety of plant material to offer a sense of balance that attracts beneficial insects and birds and reduces the incidence of pests and disease.

The first plantings were in 2012 and the space is being used to experiment and observe all aspects  needed for healthy growth so Verity is not afraid to rip things out. There are glimpses of Black Mountain Tower and Mt Arawang from the back garden where she has built a deck that overlooks the bounty of fruit trees, flowers and vegetables.

Inspiration to grow edibles came from Verity's grandparents who were self-sufficient using their garden to grow vegetables, fruit and keep chooks in Adelaide.  They owned two quarter-acre blocks, one of which was planted out as an almond and walnut orchard.  After shelling the nuts, her nana would take the produce to the city on the train and sell it to a store which is still in operation, called Ditters Nuts.

Variegated sorrel.
Variegated sorrel. Photo: Graham Tidy

Fruit trees in Verity's garden include brown turkey and white flesh figs, apricot, nashi pear, astringent persimmon, cumquat and lemon trees, bay tree and two varieties of apples planted in the same hole.  On the nature strip there is a columnar peach, pomegranate and Maqui or Chilean wineberry tree (Aristotelia chilensis).

Verity has constructed wicking beds where she grows strawberries, shallots, creeping rosemary and seasonal vegies.  The system works well as the garden gets a reasonable length of daylight during warm/hot weather.  In the garden are self-seeded mini tomatoes, big red and roma tomatoes, capsicum, spinach, beetroot, peas, beans, corn cabbage, cauliflower, Thai chilli, squash, radish, asparagus, broccoli, kale, apple and mini green cucumber and rocket. She is harvesting cos lettuce, Bredbo garlic, red and white onions and luscious strawberries. 

Healthy Earth products are used to enhance the health of the soil and plants as well as chook manure and there is a secret ingredient.  Verity's friend, Geoff Court, re-homes Brumby horses so she collects the manure and composts it before adding to the garden.

Verity Alexandra's garlic and strawberries grown in her wicking bed.
Verity Alexandra's garlic and strawberries grown in her wicking bed. Photo: Graham Tidy

Geoff lives out of Bookham along the Murrumbidgee River at  Rivergums Brumby Horses. He also farms for prime lamb production, most of which are sold through Cootamundra sale yards. He uses sustainable land management practices, reduced stocking rates along with the sheep/horse combination which minimises chemical inputs.

Geoff shared a little Brumby with Verity which she called Andre and they entered the recent Brumby Challenge at Tumut. Andre likes being hugged and keeps still when knots are brushed out of his mane and tail.

Horse manure brings worms to Verity's wicking beds but last growing season there was a plague of scarab grubs so she bought nematodes from Ecogrow in Queanbeyan as they are a biological control for this pest.  The four chooks, two Isa browns, an Australorp and a Leghorn, were a gift from a neighbourhood friend, and they regard scarab grubs as a tasty snack.


Lucerne and clippings from prunings are used as a mulch without first composting them and, to control weeds, Verity does it by hand rather than using herbicides.

Salad greens are favourites in the kitchen and a peculiar inclusion is variegated red-vein sorrel with healthy bitter leaves and most pests keep away from it. The chickens are fed fresh greenery most days but they are very fussy and cucumber is their favourite.  The hens are supplying four eggs a day at the moment and they are contained in a run with a shelter into which they are closed at night.

Verity's egg and veg picnic slice

1 cup self-raising flour
4-7 eggs depending on size
1 cup cheese (your favourite)
1 onion or shallots
a quarter cup vegetable oil
1 large cup of grated or very thinly sliced vegetables (pat dry between a few paper towels if very moist)
½ cup leftover cooked meat (can omit)
fresh herbs (or dried)
pepper and salt

Heat fan forced oven to 180C. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Turn them into a well greased dish or cake tin so the mixture is about 4cm thick.  Cook for one hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. If the top browns off early, turn the oven down to 160C for the remainder of the cooking time.

Note: mixture can be topped with cheese, thinly sliced tomato or sesame or pumpkin seeds. Delicious eaten warm or cold.