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Once Upon a Garden

By Joanne Diver, Border Eco Living Program (BELP) & the Green & Sustainable Living Association

What does a mother with a pre-schooler and a new baby do after leaving Sydney and her career to embark upon a tree-change? She enrols at TAFE to study garden design – one unit a year, enough to justify to herself that a direction and purpose had been found.

This was the situation I found myself in just over 4 years ago.

A year on from this and my mid-life crisis started to take shape. The baby was “toddling” and I found myself retreating more and more into the garden for some quiet-time. I had persuaded my husband to buy a house with a tree I quite liked – a 30 yr old Queensland Bottle Tree, (Brachychiton rupestris) – and I often sat in the shadow of the bottle to contemplate the meaning of life.

It was whilst sitting here that I noticed seedlings germinating – baby Bottle Trees. With advanced trees selling for up to $1,000 each, I thought I’d won the Lotto with an early retirement guaranteed. Family support was enlisted with a sandpit and its contents repurposed, one pitch fork injury requiring a hospital visit and a whole community supplying pots. Transplanting the seedlings, often the size of a bean shoot, I was both surprised and alarmed when I found I had over 500 trees!

After extensive research, I discovered that my much loved Bottle Tree had crossed with another Brachychiton and most of the seedlings were proving to be Kurrajongs (Brachychiton populneus) – a valuable firewise, drought tolerant, shade and fodder tree, albeit not widely appreciated.

From here, my mid-life discovery naturally progressed to a Brachychiton sales and promotional campaign, with husband and children in tow, touring local markets with a trailer-load of trees as The Backyard Garden Enthusiast.

Gradually, I have found my mid-life confidence and have begun to explore the history and value of the Australian backyard – the social, environmental and health benefits. The opportunities for the garden to be a productive food space, a home for wildlife, a meeting place, space for contemplation, creativity, play and relaxation – as well as the threats that endanger this ideal, poor town planning, developers with short-term goals, smaller block sizes, larger houses, more paved areas and fewer trees – all leading to less biodiversity, reduced opportunity to engage with nature and connect with others. I don’t have all of the answers, but I’ve found a sense of belonging – in the Backyard.

The Brachychiton genus, pron (Brack-ee-KY-tun) is one of our Australian plant treasures – available from The Backyard Garden Enthusiast – divers@aapt.net.au.