A spectacular garden has taken over a suburb in Adelaide. It knocks down boundaries, creating community and rewarding work with truly ripe fruit and fresh vegetables. Amazingly, the protagonists, Joe Kielnerowski and next door neighbour Rosanne Parker, were not keen gardeners. Stress management brought Joe outside, and the love of fruit won Rosie over. Today the garden spans four quarter-acre blocks, connected by gates, designed with permaculture principles and managed using organic methods. You can see it for yourself on February 8 and 9 for Open Gardens Australia, 2014.
What was the catalyst for the project?
Joe and I had begun co-operating in our gardens, deciding what to plant and sharing tasks; he did the heavy work while I did the watering, and so on. We needed to identify a mystery fruit in the garden so we visited the Rare Fruit Society of South Australia in January 2006. This was the real catalyst for Joe’s Connected Garden; we loved it and discovered a lot more things to grow, and so we ran out of room! So we approached our neighbours with a view to using their land, and the rest is history.
How is what you grow different to food in the supermarket?
Urban farming, such as we do, is vastly different from the process of producing supermarket food using broadacre monoculture. We have a food forest, a jungle of edible trees with now around 400 varieties; many of these are heritage varieties that you won’t find on the supermarket shelves. We don’t use chemicals or artificial fertilisers, and this imparts a better flavour.
Probably the biggest difference though is that we can pick when perfectly and fully ripe when the sugars have developed to the optimum, whereas supermarket food is picked too early and is hard and tasteless; they need to do this so it will travel and keep well.
Joe and I do all the gardening because the other two landowners are elderly, so they don’t participate in the work; they are of course free to pick from their trees! Yet due to ill health and frail aging parents, we’ve had to call in helpers this year, so it’s become a bit of a community garden.
Because we only have one or two trees of each kind, we rarely have a problem with excess although last year I had so much spinach I was reduced to advertising it on the Facebook page and carting it all over the area, even to pet shops! We cannot bear to see good food go to waste! We have enough friends and family who are happy to take it although we feel now that the helpers should get first priority. We have never accepted money for our food although we might have to rethink that as our water bills are huge so a gold coin donation might be on the cards in the future. We live in an economically deprived area, in fact the worst postcode in Australia I read once, so there are many poor families around us. On the rare occasion there is something left over, I gift it to them. We have benefited by being able to eat high quality organic food at low cost but also the friendship we have found with other gardeners and our helpers has been very rewarding.
Share an enjoyable eating experience.
These are many and varied but I am amused at myself, a woman of very mature years who presumably should have some powers of delayed gratification, having so much difficulty in actually getting some things to the house. The two worst offenders are peas and corn. I don’t think I’m alone with the peas, and I will just stand there shelling them and eating these wondrous little green sweeties. I never take any to the house! I have to say I don’t like to cook produce and think everything tastes a lot better raw so I do the same with my corn. The cob gets stripped into the compost and I will sit in the garden eating the super yummy kernels, infinitely nicer than shop bought as the sugars start turning into starch the minute it’s picked.
What most excites you about what you’re doing?
Joe started to expand the garden as a response to work stress but it has evolved into something much more than we envisaged. We had our first Open Garden last year with nearly 1000 people through which amazed us as they’re just our gardens, and we didn’t think anything that special. We got so much positive feedback—”inspirational” was the word most often used—that we were encouraged to expand, start the Facebook page and become more public. What really excites us is that people go home and start doing the same thing on a smaller scale. We especially love mentoring young families as this effects generational change. We have one regular family with four children who help and recently when their five year old was asked what he wanted to do for his birthday he said, “go and work in Joe’s garden!” A pretty good recommendation we thought.
Describe your impact.
As previously alluded to, we live in a rather deprived area where people think food comes from the Golden Aches or KFC. However, there are large quarter acre blocks where people could grow food with a little education. Our gardens are evolving into permaculture teaching gardens that will hopefully encourage more people to grow food and eat more healthily. One family had been considering doing something and after they visited last year that very day they went home and dug up their whole front yard and planted vegetable beds! Other families have become involved with local council groups to teach gardening and healthy living.
What challenges have you faced? How have you overcome them?
Our two biggest challenges for the garden are water and birds. Adelaide has a hot and dry climate in summer so the gardens require a lot of water to keep them healthy and lush. This can be very expensive—we do have 28,000 litre tanks—yet they’re usually empty when we need them most. All the gardens are heavily mulched and run on drippers under the mulch, which cuts down quite a bit on water required. However, the baby plants in pots require lots of hand watering in heatwaves, which is tiresome and expensive.
In the past most of our crops were eaten by birds, often when still green. Late last year blackbirds stripped my cherry tree of every single fruit while they were still green. It’s been heartbreaking so over the last few years Joe has been erecting poles for big nets and two months ago a massive net was put up which covers three backyards completely. Now we get to eat the fruit!
On a more personal note, in the last couple of years, I have been afflicted with crippling arthritis and insomnia which is very distressing as I was strong and fit when we started, so I’m now forced to accept that the physical duties are limited, and accept help. Joe has had a lot of work stress and two very frail aging parents for whom he is carer; his father died just before Christmas so attending to these personal matters has meant he has not been able to spend as much time in the garden. We are blessed to have our volunteers, some of whom travel considerable distances to get here!
How can people become involved?
We invite people to come and take a look on the Open Days. You can also contact us through our Facebook page. We’re always looking for helpers and protégés! If people come and help they’re given free trees to take home from the nursery, seasonal produce when available, lunch and they can pick our brains about growing their own food. Looking at how we have done things means there is more chance of succeeding themselves.
How can people set up something similar?
Well, they should probably start on a smaller scale than us! We have heavy red clay soils here so the first thing is to improve the soil. We have a small nursery of trees we have propagated ourselves and sell at well below half retail so that helps with start up costs. Better health, saving money and a more wonderful eating experience are all reasons people should give this a go. There are signs that the world economy could be in for drastic change and it’s good to be set up to grow food. Also, the earth itself is in a perilous state and growing local food is one of the best things you can do to reduce greenhouse gasses.
Open Gardens Australia 2014
The gardens are open on February 8 and 9 from 10am to 4.30pm each day; $7 admission with proceeds to charity, with free entry for under 18s.
Location: 6 Argent St Elizabeth Grove, half hour north of Adelaide.
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Join Joe’s Connected Garden for Open Gardens Australia Event on Facebook
The garden owner can either keep the other 35% of the gate takings for themselves or donate it to charity. As a matter of integrity, we donate to charity and this year we have chosen three charities which you might like to know about. Firstly, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia support of the work of Australian Dr Catherine Hamlin who turned 90 a few days ago and still operates and runs the organisation. They give new life to young women injured in difficult childbirths. The second charity is the Orangutan Project which is active in Indonesia saving our very close genetic relative the orangutan whose existence in the wild is seriously endangered due to the clearing of its natural habitat for palm oil plantations. The last beneficiary is Arthritis SA as a result of personal grief caused me this dreadful condition continues to cause pain and limit mobility. Funds will be used for research and programs to aid sufferers especially children who can suffer greatly through rheumatoid arthritis.