Petra and Rob Clague love their garden so much, they decided to get married in it. They burst on to the garden comp scene in 2016, and this year have won first place again in the Waterwise category of the 2017 Coffs Harbour Garden Club Spring Garden Competition. FOCUS chatted with them about how their garden has evolved, what makes it waterwise and the many benefits of gardening with native plants.
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
Growing up as a child, my family would take us to Coffs Harbour every Christmas holidays. I met Rob in 2008, and we decided to start looking for a small property on the beautiful Coffs Coast, and that’s when we stumbled across the property in Korora and fell in love with it.
Can you tell us about your achievements in the recent Coffs Harbour Garden Club’s Annual Spring Garden Competition?
This year Rob and I won first place in the Waterwise B-Garden over 1000 sqm. We are so proud to have achieved this award. Our garden has a huge variety of plants, especially Australian natives and drought resistant plants.
We also won second place in the Vegetable Garden – over 4 sqm.
Without giving away too many secrets, how do you prepare your garden for the competition?
We don’t really have any secrets. Our garden is always beautiful; we continually keep it maintained and love to be amongst it daily – it’s a routine. Just like keeping your house clean, everything has its place, and that’s how we like to keep our garden.
We also keep our garden mulched year round, which supresses weeds and keeps it warm in the winter and hydrated in the summer. Pruning dead flowers regularly will promote more flowers and encourages the plant to bush up and grow, which really gives your plants a healthy appearance.
We compost and have a worm farm. We feed the worms on all vegetable and garden matter and in return, this produces up to 1 litre of organic fertiliser, which is watered down and put back into the garden, keeping it very organic and healthy.
Where have your gardening skills come from?
Rob and I both grew up on properties and were gifted with the knowledge from our families, giving us our green thumbs today.
Rob’s parents had a large farming property in New Zealand, where he grew up in a beautiful homestead surrounded with flower gardens and trees, which his mother took great pride in. They also grew flowers and sold them locally and for export.
My mother was a huge inspiration to me. My father built the family home, while she created garden after garden of roses, flowers, fishponds and just beautiful areas to sit in the garden and watch time go by. We also had a massive vegetable garden, and it was amazing having fresh vegetables year round for our large family.
How did your garden begin, and how has it evolved?
In 2011 we purchased a former banana farm. We saved to build the house for several years, and we would go camping at the bottom of the block and look up and dream how it would be one day.
The years flew by, and in 2014 we had it excavated for a driveway and home pad. That was very scary, because once the machines had finished their work, we were left with massive banks surrounding the 90 metre platform, with a steep drop all the way around at the front and a 50 metre long cut and 10 metre drop at the back. Orange clay surrounded us, and we stood there in shock thinking, “What are we going to do?” So we started with research, and plant by plant it started to take shape.
What makes your garden waterwise, and why is this important for sustainable gardening in the Australian climate?
We have learnt over time that mulching is the best thing you can do for any garden to keep it growing beautifully through hot summers and dry winters. It keeps moisture in, not only conditioning the soil as it breaks down, giving back lost organisms, but also keeps root systems either warm in winter or hydrated and cool in summer.
While the plants where young, we used a fine, native mulch to allow rain to penetrate more easily and allow the plants to breathe and become established. Now that they are established, we have put down a native hard chip, as it lasts longer – especially when you have a large garden. We also use lucerne on our fruit tree and sugar cane mulch on the veggies.
Choosing the correct plants for the location and conditions is very important. Drought tolerant plants are fantastic, and we fell in love with Australian natives. Our garden has over 300 natives and numerous exotic plants.
What are the other benefits of gardening with native plants?
There are huge varieties of native plants to choose from, including trees, shrubs, bushes, ground covers, climbers and standards that can handle long periods of drought and can be scented or unscented.
The flowers are truly amazing and we have a paradise, where flocks of birds and bees come every day to feed from the nectar. It gets very busy in our garden.
What else can be found in your garden?
There are a lot of birds and their families, such as parrots, a variety of honey eaters, finches, Willie Wagtails, Swallows, Black Cockatoos, Galahs, Kookaburras sing for us every morning, and I’ve seen eagles flying above.
We also have bees, lots of bees – native bees, bumblebees, and huge green carpenter bees. There are lizards, spiders, insects, lots of different butterflies, frogs and the occasional Redbelly Black Snake.
Mushrooms and fungus grow on logs I have placed around the garden, which look really pretty, and the soil is abundant with worms. We only use natural products in the garden, keeping it very organic. Pesticides only deter the wildlife in the garden, creating a bigger problem with caterpillars and other pests, so we rather let the birds and other good insects feed on pests, as this is a natural cycle in the garden.
What do you love most about your garden?
Our garden for us makes our house a home; it’s a place to relax and be mindful of how beautiful nature really is. It’s a hobby we both love and share that is soothing and rewarding. It can make you forget the stresses of the day and can take your pain away. We love to watch the garden grow and develop and in return feed all the native wildlife.
We are so proud of what we have created; it was a dream of ours, but with hard work dedication and the love for gardening we have created a paradise and our dream came true.
Thanks Petra and Rob.