This lush Gold Coast property is an organic oasis with an ocean view
Two acres in idyllic, subtropical Tallebudgera in the Gold Coast hinterland: sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? Especially when you consider the Panozzo family’s block comprises a 600m2 orchard, five large edible garden beds and a mix of native and exotic plant species.
As Stacey Panozzo says, “Biodiversity is the key to a successful, productive garden.”
Sometimes, a hobby becomes both a lifestyle and a living. Not only is gardening Stacey’s favourite pastime, it’s her job as well. Even before she became event manager for the very successful Botanical Bazaar Gold Coast Garden Festival, she ran a successful air plant business.
Her interest in gardening was first sparked back in 2007 with the birth of her first child. Now the mother of three girls (Chelsea, 10, Olivia, 9, and Pippa, 2), Stacey feels growing your own food — organically as much as possible — is a no-brainer, given the possible health threats of chemical sprays and overly processed foods.
It’s a great source of pride and satisfaction, says Stacey, “providing food for your own family from your very own garden”. Organic growing also saves money because you’re not using costly chemicals and you don’t have to shell out for store-bought produce.
She adds, “It’s great that the children see where food comes from. It’s denser in nutrients, as fresh as it can possibly be — truly living cell food — and we’ve become far less wasteful as we now understand how much care and effort goes into producing delicious organic produce.”
On husband Rob’s side, by contrast, gardening runs in the family. Thanks to his Italian heritage, he grew up on a fully self-sufficient farm where his family raised pigeons, rabbits, pigs and ducks for the table and had a barter system trading animals and food crops.
For Rob and Stacey, however, their chickens are purely for egg production — they’re much-loved family pets. The Panozzos’ other livestock reside in a Flow Hive, a beehive with a tap on the front to avoid the need to manually rob the inmates.
Trial and error
The Panozzos’ gardens beds are a mix of old recycled bed frames, raised no-dig beds and traditional tilled-soil beds. Stacey says she’s dabbling in hydroponics but is still troubleshooting getting organic nutrients through her systems effectively.
At the moment, starting with fruit trees, they grow tropical apples, pomegranate, mulberry, feijoa, pawpaw, starfruit, pineapple, guavas, loquat, miracle fruit, citrange, Panama berry and tropical peach. Among their natives and bush-tucker plants are Melastoma (or blue tongue), finger limes, native plums, native raspberry and midgen berry.
In the vegetable patch are kale, bok choy, spinach, lettuce, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes, just to name a few, while the herbs are “almost too many to list”, Stacey says. A partial list would include turmeric, garlic, galangal, basils, mints, rosemary, chives, sage, coriander, lemongrass, chamomile and scented geraniums.
Rob and Stacey admit that setting up their garden involved “a lot of trial and error”. What they wanted to grow in certain places just wouldn’t, while fine-tuning the various water requirements took a bit of time.
Their grey water is drip-fed to the orchard and they have a few rainwater tanks around the garden and house. There’s also a dam that’s become popular with the wildlife, from bandicoots and wallabies to a huge array of birds including hawks, parrots and bush turkeys.
Stacey loves that several species of local birds come to nest each year in exactly the same locations within the garden to raise their families.
There are also insects and snakes galore, plus introduced animals such as foxes and rats. Stacey says they love them all and find they don’t do too much damage. Once again, it’s all about balance and biodiversity — edible crops and fruiting trees married in with the local environment.
As Stacey points out, “If you kill all the caterpillars you won’t have any beautiful butterflies in the garden. It’s all about balance in your garden ecology.”
For the Panozzos, bug watch and pest control are an organic affair. Stacey nets some of the fruit trees and removes the odd pest via pruning and or by hand. The chickens are allowed to free-range, picking off insects as they go.
Other plans of attack are companion planting and pest-repellent plants, such as land cress to discourage the cabbage moth. “We’d rather share a little with nature than blanket-kill everything that may be attacking our plants,” says Stacey.
The closed loop
The Panozzos believe that caring for a garden leads to caring more for nature as a whole. Says Stacey, “That has to include reducing our waste whenever possible and recycling everything.
“All our scraps go into either the compost or worm farm or to the chickens. It’s a closed circle of productivity.”
The chickens do their bit, supplying manure for fertiliser. The Panozzos add compost from their own bins and castings and tea from their worm farm. They top up their fertiliser needs with Earthlife products and extra compost from Red Soil Organics as well as seaweed and biochar.
Keeping the sustainability momentum going, the’ve joined a few local organic gardening groups and Stacey is on the committee of the Gold Coast Organic Growers.
“There’s no better way to learn about growing in your local area than listening and sharing knowledge with like-minded people and what they’ve learnt from their experiences,” says Stacey.
She attends as many local gardening-orientated workshops and educational talks as she can and even started her own event, Botanical Bazaar, aimed at helping others learn more about sustainable living.
She also shares the love by taking excess produce to the local food-swap group. There always seems to be an abundance of lettuce, kale, eggplants, garlic, beetroot and some herbs, though Stacey holds on to any extra magical turmeric, turning it into a paste and freezing it. (See box, Herbal Harvest.)
But it’s Rob who wears the chef’s hat in their household, Stacey freely admits. The Italian in him takes pride in his culinary skills and, when it comes to using backyard produce, his standout dish is fried crumbed eggplant with a cracking tomato and garlic sauce.
There’s so much Stacey enjoys about their garden — the Panama berry in particular, with its dappled shade and its small, red, caramel-flavoured fruit — but there’s one part of the garden that they’re all drawn to.
“It’s a breathtaking, magical spot where you can oversee the entire garden: orchards, garden beds, dam and gum trees,” she sighs. “The joy is that you can also see the ocean in the distance.”
Edible forests to the sea — a perfect nook for reflection.
* You can find Stacey’s gardening event at botanicalbazaar.com.au, on Facebook at Botanical Bazaar and on Instagram at #botanicalbazaar.
Rob may be the chef but herbal and citrus remedies are Stacey’s domain:
- Turmeric paste “for everything”
- Lemongrass & mint tea for refreshment
- Chamomile tea for relaxation
- Rosella cordial as a sweet drink
- Citrus peel as fabric softener
- Lemon juice for cleaning hard surfaces
- Honey & lemon for colds
The Panozzos’ top tips
- Let children garden with you so they discover a love of nature, growing plants and keeping animals.
- The old permaculture motto: “Work with nature, not against it.”
- Be patient with insects. There’s usually a balance and if you run around killing everything the garden will soon be out of whack.
- Learn from others. Join local gardening clubs and visit local gardens.
- Try, try and try again.