Victoria Kleeberg invites us into her environmentally-friendly and productive organic garden, and shows us how its principles of sustainability have extended to her entire home
We moved to Bowral, NSW some 16 years ago. The house is typical of those in the area and the block of land is just on half an acre, which is quite large considering how close it is to town.
The original garden contained some well-established trees and many substantial camellias when we arrived, plus a lovely curved stone wall in the centre of the back garden.
I have tried to garden along the design principles of the famous Edna Walling, so I built a stone path that follows the wall and flows between a stand of silver birch I planted and later underplanted with daffodils. This, combined with masses of bluebells and hellebores under the linden tree (Tilia cordata), the winding paths laid with sawdust through the woodland garden and the very pretty daisies that flower through the lawn, has proved to be just right for that area of the garden.
Even within the formality of our organic garden, the true mark of it is our commitment to sustainability. This is most obvious in our front yard where I have created the kitchen garden just a step away from the kitchen door. This area was the least-developed part of the property with only two huge gum trees and little lawn. The privet hedge divides the front garden in half and offers wonderful western shelter for the veggie garden, as does the established camellia hedge on the south side, which doubles as the front fence. The productive kitchen garden has four beds, each edged with second-hand bricks, and there is also a long metre-wide bed, edged with recycled railway-sleepers, in which I grow asparagus and strawberries. The pathways between each are carpeted in sawdust, which we sourced locally. This not only feels soft underfoot but also serves as a natural deterrent to slugs and snails.
I have a number of herbs planted in garden beds throughout the garden because I use them in my herbal practice as well as in the kitchen. I grow marjoram, oregano, rosemary, a bay tree, many varieties of thyme and lots of tiny wild strawberries, to name but a few. Yarrow and comfrey, essential ingredients in any compost or compost tea, have many medicinal uses as well. There is lemon balm, too, which makes a lovely, relaxing tea, winter savory, thyme, valerian, dandelion and wormwood (Artemisia).
I also enjoy companion planting, as it’s not only helpful but adds to the attractiveness of the veggie patch. I find some plants go well together and others don’t; for example, feverfew is a natural insect repellent and a good companion to most veggies. We use sugarcane mulch in the vegetable garden and I find the trick is to soak it first. I just slash the bag and pop the hose in for a while then place it around the vegetables. In the general garden, I prefer to use leaf litter mulch collected by the trailer load, which we mulch with the lawn mower and leave heaped for a while so it rots down a bit before spreading it on the garden beds.
The garden has brought us much pride and joy over the years and we have taken further steps to ensure our property is sustainable. For instance, we take water-wise considerations very seriously, so the house, garage and shed all have rainwater tanks installed. We use the captured water in two ways: first, we stream it into the hot-water system that provides hot water for use in the bathroom, kitchen and laundry; and, of course, we use the rainwater on our edibles. On the roof we have two types of solar panel arrays. One is the familiar system, which creates power, and the other is called SolarVenti, which is a solar panel that warms the air then draws it into the house. Reducing our impact and living sustainably has become our way of life. We know our food is free of chemicals; it is not genetically altered or modified and it’s seasonal, fresh and tasty. We enjoy discovering new ways to live more sustainably and take time to learn more about lessening our impact on our environment. We would love everybody to have an organic garden for their kitchen, or be part of a community garden the way it used to be years ago.
Victoria Kleeberg and her husband Mark own and run the Organic Whole Food Store in Bowral, NSW. She is a registered nurse, homebirth midwife, Buteyko practitioner, herbalist and nutritionist.
Written by Victoria Kleeberg
Photography by Diane Crawford
Originally in Backyard Volume 15 Issue 2