A Meaningful Garden -Nic's Place

Today I'm excited to introduce you to a wonderful inspiration of mine, Nicola Chatham. Nic is an artist, and has a highly successful blog (with the very awesome tagline of '...an unconventional life') and online business teaching people all about organic gardening, wherever they happen to live in the world. I've done Nic's courses, and found them so valuable - while alot of the information wasn't new to me due to my own gardening journey, I loved how she brought it all together in a beautiful and FUN package. I can highly recommend her courses to you if you want a done-for-you resource for all things gardening.

I contacted Nic and asked if she'd like to contribute to A MEANINGFUL GARDEN with this post in mind - it's one that has already appeared on her website, but it struck such a chord with me that I really wanted to share it with you all as part of this series. It's all about creating a garden that supports and delights you - regardless of what others might expect or the latest trend. I adore Nic's garden, it abounds with the kind of lushness that those who garden in tropical climates are so blessed to have, and you'll see in the pictures below the gorgeous, quirky aesthetic that brings a smile to your face - Thank you Nicola for sharing this with everyone over here.

Now, onto the post!

To give you some context to this post, last year Nicola took a roadtrip from her home in southern Queensland all the way down to Melbourne, and onto Tasmania with her beloved dog, Jordie. She hadn't revealed it at that time to her readers, but Jordie was quite ill, and the roadtrip gave her some precious time with him having abit of an adventure - sadly, after they returned home, Jordie passed away, and a little while later another furry little companion was introduced to us, Lacey Jane. 

Styling My Veggie Patch… And Embracing ‘What Is'

While I was away in the van, I vis­ited a cosy lit­tle restau­rant in Coles Bay, next to Freycinet National Park in Tas­ma­nia. There, they had piles of won­der­ful mag­a­zines on homes, inte­ri­ors and archi­tec­ture, none of which I’d seen before (which isn’t sur­pris­ing, since I don’t often read magazines).

I took pho­tos with my iphone of inte­ri­ors and exte­ri­ors that struck me, think­ing ‘Ah yes, that looks good. That’s what I want.’

There were white chairs with metal criss­crossed legs sur­round­ing large wooden din­ning tables, inbuilt book­shelves, raised gar­den beds in shiny cor­ru­gated iron tanks, and decks made of gor­geous hard­wood timber.

I drove home, had the pre­cious cer­e­mony for Jordie’s pass­ing, found Lacey Jane, then set to work call­ing house painters, land­scap­ers, and builders to update my home and garden.

Except, thank­fully, there were a cou­ple of tal­is­man type expe­ri­ences along the way sug­gest­ing I take stock, before paint­ing my house white, get­ting in a bull­dozer to flat­ten the veg­gie patch, install gravel path­ways, build three new raised gar­den beds, and a stone cov­ered eat­ing area out the back.

The first was I met a Por­tuguese gypsy at the Byron Bay Writer’s Fes­ti­val. He lives in a truck and grows herbs in lit­tle planter boxes along his only win­dow; cit­ronella for nat­ural insect repel­lant, rose­mary and chilli for culi­nary delights, and aloe vera for herbal remedies.

The sim­plic­ity of his life was appeal­ing. He’d cre­ated his own abun­dance using very sim­ple materials.

“I don’t read mag­a­zines or watch tele­vi­sion,” he said. “I don’t want them influ­enc­ing me, telling me how I should be liv­ing. That’s why my kitchen is like it is. I’ve made it how I like it. To suit me. It’s noth­ing like you see in magazines.”

It was cus­tom built, with tim­ber racks hold­ing the plates and cups so they didn’t fall out when the truck was on the move, and were eas­ily acces­si­ble in a rus­tic ‘coun­try kitchen’ kind of way.

In his ear­lier years he’d trans­formed a prop­erty in Tas­ma­nia into a sus­tain­able lit­tle haven with a veg­etable gar­den, water tanks, pas­sive solar heat­ing and recon­structed the dilap­i­dated lit­tle wooden huts that came with the block.

He showed me pho­tos and the result­ing lit­tle ‘vil­lage’ was incred­i­bly delight­ful, with stone paths he’d made from rocks he’d gath­ered from a lit­tle stream in his gully.

Then,  my artist friend Rebecca Ross came to stay.

It was the first time she’s been able to visit in the three years I’ve lived here, and the veg­gie patch wasn’t in the best shape to be show­ing off after my two months away in the van. But, there is a lovely qual­ity artists have, and it’s this… vision.

Plus Becc hap­pens to be a spe­cial kind of artist. The per­fect kind, as it turned out, at this point in my garden’s evolution.

Her art prac­tice is focused pre­dom­i­nantly on site, his­tory, and the sig­nif­i­cance of place. In fact, while she was stay­ing here she cre­ated a Face­book page to save a local Gold Coast build­ing from demo­li­tion. The page got so many likes overnight, it turned into a busy media cam­paign with reporters inter­view­ing her from ABC radio, the Gold Coast Bul­letin, Chan­nel 10 News actu­ally com­ing to my place to film her, and she was in the Sun­day Mail.

All from a lit­tle Face­book page, it was totally incred­i­ble. It showed me how many peo­ple are invested in sav­ing our her­itage and not all about demol­ish­ing the old to make way for the new. It was refresh­ing to see, espe­cially for a young city like the Gold Coast.

 But Becc wasn’t only work­ing towards sav­ing the Miami Ice Fac­tory while she was here, she was also help­ing save my lit­tle veg­gie patch. And I’m so grate­ful she did.

“I think it would be a shame to lose what you’ve already done here Nic. I think you should work with what you’ve cre­ated. It just needs some def­i­n­i­tion. Live and let live.”

I’d slipped down a hole of think­ing what my gar­den ‘should’ look like. How it ‘should’ func­tion in order to host gar­den­ing work­shops and retreats. I saw clean lines, hard edges, util­i­tar­ian, mod­ern design. So it would be accept­able and ful­fil modern-day, cos­mopoli­tan expectations.

But I’d for­got­ten something.

I don’t actu­ally want that. I don’t want the work that goes into keep­ing a per­fectly neat gar­den. I don’t want a vac­u­ous space filled with gravel in the sub-tropics, where it’s so fer­tile weeds can lit­er­ally grow in the moist air. I don’t want some­thing from a magazine.

I want Nic’s Place.

“I kind of like the weeds in the path­ways,” said Becc. And it reminded me, I do too. I had mint grow­ing around step­ping stones I’d been using for herbal teas. And the cob­blers pegs, wild sor­rel and blue top are all edi­ble, if not a lit­tle unruly. They are friendly, quite pretty weeds who serve a pur­pose; adding nutri­ents to the soil, act­ing as a liv­ing mulch, and many are actu­ally just as, if not more, nutri­tious than the plants I pur­posely grow to eat.

So, with her refresh­ing reminder and accep­tance, Becc and I had two fun-filled days cruis­ing around demo­li­tion yards, pick­ing up white picket fence pan­els, a per­fectly pink ori­en­tal umbrella, a stain­less steel planter tub, a lovely green rus­tic metal lad­der, and a hard-wood table for a quar­ter of the price of a day’s bulldozing.

These sim­ple additions have been like ‘styling’ my veg­gie patch, in a way I didn’t know was pos­si­ble. And LOTS of fun.

“Be resourceful,” Becc’s words rang in my ears as I painted over three out-door chairs I didn’t like the colour of.

With her reminder I also noticed I had piles of resources just lying around the gar­den wait­ing to be used; bags of mush­room com­post, boxes of rock min­er­als, a coil of cor­ru­gated iron gar­den edg­ing to curve around the base of the herb spi­ral, bricks that could be piled up to make a hand­some ‘stone wall’ edging.

Con­sol­i­dat­ing, being resource­ful, and pri­ori­tis­ing my true wants and needs has meant I’m proud of my gar­den, not in debt, and inspired to spend time out-doors in a space that, with some new fenc­ing, will be safe for Lacey Jane.

I encour­age you to work with what you have. Give it some love. Be grate­ful. Share your appre­ci­a­tion with the uni­verse. Allow what is, to be.

You may be sur­prised how you’ll see things with new eyes when you look at them with a healthy dol­lop of humil­ity and grat­i­tude. And you can still have your cake and eat it too.

Now, if you love the things you see in other people’s gar­dens, truly love them, and want to fol­low their design because you love it, that’s a great idea. I was just sur­prised to find I was try­ing to cre­ate some­thing my mum would like, or future vis­i­tors to my gar­den would be impressed by, or some­thing from the pages of Inside Out.

I’d been a lit­tle duped, shamed, embar­rassed, and hastily tried to shape my gar­den into a space that didn’t take into account the con­di­tions sur­round­ing it… my sub-tropical cli­mate, increas­ingly busy lifestyle, artis­tic aes­thetic, and where I really want to invest (hello, art studio!).

I know it’s what I teach all the time, ‘make a gar­den that sup­ports you’, I just needed a lit­tle reminder that it’s ok to do that even after being inspired by the pages of a gor­geous mag­a­zine. What you cre­ate can be gor­geous too, with your own style, touch, and needs taken into account. You can cre­ate your own “Nic’s Place,” only with your name in place of mine.

Embrace where you are and what you have. In this moment. It can always change down the track. I believe doing what you love and what lights you up is rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Be a rev­o­lu­tion­ary and carve out your own authen­tic place.

Nicola Chatham is an organic gar­den­ing teacher, con­tem­po­rary artist, writer, and cer­ti­fied Per­ma­cul­ture designer whose clients range from mar­ket­ing exec­u­tives, IT con­sul­tants, town plan­ners, archi­tects and retirees to sin­gle mums.

Author of ‘City Kids Move to the Coun­try’ and cre­ator of the acclaimed video-based, online organic gar­den­ing course ‘The Abun­dant Veg­gie Patch Sys­tem’, Nicola is pas­sion­ate about help­ing peo­ple improve their health and qual­ity of life by grow­ing their own organic food.

Her art­work reflects her love of the land­scape and is held in pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions in Aus­tralia and over­seas. She exhibits her paint­ings, videos and pho­tographs reg­u­larly in pub­lic and pri­vate gal­leries around Australia.

As an organic gar­den­ing teacher, Nicola inspires peo­ple to grow their own food, find nour­ish­ment in nature, take stock of their per­sonal val­ues and have a laugh along the way. You can get her prac­ti­cal gar­den­ing tips + videos through her free newslet­ter ‘Sprout’   at www.nicolachatham.com