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