French Excursion

I did not expect a patch of cool temperate rainforest


or a long mysterious path


as I walked up the driveway to Jackie French’s garden, open as part of the Open Garden Scheme. So the equally unexpected lawns and billowing roses in front of the house shouldn’t have surprised me either.


Jackie’s garden has been created in a deep narrow section of the Araluen Valley (on the coast side of Braidwood) and I could not help but feel that I (and some 49 other people), had just been invited into an Antipodean version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Somewhat more prosaically you were more likely to trip over a wombat in Jackie’s garden, as they proved to be much in evidence on the day. This one just wandered past as Jackie was giving us an introduction to her place,


and the famous Mothball put in appearance at the entrance to her old burrow under the house. Although she, the wombat that is, has now moved to a larger burrow on the other side of the creek.


Jackie introduced us to the garden she has been creating since 1973, first as an attempt at the full hippy self-sufficiency dream and later, once she’d worked out that is was easier to make a living writing about her farm than farming per se, spending her time growing and learning from the land and her garden directly. The weather wasn’t the greatest, alternating between steady rain, flashes of brilliant sunlight and a torrential downpours.


During a break in the rain we went on an exploration of the garden proper. The garden has a wide variety of apples and other fruit trees throughout. Jackie spoke about using a Calomondin, a small citrus often erroneously identified as a cumquat, as a ‘decoy’ to tempt cockatoos and rosellas away from her other fruiting trees. The birds, it turns out prefer the small and less sweet fruit of the calomondins to the apples. Another interesting feature was her method of protecting young trees from wallabys, possums and wombats all at the same time.


The tree is surrounded by a medium size chicken wire cylinder, which keeps the wallabys off; only secured by one post as the wobbly structure upsets possums enough to keep them away; and the whole thing is set about 20cm above the ground so hungry wombats can get at the tasty growth at the bottom of the plant’s trunk without having to bulldoze their way into this most desireable snack.

Jackie and her husband Bryan have built a wonderful house with what Jackie describes as ‘a collection of the history of Australian solar panels’ on the roof


The gardens surrounding the house are a wonderful mix of the edible and the beautiful. From Banana passionfruits


to Buff Beauty roses and Blue Salvias


and yes we did see Jackie’s veggie beds on the way


to the secret part of the garden, or what Jackie refers to as ‘groves’. This is where her ingenuity, not to mention patience are really shown off. Under a canopy of frost hardy trees more vulnerable species are planted, with further shrub layers going in after that. The groves take anything up to 15 to 20 years for the more tender plants to establish. Jackie currently has both Black Sapote and Custard Apples growing here, in a garden that regularly experiences – 6 degrees of frost in winter. In this grove avocadoes are the dominant shelter tree, yes avocadoes, check out the fruit hanging from the branches,


while a Macadamia nut is flowering profusely in its shelter


We returned via the back track, not so much secret as a bit of bush bashing!


Our return to the marquee heralded not only a wonderful afternoon tea, I loved the rhubarb and ginger cake, but yet another torrential downpour to enjoy it in!


In spite of the weather we had a fascinating few hours, not to mention some wonderful hospitality, at Jackie and Bryan’s place. I hope that those people who travelled from Sydney and Melbourne for the day enjoyed themselves as much as we did.

If you want to find out more about how Jackie goes about things you can drop by her website, or buy one of her books (be warned she’s published quite a few of them!). The short summary of gardening with wildlife can be found here.




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