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Suburban Sustainability – A Natural Gardener

Fran Bancroft is not a lady who does things by halves and I think I can say with relative confidence that her two greatest passions are her family and her garden, both which she nurtures beautifully!

I have visited Fran’s roughly 400 square metre organic garden on several occasions and each time I’m amazed at just how much she has managed to fit into this space; which somehow still feels spacious.

A relative newcomer to gardening, this is Fran’s first real garden and she is well and truly hooked; a fact which quickly becomes apparent when speaking of gardening.

Love for all things green began while living in a little weatherboard house in historic Fremantle in Western Australia. With no room for garden beds, terracotta pots were filled with all manner of plants and any gardening book Fran could get her hands on was borrowed and enthusiastically read.

Jackie French’s Backyard Self Sufficiency became a favourite, much referred to reference book and Fran has gone on to create her very own organic self sufficient backyard on their Margaret River property – complete with fabulous compost bins, chickens, worm farm…fruit trees, seasonal vegetable gardens and herbs.

The garden was first established around April 2008 when all that existed was a load of blue metal and a few plants…little of which still remains today. Fran made her own compost to help condition the existing soil using leaves and sheep droppings. More recently she has built three fabulous compost bins using pallets picked up for free and constructed by her clever father in law. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone talk so animatedly about compost!

Plantings throughout the garden have been obtained by cuttings in the majority of cases and Fran is an enthusiastic seed saver, showing both thriftiness and her natural knack for gardening. Seeds from her healthiest plants are collected and stored in labelled bags until required. Seedlings are grown in peat pots or toilet rolls & then placed directly in the ground with worm castings and compost mixed in.

Nearly all of Fran’s fertilisers are made by herself – using worm castings from her healthy, productive worm farm; seaweed; and socks filled with chicken droppings, compost & grass clippings dangled in water for a few days. She grows deep rooted comfrey which is high in nitrogen and an excellent plant food – a natural and organic compost accelerator. From this Fran makes a comfrey tea from shredded leaves left to steep in water for a few days… which her plants obviously all thrive on!

Three very healthy chickens are in charge of weed and parasite control and halved lemons attract slaters who go into feed and shelter and can easily be collected. Companion planting using marigolds & various chives provides additional protection for plants, keeping unwanted pests away.

The garden is well mulched, in same areas using very pretty living mulch such as creeping oregano and caraway thyme.

Standardised orange, tangerine and cumquat trees enjoy space along with miniature nectarine, peach and apple trees which all provide bountiful harvests despite their small stature. Two espaliered pear and a cherry tree enjoy the protection and warmth of a boundary fence, keeping good company with a home made scarecrow and a nearby fairy garden created for and with children Edward & Annabel.

A healthy passion fruit vine, mango & avocado trees, 4 table grape vines, lemon & lime trees, blueberry, gooseberry, raspberry, boysenberry, sylvan berry, black current, strawberry guava and olives all have their place, along with the seasonal vegetables and herbs that are ever changing…dispersed with colourful drifts of flowers.

Fran makes her own preserves – home made lemon butter, ketchups and marmalade and the family enjoy fresh eggs daily. Recent wins at the regional district show included prizes for Fran’s kale, organic vegetables and culinary herbs and a first prize for her preserved cumquat. Not bad for a first time gardener!!

And perhaps the best reward for all her efforts is seeing children Edward & Annabel enjoy their food so much… gorging on fresh peas and having carrot pulling competitions…both with a healthy attitude towards food and their own love of the garden their mum has created!