Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Children's author Jackie French


Jackie picks fruit daily to share with friends and neighbours. Photography: supplied by Jackie French
We know her as the author of laugh-out-loud gems such as Diary of a Wombat and the poignant Flood. But, it turns out, Jackie French is also a dab hand in the garden. She has penned a number of books on gardening and self-sufficiency, and has planted a rambling garden over 4ha in the Araluen Valley with about 900 fruit trees. Like many gardeners, she's generous with her time, her knowledge and her patch, sharing loads of natural goodies with friends and neighbours - and the local wildlife. You'll find plenty of nifty tips and ideas for gardening, raising chooks and living with wildlife on her website jackiefrench.com. Or check out her books The Wilderness Garden or Backyard Self Sufficiency (Aird Books).


Tell us about your garden.
There are 900 fruit trees, a meandering of herbs and vegies and flowers, more then 260 types of fruit, with always at least a dozen fruits ready to pick. And mostly a mess, but a beautiful one. 

How has it evolved over the years?
We have deliberately created a garden and orchard where native animals are welcomed, not fenced out. We can go down to minus 9C in winter and often up in the 40Cs in summer, but by planting a grove, the trees survive and feed us, our friends and the wildlife.

The medlar tree is a spectacular sight in autumn. Photography: Jackie French
How do you like to spend time in your garden?
My study has windows on three sides, so as I write I look out to it. Breaks are spent picking lunch or dinner from the garden, watching the wombats, or generally mooching. I love a garden where you can mooch!

How does your garden inspire you?
The garden, and the valley where I live, are at the heart of most of my books, especially the historical ones, where characters grow their food and store it, or use medicinal plants as we do, and human have for thousands of years.

The fascinating Buddha's hand citron is a very fragrant fruit, often used as a perfume. Photography: Jackie French.
What are your must-haves for a garden?
Lots. And whatever you love, and whatever the wildlife in your area loves. For me, and the fruit bats, possum and wallabies, it's 133 varieties of apple, fruiting from December till August; tangles of climbing roses for birds to nest in; and avocados (we grow about 80 varieties, mostly bred here).

All-time favourite plants?
Ask me that every season and I'll give a difference answer. Wonga vine in spring; ginger lilies in March, with perfume thick enough to float on; mutabilis roses as they are too spindly for the possums to climb and eat; lemons because we use the juice every day; Jonathon apples in February and Lady Williams in May/June/July; arched purple and deep-red heads of salvia; pomegranates, those fat red fruit and butter-yellow autumn leaves, and persimmons that hold orange globes on bare branches and a perfect circle of orange leaves below.


Five words that describe your garden?
Generous to us, the animals and the land. Sorry, that's eight! 

Purple salvias are just some of Jackie's favourite plants. Photography: Jackie French
A copse of trees, a medley of flowers and fruit, and inviting pathways. Photography: Jackie French
Apples and avocados abound in Jackie's garden. Photography: supplied by Jackie French