Sunday, June 14, 2015

Designer and photographer Matt O'Sullivan

Two years ago, Matt and Celine O'Sullivan armed themselves with shovels and joined the grow-your-own food revolution. While Matt has fond memories of helping his grandfather pick veggies as a child, he admits he'd never really exercised his green thumb. It was the imminent arrival of the couple's child, Zoé, two years ago, that ignited their interest in organic gardening and living more sustainably. And they have taken to it with gusto. Detailing the process in his blog, The Veggie Patch Diaries, Matt says the veggie patch now provides a constant flow of fruit and vegetables featuring everything from bananas and basil to turmeric and zucchini. Getting to this stage has taken plenty of planning and loads of hard work. The couple started by tracking the sun's movements across their back yard and cultivating their own seedlings from seeds or cuttings. No-dig beds were created from old sleepers and aluminium frames, while pots have proved the perfect home for herbs and seedlings. For Matt and Celine, who create their own artworks through their atelier, Chez Beauvardia, gardening is very much a family affair. And Zoé has also taken up the cause, spending much of her time helping tend the plants, not to mention picking and tasting the produce. Of course, for the creative couple, seeing their little girl tuck into something she has picked from the garden, makes the effort all worthwhile.

An eclectic mix of pots is home to seedlings and herbs. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
Ripe for the picking. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
An old wheelbarrow gets a floral makeover. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
What is the story of your garden?
I’m relatively new to gardening, having only found it a little over two years ago, at the same time we announced my wife’s pregnancy and the coming of our first child. I had early memories as a child myself, with my grandfather (an avid green thumb), digging up carrots and picking fresh juicy tomatoes from the vine. As a soon-to-be father, I thought if I could learn how to grow our own food, it would give Zoé a better appreciation and understanding of exactly where her food comes from. Plus it tastes so much better!
During this time we were renting a home in the sunny suburbs of Brisbane. It featured a large, sun-soaked backyard, along with the decayed remnants of an old raised garden bed, similar to that once laid at my grandfather's. The potential was there for something to be reborn and so the adventure began.
Fast forward a couple of years, Zoé is now almost 20 months old and we have left our original garden behind and work has begun at our recently purchased property on version 2.0 of our veggie patch. 


Veggie gardens need planning and preparation. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
A raised garden bed bursting with healthy crops. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
Pots are perfect for growing herbs and veggies. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
Silverbeet and marigolds. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
What changes have you made to it over the years?
Our first garden started out small and expanded as our confidence and knowledge of growing grew. By the end of the first four seasons in the garden we were harvesting the majority of our household vegetables in many beds across the property. With this expanded layout, more time was needed on upkeep and watering.
With the new garden, we’ve confined the space to a particular area of the backyard for less maintenance and easier access direct from the kitchen, which was important for us. We have also concentrated more on growing edibles, which first-off we eat a lot of and can quickly add up at the checkout (ie. various herbs and green salads), and secondly crops that have higher yields and are super fun for Zoé to get hands-on with in the garden (ie. cherry tomatoes, radishes and strawberries).

  
Corrugated-iron tanks make great no-dig garden beds. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
Fresh strawberries. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
A clever idea for supporting tomatoes. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
Zoe tends her patch. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
Any big challenges?
In the beginning I would say grasping the idea of seasonal growing was a big challenge. Understanding that just because a vegetable is readily available in the local supermarket at any given time of the year, doesn’t mean that, yes, it will be harvested this month in the patch. The garden is a great place to learn that, with every failure, there is a success, and that hard work and persistence really do pay off.
The other challenge would be the constant battle with the dreaded white cabbage moth. To remain organic, we have created dummy butterflies, which seem to have done the trick, thanks to The Little Veggie Patch Co’s helpful tip in their latest book, 1-Minute Gardener.

Dummy butterflies help deter white cabbage moths. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
Nothing beats home-grown tomatoes. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
A flower box bursting with cos lettuce. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
How do you like to spend time in your garden?
By far, my most favourite times in the garden are spent wandering with little Zoé. Although she is only very young, you can’t help but notice already her appreciation of a freshly picked, organically grown tomato.
We don’t have an irrigation system in place and everything is hand watered. I quite like this hands-on approach as it is a great time for us to slow down together, check in on each plant’s progress, discuss and reap the benefits of growing our own.
I also enjoy when friends and family drop by and we get the opportunity to share and talk about what we are doing over a home-cooked meal, straight from the garden.

How does your garden inspire you?
Whether it be observing the local bees on their daily mission to gather pollen and pollinate, or witnessing the death and new life of a plant through seasonal change, I’m inspired everyday by our garden. Just the simple act of an early morning stroll through the patch with freshly brewed coffee in hand is the perfect way to kickstart any given day.
Come the weekend, the garden allows me the time to slow down from the busy working week with the family. It’s a place where I can toil away and think freely with a clear mind on new creative ideas and get lost in my thoughts. 

Matt potters in his garden. 
Enjoying the fruits of their labour. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
One of Matt and Celine's artworks for Chez Beauvardia. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
What are your must-haves for a garden?
I would say the success of our edible garden comes down to our green-waste composting. Without our compost bin and worm farm in action, we wouldn’t have nearly enough nutrients to give back to the soil and sustain our plants. Not only are we creating fertiliser, free of charge, we’re doing our small part to better the environment around us.
Another must-have would be some sort of safe haven to protect and nurture your baby seedlings. We originally had a large walk-in green house for this, however recently downsized to our mini home-built cold frame. We made it from recycled materials based loosely on a sketch found in an old gardening journal op-shop find. 
And last, but not least, herbs, herbs and more herbs: We can never get enough of them!

For more information, see www.waxlyric.com, www.chezbeauvardia.com, or www.waxlyric.com/the-veggie-patch-diaries

Dried herbs ready for a tasty dish. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
Pots of basil. Photography: Matt O'Sullivan
The garden is an ideal place to generate new creative ideas. Photography & artwork: Matt O'Sullivan