Megan Vertelle | Set decorator and owner Belle Bird Organic Balms

Waitakere| February 2014

“Never take your cell phone to the garden, there’s nothing better than being ‘out of range’.” ....more words below images

Megan Vertelle Set decorator and owner Belle Bird Organic Balms | Waitakere| February 2014

Our garden is East and North facing and slopes down into the bush. It covers about ½ an acre in total – we have 4 vegetable and one flower bed with a lots of native trees and bush. The soil is very heavy clay – we regularly haul in manure to help!

I have been working on the garden for a year and a half and usually average around four hours a week in it. Some days I pop down the bank to pick a few kale leaves and emerge 5 hours later!
John Seymour is my gardening hero – he is the ultimate gardening grandfather! I also deeply admire Kay Baxter, she is a national treasure and has put so much hard work into creating a living library of heritage seeds in NZ. I once did one of her Koanga workshops on growing ‘Nutrient dense vegetables’ and it totally changed the way I garden – its not about making the plant grow, its about feeding the soil!
My partner & I unearthed some of the beds when we moved here. The property was incredibly overgrown with tradescantia and every other imaginable weed. We had no idea the beds were there and discovered them after filling the first skip bin with weeds. My partner very diligently ‘double dug’ our two main beds. This creates a deeper trench for the plants to grow in, theoretically allowing you to plant your veges closer together, because the roots can go deeper as opposed to sideways. It also gives the soil a greater propensity to hold water meaning your plants can last longer between watering in summer. Great when you’re on tank water!! We’re not planning for a perfectly manicured garden, rather something that in time can look after itself and meander sympathetically with the surrounding native forest.
I mostly garden with the animals! Samba the dog will find a sunny possie nearby to snooze while Ruby & Rata (the chooks) are always under foot, as they know that wherever I go, invariably there will be a worm or two!!

We planted 2 ornamental bananas a year ago and they have grown amazingly fast. Anything that can’t handle a good gust of wind struggles to grow here.
We have 2 delightful chickens and a top bar beehive. The chooks have become much loved pets with huge personalities. The girls are not only great gardening companions but they are invaluable for the manure they provide to heat up the compost and their scratching is really helping to keep back the weeds.

We sourced the chooks from an amazing woman, Angie who runs an organization called ‘Battery Hen Rescue’.
Angie collects as many chickens as she can from battery farmers before they are culled. Most farmers get rid of their chickens at 1 ½ years because their laying slows.  I think I’d slow down too if I lived in a cage only slightly bigger than me with artificial lights on and nothing to do but eat pellets. Angie fixes the chooks up and then finds loving homes for them to go to. It has been one of the most delightful experiences of my life watching these chooks transform from near naked trembling birds into curious, talkative sunbathing beauties. Honestly they make me laugh every single day with their antics! And the eggs they lay, every single day, are a total bonus.
You can find Angie on Facebook (under Battery Hen Rescue) if you think you could give a couple of cheeky girls a second go at life.
My number one pest are slugs. I pick them off at night and save them for the chooks as breakfast. Mmmmm.. The biggest chore is keeping the incredibly fast growth of weeds back. Nutgrass, tradescantia and bindweed – very clever plants those….
I love the way the garden looks different everyday. Living on top of the ranges brings all sorts of weather patterns with dynamic sunlight and clouds, so the garden is often lit up with a dawn glow or a misty haze, sometimes a bolt of lightning or two.
I love dusk in the garden.The light is golden and dreamlike and being in the garden I feel like I have slipped into a timeless place. Sometimes we get the Kaka parrot swooping overhead in the last beams of sunlight, squawking loudly to it’s mates. Always there are skinks darting about the pathways and woodpigeons perching in cabbage trees. Very magical.
I love autumn. It’s time to harvest all your bounty from summer and plants begin to turn the most exquisite colours. The variations of golden to russet red in the Kauri leaf are quite spectacular.
Favourite tools are my vintage green trowel & hand rake. They are from a French antique store and they are made from very durable steel. The trowel never bends backwards in hard dry soil and the rake is just the ticket for tradescantia. They are so well made and have aged beautifully.
Gardening is very grounding and humbling. It’s there that I am always reminded that I can’t control everything and that the more I go with nature, the better I will do.
Our garden is organic. We won’t use any chemical sprays or poisons. To me that just goes against nature. I’m always trying to understand nature better so that I am taking the path of least resistance in the garden. Some of those things involve learning what plants grow better together, what weeds are beneficial to have in the garden, how the moon and planets affect plant growth and how to improve biological activity within the soil. When the soil is alive, you’re in business!
Everyday I get a high! I am so grateful that we have the privilege to grow our own food, keep our own seed and start all over again the next season. It’s all a blooming miracle…