It’s a rare morning you won’t find SBCG member Natalia Ribeiro tending to her diverse and vibrant garden bed. Plot number five to be exact. The one, fittingly enough, located just around the entrance to the SBCG propagation tunnel housing fledgling seedlings which, if they could talk, would surely tell you about wanting to look just like the plants on their door step when they grow up.
It’s the plot managing to grow coffee, pawpaw, Thai basil, various chilli plants, mint, tarragon, bitter melon, arrowroot, okra, various lettuces and, no doubt, a wide
assortment of other unique fruits, flowers and veggies that might look familiar but whose names don’t exactly leap off the tongue.
And while you might not know the names of everything growing in garden bed number 5, one look will tell you the person responsible for such a prolific plot has invested more than just a bit of their time and effort into that space.
And you’d be very right.
But probably not for the reasons you might think.
For Natalia Ribeiro, you see, her raised garden bed is more than the mere sum of its many bountiful parts. It’s a portal of sorts. A connection to her past. A past that, until she and half of her eleven brothers and sisters emigrated to Portugal in 1974, saw Natalia grow up on her family’s vast farm in East Timor.
So all that said, in what we hope will be the first of many ongoing ‘Faces in the Crowd’ posts to come, here’s Natalia’s take on all things gardening.
How long have you been a SBCG member and how did you first get into gardening?
I joined the SBCG back around 2010. I was walking by and saw the area and immediately went in and started asking questions. As for how I got into gardening, that’s a bit of a long story. I guess you could say it’s in my blood. My father took over the family farm in East Timor from my grandparents. It was more a ranch than a farm and we had everything on it. Livestock of all sorts and we grew all our fruit and vegetables. We were completely self-sufficient with the only thing we had to buy from the store being toiletries. My favourite memory of the place was sitting on our big veranda waiting for my father to come home from the fields. I’d see him in his loaded up truck and I’d get so excited to see him every time. I lived there until the age of nine. It was then, when my father decided things were getting too dangerous, that me and half my twelve brothers and sisters moved to Lisbon, Portugal. He ran that farm for 61 years before my oldest brother took over.
What do you find most rewarding about gardening?
Like was probably the case with my father, I find the most satisfying aspect of gardening being able to grow my own fruits and vegetables and being able to harvest and bring them home. I’m proud to be able to say what I produce allows me to cook a delicious meal for my family.
What mistakes do you feel new gardeners make?
I think too many new gardeners underestimate the amount of work which is often necessary to produce and maintain a really healthy and productive garden over time.
They come in to it all very excited to get a garden bed and for the first few months—especially when the weather is cooperating—everything seems perfect. But later, whether it’s their busy life outside the garden or whatever, they start to neglect things. Add long periods with little to no rain and failing to get their garden sufficient amounts of water only seems to make the issue worse. A garden can be a lot of responsibility. I don’t think a lot of new gardeners understand that.
What’s your favourite fruit/veggie/flower to grow and why?
I’d have to say pau pau is my favourite because it’s so healthy and it grows year round. Back in East Timor we ate it all the time green or ripe. We used all the parts of it, too. The leaves, the flowers. Everything. My father planted a big patch of it and I remember he used to sit on our veranda eating it with a spoon in the afternoons.
What’s an aspect of gardening you struggle with and why?
I know a lot of people will probably say the heat but, to be honest, I’m pretty used to it. I suppose East Timor prepared me for it and I just really enjoy being outside tending to my plot and the other common areas. I usually arrive very early in the morning and am gone before things get too hot anyway. That way I do what I need to do in the garden and I still have plenty of time for other things I like to do like going to the beach.
What’s your favourite all natural fertilizer and why?
Although we have access to composted material in the garden, I still prefer grass clippings. The clippings are natural and generally in an abundant supply. I sometimes find bits of discarded plastic in the compost bins which kind of ruins everything for me. It might seem nit-picky, but I’m just all for the grass clippings.
What’s the best way to convince a young person gardening is a viable activity?
Leading by example in an enthusiastic manner is probably the best way. That way it’s easier to explain how much fun gardening can be while having them help you with various projects around the garden, like watering.
If you were a politician with clout on the Gold Coast, what gardening related initiatives would you put in place?
I would probably want to start an educational program in the area that focused more on recycling. Because it seems like a lot of people don’t have a really good idea about what can and cannot be recycled or composted.
If you could swap out your gardening ability with another skill or hobby, what would it be and why?
One of biggest dreams of mine has always been to be a real qualified chef. I’ve always been pretty good at creating healthy meals for my family but to be a chef would let
me take things to a whole other level. Plus, being a chef would allow me to really capitalise on my knowledge of plants and vegetables.
What’s the most memorable tip anyone’s ever given you pertaining to gardening?
Of course the most memorable tip I’ve received about gardening was from my father. He just always used to say that to have a beautiful and healthy garden you really just have to be committed to it and to believe.