Peter Wann has been described as a horticulturist disguised as a bus driver. He's qualified in both, but today we're covering his flourishing Shortland property.
He and his partner Mon have achieved a special natural harmony despite their differences in tastes and plants.
"Everything has its own story. When I planted that paw paw tree Mon said, 'Why did you plant that, we don't even eat paw paw'. But it reminds me of my Grandmother, I think," he says.
They've lived on the property for 26 years and raised three children in their three-bedroom home. What is now the lounge room was once the garage, and the dining room was once the lounge room.
In terms of horticulture, for Peter it's been a gradual thing. In the late '90s he started with a propagation nursery at home which he worked on for nine years. In 2007 he returned to his love of growing food. He's even run horticultural courses including Therapeutic Horticulture, promoted by Cultivate NSW.
"Plants and gardens have the ability to invoke memories and improve physical and mental wellbeing," he says.
"There is growing research that shows people lying in hospital beds have a quicker recovery time if they simply have a window with a view of a garden."
The Wann's garden has plenty to look at, with a rose garden in the front, bees buzzing in the back, steaming compost, lemon trees, a lush lawn and thriving house plants. Peter would prefer to grow food not lawns, although he acknowledges there's "something about walking barefoot on grass".
Inside the house, Mon is partial to the fiddle leaf fig and devil's ivy. She notes that the native indoor ginger is also quite pretty. Mon has home-grown parsley and spinach in her juice every morning and cooks with thyme and oregano at dinner time.
They both appreciate the rose bushes; they're pretty and they can be made into rosehip tea.
The Nasturtiums also remind Peter of his Grandmother. They also have asparagus, Davidson plum, curry leaf, avocado, mulberry, passionfruit, macadamias, bananas and an olive tree he's still working on.
The compost includes coffee grounds from Wildflower Café in Wallsend. Every week Peter picks up half a wheelbarrow of grounds and puts it together out in the back. It heats up naturally with ingredients like lawn clippings, and he turns it every four days. The chickens push it around; then he'll put it back together. When it's ready, it goes back to the garden.
Peter uses a variety of fruit and vegetables for mulch. Sweet potato, Cyanea scurvy weed and Warrigal greens are living mulch. Bana grass, arrowroot and bananas are "chop and drop" mulch.
His citrus trees provide lemons, mandarines, oranges and lemonades which they're happy to share.
Strangers in the night have woken them up, helping themselves to their lemon supply. Because of his lazy streak, Peter likes food that grows itself. He recommends the Vegepod, which grows vegetables in one raised wicking bed with a cover.
"They take what can be hard work and make it a bit simpler and easier," he says.
He has a Midgen berry gifted from landscape architect and presenter Costa Georgiadis.
"Costa was doing a talk at the uni and giving away native plants. He had a Midgen berry and asked if anyone knew the botanical name. I said 'Austromyrtus'."
Peter also hosts Urban Hum bees. The Urban Hum team harvest the honey and in exchange give the Wanns a portion.
Of everything they grow, Peter reckons his favourite is the Warrigal greens. Mon says they eat them in everything.
"From a horticulture and permaculture point of view, naturally they grow under she-oak trees, in the sand and saltwater which few plants can withstand. They are a permanent crop. It just keeps growing with no need to replant, just picking," he says.
"The Awabakal people locally have used this as part of their diet for thousands of years, but we are only now recognising the importance, culturally, of Indigenous plants, and also the potential they have as a diverse food source for all Australians."
Mon and Pete recommend that budding gardeners grow herbs and citrus trees so they can feel successful early on, and then start to experiment and branch out.
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