Pete's Patch, the food producing garden made famous by Organic Gardener's own resident legend Peter Cundall, is one of the highlights of a visit to Hobart's magnificent Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Unlike some built-for-TV gardens the patch is anything but a film set. It's a genuine working garden, producing food for the RTBG restaurant and providing a steady stream of fruit and vegies for Second Bite, an organisation that distributes surplus produce to charities across the state. Tino Carnevale and the ABC Gardening Australia crew still film segments in the garden Tino's experiments with various plants are interesting to see. RTBG staff are hoping for fruit from his famous banana plant later in summer.
When the garden was opened in 1996 it was widely considered to be well ahead of its time. It was (and still is) managed according to organic principles, long before organics was mainstream, and Peter was enthusiastic about his love for old heirloom varieties that were once uncommon in nurseries. Today, vegie gardens are springing up in backyards, balconies and rooftops all over Australia. Heirloom fruits and vegies are the first choice for many grow-it-yourselfers and, it's becoming uncommon to find a school that doesn't have a kitchen garden.
However no garden is static, and change is coming to Pete's Patch. Staff at the RTBG have their eagle eyes fixed firmly on issues such as food security and sustainability, and are always seeking new ways to educate the public. Planning approval has just been received for a redevelopment of Pete's Patch that will see the removal of the raised beds, the felling of some mature, but poorly located trees, and demolition of the old hot-houses that adjoin the vegie garden. As many materials and plants from the old garden will be recycled and re-used.
The new garden, which is expected to still bear Peter Cundall's nickname, will have more of a community focus. Local community gardens and environmental groups will be able to grow food in beds located within the garden and horticulture students will have a broader range of opportunities than they do in the current patch. The new garden will host public workshops and a kitchen is being planned to offer a garden to plate experience. And best of all, the new garden will be at the cutting edge of sustainability, with features such as a food forest, water harvesting and renewable energy being central to the design. RTBG Deputy Director of Collections and Research, Mark Fountain describes the revamped garden as “Pete's Patch on steroids”.
If you imagine Peter being sad about losing the old patch, you'd be mistaken. In fact, Pete is the project's most enthusiastic supporter, and has given the new garden his wholehearted blessing. He has described it as a “marvellous and extraordinary development”, and says he will “crawl down there on [his] hands and knees over broken glass” to be part of the opening celebrations. Oh, to have such enthusiasm at the age of 85. For more on the new Pete's Patch keep an eye out for an article by Peter himself, in an upcoming issue of ABC Organic Gardener magazine. And if you're down Hobart way, don't forget to call into the RTBG and check out the old vegie garden before work commences at the end of the month. It is, as Peter would say, bloomin' brilliant!
Justin is travelling in Tasmania with the assistance of Blooming Tasmania Inc.
By: Justin Russell
First published: November 2012