Donna Jones: Garden of the Year 2022

Donna Jones: Garden of the Year 2022 L-R, Henrietta Hood The Avid Gardener, Ami Zielinski Central West Mums and Donna Jones Winner Garden of the Year – Diana Smith Photography

Donna Jones’s definition of a good garden is something which feeds the family. Luckily, we can all start small and receive just as much joy.

“We had a huge family and we only ate seasonally. We only ate what was in the garden. One year someone gave us some tobacco plant, and it grew and took up so much of the food garden, it was the stupidest thing we’d ever done. And none of smoked – so we’ve learnt a lot.”

The joy of finding the right plants

Donna Jones Citrus House-2a6cb039

Donna’s property, at Forest Reefs, has fruit trees, a veggie patch and permanent plants, but she hesitates to count the actual number of varieties in her garden, given the multitude of herbs as well.

“I guess, by counting all the silly things and stuff, there would be a least 30 species.”

Her knowledge of gardening stems from her father who grew up in the Depression.

“He used to teach us to live off nothing basically. He was only around to see the early stage of my garden and it has become a shrine to him. I really wish he could see how good it is now, compared to the early stages when we first bought the property and started building it.”

Tending the garden with love

Donna Jones Raised Garden Beds

To this day Donna uses the skills her father taught her and continues to reap abundant rewards to feed her own large family and friends.

“Most of my time is spent, depending on the season, pruning tomatoes, cross breeding things, pruning trees the way my dad showed me how to (he was an orchardist) and growing things organically the way he showed me.”

All of Donna’s kitchen scraps go into compost, towards feeding magpies or just outside somehow, unless she says someone accidentally puts something in the bin, but says “that never happens under my watchful eye.”

The peace is in the eating

Donna says it’s not that easy to have a productive garden all year round.

“It’s a real timetable. In the busy season you have to be out there for 30 minutes every morning to clear out pests, especially if you are growing organically like us. Or it could be a really hot day you might need a couple of hours out there. We mulch a lot so we don’t need to water too much, but it’s mostly to keep an eye on pests. Sometimes you might go in the asparagus season and you might find 100 asparagus that got away in the last two days.”

It’s a family affair

Donna Jones garden frame

While Donna’s family are now away at uni and so forth, the garden is maintained by her and her husband.

“Bryan builds the structures. I find a picture of something and go ‘oh, this is nice for my birthday’. He’s really good like that.”

They have their specific roles but Donna is quick to add that hers definitely includes being the pruner, otherwise someone gets in a whole lot of trouble she warns.

Growing a sustainable garden

Donna Jones Veggie garden gate

Donna’s mantra is if it can be grown, I won’t be buying it, and remains passionate about growing a garden with high yields in a sustainable way.

“This is probably a high 70% of my focus. It’s nice to have pretty flowers but for me it’s important to have the vegies and herbs and so forth. Especially when it means you don’t have to buy plants repeatedly, like spinach and herbs, which just spread. But if one of the kids wants to start eating kale chips then I’ll go and buy some kale to grow.”

She says her knowledge has come from necessity, and she finds that many people just don’t know so much about growing food as they once had to.

“No-one has those big acre blocks anymore to put the garden. It’s all about smaller back yards. So, no-one’s got a garden, no-one’s got the time, the mums are all working. There’s no time for it.”

Donna and Bryan’s property was an old potato farm but the vegie patch is limited to seven raised garden beds. Her father’s garden was more like half and acre and more of a rambling style she says, which was just fed with home-grown chook poo but yielded enough to feed the neighbours and extended family, too.

“When the beds are full swing it’s really lovely.”

Gifts that keep on giving

Donna Jones Spring flowers

Excess crop is given away to family to friends, and crops of garlic are warmly welcomed.

Over the past year Donna has been fighting cancer and spent less time working. The ongoing rains have been good as she hasn’t had to worry about the water, but she was surprised to see a big blackberry thriving away out the back which had grown uninvited. Everything likes living there it seems.

“Growing organic food has been essential to my returning health. It’s so good to just go out and grab an egg, a bunch of parsley and some tomatoes to have for breakfast.”

Plus, the savings to feeding a big family from the garden are immeasurable.

Bryan has also just lost his father to cancer, so the garden has become more important to him in a new way, because, Donna says, it’s such a good spot for grief. Her nephew’s ashes are also in the garden. “Just having them there is a real privilege. I find that as soon as someone passes or gets sick, you go to your garden to get some flowers to give them, or if you are sad you tend to wander amongst trees to make you happy again.

A garden is essential to healthy living

Donna Jones Perennial flowers

If you’re ready to start a plot today, whether it be on your front porch, in a pot out the back or on your balcony there are plenty of good reasons. Gardening is good for your health and your general and mental health. They come in all sizes and fit all lifestyles and as Donna says, you can’t get by without one.

Diana Smith

I'm an Orange-based photographer, writer, face painter and book designer. I enjoy meeting the lovely folk of our community and have been involved in publishing/media/comms for about 15 years. I have done several exhibitions and in 2022 published my own childrens story, 'The Mouses Houses.'

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