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Mary Moody – growing like Topsy

MARY'S Mary Moody with some of Glenray Park's geese.
MARY’S WAY Mary Moody with some of Glenray Park’s geese.

Another encounter with a great gardener.

MARY Moody told her friends she’d never dig another perennial garden bed.

After a decade presenting the ABC’s popular Gardening Australia series, the penning of respected gardening titles, and with horticultural credentials ranking amongst the country’s greenest, it seemed as though Mary didn’t have time to garden anymore.

Geography had a lot to do with it.

Mary had fallen in love with the way of life in south-west France, and relocated there for a good portion of every year.

Her family also moved its Australian base from the Blue Mountains to Yetholme (nestled in the ranges east of Bathurst) and took-on the degraded Glenray Park farm.

But, it seems, you can’t keep a good gardener down … this article was published in Blue Mountains Life (Sep-Jan 2012).

The constant gardener

Mary Moody’s been letting her garden grow … again.

“The garden in Leura had become a millstone around my neck,” Mary remembers. “I’d created what I’d call a collector’s garden, and I was absolutely besotted with alpine perennials. It was a constant job just keeping on top of everything, not to mention expensive.”

Glenray Park attracted Mary with its century-old homestead, complete with great bones for a classic Australian home yard, but, on moving in, Mary’s love of gardening had to be left fallow. With her writing expanding into best-selling memoirs; her media appearances focussing more on Mary’s life than her gardening pursuits; and time in France and Nepal leading tour groups, the verdant lawns of Glenray Park got mown, and veggies were grown, but that was about it.

When asked if there was a tipping-point that got her back into her ‘nice’ gardening gloves, Mary laughs: “It was insidious. I created a small garden bed off our verandah, for a few of my favourite plants, and they just started to self-seed. It grew like topsy, and eventually I needed to create wider beds to accommodate everything”.

“I have to admit that nothing I’ve done since in the garden was very difficult – it just can’t be. I mulched the beds very deeply to keep the weeds down while I was away, and when I came home I returned to my weeding duties quite naturally.”

THE GROWING KIND Gardener and writer Mary Moody with some of her grandkids.
THE GROWING KIND Gardener and writer Mary Moody with some of her grandkids.

In the lead-up to Bathurst’s annual Spring Spectacular, a weekend of the district’s finest show gardens, Mary leads me though the gate near her now much-expanded ‘new’ garden.

Covered by the fallen pink petals of a flowering cherry, the plantings occupy a sunny strip between the house replete with euphorbias, cat mint, bulbs and classic country favourites like pansies and Dutch irises, and plenty of dominant roses.

“I did have a moment when I thought ‘you are mad, you’re going to have 1000 people look at your gardening mess’.

“But there’s nothing like a deadline. My son Ethan has been helping me one day a week, and we’re almost ready,” Mary says.

Mary’s ‘new’ garden is a natural extension of the house itself, with a beautiful, uncomplicated structure, and everywhere you look you’re reminded that Glenray Park is a working farm.

Fences and gates give way to fields and enclosures for chickens, goats, geese and alpaca, meaning that Mary’s garden is a home yard indeed – if it extended any further most of it would end up as feed for the animals.

A new project – a classic potager – has been developed with garden designer Nicole Clout and is situated behind a sturdy fence in sight of the chickens. Mary is hosting gardening workshops for kids this weekend, and her garden has already been tested by regular visits from her swag of grandchildren.

This part of her ‘new’ garden is a clue to what got Mary into gardening in the first place – creating organic produce for the family table. It’s been just over three decades since Mary and her filmmaker husband David Hannay took their young family away from the city, enough time for her gardening fame to bury the basic truth that gardening was always a means to a gourmet end for Mary.

GREAT GARDEN BONES Glenray Park, Yetholme, a home yard with garden potential.
GREAT GARDEN BONES Glenray Park, Yetholme, a home yard with garden potential.

But at Glenray Park, Mary has plans reaching way beyond her farm garden.

“I’m starting to plan something we’re calling ‘Sustainable Bathurst’ as a working title,” Mary reveals.

“This region was one of the first food producing districts in modern Australia, but over time crop  and stock production has become predominant. We are hoping to bring the market gardens back.”

And Mary’s decade in France has inspired the creation of a network of ferme auberge (‘farm restaurants’). “The whole idea of eating local food in season, grown here and prepared in the home, is very inspiring. I recently had a go at making sheep milk brie and goat feta.”

With a network of four other local farms already on board, the gourmet potential of Glenray Park seems about to burst. But this new direction has been built on solid organic principles, and not just in the garden.

“When we arrived, the farm was overgrown. After years of stock getting into the waterways, everything was fairly degraded. Ethan’s worked hard on the environmental farm management of Glenray Park, with the creation of a wildlife corridor and contained stock fields. He’s my back-up for the farm.

“Our creek is called Frying Pan Creek, because travellers from Lithgow would stop here for the night where a frying pan was literally nailed to a tree for everyone to use. Over time willows were planted, and they sucked the creek dry, but we have removed it all. There were once platypus here and we hope to have them back one day.

“Ethan reminds me that the ornamental garden must not enroach on the natural environment beyond the fence,” Mary says. “As long as the plants don’t jump the fence, everything will be in balance.”

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.