Experienced horticulturist and gardening writer Noelle Weatherley describes herself simply as “a plant person”.
“I enjoy writing about plants, from how to grow them to what you can use them for,” Noelle says from her garden in Melbourne’s south-east. “Ask me to research and write about a plant and I'm happy.”
Noelle says her love of horticulture is in her genes. “Family history records several generations were on the land in rural Victoria in the 1800s, and some of them also had success growing and exhibiting flowers in country shows.
“My paternal grandfather grew exhibition dahlias and begonias on his double house block in (Melbourne inner suburb) Hawthorn in the early-to-mid 1900s, an uncle had a cut flower business, and my father loved and grew orchids.”Noelle Weatherley has always had a love of plants.
Noelle, who is married with two adult sons, fondly remembers many hours “helping” her father in the glasshouse as a child. “I loved the earthy smell of plants, flowers and potting mix in a warm, humid glasshouse or conservatory, and still do.”
Noelle’s father, who worked in newspapers, would later encourage his daughter to start writing about plants once she had earned her Diploma of Horticultural Science. “My first published work was in Your Garden, and from that I was offered a position as a gardening writer with The Weekly Times newspaper,” Noelle explains. “I've been writing ever since.”
Most common gardening problems
These days Noelle spends all her time sharing her extensive gardening knowledge and experience. In addition to writing for various publications, Noelle assists people who call a leading garden products company for gardening advice, while a second phone in her office enables her to field calls from customers of a fruit tree nursery.
Noelle says the most common problem she encounters is poor plant selection - trying to grow a plant in the completely the wrong situation, soil or climate. “It's frustrating trying to explain to someone besotted by a frangipani, for example, that it simply won't grow outside in their coastal garden facing Bass Strait and howling southerlies from Antarctica!”
“Another common problem I hear quite a lot concerns getting on with the neighbours. There are more neighbourhood disputes over trees than almost all other issues put together. More often than not, a quiet chat with the people next door about branches over the fence, berries or fruits dropping on to and staining paths, or roots undermining the driveway will achieve an amicable result.”
A gardening myth that Noelle says she frequently encounters is not to use "chemical" fertilisers on vegetables and fruits because then they'll be toxic to humans. “Plants absorb and utilise chemical elements including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium and a host of others essential to healthy plant growth,” she says. “The source of the nutrients does not affect the safety or otherwise of the resultant crops provided the fertilisers being used come from reputable manufacturers.”
Another myth that Noelle likes to combat is not to water the garden in the evening after a hot day. Noelle says gardeners do need to be careful if nights are humid and fungal diseases are a major problem. “However, in most situations, watering later in the day gives plants the opportunity to take up moisture and revive completely overnight, so they are able to tolerate extreme conditions again the following day. Waiting until next morning to water leaves plants stressed overnight and with just a couple of hours to pick up before they're exposed to the sun again.”
Favourite plants to grow
Noelle believes she is fortunate to have a quarter acre block which is now large by modern urban standards, but still would love more “growing room”. “Over the years we have lived here, we have steadily reduced the lawn area to create more garden beds, but I still don't have enough.
“We have some large trees that create quite dense shade in summer, so that restricts what can be grown in about half the back garden. The lawn is in grave danger because it is in full sun - perfect for many of the plants on my wish list.”
When she creates more garden beds, Noelle says the project might also include a small pond and rock waterway, something her husband has been wanting to do for a long time.
Favourite plants to grow include roses, hellebores and sasanqua camellias. “I also have a majestic and quite old Luculia gratissima in my front garden that I treasure. It flowers in mid-winter, producing dense heads of pale pink, beautifully perfumed flowers that attract the honey-eaters. It's quite stunning for a week or two, then it's all over until next year.”Gardening provides "terrific reward-for-effort".
Satisfaction from a job well done
Noelle tends to spend only a few hours to week in the garden but would love more time. To those that complain they don’t have the time to maintain a garden, she advises to “make time”. “Not only will your fitness improve, but your surroundings will benefit immensely as well.”
“(Gardening also offers) peace, time to think without ‘life’ interrupting, terrific reward-for-effort, and real satisfaction when a job's done well. At the end of a day spent in the garden there's also physical tiredness, but it's a pleasant feeling, not one of overwhelming fatigue.”
Surprisingly, Noelle also enjoys a much noisier pursuit. “I’m a bit of a ‘rev-head’. I enjoy watching motor racing both at the track and on television.”
Helping to solve problems
When people encounter a D.I.Y. or gardening problem that they can’t seem to solve, Noelle recommends seeking out an expert.
“Start by visiting a store like Bunnings and asking to speak to a tradie who can give advice and recommend tools or equipment and products that will help solve the problem.”
Noelle thinks the exchange of ideas between Workshop community members is also great. “There's always someone who could have the answer to the problem you've got or can point you in the right direction to get the solution.
"I also enjoy being able to contribute information in my area of expertise that others might find useful.”