From Cold Hills to Lush Rainforests: Follow Brenner Lowe’s Journey to Creating a Thriving Edible Garden

From Cold Hills to Lush Rainforests: Brenner Lowe's Journey to Creating a Thriving Edible Garden

About The Garden Diaries

Step into the lush world of Australian gardens with ‘The Garden Diaries,’ our showcase series that unveils the vibrant stories thriving within backyards.

From productive vegetable patches to bush sanctuaries, each story celebrates the unique journey of passionate gardeners and their flourishing green spaces.

Come along as we dig deep into the roots of their inspiration, uncovering the heartfelt stories, cherished memories and insightful tips that have blossomed from their gardens.

Tune in to ‘The Garden Diaries’ on Instagram, Facebook or our newsletter each month for enchanting stories to inspire your gardening journey.

Brenner Lowe’s Journey to Creating a Thriving Edible Garden

Thirteen years of living on the rolling green hills of South Gippsland Victoria meant thirteen years of enduring my husband’s complaints about the cold. I suppose this was warranted given he was the one collecting, chopping, and stacking all the firewood.

In pursuit of an endless summer, Daryl and I decided to head north, to Buderim in Queensland. We flew up twice to check out the area and its real estate, but there was significant development going on at the time. This reminded us of our old life in suburban Melbourne, and we promptly changed our minds. Buderim wasn’t the place for us, but where was?

“Let’s go see where in Australia we want to live,” I said to Daryl.

We listed our house for sale, purchased and renovated a vintage caravan, and packed up our three-year-old daughter Anna for a year of gypsy travel. We went west first, along turquoise coastlines, across red deserts, through mangroves and sand dunes, to eventually arrive in the Daintree Rainforest and Atherton Tablelands. The tropical north, after many months of travelling, was the first place we saw rain spittle on our windscreen. On a balmy day, the tiny flecks of water appeared wonderous, and were only further embellished by a background of dark forest-covered mountains.

“I want to live here,” I announced for the first time since leaving Victoria. “In the rainforest.”

Yungaburra is a tiny town that bustles with tourists during the dry season and quietens to locals waving g’day during the wet. The streets are lined with colourful hanging baskets that accompany your stroll past the post office, a pub and cafes, a primary school, a cute-as-a-button library, and a few other township essentials. 

The garden that surrounded our new Queenslander home was predominately hedging plants. – My least favourite type of vegetation. Daryl took to them with the winch on his four-wheel drive while I dreamt of an edible and medicinal garden. This was the Tablelands after all, a place of rich volcanic soil and a thriving agricultural industry. But what came were weeds! They were rampant in the cleared beds and overtook anything I planted. I decided it was simply too humid and hot for infuriating activities such as weeding. I feel the heat, and I’m also a lazy gardener, so I smothered the insistent weedy buggers with cardboard and piping-hot mulch instead. Kind of like sweeping the mess under the rug. But with time, a spade slicing into the topsoil revealed fluffy organic earth teaming with worms and life. Ha! I win, I thought.

There were a few established fruit trees in the backyard of our quarter acre block. Orange, mandarin, avocado, kafia lime, mulberry, and lemon. Stone fruit too, such as plum, nectarine, and peach, all abundant in fruit infested with fruit fly.

We built six raised vegetable beds on the open lawn, where seedlings could sunbath all day long. But the leafy greens weren’t safe. Caterpillars and grasshoppers destroyed them, and days of monsoonal rain rotted whatever remained. My tropical veggie patch turned black, along with my motivation. It would seem there were going to be challenges establishing a garden in far north Queensland, starting with this strange business of two seasons – the wet and the dry.

My mother is an avid gardener and a wonderful cook. Every new address became home thanks to the comforting green hug she grew around it. I never helped with garden chores but realise now how much my mum’s gardens were a place of childhood comfort and inspiration. I seek to provide that same experience for my own daughter. Anna was sad to leave the garden we had in South Gippsland, and I made a promise to her that I would create an even better one in Queensland.

I planted all the indestructibles; snow peas, nasturtium, strawberries, carrots, silver beet. And they all died. Every – single – time. Returning to my mantra of work smarter not harder, I began researching the indigenous edible plants of countries that shared the same warm, wet climate of the Atherton Tablelands; places like the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. I discovered the works of Bruce Reginald French and resonated with his philosophy of putting the right plant in the right place. I had to stop trying to recreate the patch we had in southern Victoria. After all, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

What opened up to me was a whole new world of plants and culinary experiences. Okra, kangkong, mustard greens, moringa, cassava, choko, snake beans, and heat tolerant familiar faces such as eggplant, pumpkin, bok choy, and sweet potato. One by one I found alternatives to the vegetables I was used to, and the garden thrived. This was where being a lazy gardener played in my favour. You get better results when you work with nature rather than against it.

In 2022 my father passed away. Whilst the garden never stopped welcoming me, I stopped visiting. The okra grew like a forest, the snake beans turned woody, the lemongrass canopied the avocados, and weighty pumpkins dangled from tree branches. Daryl offered to slash the lot. “Leave it,” I instructed. I knew I’d return in time. I’m rewilding the garden, I told myself, whilst seeds took to the breeze and weeds set deep roots underground.

When I was finally called back to the garden, the division between the lawn, the veggie patch, the ornamental beds, and the orchard all blurred. Physically, but also metaphorically. I didn’t see a mess, I saw a place that was alive! There was diversity and eco-systems, microclimates, and balance. Mushrooms grew from damp decomposing mulch. Self-seeded tomatoes, coriander, and tree lettuce positioned themselves where they knew they could flourish and withstand torrential downpours. Birds moved in to snack on caterpillars and grasshoppers. Beneficial insects sought out the diverse menu, and I moved only to assist the system. My input became about dropping cuttings to the ground to enable the natural cycle to continue, and aiding diversity through the introduction of appropriate seeds and plantings.

The use of chemical spays on commercially produced food is of great concern to me. I experience both comfort and empowerment from eating food grown in my own backyard. It is abundant with 158 edibles at last count, all produced on a standard suburban sized block, and with very little input. It is an honour to eat with such privilege, and to be able to share food with friends and neighbours.

The garden is an extension of my heart, holding special moments and people. A lychee tree grows above our old dog, a banksia marks the loss of a friend, a black pepper vine celebrates a 40th birthday, and flowers, shrubs, and trees that began as seeds, seedlings, and cuttings gifted from friends or discovered on incredible adventures. And dad, who shows up as a brown and orange butterfly on my windowsill.

About Brenner Lowe

Brenner Lowe is the former maker behind stationery brands Boots Paper and Dear Frankie. She is currently using collage to illustrate her first picture story book for adults. Follow Brenner’s journey and discover more of her gardening adventures on Instagram.

Gifts to Grow

Embedded and inspired by nature, Sow ’n Sow believe in purposeful gifting that doesn’t cost the planet.

From a small seed of an idea, Sow ’n Sow was dreamt up by founder Michelle Brady combining her love of gardening and flair for design in 2010.

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