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My Gardening Story – James Middleton

Welcome to the first installment of this series. The main purpose behind this series is to give you a little bit of background as to where I have come from as a green thumb. I want to introduce you to the people that have shaped me into the gardener that I am and help you to understand why I am indeed so passionate about gardening. The entries in this series may be shorter than some of my more regular entries but I do hope they give you an idea of my gardening history.

I will start this series in what could be seen as a strange fashion. I want to explain what I am not as a gardener before I go into what I am as a gardener, as well as where I have come from and why what I am saying at Aussie Green Thumb can help you in your garden.

At Aussie Green Thumb it is not really my aim to teach you to take your garden and turn it into ‘Australia’s Top Garden’ because I realise this is not the goal of the everyday person. In fact, in my experience, most people simply want a garden they do not feel ashamed of. The Aussie Green Thumb blog can help with simple to complex gardening tasks that will help you have a garden that you can be proud of, and that can also be useful to you in terms of edible plants. You can learn how to grow your garden based on your garden use, desire to garden and the time you have available to garden.

It is because of this that I believe what I have to say is worth reading. It is because of this that I believe where I have come from has trained me to help in this circumstance. I have grown up in and around the garden.

Although I did have a professional gardening business, I am simply someone who is passionate about the garden. Things that I take for granted in gardening terms, I am discovering are not quite as simple for people that did not grow up in the garden and it is this kind of simple advice that I believe can make a big difference between someone bothering and not bothering with improving their garden.

It is my belief that every person can have a gardening lifestyle, today and tomorrow. What matters is what this means to you. What does it mean for you to have a garden you are happy with, and what are you willing to do to work towards this? It is the goal of this blog to empower you towards this end and it is the goal of this series to show you how simple it can actually be, with the right people helping. I have learnt most of what I know today as a child. Because of this I believe anyone can learn some simple skills that will go a long way towards them having the garden they want.

Grandma Middleton

If there is one person in my life that has had a the most significant influence on my passion for gardening, it is the Grandma on my father’s side. For the 14 years of my life that she was alive, she embodied everything that I imagine when I think of a passionate gardener. I was very close with Grandma Middleton, spending a lot of time over at her house and therefore a lot of time in her garden.

I learned how to trim plants by trimming her hibiscus hedge. I learned to deadhead flowers on her roses. I learned what plants were weeds and what were seedlings she had planted in her garden. In fact whenever I would stay over at her house, when I woke up at about 7 am, I would always find her outside pottering around in the garden: 10 minutes deadheading, 25 minutes watering, 10 minutes weeding. Just a rough approximation of how she started her day.

I learned from her that sweet pea’s need something to climb up. I learned how to make a soil mound around new plants to make sure that when they are watered, the water goes to the plant and does not run away. I even learned that a grandma can be quite sprightly when she discovers an unwanted cat in her garden!

A lot of my passion for gardening comes from the fact that I had so many good memories with my Grandma Middleton in the garden. I think, in a way, every time I am in the garden now, I almost feel like I am spending time with my Grandma, so it makes every gardening experience a special experience. And that is the thing about gardening. It is not just about what your garden looks like, but who you get to share it with. Anybody with a good garden wants to show it off to their closest friends and relatives because there is something special about sharing a nice garden with good people.

Another great aspect of my gardening experience with my Grandma is that she made it fun. It was not a chore to pull out weeds. It was not a chore to trim the hedges. Somehow, in spending the quality time in the garden with her, what many people see as annoying tasks became great little social occasions. Perhaps that has also had a great deal of influence over why I enjoy gardening so much! However you look at it, I owe a lot to my Grandma Middleton for instilling in me a sense of pride in gardening and a willingness to learn and grow new things.

Grandma Tysoe

Though the direct influence my Grandma Tysoe has had on my gardening story is certainly smaller than my Grandma Middleton, she none the less has played a role in my green thumb development. In fact as far as gardening skill goes, she is probably a better gardener overall. What she can do with a piece of dirt has consistently blown my mind as I have grown up.

I still remember when she took over renting a house that belonged to the church I grew up at. It was an old house with very little going for it. The gardens were tatty, having not been cared for in a very long time. In fact if ever I wish I had before and after photo’s of a garden make-over, it would be this example. My Grandma took what she had and made it into something very, very special. Every square centimetre had something. She mixed colours but in a way that worked. She used pretty typical cottage garden plants, but in such a way that the place looked so much more than a little cottage garden.

Within one year, a short time really in the gardening world, she had transformed that place into an amazing plethora of colour and fragrance. I remember people would walk into the church and comment how beautiful the cottage garden was looking. Not only did she pick up the garden beds that were already there but she made a few new ones. Quite simply, it was a garden spectacular.

When my Grandma decided to move out I remember my parents saying something about the church being dismayed. They knew they would not find somebody to live there who would do such a good job with the garden. If I remember correctly they even toyed with the idea of increasing the rent so they could employ someone to maintain it, though this may not be the case. But hey, I was only about  9 years old.

It is this sort of memory, this sort of experience, that inspires a young child to be a gardener. I hope that when I buy my first house I can grow a garden half as good as my Grandma Tysoe. And the fact of the matter is, this is but one story of her taking a patch of soil and making it something special. I could probably tell another 10 stories just like this of other places she has lived and absolutely transformed the garden. So though the one on one influence is smaller, the overall influence in my understanding of gardening is definitely there.

My Parents

So far in my gardening story I have told you how both my grandmas’ have influenced my developing green thumb. They both have had various influences on me, but another major way that they have helped develop my green thumb was by being the parents to my parents! Without my parents helping me and encouraging my green thumb development I definitely would not be where I am today.

From a very early age I have spent time in the garden with Mum and Dad. From growing veggies to growing various annual and perennial plants, my parents have always been active in the garden and have encouraged me to ‘help them’ (if you can call it that!) from time to time. I particularly remember ‘helping’ set up the new garden beds after we bought a house in Albany. I’d help Dad move old rail sleepers that he was laying as a border. I’d help mum pull weeds out of the pre-existing garden beds. It was always very exciting to be with them out in the garden, doing something that we all loved together.

dadIt seems that my parents have very much taken after their own parents. In recent years they sold the family home and have gone back into the life of renting. Though they haven’t lived in a plethora of places like my Grandma Tysoe has, the ones they have lived in have been left with significantly better gardens even after only a short period of time. Where they live currently is truly a testament to their green thumb. The soil at the house they are living in is pretty much the whitest soil I have seen. Now, a GENERAL rule is that the darker the soil, the healthier it is. That gives you an idea about the health of the soil at their place. And yet in about a year, by adding lots of organic matter, fertiliser and mulch they have transformed the garden into a beautiful little cottage garden with all kinds of annual and perennial plants. They have also planted a number of roses which are thriving.

I have been very blessed to have been surrounded by people such as my parents in my developing years. The passion, love, and joy that they experience in the garden has been well and truly passed on to me. They regularly update me on the state of their garden and, whenever I go down to Albany to visit, I get the full tour and history for each of the plants that have gone in since I last visited. I very much enjoy these times because they remind me of the quality time that I have spent with my parents over the years in the garden. Thanks Mum and Dad!

‘Nan’ Croxford

I have said before in this series that my gardening blood goes a long way back. This months ‘My Gardening Story’ is all about my great-grandmother Eileen Croxford. Much of this information comes from a biography written about her, which can be found here.

My nan was born on the  11th of December, 1912 in Mannamead, Plymouth, Devon, England. They migrated to Western Australia, in particular, a little town called Denmark, in 1924 as part of a group settlement scheme.

From the biography

“We just lived in these shacks – no floor, no doors, no windows. I was
out to work by the time I was 12. I was 20 when I got married and
then I proceeded to have a family. Then the war came, my husband
went away to Japan and didn’t come back again”.

My Nan was always very interested in wildflowers. I remember visiting her house in Albany as a child many times and just being amazed at the scale of natural wilderness that she created around her. She owned 2-3 blocks next to each other and each one was absolutely covered in such amazing colours and a vast array of plant varieties. Sadly as time went by I saw her being able to tend to less and less of this amazing garden, but she never lost her passion. I go past the old place now, the extra blocks have been sold off and concrete rules the roost around brick houses. It is almost sad to see the beauty that once reigned replaced so easily.

Before she lived in the house mentioned above, she lived near the Albany Airport, which is where she really started to learn about the local flora. She taught herself the botany of the local plants and also started the local Wildflower Society branch. More than 7,500 of her own collections are now housed in the state herbarium.

More from the biography

“I have always had a garden and I had a little business called the Garden Florist over the telephone. When I shifted to the Albany airport in 1961 I had to have a garden there, so I thought I will have a wild flower garden because I can remember the airport before it really was a proper airport and it was just a field of flowers – it was beautiful. So I used to go over to the back of the airport, very carefully remove little plants and plant them in the beds. They all died, so I decided I had to do it properly: I had to really learn about these flowers so I could grow them, and I started pressing flowers. Dr John Beard came to the airport one day, and I said to John, “Will you help me with these names?” He helped me a bit and said, “Eileen you must not stop doing this – there are no plans in this government to do any research into the Albany region until 1995. Because you are so interested in wildflowers, how about you convene a meeting to form an Albany branch of the West Australian Wildflower Society”.
Well, I did this, not expecting very many people, and nearly 40 people turned up and we went on from there. That was 1963.”

Nan Croxford’s love of plants lives on through her children, especially her daughter Hazel and granddaughter Sue, who run and are involved in the business Everlasting Concepts which “works with local shires, property developers, government departments and the industries of horticulture and landscaping. ”

It seems everywhere I turn, I discover more and more people in my family who are absolutely obsessed with the beauty of nature!

Starting Aussie Green Thumb:

Part 1 – The Business

As the end of the year draws closer, so does the ‘My Gardening Story’ series. There are two entries to this series left to go and they will both be covering how I came to start Aussie Green Thumb. In Part 1 I am going to talk about how and why I came to start Aussie Green Thumb as a small business. In Part 2 I am going to talk about how and why I started this very blog: AussieGreenThumb.com. I hope you enjoy these last entries over the next two months.

Starting Aussie Green Thumb – The Business

At the end of 2006 my life was at a pretty important crossroad. I was deciding whether to stay with the employer I was with at the time, who had trained me in the career I desired to work in but that may not have been able to enable me to go much further, or to move to a new employer in the role that I desired. After much thought and consideration, and much discussion with my employer, I decided to stay and we worked out a way that I could pretty much play the role I wanted in a slightly different way.

There was only one catch with this…the role would still not be full time. As someone who had spent most of the previous few years studying, this had not been a problem. Now, in 2007, my studies would be getting close to winding down and I was no longer going to be receiving government support. As such I needed another job to help pay the bills.

The Problem
There was one great big problem with this idea, the job I already had which wasn’t full time was one I was very passionate about. It also wasn’t a simple 9-5 job, the hours spread all over the place and were not necessarily the same from week to week. This meant that finding another job to fit in around this was difficult. I looked for a while but pretty quickly realised this was too difficult.

The Solution
One day I was over at a friends place helping them with some gardening. I didn’t do a lot of this, but when I did I really enjoyed it. While gardening this person nonchalantly said ‘you know, you could start a gardening business’. I could just about end this post right there because, in a nutshell, that is how I came to start my gardening business. Those words from a friend were all it took to convince me this is what I should do.

Not long after this I raced home and jumped onto the internet to explore what it would take to start a small business. I booked an appointment with a small business advisor to find out what I needed to know to start a business. I started to brainstorm some ideas for names and actually fell upon, and decided to go with, Aussie Green Thumb pretty quickly. There was no real market research or strong reasons why I went with it, I just liked it.

Not long after I settled on this I asked an animator friend of mine to design a logo for me (see above). I wanted a green hand with a thumb sticking up with an Aussie flag as the nail. As you can see, he did an amazing job! However, not too long after this I realised, as great as the image is, it isn’t really a good ‘logo’. I still use it for other purposes, but I had another friend (a graphic designer) make one for me, which is the current Aussie Green Thumb logo.

And so began my journey as a paid gardener. I got a lot of friends as clients at first, and this then broadened to friends of friends, until eventually I had 2 solid days worth a week (my goal) of gardening, which I could fit in around my other job.

At the end of 2007 my life changed again which led to the initial closure of Aussie Green Thumb. From 2008-2009 I didn’t operate either the business or my blog, but come the start of 2010, when I again needed a flexible job to fit into my life, I re-started Aussie Green Thumb and am enjoying it immensely.

Next month I’ll cover how I came to start this blog, which, being honest, is what I am actually most passionate about. I am very much enjoying helping equip people to do the gardening themselves, to discover the green thumb inside of them.

Starting Aussie Green Thumb:

Part 2 – Starting the Blog

Hello and welcome to the final installment of ‘My Gardening Story’. Last month I looked at how I came to start my gardening small business. This month I am going to focus on how I came to start AussieGreenThumb.com the blog. So sit back and discover just what went into starting this blog.

I began ‘blogging’ for fun on June 11th, 2004. For posterity sake, here is my first ever ‘blog entry’ of any kind, hosted on a very old personal blog of mine.

Day One
Well I felt like writing a bit about myself and thought why not do it on the internet. Don’t know how often I will be posting but what the heck, let’s just wait and see:)

My nickname is Middo and I am 19. Love God, love Sport(go Eagles!),love life. A lot of interesting stuff happens to me but unfortunately my siv like memory leads me to forgetting exactly what happened (ok, so my memory may not be that bad but important events are not my forte in the remembering stakes). Had an awesome weekend on sport last weekend at State Youth Games. Being young I pulled up quite well but now have an irritating cold.

Well that’s all for now, can’t give too much away. Save some for later;)

Cheers All.

It’s nothing special but it was the beginning of my journey into blogging. From 2004-2007 I continued to write entries in a personal blog, which I shared with friends and family, but there wasn’t really any focus or purpose to my writing. I just mind dumped everything when I needed to. However, towards the end of 2006, I decided to make a change.

This change goes closely hand-in-hand with my decision to start a gardening business. My life situation was about to change and I needed to find some other forms of income. I had heard about people blogging for money and decided that this is something I’d really like to give a shot.

I found a blog called ‘Entrepreneur’s Journey‘ which I started to read. This blog was all about how you could make money from blogging. As I had been blogging for 3 years, for fun, at this stage, I was quite intrigued at the idea. Then not long after I began reading, Yaro (the author) offered a course called ‘Blog Mastermind’ in which he was going to lay out the strategies and practical proofs for becoming a professional blogger. I signed up to the 6 month course and so began my journey.

One of the first things that Yaro taught was the idea of finding your niche. He pointed out that you need to focus on a particular area to succeed. As I was starting a gardening business at the time, and as I am very passionate about gardening (and this has only grown), I decided a blog on gardening was a good idea. However this was not focused enough. As such I began to think about what area of gardening I was most interested in, but nothing in particular came to me. So I did a little research to find out what gardening blogs were out there in Australia and I determined that there was a lack of good quality blogs about native gardening. This wasn’t necessarily something I knew much about, but I figured, what better way to teach people how to do it than to have had to learn it myself in the first place?

So at the start of 2007, as I set up my gardening small business, I also started the first ‘AussieGreenThumb.com’. Very early on I ran a competition to help me determine a tagline for my blog. The winner in the end was a friend of mine called Bek. There were 2 taglines of hers that I really liked and so I added them together, resulting in: ‘Cultivating a gardening lifestyle, today and tomorrow’. For more information on what this means to me, check out my about page.

I continued blogging ‘for money’ for the whole of 2007. Towards the end of 2007 my life was about to change again. I was about to move towns, which meant I had to seriously think about what to do with my gardening business and blog. I hadn’t felt like it was extremely successful; I certainly wasn’t seeing any money, and so I decided to put my foray into blogging for money either on hold or to bed, I wasn’t sure which.

One of my biggest reflections from this time was that blogging ‘for money’ didn’t really build the passion in me required to blog regularly. Yaro teaches about this in his course. It is dangerous to go into blogging with the main focus being ‘to become rich’. Blogging is all about being passionate about your subject matter. I think the best writing comes when you can’t possibly NOT write. This isn’t to say that there aren’t days of writers block – there are – and you have to push through them. But authors write because they LOVE it, not because you make lots of money from it (which you don’t, generally).

To round out this post, we skip forward a couple of years. It is the end of 2009. I am living back in Perth and have decided to start my gardening business again. The question came early to me: am I going to start up the blog aspect of my business again? In the few years since 2006/7 I have learned a lot about gardening and in particular gardening with native plants. I stopped blogging…but I didn’t stop gardening! In my thinking about starting up again or not, I had to work out ‘why’ I would write. I decided I did want to blog on gardening again, and determined to write from my passion for gardening and not from a desire to become a millionaire.

As a person, I believe in honesty, so I do feel compelled to admit I still harbour desires for this blog to be ‘profitable’. Though I truly do write now because I have a passion to write and a passion to help other people develop their green thumbs, there will come a time when I will ‘monetize’ the site. Now, don’t worry, my readers, I won’t be charging you to access my blog. But the major focus of my blog now is helping you cultivate a gardening lifestyle, today and tomorrow. Any other desire is not enough to drive me to write regularly!

Though my blog entries on My Gardening Story end here, my story does not, and nor does yours. In fact many of you may just be beginning a new chapter in your gardening story! I want to continue to write my story by helping you write yours, so get out there and try your hand at growing something, preferably something native, and then journey with me towards becoming the best green thumb you can possibly

To your gardening success.

Last Updated on April 4, 2024

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  1. Looking forward to hearing more James! Glad to see a fella from Perth sharing his experiences in this ‘field’ – there’s no doubt there’s challenge enough in the Swan Coastal Plain – let alone all the other plant-scapes around the Perth area! Will read with much interest… Cheers 😉

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