I had the great pleasure of meeting Jerry Coleby-Williams during his recent open weekend at Bellis. What a delight! I was enthralled by the diverse edible plantings in his small suburban garden and excited to see so many rare and unusual foods thriving together.
Jerry is an organic gardener and highly qualified horticulturist with previous experience establishing Sydney’s Mt Annan Botanic Garden and managing the horticultural estate at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. He’s also a regular presenter on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia.
In 2003, Jerry moved to Wynnum in Bayside Brisbane to create his own sustainable house and garden. Bellis harvests rainwater, generates solar power and recycles sewerage and grey water.
At the front of the house Jerry has planted an ornamental, subtropical garden with plants suited to natural rainfall and predicted climate change. Then as you walk down the side of the house, the lush back garden unfolds into an abundant paradise where Jerry grows fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices using organic methods.
We all want to live well and enjoy life. Ordinary domestic life wastes finite resources, worsens climate change and pollution and can make enjoying life that bit harder.
Bellis has been adapted to reduce a household’s impact on the natural world: saving domestic water use, reducing sewage and stormwater pollution, reducing peak demand for energy and reducing greenhouse gas production.
– Jerry Coleby-Williams
Top 7 Plants
I asked Jerry to name his favourite edible plants (a bit like asking someone to choose his favourite child!). He laughed and said this was impossible to do but shared 7 plants he wouldn’t be without in his garden:
Cocoyam – Xanthosoma saggitifolia. This is a water-wise relative of taro. The new leaves can be used in curries (cook for 15 minutes before eating to neutralise the irritating crystals in the sap), and the baby cormlets or side tubers can be boiled like new potatoes. The stems can be diced, boiled and mashed as a vegetable or for hearty soups, and the main tuber will store for 12 months.
Jackfruit – Artocarpus heterophyllus. This is a heavy producer that has the largest tree-borne fruit of any plant and multiple culinary uses. When unripe the fruit can be used in savoury dishes as a meat substitute, when ripe it can be eaten at various stages from crisp to soft and very sweet, and the seeds are similar to nuts and are delicious roasted.
African White Yam – Dioscorea rotundata. This is a prolific climbing yam that produces large numbers of tubers in a small space that store very well.
Sweetleaf – Sauropus androgynus. The high-protein leaves and the top 15 cm of stem tips have a pleasant taste similar to fresh garden peas (but must be cooked before consumed). The leaves are also an excellent source of vitamin K which is useful for chemotherapy patients. The pink, ripe berries can be eaten like peas or tossed in salads and stir fries.
Mung Bean – Vigna radiata. Mung beans are warm season, annual legumes that produce multiple crops each season. The young pods can be used as a bean substitute, mature pods can be stored as dry beans for cooking and sprouting, and the plants are excellent green manures.
Banana – Musa species. Bananas are ornamental and highly productive plants. Green bananas can be served boiled and mashed and used like potato mash. Ripe bananas are a delicious and nutritious fruit, and flour can be made from dried bananas. Cultivars for the home garden include Java Blue, Lady Finger, and Dwarf Ducasse.
Perennial Onion Family – Allium species. Having many different perennial onion relatives in the garden means there’s always something available to flavour dishes. The bulbs, stems and flowers are edible. Grow Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum), Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), Welsh Onions (Allium fistulosum), Perennial Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) and Tree Onions (Allium cepa).
Like the European honeybee, native stingless bees (or Sugarbag Bees) provide pollination and are delightful companions in the garden. Jerry’s productive, organic, suburban garden provides excellent, diverse foraging and many Honey OATH hives can be seen tucked under and between plants for shelter. Hives at Bellis include both Tetragonula carbonaria and Tetragonula hockingsi (suited to coastal Queensland).