Garden of Eden at Coffs Jetty

Garden of Eden – Garden by the Sea

A version of this article was first published in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday 13th October, 2012

For the past 21 years, Wayne Kirkland and Mary-Ann Crowther have been living with as low an environmental footprint as it’s possible to have – on a yacht, travelling up and down the east coast of Australia.

For the last few years they’ve been coming back to Coffs, and now they’ve so fallen in love with the place, that they’ve taken over the lease for the Galley café and burger bar at Coffs Harbour jetty.

Wayne and Mary-Ann are passionate about sustainability and treading lightly on the earth, but it’s not about preaching to people. As Wayne told me, ‘I live by the philosophy of just show people how to do it’.

And now, with the help of Steve McGrane, Matt Downie and some willing volunteers from the Combine St community garden, Wayne and Mary-Ann are showing their customers, and the people who work, live near and visit the Jetty, just how amazingly productive a 6m2 veggie garden can be.

Steve McGrane (left) and Wayne Kirkland


This wasn’t a case of turning the first sod. Rather, it involved clearing out some pretty massive rocks, on the café side of the breakwater. Underneath was some gravel and fairly barren soil, laced with salt spray.

But Wayne wasn’t deterred, because he knew Steve had a very cunning plan. After years of research and trial and error in his own gardens, Steve has developed a special no-dig garden, layered lasagne-like with ’17 secret herbs and spices’, as he likes to say.

Actually, they’re not so secret. They include lucerne; sugar cane mulch; blood and bone; bags of comfrey, tansy and other leaves;  various manures; molasses (‘very important for the microbial action’); wood chip; and mineral rocks (calcium and phosphate). With the exception of the lucerne, everything’s organic.

The Garden by the Sea – early stages

The results are truly impressive. The garden is barely six weeks old, and Wayne and Mary-Ann have been eating out of it for three weeks. As Steve explains, the porosity of the mix, and the rapid action of the microbes in breaking everything down and making the nutrients available, allows the roots to grow very fast, producing very rapid growth above the ground. More than that,  the nutrients ‘aren’t leached out of the system, because the microbes hold them in suspension’.

The end result is both a super-healthy and productive garden right now; and even better, it ‘will be more fertile at the end of this growing season that it was at the beginning.’ That’s something, because what’s already growing is impressive enough: rows of broccoli, beetroot, kolrabi, lebanese cress, leeks, onions, chillies, tomatoes, a pumpkin vine, two varieties of sweet potato, several types of basil, parsley, lettuce, chinese greens, choko, taro, kumara, and flowers for companions.

The Garden - up close and personal!
The Garden – up close and personal!

The food tastes sensational, and because it’s so rich in minerals, it is very nutrient-dense.

In the next phase, Wayne will put in native wildflowers and grasses, ‘to attract the birds and bees’. He’s already got a resident blue tongue.

As for the salt, everyone told Wayne he could never have a veggie garden by the sea. He’s proved the doubters wrong, through ‘a bit of love and care, and keeping the salt spray off it – I just come and gently hose the plants down when there’s been a bit of spray, and that keeps them fresh.’

Wayne and Mary-Ann are delighted with the garden, and so are their customers. ‘People love it, they sit here and look at the plants, and talk about it.’ Some people have even anonymously put in plants after closing time: Wayne has arrived in the morning to find chillies and tomatoes that weren’t there before. And in the few short weeks of its existence, it’s already creating a web of relationships, so that it can truly be regarded as a ‘community garden’ in its own right.

One of the most satisfying things for Wayne is that he can now send all the green waste from the café to the community garden, where Matt has established an extra worm farm to cope with it all. In return, Matt takes plants to the ‘garden by the sea’, and Wayne now gives him extra seedlings. Community garden volunteers will help out with extensions to the café garden. And Wayne is even getting donations of plants from other yacht owners; and encouraging people to pick parsley.

For Wayne and Steve, this garden is about living their vision: ‘We both have the philosophy that we should be planting every square inch that’s available. Food is essential to life, and if people got more involved in the backyard garden…That’s what stitched communities together, a generation ago. But today, you buy everything from the supermarket. A lot of young people don’t know what fresh food is, they’ve never seen it”, says Wayne.

“This is trying to show people that fast food doesn’t come from MacDonalds. This is fast food. I can take this out of the garden and put it on your plate in five minutes. That was the essence of the project, to shift people’s understanding, and thinking, of what you can do with a garden.”

If the last few weeks are anything to go by, Wayne and the team behind this garden have already achieved a lot.