Shelley Pryor: harvesting health

Harvesting Health

Shelley Pryor, organic gardener at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, demonstrates that maintaining a green and healthy lifestyle is a matter of growth.

Composting and improving and remineralising the soil is the key for a good garden. And, of course, the taste is “just amazing, especially for fruit”.

It’s no wonder Shelley Pryor is the picture of health. She relies on her organic garden not only for food, juices and tea but also for medicine and cosmetics. And she thinks the recession has had one positive outcome: more people have started their own vegie gardens.

Pryor, a former chef, is the organic gardener at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in the Tallebudgera Valley behind the Queensland Gold Coast. She lives 15 minutes away on a steep 1.2-hectare plot on a ridge overlooking the valley, where she has her own garden.

We chat next to the retreat’s largest vegie and herb patch, fringed by tall gum trees and tennis courts. I’m here for the third Organic Living weekend she has fronted for Gwinganna. Having taught several organic cooking courses, Pryor thought it would be good to show people how to grow organically as well.

Pryor grew up on a big suburban block in East Gippsland in Victoria, where with her parents and three siblings they lived almost self-sufficiently. “Mum grew everything, absolutely everything. Dad was fantastic at grafting (for the orchard). And Mum would bottle and preserve absolutely everything. She was a fantastic cook. Dad was a butcher; he grew a lot of meat. We’d be out rabbiting on the weekend, fishing and yabbying. It was part of your life, just fun.”

In Queensland for the past 18 years, Pryor was a sous chef in fine dining restaurants then moved to the Golden Door Health Retreat before coming to Gwinganna in 2006. Last year, she took control of its gardens. (But that doesn’t stop her cooking for guests/investors such as Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness and family when they stay.)

Her Organic Living sessions focus on how to set up an organic garden, a no-dig garden and a worm farm, the importance of sprouts, and techniques for balcony gardens. Her gardens use different methods that guests can investigate for their own gardens. For instance, she has some raised beds, which are good for Queensland because you can build up the soil and mulch well to cope with the heavy rains.

Composting and improving and remineralising the soil are the keys for a good garden, she says. “Once your soil’s OK, the plants just flourish. When they’re healthy you don’t get the pests and weed attacks.”

And of course, the taste is “just amazing, especially for fruit. Last year we grew rockmelons up here, we were eating them hot in the sun. Can you imagine eating a hot rockmelon normally? It would be horrible. Here, they were just so fragrant and so beautiful.”

She has medicinal plants growing everywhere, including yarrow and comfrey, because they’re “great companion plants”. If she gets cut or hurt she can grab some comfrey, which is great for bruises and even broken bones, or use turmeric for inflammation, yarrow for bleeding, broadleaf plantain for ant bites and rosemary for flaking scalp. Aloe vera can be cut up and the juice drunk or put on dry skin or pimples, and lemon myrtle is good as a skin scrub.

When Pryor first met her husband, Michael, he only had a wattle tree in his garden, but now he’s an “amazing gardener” and works in a nursery. On Sundays, they walk in their garden together and pick what’s fresh for breakfast and get the eggs from their two chooks, Jude and Linny, named after their mothers-in-law.

“I grow enough for myself, the wallabies and the insects … you can’t be too fussy about it,” Pryor says. (The wallabies particularly love the tops of the sweet potatoes and strawberries. And the bandicoots love the worms.)

“Being out in the garden, you’re very grounded and well, taking notice of what’s around you,” she says. “When I first started out here, you’d hear things and not take notice. Now you can hear one particular frog and the butcher bird has different calls, so I know there’s a snake in the garden or a goanna.”

She adds to her knowledge by reading whatever she can. “I experiment on myself a lot and Mum taught me a lot as well,” she says. “I’m just a baby clone of my mother.”
Some of Shelley Pryor’s organic tips:

  • For a worm farm don’t put in citrus fruit, salty food, dog poo or green glass clippings. But dog hair is OK, as are eggshells, toilet rolls, coffee, tea and dry grass clippings.
  • Make sure vegies, potting mix and anything else that says it’s organic is certified.
  • Nasturtiums, marigolds and calendulas are edible and good for bringing “good” insects to the garden, such as predatory wasps and ladybirds.
  • Put beer in a jar on an angle the night before you plant your seedlings and slugs will drink it and drown.

The writer was a guest of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat and Virgin Blue.



The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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