Open Garden / Having designs on living sustainably

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Jennie and Chris Curtis...  “For us, it’s about growing as much as we can and sourcing the rest of what we need locally.” Photo by Andrew Finch
Jennie and Chris Curtis…  “For us, it’s about growing as much as we can and sourcing the rest of what we need locally.” Photo by Andrew Finch

DESCRIBING their 10-hectare property in Bywong as “experimental”, landscape designers Jennie and Chris Curtis say they use their small farm as a way of trying out ways of living and gardening sustainably.

“We want to work out how we can move on with ideas of sustainability and eco-restorative approaches to landscape design in the 21st century,” says Jennie.

Chris says they are almost self-sufficient, with a huge kitchen garden full of vegetables, espaliered apples and berries, as well as self-watering wicking beds in a polytunnel for frost-sensitive plants.

Around the house, Jennie and Chris have removed much of the native grasses and replaced them with native shrubs, including bluebells, blue devils and everlastings, which they say require less maintenance and present less of a fire hazard. Natural irrigation is provided by a dry creek bed.

The farm also houses Babydoll Southdown sheep, broody Silkie chickens, ducks, llamas and alpacas, and will be open to the public on the weekend of March 19-20 as part of Open Gardens Canberra.

“For us, it’s about growing as much as we can and sourcing the rest of what we need locally,” says Chris.

“It’s satisfying when we can cook dinner entirely from the property, but we don’t have any hard and fast rules.”

The couple have recently moved their landscape design office out to the property and, in line with their philosophy of using recycled materials where possible, have built their office out of a tin roof salvaged from Chris’ mother’s house in Ainslie.

An edible food forest based on permaculture principles is thriving, with peaches, apricots, nectarines, strawberries, herbs and raspberries growing under a tree canopy, and wattles grown to provide mulch.

A favourite spot for Jennie is the “bath house”, where several old baths converted to wicking beds in a polytunnel house “the most incredible scented mint, herbs and citrus”.

“When I planted them I didn’t really think about how it would smell in there, but it’s just amazing,” she says.

On the open weekend, visitors can join farm tours at 11am both days, and Bywong nursery will sell native plant cultivars. Abbeyfield House, Bungendore, will be offering morning and afternoon teas.

Roogulli, 45 Glendale Lane, Bywong, open 10am-4pm, Saturday, March 19, and Sunday, March 20. Admission $8; free to under-18s and Open Gardens Canberra members. It costs $25 to join for free entry to all open gardens until August 31. More information at


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Kathryn Vukovljak
Kathryn Vukovljak is a "CityNews" journalist with a particular interest in homes and gardens.

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