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Usefull Websites

Seed Companies

  • Royston-Petrie Seeds P.O. Box 1152 Ph: (61) 2 6372 7800
  • Cornucopia Seed Cornucopia Seeds and Plants Ph (03) 5457 1230
  • Select Organic M.S 905, Lower Beechmont 4211 Organic Seeds
  • GreenHarvest 52 Crystal Waters, M.S. 16, MALENY 4552 Ph: (07) 5494 4676
  • Greenpatch PO Box 1285, TAREE, NSW 2430 (02) 6551 4240
  • The Italian Gardener Allsun Farm, PO Box 8050, Gundaroo, New South Wales, 2620 (02) 6236 8173 Italian vegetable seeds
  • Kings Seeds PO Box 2785, Bundaberg, QLD 4670, Australia Tel: 07 4159 4882
  • Phoenix Seeds PO Box 207 , Snug, TAS, Australia 03) 6267 9663 Only postal Very unusual seeds
  • Diggers Fantastic company become a member and help them in their work, they have two sites, St Erith (nr Daylesford) and Heronswood (Mornington Peninsula) and when you become a member you get sent out a free magazine / newsletter
  • Eden Seed M.S. 905, Lower Beechmont 4211 (07) 5533 1107 Lots of information botanical and taste
  • The Lost Seed The Lost Seed PO Box 321 SHEFFIELD TAS 7306 ph: 03 6491 1000 Has a selection of very rare vegetables, and a great free download of sow what when chart

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Clive Blazey-without pictures

Clive Blazey-A Subversive Gardener
K. S. Drummond-Gillett
Sept 2010

Clive Blazey is the CEO of the seed company ‘Diggers’. Initiating in an early interview from The Age, there have been numerous references to him in the media as a subversive gardener. A subversive person seeks to overthrow governments or institutions. I would argue that Clive Blazey follows trends, rather than creating them and uses his skills in economics and marketing to benefit his business. Nevertheless his widespread publicity on heritage edibles and backyard vegetable production has educated many members of the general public. He has highlighted the benefits of edible gardening to both the individual and society as a whole through frequent interviews, books and public events. His widespread popularising of edible horticulture is evident in the 35,000 membership of Diggers Club, the largest garden club in Australia. This increasing customer base is noteworthy in a time of decreasing membership in such organisations. His business is based on 3 sites, a farm in Seymour, Heronswood and The Garden of St Erth; two of which are important historical gardens in their own right. These gardens serve as collections of plants, demonstration gardens to illustrate the main principles behind Diggers, locations to hold workshops and talks. Both Heronswood and Garden of St Erth feature nurseries and cafes.

The Founding of Diggers
Clive Blazey was born in 1948, the son of Alan Blazey founder of Hortico. He studied Economics and Commerce at Melbourne University and led Clive to begin his career as marketing manager for Hortico. This foundation in business is what probably determined the later success of Diggers. In 1978 the family company was taken over by Yates and this was perhaps fundamental to Clive Blazey’s future cynicism with corporate culture. Disillusionment with the superficiality of commodity culture was the prevailing theme in the society of the time. The 1960’s had seen gardening turn from a functional action, to a product based activity, where the garden became less about ecological issues and more about decoration, the garden had become another room to be filled with comsumerables.
Clive and his wife Penny started Diggers Club, as a small mail order seed business, on half an acre in Albert Park. The Blazey’s desire to circumvent big business and start their own mail order company was a most likely combination of business savvy and personal need. The mail order business bypassed the dominance of major retailers in the garden industry, and enabled them to provide rare plants for a niche market.
The success of the business determined the need for more land and in 1982 they bought Heronswood, Dromana, Vic and established it as the base of their operations. In addition Heronswood provided them with a venue to experiment with plants. Heronswood was already an important historical garden (Fig 1). The building and landscaping was designed by Edward La Trobe Bateman, the first Lieutenant Governor of Victoria. The Blazeys developed Heronswood into eight display gardens, highlighting perennials, annuals and cottage garden plants.

Figure 1 Dromana "Heronswood" Latrobe Parade May 19 1964

Diggers did not develop an interest in Heritage and Rare Vegetables until much later. Initially Diggers primary trade was focused on drought tolerant cottage garden plants. Once again Clive showed his business acumen by capitalising on the revived interest in cottage these plants. It was not until the late 90’s that Heronswood featured the ornamentals aspects of vegetables in the planting schemes (Fig. 2). This integration of edibles as ornamentals draws inspiration from the French Parterre design concept, most famously seen at the Ch√Ęteau de Villandry, France.
Figure 2 Parterre Garden at Heronswood

Heronswood provided a microclimate not found anywhere else in Victoria enabling Diggers to establish a garden of unusual plants imported from all over the world.
Exotic plants in Australian Gardens
Digger’s is known for its collection of heritage fruit and vegetables, but initially started selling exotic perennials and annuals. Many of the non-edible plants Diggers sell are considered weeds at some level in Australia. It is interesting that while Clive Blazey often promotes sustainability and climate change in the garden through his articles in The Diggers Catalogue and interviews in the press, he never mentions the obvious solution of native and indigenous plants. These plants require very little input, in terms of water, fertiliser and other recourses and are therefore by their definition sustainable. Diggers stock almost no Australian Native Plants.
Whilst there is a place for exotic plants in Australia, the Horticulture industry has a responsibility to not introduce environmental weeds, and put the native biodiversity at risk. Indigenous people would argue that ‘Bush’ Tucker is the sustainable answer to food security in Australia. The arguments used to support Diggers plant choice by referring to other countries introduction of non-native plants fails to take into account the weed problem that some of these plants have become in these countries. Japanese Knotweed, Fallopia japonica one of the most endemic weeds in the U.K. and is mandatorily reportable to the Ministry of Agriculture was introduced as an ornamental plant from Japan.
Seed Savers
In 1990 Clive visited the Seed Savers Exchange run by Kent and Diane Whealy in Deborah, Iowa, America, where he met with David Cavagnaro their farm manager. In 1992 David came to Australia as the keynote speaker at a camp out on the farm at Trawool near Seymour.
The seed saving movement had arisen out of the 1970’s environmental movement and a desire to return to ‘pure’ plants with a distinct genetic heritage. The increasing interest in organic productive gardening was a response to growing concerns about the ‘purity’ of food.
This initial campout led to links with the Australian seed saving movement, run by Jude and Michael Fanton and other members of the Australian Organics movement. Festivals at Heronswood were to later replace these campouts. Blazey’s work in searching for heritage vegetables harks back to the early productive gardener in Australia, attempting to select varieties that were suited to the Australian conditions.
Research into heirloom vegetables
It was at Trawool where Digger’s ran the tomato trials that formed the basis for the first book, The Australian Vegetable Garden. Dr Will Trueman, (PhD relating to Native Fish), ran the tomato trials at the Heritage Seed Farm. The elemental change in plant breeding occurred after the 2nd World War when American plant breeders began to breed vegetables specifically designed for transport and a long shelf life, instead of for taste. The advent of the supermarket exasperated this problem, offering fruit and vegetables from around the world, in and out of season, but reduced the varieties. The research done at Diggers concentrated not just on taste, but also yield, days to first fruit and traditional techniques used in tomato growing. This work led to interest from the commercial seed growers and the introduction of heritage tomato varieties into the wider seedling market; such a Russian Black and Tommy Toe. These research trials proved the high yield of some heritage tomato varieties and their suitability for the Australian climate. The work continued with research into other groups of vegetables such as Brassicas.
There are two other important seed companies in Australia, Eden Seed and Phoenix Seed, both established previously to Diggers interest in rare and heirloom Vegetables. Eden Seeds have a wider variety of seeds and also offers organically certified seeds, seeds in bulk and a much wider range of gardening books. Their work is primarily in selling product and they do not have demonstration gardens, workshops or promote the advantages of productive gardening. The other company is Phoenix Seed and they sell extremely rare varieties not found anywhere else in Australia. There are other seed companies in Australia specialising in Heritage vegetables these two have been established the longest.
Clive Blazey has published 5 books; two have been in collaboration with Jane Varkulevicius, a Horticulture graduate with over 25 years industry experience. A constant theme throughout his books is a return to the previous motivation of productive gardening.
From the arrival of the first Fleet, gardens were a means of livelihoods for settlers, a source of food and a way of learning about their new environment. . Australian’s back gardens continued to be a means to provide nutritious and tasty food for one’s family until the availability of cheap supermarket product in the 1960s. One of the most enduring Australian gardening books, Brunnings Australian Garden states,
“The establishment of a vegetable garden to augment household supplies, is an asset to every home”
Clive Blazey’s first book was on drought tolerant and cottage garden plants, it was these plants that led to the initial success of Diggers. His later books concentrate on vegetable gardening.
Garden of St Erth
In 1996 Diggers took over The Garden of St Erth, Blackwood, Vic. This garden was started in 1968 by Tommy Garnett, Clive Blazey’s former headmaster of Geelong Grammar and regular columnist in The Age, Melbourne (FIG. 3).

Figure 3 Garden of St Erth, 25th Oct 1984

The Garden already housed an extensive daffodil collection, containing plants bred by Alistair Clark, Leonard Buckland, and Eve Murray. Ironically Tommy Garnett is known for his use of Australian Natives in a garden setting, and the Garden of St Erth now features almost no Australian Natives. The Garden had a completely different microclimate to Heronswood, from freezing winters to harsh burning summers and gave the Blazeys a chance to expand their range of plants (FIG. 4).

Figure 4 The Garden of St Erth today

The later years saw the garden develop into a demonstration garden that illustrated how much food (fruit and vegetables) could be grown in a small space.
Climate Change
Gardeners are aware of the changing ecological conditions in Australia. Clive Blazey has often written on climate change and reducing our carbon emissions through home food cultivation. Clive Blazey is influential in educating the general public on how they can reduce the carbon produced by farming, by growing food at home. The current agriculture system is both vulnerable to climate change and a factor in its initiation.
This doubt surrounding our future food security, relates back to previous times of precarious food accessibility in Australia. It is a recurring theme throughout the history of gardening in Australia. It could be said that the current issues surrounding food security and climate change reflect a state of society previously seen during wartime. During the Second World War agriculture could not meet the needs of private food requirements.
Defiant Gardens
Defiant gardens are said to be,
“Gardens created in extreme or difficult enviromental, social, political, economic, or cultural conditions”.
Productive gardens were initially a means of earning a livelihood for the early colonists, but as life became more stable in Australia gardens became less practical and more ornamental. Edible gardening resurfaced during the 2nd World War when food production again became a necessity. At this time (1943-44) 30-40% of gardeners were producing their own vegetables and fruit. Gardening began to change at a practical and ideological level. The modern interest in backyard production is due to a number of previously mentioned factors.
These debates on wider environmental and social issues have been held on gardens throughout Australian history, and are also fundamental to Clive Blazey’s written work and business. The fundamental paradox of a garden is neatly outlined in this statement from Holmes et al’s work; Reading the Garden,
“One of the paradoxes of the private garden is the extent to which others have sought to control its site and significance. The negotiation between public control and private meaning lies at the heart of the garden: individual investment in this space will always entwine broader cultural resonances with personal understandings, memories and traditions”
School Gardens and Education
Not since the Dig for victory campaigns of the 2nd World War has education in productive gardening been as widespread in Australia. The last few years have seen Diggers concentrate on educating the general public on the techniques of productive gardening, with demonstration gardens at Heronswood and the Garden of St Erth, monthly workshops and the sale of ‘how to’ books. The baby boomers were a generation that lost the art of growing food with the rise of cheap supermarket food negating the economic need for backyard production. The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the ongoing support of the successful project at Collingwood College, and to introducing Kitchen Gardens into other primary schools. Diggers is a supporting Partner with the foundation, and this probably led to the formation of the ‘Little Diggers Club, the children’s section of Diggers, providing easy to grow seeds, children’s garden tools, workshops and other activities.
The social conscience of Diggers
The last 2 decades in Australia has seen a dramatic rise in backyard production of food. The 1980’s saw a trebling of vegetable seedlings from 1976. This is chiefly a movement amongst the well educated and professional classes, who ironically were time poor but access to large amounts of land. For those at the lower end of the social economic scale the opposite is true. Diggers have not ignored this fact and offers a discount seed pack for health card holders. Members also receive substantial discounts on stock and free entry to the display gardens.

Gardening is now seen as providing more than food and aesthetics, but tending to our physical, moral and spiritual needs. Diggers engages the general public in productive gardening, and in doing so involves them in an movement that is more real than any of the activities of the commodity led culture. Ironically Diggers taps into this need for an authentic lifestyle by selling their customers more products. Gardens have become more than a place to grow plants, but sites for Life, Home, Work, Hope and Beauty.
Clive Blazey can be seen to play an important role in educating the wider public on the benefits of edible horticulture and the important role it will play in the future social and environmental climate. It is important to remember that he is running a very successful commercial enterprise and utilises peoples growing interest in backyard production to support his business.

Newspaper and Magazine Articles
Brettle, Kyla. “The Grassroots Activist”, The Age Sunday Life 29 April 2001 pg 8-10

"Garden Clubs: is the party finally over? “ (Cover story). Australian Horticulture 6-8. 2010
Blazey, Penny. “Diggers the first 25 years: Penny Blazey’s homely account of how the women at Digger’s got the Upper Hand” Accessed 28 August 2008 at
Blazey, Clive. It’s Now or Never, Diggers Magazine, Dromana, Vic, Diggers 2009
Latreille, Anne. Handing on St Erth, The Age, (Melbourne, Australia), March 9, 1996
‘Landscape Australia’ The Heron Seeks the Heights, Landscape Australia 1988 vol 2 pg 169-164
Rickard, Simon. Can an “Australian Garden” be planted with non-natives? Diggers, Accessed at 13th Sept 2010

Books and Reports
Amani K. Ahmed A. and Krystyna A. Johnson (2000) Horticultural development of Australian native edible plants Australian. Journal of Botany, 48, 417–426
Blazey, Clive and Varkulevicius, Jane The Australian Fruit and Vegetable Garden Dromana, Vic. Digger's Club, c2006
Blazey, Clive. 2007 “Gardening in Australia, Annual Convention Speech” Autumn Catalogue pg 21-27 Accessed on line at 3 Sept 2010
Blazey, Clive. It’s Now or Never, Diggers Magazine Dromana, Vic, Diggers 2009 Accessed on 7 Sept 2010
Gaynor, Andrea. Harvest of the suburbs: an environmental history of growing food in Australian cities Crawley, W. A.: University of Western Australia Press, 2006.
Holmes, Katie. K, Susna. Mirmohmadi, Martin and Kylie (2008) Reading the Garden, The Settlement of Australia Victoria, Australia: Melbourne University Press.
Helphand, Kenneth I. Defiant gardens: Making gardens in wartime, San Antonio, Tex. : Trinity University Press, c2006.
Larsen, Kirsten, Ryan, Chris and Abraham, Asha Bee, Sustainable and Secure Food Systems for Victoria: What do we know? What do we need to know? VEIL Research Report No.1 (Summary) April 2008 Accessed at 7 Sept 2010
Aitken, Richard “Heronswood” In The Oxford companion to Australian Gardens , edited by Richard Aitken & Michael Looker. Oxford University Press, published in association with the Australian Garden History Society, 2002
Cross, Rob. and Spencer, Roger. (2008) Sustainable Gardening Collingwood, Vic CSIRO Publishing
Timms, Peter. (2006) Australia’s Quarter Acre; The Story of the ordinary suburban garden
Melbourne, Au, The Miegunyah Press
Figure 1 Parterre Garden at Heronswood 7
Figure 2 Garden of St Erth, 25th Oct 1984 13
Figure 3 The Garden of St Erth today 14


Onesimus said...

I have been a member of Diggers for three or four years and I have noticed not only an attitude of neglect regarding Australian natives, I have noticed what is at least a mild disdain of natives.

That is one aspect of Diggers that I find disappointing as I have tried to make the ornamental sections of my garden primarily natives.

Santhiya said...

Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. Thank u.

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