Lara and Charles and their daughters, Colette and Florence, live in Tamworth, NSW. They moved into their house twelve months ago, and since then Lara has been busy transforming the half-acre block into a beautiful, productive space. I sat down to chat with Lara late last year. I found talking to her completely inspiring. And I hope this interview inspires you to get out and grow something with your kids.
On Country Living
Tamworth is sort of in a valley, with a big river that runs through it. It’s sparse land, with lots of gumtrees.
We are surrounded by hills that block us from any kind of changeable weather. So it’s very dry and hot, a lot of the time. And then winter is very cold. And we don’t have an autumn, and we don’t have a spring.
We live just out of town on a half-acre block. The block has a big park behind it, which is a few acres, of grass and gumtrees and quite a few of our friends back onto the same park.
We’ve all got back gates so the kids head out there and run around. There’s a playground too. Most of the kids are a bit older, so Colette sort of tags along. She loves it
On Growing up in Sydney
I feel like I did have that more free childhood in Sydney. I remember running around the bush in Epping. We’d go bike riding and meet friends who lived nearby.
I think back and think about what we did, and it may have been a bit dangerous. We didn’t have phones, and our parents didn’t know where we were. But they knew we’d come back eventually. And I’m really glad we had that freedom. My hope is the girls can have that same sort of experience.
My mum was a pretty keen gardener. I guess I grew up always wanting to give it a go. I wanted to grow veggies, I wanted to have chooks. When we got our first few rentals, I just pottered about trying to plant things. By the time we were looking to buy a house I remember saying to Charles, ‘I just want a garden’, I didn’t really care what the house was like, ‘Just buy me a garden.’ I said.
On Gardening with Kids
There’s definitely a stage when they were tiny when I didn’t do much gardening. But now that Flo is up and walking, it’s easy to get out with both of them. And they love it. They get dirty and go and talk to the chickens.
At the moment (because of the drought) they spend two hours most days helping me water by hand. You might think that would be boring, but they fight over who gets to hold the watering can.
I have had to learn to let them help in ways that aren’t helpful. If we’re in the veggie garden, they go and pick peas. They did they have a period where they went and pulled out seedlings. Colette insists on giving the chickens the spring onions. I don’t know why, there’s so many things in the garden she could pick. I used to get really annoyed but then I realised she’s interacting and she’s recognised that plant and she wants to feed the chickens. It’s a bit weird, I don’t know if they even eat them, but it’s part of her contribution. And now she’s quite protective. If someone walks through a garden bed, she’ll yell ‘Get out of my mummy’s garden’.
Sometimes I have a cranky baby who just wants to be picked up.
But I work around that. I got a one-handed wheelbarrow for my birthday. I said to Charles, that’s what I want because I am always carrying a baby or a child. And he went to Bunnings, and he said ‘My wife wants this wheelbarrow you can drag behind you.’ And they were sort of saying it was a weight thing, like women needed a lighter wheelbarrow. But it’s not, it’s because I have a baby in the other arm.
On Plants, Bugs and Tree-houses
Colette is learning to recognise different plants—she points to the broccoli and peas, the strawberries and berries. At the moment she calls all the rest flowers. Except for the roses, I got quite into roses. And I bought one, a David Austin variety, called ‘Charles’. I told her that ‘This is a rose that has the same name as Daddy’. So then she went round- and she named all the other roses and said there was a Collette-rose and a Flo-rose and a Mummy-rose.
Colette gets excited when she finds a worm. She learnt that they’re good. Butterflies and bees too, she’s really into bees. And if I find a big spider, I’ll show her. There’s a nice overlap with Peter Rabbit books, which they love. I think we pulled out a turnip, and I hadn’t told her it was a turnip, but she knew what it was because of Peter Rabbit.
I used to make my own tree-houses when I was a kid. I used to go and get timber out of the shed and nail it into trees. Now I’m building them again for the girls. I’m hoping to inspire them.
We had this palette made up when we moved, so I just put it in the tree. And of course, Flo kept climbing up there, and she’s only little, so we put some sides on it. Which is better, but I do still have an 18- month-old six foot high in a tree.
But she seems to understand. We’re ok with them taking risks. Before we put the sides on, she’d climb to the top step and then yell out. I think that was her way of letting us know where she was. We’ve always done things differently. Like when she got to the age where she started climbing on the table, we sort of let her do it because she needs to know how to get down. Because she’s going to do it at that moment you’re not there, when you’re in the shower, so she needs to know how to get down.
On Outdoor Snacks
Usually, when they’re hungry, I’m out in the garden too busy. So Colette just goes inside and brings out two apples. They’re allowed to help themselves to fruit. I don’t chop it up or anything. If it falls on the ground they pick it up again a few times before it goes to the chooks.
On Surviving the Heat
I struggle in the summer. I do love it in terms of gardening. But here in summer, you get to ten o’clock, and between ten and five, it’s really hot. And it doesn’t cool down. You don’t get an afternoon breeze. Four or five o’clock is the hottest part of the day.
So for that reason, we’re currently putting in a pool. That’s survival for me with being home with the girls.
It’s pretty dry here now. Most farmers or people on the land just have no stock. I get truckloads of horse poo for the garden, and the girl I get that from said she had to give away ten thousand dollars worth of horses because she just can’t feed them. So, it’s all a bit sad.
Living here you’re sort of more aware of what’s happening. We always thought we’d want to live on a farm or have a property, but I’ve got our half-acre block, and I’m glad this is all I have to look after.
This is the worst drought in a very long time. The last time it rained properly was when one of my friend’s babies was born. That was four years ago. There was a little bit of rain and storm around Christmas last year and Colette had never really seen rain or a storm. There’s a whole generation of kids who just don’t know what rain is.
On Precious Resources
The kids love to play with water. And quite often they’ll want to play with water, and I’ll have to say—no, there is none. They’ll be no water for the garden until I do some washing. If you want water for the sandpit, you can have one bucket, and you can’t have any more after that. Which as a child is so different than it was for me. When I was a child, water came out of a tap.
That’s a big thing. And we’ve just this week got two new tanks. We’ve just bought two new tanks, which we’ll have to buy water to fill up. Which I didn’t realise was a thing. I thought you got water tanks and then it rained. We have town water but (because of water restrictions) we can’t use it outside.
We have a granny flat with a big bath so at the moment, while it’s bad, we all have our bath and shower in there. Then I keep that water overnight and then go and get it in the morning, to use on the garden.
I had family up to stay with us last week. And you notice when someone is running the tap to wait for the water to heat up or to wash a knife. It takes all your strength not to go over and just turn it off. If we do that, we’ll put a container underneath, and that will go out on the garden. It’s a real mindset thing.
On Connection to the Earth
The girls know that they can go out to the backyard to get food. They know where it comes from. Colette walked around with a packet of pumpkin seeds the other day, and God knows where she put them. I told myself, 'its ok because she’s interested and she’s learning'.
They love the eggs too. We have eight chooks and a rooster at the moment, and we raised them from chicks. They go down and talk to them and feed them and collect the eggs.
They know their scraps go in the compost or to the chooks. I couldn’t imagine not having chooks, especially with kids, the amount of food waste you have.
On the Benefits of Outdoor Play
We all climb the walls if we don’t get outside. My girls have always slept well, and I think that’s because I’ve always had the aim of just wearing them out. They’re a lot calmer because they have the time outside to run wild.
We still use TV when we need to. But when they wake up they often just potter out to the garden and start doing something. They fall over and climb trees. They get muddy, and I have a lot of washing, but that helps me (so I have more greywater to use on the garden). Flo often stays in her pyjamas, barefoot out on the bark.
On Happy Kids
We eat all our meals outside when the weather’s good. When we’re sitting inside its so much more stressful because they don’t want to sit still, they want to run off. But outside, they are happy.
We built a big sandpit for the girls. I was inspired by Sophie Thomson, she has a chapter (about gardening with kids) in her book Sophie’s Patch. She says if you have a sandpit that can fit five or six kids in it, that’s where they will actually play. I can be out watering the garden, and they’ll just play out here for ages.
Thankfully since we spoke, Tamworth has had some much needed rain. Check out Lara's Instagram for adorable shots of her kiddos playing the puddles and plenty of garden inspiration @lilyrose_backyard.