November 13, 2020

In the garden: Sophie’s Patch

One of South Australia’s most beloved horticulturists says gardening can help overcome many of the challenges faced in our modern world.

Sophie Thomson welcomes visitors to her garden for open days.

Sophie Thomson is one of South Australia’s most revered gardening celebrities. She is our state’s representative on the weekly ABC television program Gardening Australia, writes newspaper columns and makes regular appearances on radio programs, sharing her passion for all things gardening.

In 2016 she presented a TEDx talk in Adelaide about how gardening can literally save the world. Her book Sophie’s Patch, published in 2018, reinforces this philosophy and at the same time gives some fantastic, down-to-earth advice on how to go about creating your own garden, and the challenges you can expect along the way.

After a few years of renting, Sophie and her family bought Hamlyn Cottage in Mount Barker in 2011. Thomas Hamlyn, the man who built the cottage, moved to the area with his family in 1847 from Devon, England. In the mid-1990s the cottage was restored, and it now sits in the corner of a three-acre property — an area now lovingly known as Sophie’s Patch, which keen viewers of Gardening Australia will be familiar with.

“I had the garden plan for the property drawn up even before we knew we could buy it,” Sophie says in her book. The land is now home to more than 100 fruit and nut trees, 20-odd citrus trees, a fully-productive veggie patch, a flock of about 23 chooks, seven ducks and 14 geese, and Sherlock Hounds – a maremma dog named by her kids as he is always on the case of the fox. There’s also an ornamental garden, which Sophie hopes will one day become fully climate-compatible.

One of the messages to take from Sophie’s Patch is to never expect – or even work towards – perfection in a garden. “You’re not wanting perfection. The reality is if there’re no aphids, what are the ladybirds going to eat?” she says. “We’re not perfect so why would we expect nature to be perfect?”

Sophie’s gardening philosophies are far-reaching. She believes we can save ourselves through gardening, “and then we simply scale it up to where we can bring about world peace”. Gardening gives us exercise, is great for relaxation and mental health, and when you zoom out it has positive effects on the whole world. 

She says simple gardener habits can have extensive benefits, such as making your own compost to feed the billions of creatures in the soil and improve its health. The plants then store carbon, and well-placed deciduous trees can shade a home in summer and warm it in winter – saving electricity. 

If you were at the 2019 Royal Adelaide Show, you would have seen Sophie displaying ideas of balance, such as the balance between sun and shade, soft and hard landscaping, and produce and ornamental plants. “It’s about all the different things we have to try and balance in a garden and what that might look like,” she says.

You can see Sophie and her patch for yourself at one of her open garden days, featuring a speaker program, which has previously included beekeeping, chooks, vegetable gardening and cooking demos. “It’s a bit of a mini-fair thing really,” Sophie says. For details of future open days, visit her website.

Sophie says she is an obsessive-compulsive gardener. “It’s a bit like an addiction,” she says. “But I just think it’s a healthy addiction.”

This story first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of SALIFE Gardens and Outdoor Living magazine.

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