March 2021 View Online

Dear Fellow Gardener

Welcome to the March 2021 newsletter from Sophie's Patch in the Adelaide Hills, SA. Each month I share what has been happening in and around my patch of garden in the Adelaide Hills, as well as some of my adventures further afield.  I hope you enjoy reading it. Sophie Thomson.

As the year is hurtling along, our Easter Open Garden, which seemed so far out, is now looming close and is in just four weeks – gasp! All the jobs I wanted to get done over the last month, like feeding everything, pruning and general tidying up, so the garden looked fabulous have yet to be done, but that’s life. As a working mum of four teenagers at home and a husband that is FIFO (fly in fly out) there are never enough hours in the day, or more specifically, hours in the garden. I haven’t done what I had planned, but then do we ever? My list seems unending, but it is not actually a chore. It’s my therapy and I am too busy and focused on things outside of my patch to worry too much about it. 

What is garden perfection?

Every now and then I see other gardens which are perfect and start to feel demoralized or envious of how wonderful they are. Logically I know that ‘comparison is the heart of discontent’ but in this world of ‘perfection’ on social media, it’s hard not to compare ourselves and our gardens to others. The reality is our garden is for ourselves, and we really shouldn’t worry about anyone else’s opinion apart from our own. However, when we open our garden to others (and not just share the best bits as seen on the socials), we do open ourselves up to ‘feedback’. Do you love your garden, and does it bring you joy and happiness? If so, then enjoy – that is garden perfection! The last twelve months has shown us gardeners how lucky we are to have a garden, a place to garden, or a garden just to ‘be’ in…… as without it, life just isn’t as good.

As you read between the lines, you know I am trying to justify the fact that this garden may not be perfect but take it as it is. It is real, there is no team of gardeners working behind the scenes (apart from my kids who are obliged to do about one hour a week each when they are home and I am around) and if you see a weed, please feel right at home and pull it out!? 😊

Easter Open Garden 2021

Easter Open Garden yet again affirms the cycle of nature and the change in the seasons.  Novice and experienced gardeners will have the opportunity to celebrate the changes that have taken place at Sophie's Patch as like-minded people join with me to enjoy my garden over the Easter Weekend.
As always there will be experts on hand to answer all your questions on climate compatible gardening, butterfly gardening, bee keeping, birdscaping and vegie growing as well as the nurseries that stock the diverse range of hardy and unusual plants that grow in my garden.

There is delicious food to enjoy garden art, plants and recycled crafts for sale, and free kids activities.  Exclusive talks will be released to attendees.
All the details are updated on the website

Sophie's Patch supports the Rotary Club of Mt Barker and Operation Flinders.   So, we are now live and taking bookings:
Tickets are $15 Adults, $5 children 5-12, and free under 5years.  Everyone needs a ticket, even babies! 
Buy Open Garden Tickets

In this Newsletter

Around the Patch

Autumn has arrived at Sophie’s Patch and, like many others around South Australia, for once I am wanting more of summer!? I would never have thought that I could want such a thing, but despite a few heat spikes, overall this summer has been cooler and my warm season crops are running late. With the onset of cooler nights over the past month or so, I am not sure how many will ripen. The tomatoes outside in the garden have finally started ripening, but they have got so much green fruit on them I am not sure whether most will ripen before the first frosts come and finish the plants off. Typically, our first frost arrives in early May, but they have been known to appear in mid-April. Last week there were even a few nights when the temperature got down to 4 degrees and some of my crops, like these wild pepinos, look like they were lightly frosted. This is a new crop to Sophie’s Patch this year and while they have grown well, I have not yet found any ripe fruit. 

In the Vegie Patch

I am sure I am not alone in the prospect of having a heap of green tomatoes left, so if you too are thinking the same, check out my blog post about green tomatoes at It even includes a recipe for green tomato cake which is delicious. Trust me! 😊 If you need to pull some plants out now to make space for early plantings of cool season crops, make sure you check out my tip on pulling the plants out roots and all, and hanging them up somewhere under cover. Last year I was able to continue harvesting ripe tomatoes for two months after I had pulled the plants out. 

Egyptian Walking Onions

I also finally harvested the Egyptian walking onions and yet again was so impressed by their bumper crop. For those who haven’t grown them before they are grown from small bulbs and form a clump of deliciously sweet onions which are amazing roasted. They are also known as tree onions, top set onions, walking onion or self-perpetuating onions.
Bulbs multiply in the ground and bulbils also form on the top of the tall flowering stem. These stems bend down to root away from the main plant. When you grow them be sure to be keep some offsets for replanting in autumn.

Planting Now

I have started planting the first of my cool season crops and will continue to plant more every month from now on to ensure continuity of supply. So far, I have broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbages and cauliflower in and these early plantings will start to produce for me early in winter, with the latter plantings keeping me in produce till the end of spring. The main thing when planting these early brassicas is to make sure that you protect them from the dreaded cabbage white butterflies laying their eggs on them and the hungry green caterpillars that follow. While some gardeners can manage these by removing them by hand, if you are busy like I am, you need a better plan. Mine is using insect exclusion netting but learn what the options are by watching
If you are starting a vegie garden, check out this series of four videos I made for my local Mt Barker Community Centre at the start of COVID. It covers the basics on growing vegies for beginners
Autumn is such a delightful time in our climate and it’s a great time to be outside. The cool nights have triggered the autumn colour which is starting to appear on the deciduous trees and glory vine growing over the tree house. While it may be cooler than summer the ground is very dry, so I am still watering plants that need it. The late summer and autumn flowers like salvias and perennial asters are a delight, as are the bees and butterflies that are enjoying them. 

Vertical vegies for 2021    

The pumpkin arch in the main vegie patch is looking cool but I am already planning next year’s vertical vegie covering over this structure – its going back to New Guinea bean in the third year since they were grown there. The tromboncino arch looks great too and we have been harvesting and enjoying the tromboncino in the kitchen.
The giant pumpkin looks amazing and the vines of ‘Summer Orange’ pumpkins have almost reached the top. The fruits on this are only starting and I have been reducing laterals so that I get the coverage first. Last year I grew a variety called ‘Potimarron’ and let it have multiple laterals but it failed to get to the top and cover the frame. This year I have trained the plants to just one runner up every few vertical posts and am trying to force the plant to reach the top. 
Best of all though is the 6m long New Guinea bean wall on the northern side of the shed – it is my favorite vertical vegie yet again. It has grown to the top of the 2.4m high mesh panel and has probably gone another metre again. It really is amazing in terms of its rapid and vast growth, its quantity of fruit and the versatility of this fruit. While I probably say this about something at any time of year, this is my favorite vegetable. At the moment, it goes into every curry, laksa, pho soup, stir fry I make, and I also use it in my morning vegetable juice. Cucumbers don’t like growing at Sophie’s Patch due to my salty bore water, so this makes a great alternative and young fruits work brilliantly as a substitute in salad. Sally is also busy making New Guinea bean cakes from them which will be one of the cakes in our Open Garden Sweet tasting box. 
At last, the Caigua has taken off and has done a great job of covering the mesh which is on the northern side of the poly house. However, it took so long to take off and that was the one side of the polyhouse where I definitely needed more protection from the sun and hot north winds. So, lesson learned - only plant Caigua where I do not actually need its coverage from a heat mitigation point of view. 

Orchard news

Fruit is pumping in the orchard, and the trees are laden. We have harvested the last of our apricots and there are only a few late varieties of peaches and nectarines left to ripen. We are loving the nashi pears, the early apples and lots of plums. One issue I have had in the orchard though is overcropping. In spring I did thin the apples and pears down to three fruits per spur for apples and two for pears. Even so I left too much fruit on the trees and the apples in particular are bent over under the weight of everything. Lesson learnt!? I asked a fruit tree expert whether I should thin the plums and he said not to worry as he finds that any excess usually drops. Well, it appears my trees haven’t heard this, and they have had boughs pulled over under the weight of a bumper crop. One tree had all its branches snap!? I know I should have propped or splinted the branches, but I simply didn’t have a chance. I have left these branches in place where they have landed as their foliage hasn’t wilted, meaning that there is enough attachment that the sap is still flowing in the tree, and I am still hoping that some of the fruit may ripen. 


A busy schedule over the past few weeks has meant that I even missed the ideal time to harvest a few of the plums and they were a bit overripe. I checked them one weekend and thought they would be perfect for harvesting the following weekend, and a heatwave mid-week ripened everything off quicker than expected. They will still cook up well, so it’s not a real problem but harvesting at this time of year is a big and time-consuming task. The first table grape variety on my grape vine arch covered with 6 different varieties started to ripen and small birds inside the orchard netting got to them before I did, so hopefully over the next month I can create mesh bags to clip over the bunches of the next five varieties. I am reasonably pragmatic about things in the garden, as I can only do what I can do.

The Flock


My baby is two and a half months old and is now quite big. He is still a delight to have as a garden companion but can be a bit naughty. He loves lettuce and I need to grow my crops where he can’t get to them. He has his own goose hutch which we lock him into each night so he is safe and he shares the back yard with our black Labrador Pearl when I am not around. 
The mummy chickie who raised her chicks out the back lawn has been relocated into the orchard and there is another mummy chook with her four black babies out there now. Although being a Spanish Minorca she is small in stature, she is a feisty hen and very protective of her chicks. We have nicknamed her Kung Fu Chicken, as she flew at us a number of times when we first found her out in the garden and had to relocate her and her newly hatched clutch to the back lawn where we have temporary hutches for fox protection. She has calmed down a bit now that she knows we are not going to hurt her babies, but I think Zeus is a bit scared of her. 
I love all of my flock, whether it’s the chooks, ducks or geese, and all have a purpose. If you haven’t seen it before, check out this video made last autumn about their purpose in our property management. They also make great moveable art and the source of countless entertainment. Recently I wrote an article for the Adelaide Hills Weekender on ‘Gardens and gardening for entertainment’ and you can read it at 

Coming Up 

Limestone Coast

Autumn sees me head out and about around South Australia and you will catch me down at Naracoorte on the 13th March for the Limestone Coast CWA. 

reGrowth Garden Recovery on Kangaroo Island

The following week from the 19th to the 21st March I am heading back to Kangaroo Island to celebrate the first birthday of the Parndana Community Garden which we opened on the 14th March last year. While I am there, I will also run a series of garden workshops for those who are rebuilding their gardens after fire, those supporting their garden recovery, and all other gardeners on the Island. 

SA Autumn Garden Festival and Start Your Patch From Scratch workshop at Clare

On the 17th and 18th April I head up to Clare for SA Autumn Garden Festival I am speaking at the festival on the Sunday but on the Saturday, I am running a satellite Sophie’s Patch event up there like we did last year. It will be a ‘Starting Your Patch from Scratch’ workshop on Saturday 17 April from 9.30am - 12.30pm.  For more information see
Buy Starting Your Patch from Scratch - Clare Tickets

Royal Adelaide Show preparations

................and while it still may still be 6 months away, I have started working on my feature garden for the 2021 Royal Adelaide Show. For the last 12 years I have been creating a feature garden for the Horticulture Committee and I love being able to demonstrate garden ideas and concepts that I am particularly passionate about at the time.  This year is no different .......... so watch this space. As you know gardening over the last twelve months has proved to be more important in our lives than ever. I will share my plans over the next few months but in the meantime make sure you have the dates of the show in your diary 4-12th September 2021 and get along if you can.  
Stay tuned to my calendar for other events closer to the time, and don’t forget that our next open garden is over Easter Saturday to Easter Monday 11th to 13th April. 

Group Tours

We are taking bookings for group tours of our garden. As I have mentioned before, I think doing a group tour of my garden is the best way to see it, as its much for intimate and interactive as I take these groups on a personal tour of my garden followed by afternoon tea or coffee with delicious home baked cakes made from our home grown produce. If you can get a group of 30 or more people together from your social, interest or council group or plant society, contact me 
tour group

Subscribers Prize

This month we are giving three lucky winners two tickets to come to Sophie's Patch Open Garden and enjoy a Cake Tasting Box for morning or afternoon tea.  Winners are drawn at random and emailed and then have a week to claim their prize. 
Happy gardening!



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