February 2022 View Online

Dear Fellow Gardener

Welcome to the February 2022 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.

Doesn’t time fly! We are already more than one month into 2022 and while I still feel like it’s the end of the year, the calendar tells me different! It’s been a crazy start to the year and as the school holidays end, some of my kids are back in person, and others are doing virtual learning. With so much uncertainly, stress and angst around, I am forever grateful for my garden and can’t imagine how people cope when they don’t have one, or something else equally effective to help them manage their stress. 
This week Neighbour Day celebrates 20 years with an official ceremony at Government House in Canberra.  I am so proud to be an ambassador for this wonderful initiative which helps address loneliness across Australia and build the communities you want to live in, one relationship at a time. Read more about them and how to get involved with Neighbour Day on the 27th of March and make a difference in your community at 

In This Newsletter

Open Garden At Sophie's Patch  - Finale

Ten years can go in a blink!  So can 14 Open Gardens at Sophie’s Patch!  And now it’s time for No. 15 and it is the time for us to call “Time” as we head for Easter 2022!   It’s been an amazing experience hosting so many wonderful people who have visited in person from all around Australia and foreign lands.  Many have come repeatedly and many, many more of you have joined us via social media in its different forms.
Our kids are growing up and spreading their wings, our Patch has blossomed, and our produce has fed many for different reasons, particularly during the last couple of years. It’s time for Richard and me to concentrate on other aspects of our Patch so as the saying goes….” Watch This Space”!
Richard, the kids, animals and I would love you to come and join with us at Easter…….to celebrate the finale of our Open Garden programme in its current form on Saturday 16th, Sunday 17th and Monday 18th April.   You can book your tickets online and the usual covid conditions apply. 

All info is available at and this will be updated regularly as the final details are confirmed.

Other Gardens To Visit

Don’t forget if you are coming to SA for the first time and want to visit a few other gardens while you are over here, do check out

Around The Patch

Sophie’s Patch is looking amazingly lush and green thanks to the combination of a wetter spring, a milder summer, and some recent summer rains. Usually by mid-November we are a small patch of green surrounded by brown paddocks and hillsides, yet this year all the paddocks are still green. While we may get more fungal problems like powdery mildew as a result, I do love the green! 

In The Vegie Patch

New Guinea Bean

The growth in the vegie patch as a result of the recent summer rains has been amazing with the New Guinea Bean arch now covered. Over the last week the fruits have been setting and we are now able to enjoy them in the kitchen. For those who haven’t grown them before, this versatile climbing squash is genuinely my favourite vegetable …… and it also provides amazing shade! Italians call them ‘Cucuzza’, the Maltese ‘Qara twiel’, Filipinos ‘Upo’, the Japanese ‘Yugao’, the Vietnamese ‘Bau’ and the Indians ‘Lauki’ or ‘Dodhi. I call them New Guinea bean even though they are neither from New Guinea, nor are they a bean. They are best harvested somewhere in between these two sizes pictured ….. but can be used up to 90cm long if you skin them and remove their seeds. In the last week we have used them in curry, laksa, stir fry and in my breakfast juice …… and soon we will have enough to make delicious chocolate New Guinea bean cake. 


The tomato plants in the vegie patch are also lush and huge and covered in green fruit, but they are very slow to ripen. Thank goodness for the polyhouse which has kept us in an abundance of red tomatoes, mostly Burnley Bounty, all year. The plants in the polyhouse however look awful, badly affected by powdery mildew and infested with white fly, which is an ongoing management issue. They are so susceptible to both of these problems as growing them under cover makes them ‘soft’ and therefore less pest and disease resistant.
To be honest, I have way more respect for commercial growers using poly tunnels now as I realize that they must constantly be battling challenges which are not such an issue with outside produce. I also have tomato russet mite on the tomatoes in the polyhouse, but I have a bit of that on older plants outside too. When plants are young and healthy, they are also less prone to pest and disease issues, and this is the same with all sorts of vegies and all sorts of pests. The only outside growing tomatoes which are fruiting are tiny fruited varieties like Tommy Toe, Tiny Tim and cherry Roma. 

What To Do When Something Goes Wrong...

Read how I approach what to do when something goes wrong at Sophie’s Patch, either outside in the general garden or in the polyhouse, at

News From The Flock

Poor Egg Production.....

I have got to the bottom of our poor egg production problem. I thought much of it was due to some of our old girls, who could be up to 7 or 8 years old. I let our hens live out their retirement years in the orchard, as the thought of keeping new hybrid chickens for just two years to pump out eggs and then knock them on the head and get new ones simply doesn’t appeal. So last year I got quite a few new chooks to up our numbers and get some young layers. Then over Christmas the mites were bad so I mucked out the chook house, treated the chooks and lined their nesting boxes with wormwood, thinking that would increase egg production. It did slightly, but not significantly.

Last week I walked in to check on something to find a giant egg thief, comfortably sleeping in the hen house. Sherlock Hounds, our Maremma, has been squeezing through the previously dog proof fence and gate to get to the eggs and eating them all, other than those under a very aggressive broody chook who virtually brings blood when she pecks at me while collecting the eggs. No wonder his coat looks so good!?

When I started this property my dream was to create my version of River Cottage, but the reality of this property has been, and continues to be, much more like ‘The Good Life’. By the way, I have heard from Maremma experts that they love eggs and think it’s their reward for guarding the flock. In a commercial, free range, egg production system where these guardian dogs are used, a dog proof gate must be installed. 
Elsewhere, mummy chickie and her babes have been put back with the main flock in the orchard, however they seem to spend more time out of the enclosure than in it. I really need to find the hole where they are getting out! 
The Indian Runner ducklings which arrived on the 21st of December have been relocated from the back lawn to the repurposed cubby house in our garden. My hope is that they will manage our snail problems.  Some of our ducks have been better at this than others, and since we raise them all from day old ducklings because they are so cute and it’s a great school holidays activity, I wonder whether maybe we need to teach them to be good snail hunters. Maybe I need to be down on my hands and knees showing them what to do……. and maybe I am over thinking things!?
Zeus continues to be my gardening companion. Always chatting to me as I walk out the door and greeting all the visitors.

Plenty Of Produce

The vegie patches continue to pump out produce abundantly so I have been able to keep sharing care packages with our friends and family. The feeling and satisfaction that comes from growing your own is one thing, but the feeling of having enough to share plenty with others is even more amazing. At the moment, we have lots of leeks, spring onions, basil, parsley, beetroot, celery and rhubarb. Being away from home for six days on Kangaroo Island saw the zucchinis all get away from me and become whoppers, and I ended up with a wheelbarrow load of zucchini and button squash. 


I have started harvesting the brown and red onions and they are whoppers. Onions are one of the crops that I don’t necessarily always grow as they are so cheap and easy to buy, but every time I do grow them, I am reminded of how much better home grown anything is, even onions. Soon I will also harvest the Egyptian walking onions as their foliage is dying down.


My tomatillos that were planted in the vegie patch are forming and the plants are almost as high as me. In the orchard self-seeded tomatillos are taking over a section where I had planned to top up mulch. Too late to mulch now, as the self-seeders are almost a metre high and I can’t bear to waste fruiting plants till after they have cropped. As I recall, these are mainly a small variety called ‘Tiny from Coban’ which I decided I wouldn’t bother growing anymore!? Of course, Murphy’s law ensures that the variety I really love called ‘Amarylla’ (which is yellow and sweet wouldn’t self-seed). In previous years my goal has been to try and grow and freeze as many tomatillos as I do tomatoes, for use in savoury dishes like curries and stews, and also to make tomatillo cake. However, this year I decided that  ten plants would probably provide me with enough tomatillos. They are harvested when the fruit is so big that it splits the papery casing, or the casing turns brown and papery. To read more about tomatillos visit and if you are growing them, try these recipes for salsa verde, the tradition use for these versatile fruit. There are two versions, one with fresh tomatillos and one with roasted. They are quite different. Try them both and see which one you like best.

And a few more images of my vegies!

The Orchard

In the orchard, the prunes and late plums are ripening, as are the ‘Black English’ mulberries. There are also trees laden with apples, crab apples, pears and quinces.  There are a number of self-seeded vegies growing in between the trees, including tomatillos, pumpkins, pie melons and tomatoes. That is because all our excess produce gets thrown in the orchard for the flock to pick over and process.  

Cut Flowers

One of the many delights of having a garden with colour and interest in it all year round, is being able to pick flowers from it to bring inside. Read about my favourite flowers for picking at as well as some tips about the best way to pick and keep cut flowers.

Summer Pruning Workshops 

February 11th, 12th or 13th  9.30am - 12.30pm

Summer Pruning Fruit Tree Workshops are back at Sophie's Patch. We are delighted to be able to offer ‘Summer Pruning and Caring for Fruit Trees’ at Sophie’s Patch on the 11th, 12th or 13th February. Summer is the time to prune young deciduous fruit trees for shaping and we will also show you how to maintain mature fruit trees, cleaning up and pruning, to shape trees, minimise disease and maximise fruit production. Orchard and soil health, fertilising and watering will be covered. To share their breadth of knowledge we have passionate fruit tree grower and member of the Rare Fruit Society Chris Day and sixth generation orchardist Wez Redden.
The workshop will be held under COVID regulations inside the shed and out in the orchard at Sophie's Patch and includes delicious morning tea with home baked fruit themed slices and cakes made with my orchard produce.  Numbers are strictly limited and bookings essential.
Order Summer Pruning Workshop Tickets Here

Sophie's Patch Events at Clare

2nd April at the Clare Showgrounds Red Brick Building

Concurrent with the SA Autumn Garden Show at Clare I am offering two Sophie's Patch satellite events.

Starting Your Patch From Scratch

10am - 1pm  $86
Gardening is a joy, but sometimes it can be hard to know where to start a garden, or how to fix the garden that you have. 

Come to this workshop with me to learn the fundamentals of creating your perfect sustainable property and understand how to develop a master plan ensuring success.

This extended workshop will cover zoning concepts to help you manage water use and create microclimates for more enjoyable living, the basics of soil improvement, optimal planting times, work out where to locate productive patches such as vegie gardens and fruit trees, incorporate fowls, bees and beneficial bugs……………… and much more.

Starting Your Patch From Scratch Tickets Here

Succulent Art Picture Frame Workshop

2pm - 4.30pm  $135
The second is a delightful, hands on workshop where you will make your own succulent picture frame under the helpful guidance of Sophie and her friend Lorraine Thompson from Hillside Herbs and Succulents.  Everything you need is included and you will also learn how to make other succulent art projects.  $135 inc frame, succulents and afternoon tea.
Succulent Art Picture Frame Workshop Tickets Here
All the details are available on my website 

Out and About

The kids and I enjoyed six days on Kangaroo Island staying at stunning D’Estrees Bay. I timed our holidays so I could be over there on Australia Day to see Anne Morrison, President of the Kangaroo Island Garden Club be awarded joint ‘Citizen of the Year’ for her tireless efforts behind the scenes supporting all the fire affected gardeners on the island. Read more at
Cheryl CoglinOn the same day up in the Clare Valley, Cheryl Koglin also received a citizen of the year award for starting the SA Autumn Garden Festival and supporting her community through gardening.

Both awards highlight the importance of supporting community with gardens and gardening, wherever you live.

It reminded me of the importance of volunteering and something I have written previously about garden volunteering . 

Coming Up 

In just over a week, I am speaking the Glen Devon Garden Party for the Mt Pleasant Red Cross on Tuesday 15th February. This will be my 27th year of doing this fundraiser and it's always a delightful morning, with yummy Devonshire tea, a trading table of home baked yummies and home grown produce, local handcrafted pottery and a few other stalls. It is an outdoor event for $10 per head, with numbers capped at 100. Bookings are essential so please register through 

Gardening Australia

Gardening Australia is back on air on Friday 18th February at 7.30pm (and repeated on Sunday 20th at 1:00pm) and in this first episode is a segment about ‘Grow Up’, my Royal Adelaide Show feature garden designed for 2021 and set up at  Sophie's Patch till I get to build it down at the showgrounds in September 2022.  I use the display to demonstrate how a small city home can still be packed with life.   

Talkback Gardening

Finally, I am back doing weekly gardening talkback radio with the one and only Peter Goers on ABC Radio. Tune in each week on Sunday mornings from after the 11am news till 12 noon. Peter and I always have a lot of fun and laughs… .and even manage to answer a few gardening questions. Tune in via ABC Radio 891 or log in via
Stay tuned to my social media or website for other events closer to the time, and don’t forget that our next open garden is over Easter Saturday to Easter Monday 16th to 18th April. 

Group Tours

We are taking bookings for group tours of our garden in autumn. 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

Newsletter Prize

This month's newsletter prize is a signed copy of my book "Sophie's Patch'.  The randomly selected winner will be notified by email and have a week to accept before it is offered to another subscriber.
Happy gardening!



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