August 2021 View Online

Dear Fellow Gardener

Welcome to the August 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.

What a month it has been! With many areas of Australia having to go into lockdown, SA included, there is so much stress and tension in our communities. I am so glad to have a garden during these times, particularly one where I live. My thoughts however are with those without their own garden, or those whose garden is at a distance so they can’t access it during lockdown. Pot plants, indoor and outside, can also make such a difference to our outlook during these troubled times. 

In this Newsletter

Gardening For Our Well Being

I am totally biased but I know that gardens and gardening is so good for our mental health and wellbeing during hard times. We all get stressed and it’s almost impossible to not take it in during times like these. When looking for ways to relax, gardens provide us with both passive and active ways to reduce stress.  Visualise how you feel watching or listening to the news and latest updates on COVID in each state and across the world. It’s just the same as you feel after a tough day at work, stuck in traffic for 2 hours, or when you are going through some tough health challenges. Now think about what it feels like to be in a beautiful garden, your beautiful garden.  Feel your shoulders drop as your tension and the weight of the world slips away.  Take a deep breath and become aware of your heart rate slowing down.  Just being in a garden helps us to relax and gives us a sanctuary from our fast paced crazy lives and these crazy times.  And, if the stress is really getting to you, get your secateurs out and take your frustration out on something that needs pruning.  I hate to admit there some plants that I have brutalised in the last week and they may never come back!?  
A growing body of research shows that gardening helps us to avoid mental health issues like depression and anxiety by dealing with stress before it becomes an issue. Where mental health problems are an issue, gardening is a great way to treat it.  Norwegian researchers found that subjects with moderate-severe depression who participated in a 3-month gardening program all experienced reduced symptoms. 
As part of gardening, you’ve really got to get your hands in the soil, as one natural soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, triggers the release of serotonin.  This makes us feel better, decreases anxiety and improves our memory.  It is even being used overseas to treat cancer patients.  The best thing about soil is that you can self-medicate, and you can’t overdose! I used to be ashamed of my ‘gardener’s hands’ with dirt under the nails, but now I am proud of them, like a badge of honour, showing that I am grounded and regularly self-medicating!? 😊 
Finally, a study from a few years ago said that half of us, 51% of Australians, use social media to manage our stress. Can you believe it? If anything, social media makes us feel more stressed, depressed and isolated!? Yet the simple act of gardening or just being in a garden can help us de-stress and see things in a more positive light. After all, is there anything more optimistic than planting a seed? 
(This is based on my TEDx talk back in 2016. If you haven’t seen it before, check it out at )

Around the Patch

Lockdown Gardening Around Sophie’s Patch

Despite the bitterly cold and wet weather, I did manage to get out into the garden every day during our brief seven-day lockdown. Some may have tidied their sock drawer, but mine remains in a mess. Others may have sorted their home offices, yet mine remains chaotic and on my ‘to do list’. But……………. I have done some much needed pruning and tidying in the garden. Roses are pruned, most perennials too, as well as lots of other things that needed taming. I have finally got the plants that were sitting in position waiting to be planted into the ground too. My plant nursery area is reduced but not quite caught up on. 
I have also been lucky enough to be given two trailer loads of roo poo from our local fauna rescue organisation. It is a mixture of manure and straw and we have been using it around this property for years.
The loads have been shovelled onto one of my vegie patches where I plan to grow pumpkins later in spring. It will be left to brew, aided by the rains, for the next 3+ months, as I rarely get to plant pumpkins till early to mid November, when the risk of frosts is truly past. I expect that by the time I plant, the worms will have started to work it into the soil and my pumpkins should bounce out of the ground. 
It has been so wet here at Sophie’s Patch that I am worried I will lose many plants to wet feet. We live in an area called Mt Barker Springs, and in a wet winter, the ground gets saturated and waterlogged. It’s been a few years since this has happened, but its certainly happening this year. So, I could say I am delaying planting till the soil has warmed up a bit and the soil is not so sodden. 
Aloe Tusker
On the upside however, because it’s not been a dry winter, we haven’t had as many frosts as normal, and they certainly haven’t been so severe. Plants that would normally have been cut by the frost still have leaves and I might even get to see others like the winter flowering Aloes (like this Aloe 'Tusker' above) and velvet groundsel (Roldana petasites syn. Senecio petasites) flower, so that is one bonus. 

Sheet Mulching for Weed Control

sheet mulching
One major job which can now be marked off the ‘to do’ list is sheet mulching the area north of the carpark around a native bee hotel. My plan is to turn it into a native bee and butterfly garden, however first the kikuyu there needs to go. Over the years I have had several attempts at sheet mulching it, but they haven’t been successful. I am a huge fan of this practice to get rid of weeds organically, and its actually how we have established the garden around our whole property over the past 10 years. However, if you don’t do it right, it doesn’t work. Read more about what sheet mulching is, how to do it, and reasons why it doesn’t work properly here……



The recent lockdown has once again made me realise how lucky we are to grow our own produce to feed our large tribe and have plenty left to share with friends.  Despite the fact that the main vegie patch has recently been renovated and replanted, we still have plenty to eat, preserve and give away. This is our second winter with the polyhouse, and I am loving my winter tomatoes, as well as the leafy greens like bok choy, lettuce, spinach and celery grown in the polyhouse.   

The vegies in the main patch which was replanted last month are growing nicely. I was feeling so proud of my ‘perfect’ new patch, and then as things happen around Sophies’ Patch, someone left the gate open, and the ducks got in. Grrrr!? They only did damage around the edge of the beds, so it’s not that bad. But still 😊 

Soil Preparation

In many gardens, people are preparing their tomato beds by adding in aged animal manures, compost and pelletised fertiliser. I haven’t got any spare unplanted beds, as I can’t bear not to have every bit of ground space growing something, so I need to wait till these new crops are harvested before planting. My soil isn’t usually ready to plant summer crops till early November, and often this doesn’t happen till after our spring open garden (6-8th November), so hopefully the things I do have planted will come to maturity in the next three months. There is one bed over near the polyhouse which is ‘brewing’ however - its where we emptied the muck from the goose and chook yard. I have covered it with a layer of soil and hopefully by mid spring it will be ready for pumpkin planting. 

My vegie gardening style is ‘organic’ in more ways than one.

  1. It is organic in that I don’t use any chemicals. 
  2. It is organic in that I let things happen naturally. An example of this would be the fact that I let vegies self-seed and usually I have got all sorts of things coming up in the paths. Often, I let them grow where they want, but sometimes when I desire some planted elsewhere, I simply dig them up from the path and plant them where I want them.
  3. It is also organic in terms of crop rotation. I don’t follow a strict four or six bed rotation system, but I do try and move my crops around so that the same family of plant doesn’t grow in the same bed for three or more years. There is the tomato family (the Solanums) which includes tomatoes, potatoes, chilies and capsicum. The brassica family which includes broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. The cucurbit family which includes cucumber, pumpkin, melon and zucchini, and many of my vertical vegies like New Guinea beans, tromboncino and pimply squash. Root crops like carrots, parsnips and onions and then there are leafy greens like silver beet, spinach, lettuce and endive. Now this may be my ‘ideal’ scenario, but I don’t get too bent out of shape about crop rotation, as the self-seeders which do grow in exactly the same spot they grew the year before, are often the strongest and most successful plants we grow. 

Winter Bloomers

The garden is coming to life and there are signs of spring all around this garden. I grow lots of different ornamental pear trees and ‘Winter Glow’ is almost in full blooms, despite the fact that it’s just losing the last of its leaves. Others like the Manchurian pear and ‘Chanticleer’ have swollen grey hairy buds and the Manchurians buds are starting to pop.
pear blossum
To me the test of a good garden is one which has colour and interest in it all year round. It’s easy to have a good-looking garden in spring however having one looking good in winter requires a bit more planning and choosing some good winter bloomers. Here are some of my favourites which are looking great at Sophie’s Patch now.
Buddleja salvifolia

Winter Scents

Chimonanthus preacox
I also love to have perfumed plants in my garden all year round, as while I love flowers, having flowers with perfume is like having cake with icing! Here are some favourite scents at Sophie’s Patch this winter.   You can read more about them and why I love them here.
Lonicera fragrantissima

Royal Adelaide Show 

A big focus at Sophie’s Patch over the past month has been preparing for my feature garden 'Grow Up' at the 2021 Royal Adelaide Show which opens in just five weeks on Saturday 5th September. This is my twelfth show garden since 2009 and I just love the opportunity I am given to physically demonstrate a gardening concept or theme that I am particularly passionate about at the time. Over the years these gardens have included themes on backyards for kids, gardens for health and wellbeing, bee friendly gardening, habitat gardening and in 2019 it was Balance, about the balance between hard and soft landscaping, plant-life and work-life balance. The theme of these show gardens often starts to grow in my brain as I am packing up the previous year’s display and as there was no 2020 show due to COVID, the idea has been growing in my head since spring 2019. 
So, Grow Up is in response to the increase in urban infill that is happening around Adelaide, and across this nation, with one home on a decent sized block bulldozed to make way for four, five or six houses on smaller blocks. This higher density living sees houses, often multiple storeys, with a large footprint on their small block, leaving limited space in which to garden. 
Rather than be negative about this trend, I want to demonstrate something positive and how, whatever the size of your space, you can green it up and cool it down. In this way gardens and green life can mitigate the urban heat island effect, which is concerning governments around the world, and is a concern in our hot dry state. I hope to also show that gardens make outdoor spaces more liveable for the humans, and other creatures that share our cities - every garden can address the lack of urban habitat and become a biodiversity hot spot. One of the challenges with growing a garden in a small courtyard sized space, apart from the obvious limited ground space, is that there are often tough growing conditions like radiant heat. As a result, these gardens require creative gardening options so that a small space gardens can still be highly productive. 
As always, my goal is to demonstrate practical ideas for gardeners and non-gardeners, on every budget, that are doable and scalable. Not only do I want to give ideas, but I also want to grab people’s attention with the wow factor of whimsical elements that appeal to those of all ages and stages. So, colours in this show garden may be bold and features over the top, but hopefully it will inspire people to green up their outdoor space, whatever the size. 
My hope is that we as a community can Grow Up, to green up and cool down our cities and towns.  
Here is George Cooper’s artists impression of what I will create. George has been doing these concept sketches for my gardens since 2014 and has also worked on my other projects like the ‘Tour Down Under’ garden installation, and of course the ever-changing map of Sophie’s Patch given to all visitors on their arrival. 
If you are heading to the Show, I will be doing a talk each day on the weekends, (4th, 5th, 11th and 12th September) so check the schedule of speakers for exact times. 

Keep Up To Date

And if you want to get a preview, or won't be able to come along to the Royal Adelaide Show this year, you can read about and see the concepts behind the garden on this webpage which we will keep updated as the garden evolves.

Out and About

Well unfortunately I didn’t make it to Nambour for the Queensland Garden Expo, nor the Gold Coast for the Botanical Bazaar, but the events looked amazing anyway and I look forward to attending in calmer times next year. Public talks start again in September, and I will share details in my next newsletter. 


Filming for Gardening Australia has continued and this last week I had two days filming a story on lifting the canopy of trees and another on making a pot of local plants for native bees. 

Special Events

Grafting Workshops

Early in July we held three days of grafting events and they were lots of fun.

Check out the images of attendees with their trees – you can see by the smiles on their faces that they had fun and are understandably proud of their achievements.

Succulent Art Workshop now on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th August

Original dates postponed due to Covid Lockdown
Our succulent art workshop had to be rescheduled due to the COVID lockdown but is set to run again on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th August. There are a few places still available at


Create your own succulent picture frame masterpiece with Lorraine Thompson from Hillside Herbs and Succulents.

You will make your own succulent picture frame with the frame, succulents and everything else you need provided, and Lorraine guiding you through the process.

Sophie will also take you on a tour around the garden at Sophie’s Patch and you will enjoy a delicious afternoon tea made from home grown produce from the Patch.

We are monitoring the COVID 19 pandemic situation and the governments health advice closely and will follow all directions.

Numbers strictly limited so book early.  $125 + booking fee
Book Now

Spring Open Garden  6th to 8th November 2021

Save the date.... and start your wishlist of plants to buy from the nurseries, things to see in the garden, experts to talk to and other gardens to visit.   If you would like to see some of the things you can expect, check out the photos of our past open gardens on my website.

Garden Tours

We are taking bookings for group tours of Sophie’s Patch for spring 2021 (mid-September to mid-November) and in autumn 2022 (mid-March to mid-May).  

I think doing a group tour of my garden is the best way to see it, as it's much more intimate and interactive as these groups have 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 by email at  

Newsletter Prize - Family Pass to the Royal Adelaide Show

This month's prize is a family pass to the Royal Adelaide Show valued at over $55. A family pass is for 4 people (2 adults & 2 children OR 1 adult & 3 children).

Winners are selected at random from the newsletter readers and for this prize must respond within 7 days before it is offered to another reader.

Coming Up 

Stay tuned to my calendar for other events closer to the time, and you can keep up to date on my Facebook and instagram feeds.
Happy gardening!



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