Women In Horticulture: Pam Vardy

Interview with Pam Vardy

We chat with horticulturalist, Pam Vardy, about how she became interested in horticulture, why she loves the industry, and what her favourite plant is.

What drew you to horticulture initially?

I started my working career as a Trained Infant Teacher (grades Prep to 2) in Melbourne. Following my marriage, I spent two years in Hobart and one year in Orange NSW, before settling in Devonport, Tasmania. There we bought a beautiful old Victorian style house on three quarters of an acre of established garden.

I soon threw myself into managing the garden. The soil was so rich and fertile, and everything flourished. There were magnificent old trees, border flower garden beds, and a huge vegetable patch. In winter I would supply friends, who were living nearby above the snow line, with vegetables.

What pathway did you take?

My husband had heard about a new community radio station starting up in Melbourne. When the family, including three young children, returned to Melbourne to live, I volunteered at 3CR Community Radio. After completing my training, I commenced broadcasting, hosting the Friday Morning Show which had an emphasis on health, welfare and the arts. Over time, I took on many different roles, including training other volunteers and joining the Management Committee. I had always listened to the Gardening Show, and when I heard a call out on air for someone to help with the show, I jumped at the chance to combine my love of radio media and horticulture. At the time, Allen Gilbert from the then Burnley Horticultural College’s Garden Advice Line was heading up the show. When Allen left in 1997 to live on Bruny Island, Tasmania, I took over as host. It was at this time, that I joined the Horticultural Media Association Victoria (HMA Vic.).

Did hosting the 3CR Gardening Show open up other opportunities?

As host of the show, I worked with a great variety of inspirational horticulturists each week. I was fascinated to hear about the community gardens on some of Melbourne’s public housing estates, and in 2002 I joined the Cultivating Community Management Committee that oversees and supports the gardens. Penny Woodward, author and horticulturist, was also passionate about them, and this led to our collaboration to produce the book ‘Community Gardens’ – A celebration of the people, recipes and plants. To sit with gardeners and hear their stories, via interpreters, of trauma, conflict, natural disasters, displacement and isolation, and their joy of re settlement in Australia and having their own little plot of land to grow the food they love, was very humbling. The gardens are so important for their mental, social, physical and cultural welfare. Their stories, the plants they grow, the food they cook, highlighted the wonderful diversity and enrichment these people have brought to our country.

How did joining the HMA expand your interests?

Becoming a member of HMA Vic. has been a wonderful way of connecting with like-minded horticulturists working in media throughout Australia and New Zealand.  I joined the Executive Committee in 1999, and was humbled to be awarded an Honorary life Membership in 2012.

In 2009, HMA Vic. chose to sponsor an award in the Victorian Schools Garden Awards (VSGA) and I joined the VSGA Committee as HMA Vic. representative. The collective work of children and teachers in the schools is truly inspiring. Horticulture and gardening can be linked to so many areas of the school curriculum in very practical ways. Of course this also has the benefits of learning outdoors in the fresh air, working with nature, and improving the physical, mental and emotional welfare of all involved. It was awe inspiring to visit schools from all over the state, sharing their visions and achievements.

Who were your mentors?

I didn’t have any particular mentors along the way. Instead I have been constantly inspired by sharing knowledge and ideas with people across a broad range of horticulture.

What is your favourite plant?

I don’t have any one favourite plant, but I particularly love growing edible plants and visiting kitchen gardens from diverse cultures. I also love magnificent trees, a broad range of flowering plants, and take great joy from seeing the wattles in full flower in late winter.

What do you love about the horticultural industry?

Gardeners are such caring, sharing people. I really love communicating with everyone involved. Their passion and commitment is truly remarkable. My whole horticultural career has been unpaid voluntary work, and I have had to juggle paid employment in a different field, but this has given me freedom to pursue many different areas of interest within the industry.

I would strongly recommend volunteering in some capacity, whether it be joining working bees in community gardens, school gardens, land care groups, or getting involved with a local community radio, to really expand your knowledge and creativity, and to make some wonderful friends along the way.

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