Spotlight on a member: Deb Collett

Family influence or actual green thumb DNA?  Whatever it is that’s in my blood It seems nature and growing things has followed me through life.

Family lore dictated that my Dad had to have a productive vegie garden at the very least.  His Great Great Grandfather had arrived in New Zealand in 1841 as the Head Horticulturist for the very new settlement of New Plymouth.  The settlement was so new that they hadn’t even finished the surveying, let alone built any houses when the family arrived.  Thanks to the local Māori and the seeds, tubers and cuttings that he bought with him the family flourished in New Zealand.  As the many sons left home and established themselves in other parts of New Zealand, they continued the tradition that you never visited a member of the family without leaving with plenty of produce or cuttings for your own garden.

My one and only holiday job during high school was in the nursery over the road, doing plenty of repotting, moving pots, weeding, weeding again and even stints in the propagation shed pricking out baby ferns and other indoor houseplants from tissue culture.  Tissue culture was pretty cutting edge (and expensive) at the time and obviously I didn’t botch things up too much as I spent plenty of time in the prop-shed over the years.  With the potential to drive forklifts and spend time amongst pretty plants I figured a job in the industry might be a good idea.  However, I was too young to be accepted into the cadet scheme and so branched away from horticulture and ended up studying chemistry instead.

Fast forward many years and many homes later, all of which had been filled with plants procured via cuttings and seeds, I landed at a property on the Mornington Peninsula.  The large garden was well established and contained many plants that I did know and lots that I didn’t. The Red Hill Gardening Society advertised a spring show and after attending and becoming a member my connections with horticulture have grown exponentially. The garden at Red Hill has become a repository for many New Zealand plants and other flowers that grew in the gardens of my childhood memories. I have also been able to discover indigenous plants and other Australian natives and expand my botanical knowledge by finding plants that suit the climate and tolerate or repel the rabbits…   A lot of trial and error along the way.

The garden club shows, reestablished my connection to the rural school flower shows I competed in at primary school and ignited a passion for floral art which my Mum had always had.  The garden at Red Hill contained some dahlias which both Mum and Dad had grown when I was a kid (and as it turned out my Gt Gt Gt Grandfather had also grown) and so I started growing more dahlias.  Never one to do anything by half I started competing at the annual State Dahlia Show and as well as winning at both State and National level I’m now an accredited Dahlia Judge.  I also like to breed new dahlias too.  Add to that the Floral Art Judge qualification that I have similarly earned; I can be found judging and teaching not just in Victoria but also interstate and overseas. The ability to share knowledge and inspire others to connect to nature is a real pleasure. 

I wish everyone had the chance to enjoy a bit of ‘dirt therapy’ (for me – often just weeding) to release those endorphins and to calm the constant chatter we are exposed to.

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