Down in the Garden: Big Garden or Little Farm

With over 60,000 small hobby farms now operating in Australia, occupying over 20% of farming land and numbers steadily increasing, the only people having problems with the surge in a desire for the semi-rural life are the agents who cannot find enough of this type of property to sell.


A handy rule of thumb that I have heard time and time again and it is close to true: If you can mow your property with a standard hand operated mower, it’s a residential block.

If you need to use a ride on mower then you are on lifestyle acreage.

If you require a tractor to mow your land, then you have a rural property.

A legal and generally accepted definition is that if you are not creating your primary income from the land itself, you are on lifestyle acreage.

Most of us of a certain age would probably be more familiar with the term, ‘Hobby Farm’ and my family were inspired enough by the 1970’s ‘Grass Roots’ movement to tree-change us out of the city to what would today be called Lifestyle Acreage.


You may have seen ‘Big Little Farm’, a beautifully poetic film about a couple and their move from the big city to a small farm and been inspired to take the leap, or perhaps you just need more plant space, but you are not alone if you are one of countless people around the world who dream of a much larger patch of earth to call home.

Maybe lifestyle acreage is tempting you with dreams of collecting fresh eggs for breakfast while you pass by your recreation of Monet’s Garden, and pumpkins just about ready to take to the local Farmers Market, so let’s look at the reality of moving you, your family and plans onto a Lifestyle Acreage Property.

Whether you grow anything on your property or not, more land means more work.

No land is ‘set and forget’, you will need to control growth, weeds, pests and disease on a grand scale.

That means not only work, but also money.

Speaking of pests, most people cite being closer to nature as one of the top reasons for a tree-change.

Nature is not all singing lorikeets and cute wallabies bounding by at dawn, it means snakes, ticks, leeches and other facets of the Australian bush that you may find challenging.

The possibility of bushfires and storms and how you plan to manage for these are a high priority and should factor into your decision making when looking at properties.

Water supply, power, sewage and waste management are all equally vital elements that need careful consideration as well.

Along with countless books on the subject, these two local webpages are brilliant resources to give you grass roots advice: and


My favourite piece of advice for gardeners facing a new patch of earth of any size, is to start small and build as your skills increase and your understanding of the environment you find yourself in deepens.

With acreage, it may be tempting to grow hundreds of every single thing straight away because you now have the space, but you will probably not be able to attend to the upkeep.

Things to consider include what you are going to do with all the produce, larger scale peat and disease control, fertilisation and watering.

Starting small means not only area but also the amount you are planting and the types of plants that you are growing.

Research is always the key to successful gardening, so find out what is growing well in your area already and what is possible.

Soil testing for contaminates would be strongly advised before you begin, and you can obtain a deep analysis with advice of what to do should a problem be indicated from Macquarie University for a $20 donation.

The good news is that the demand for market garden produce from local small farms is booming, so this is easily an area that can bring in additional income for your family.

Again, research is the key, so find out what is selling well in your area, what is missing and what is in demand.

Your customers will not only be those visiting the local farmers market where you could set up a stall, but local cafes, restaurants and specialty local food stores, so go and talk with them.

Find out what they might like to have a supply of and how you could fill that need.

Selling from your front gate is as old as farming, so a sign and local advertising could bring in the customers you need, but another increasingly popular way of selling produce is via the internet.

Setting up an online shop where local people can purchase and then pick up from your farm, a central meeting place on a set day, or have it delivered, are all ways to encourage and keep regular customers.

Down on the ground, succession planting will give you a steady stream of produce over a harvest season to sell.

This means putting in crops over their advised planting season every week.

Although the dedicated market garden customer is used to variations in supply, consistent and longer availability of your produce will build your reputation.


Clare Thornley and her husband Paul made the move from Sydney to a lifestyle acreage property of 2.5 acres in Jilliby on the NSW Central Coast nearly 7 years ago, looking for a better lifestyle.

Although their home is now in a rural area, it is still rather close to all the amenities that the family uses.

Schools, shops and even a major shopping centre are all close by.

A benefit of having all that extra land, Paul’s parents reside in a separate cottage upon the land with their own gardens and privacy, yet with the family close by.

This is an arrangement that many tree-change acreage seekers are looking for.

The Thornley family have made a successful transition after leaving their Sydney Upper North Shore life behind and now say that apart from occasional loss of water and electricity in storms, they are very happy.

Their sons have lots of room to explore and grow, they have been able to run a successful home business, their extended family is close, and they are thriving in a natural, peaceful pocket of the NSW Central Coast amongst the gumtrees, wildlife and their own lovely gardens.


Gwandalan & Summerland Point Community Garden Market 7.30am – 12pm. Sat. 20th February. 32 Dulkara St. Gwandalan. There will be the usual jams and pickles. Choko Pickles are back again and also strawberry jam and Lilly Pilli Jelly. Also, some craft and odds and ends, and a little from the garden.

COASTFM963 Gardening Gang On the Road 11am – 1pm Sat. 27th Feb. East Gosford Community Garden, Newman Memorial Park, 10 Wells St, East Gosford. Local Radio hosts Pete Little & Cheralyn Darcey, will be visiting this gorgeous community garden. Cheralyn will be talking ‘Small Space Gardening’ and giving you lots of advice, answering your questions and Pete will be there to keep her on her toes!


Asian greens, dwarf beans, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chicory, cress, endive, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, parsnips, climbing peas, potato tubers, radish, rhubarb, salsify, shallots, spring onions, silverbeet, spinach, swede, turnip, alyssum, calendula, candytuft, Canterbury bells, cineraria, cornflower, everlasting daisy, foxglove, grevillea, hollyhock, larkspur, lobelia, nemesia, polyanthus, statice, chives, coriander, garlic, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rocket, winter tarragon


Lovely readers, thank you so much for your emails with suggestions, kind words and of course your gardening questions. This week I have a query about cuttings.

Louise writes: “Following on from your column of 27 January, would you please give me some guidance on the best way to strike a Wonga Wonga vine (Pandorea pandorana). I took 6 cuttings around 6 weeks ago and they are in water but look the same to me as they did when I started! Thank you”

Dear Louise, I’m sure some people might have had luck with Wonga water propagation, but this Australian Native does a lot better with soil propagation methods. Take cuttings from Wonga Wonga Vine any time of the year each in winter. They need to be about 6 to 8am in length and taken from semi-hardwood (young growth that is beginning to harden) when the plant is not flowering. Roots will grow from nodes so cut the ends just below a node and cut on an angle for maximum bark layer revel and remove all the lower leaves. Dip the bottom up and over the bottom nod in either honey or a hormone rooting mix. Plant them into a seed/cutting raising mix or cutting sand and keep moist. They do take a while but should grow roots in about 4 to 6 weeks.

Good luck Louise!

Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with  Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 – 10am every Saturday on CoastFM96.3 a live home and gardening lifestyle radio show:

Send your gardening questions, events and news to

Cheralyn continues the gardening conversation at