Pappou’s backyard garden sowed a seed in the young Costa Georgiadis, who went on to become the Greek garden guru he is today
When asked about his love of gardening, Costa Georgiadis' mind ventures to his pappou's backyard. His favourite childhood memories stem from the labyrinth that this backyard garden was. Memories of running into the backyard to see what his pappou was tinkering away on were the most magical moments of Costa's childhood: the building blocks of his DNA came from this time, and his love of gardening hasn't wavered.
But far from that boy sitting on his pappou's lap learning how to speak Greek - by repeating the Greek names of the fruit and vegetables grown in the yard - Costa is now one of the most recognisable faces in Australian gardening. Known fondly as the 'Greek garden guru', Costa is the new host of the long running ABC show Gardening Australia, following a two-and-a-half year stint fronting his own show on SBS, Costa's Gardening Odyssey. As a gardener and a man, he is full of beans. Charismatic, and highly entertaining; his enthusiasm for life through his garden is incredibly contagious. And it all stems from his Greek family.
"It was a wonderland," says Costa with a smile in his voice about his pappou's backyard. He recalls old roof tiles used for paving the path; recycled feta tins overflowing with strawberries and basil; fresh silver beet that was picked on the spot given to his yiayia to make a warming spanakopita; and chickens, pigeons and ducks roaming freely in the garden oasis.
"They were incredible, sustainable leaders back then - permaculturalists," he says of the way his grandparents used the land.
"They were growing food for their family and growing it with minimal input - yet it didn't have all the titles."
He says his grandparents and his extended Greek family, were cutting edge in the way they gardened. Together they created a seed network and would give each other clippings from their garden to make them self-sufficient in every way. They were living off very simple means, not buying anything and not entering the consumer world.
"It's funny because that generation came to Australia to step out of the village," he starts, "but village principles, ideals and ethos is now what we are turning towards to try and bring this crazy ship that we're on into some sort of balance because we can't go on the way we are going on environmentally.
"And I love how those ethics are now what are coming through in a new generation of sustainable living ideals."
This lifestyle sowed a seed in a young Costa who could see first-hand the benefits of living at one with the land, not only his own health, but for the environment. These were powerful life messages being delivered to a young man who would inevitably make it his mission to encourage and educate others to do the same.
To do this, Costa started the 'Gardening on the Verge' program to encourage community involvement and show that inner-city dwellers can be urban farmers. The Verge garden was set up on a nature strip outside his Bondi residence, and this has spawned urban garden beds on street corners all over Australia. Even while on the phone with Costa, he interrupts every so often to describe what's going on outside his window. He watches members of his community gather at the garden to pick fresh greens or just stop and stare in wonderment, he describes the bees circling the vasiliko and children smiling as they walk past looking at their plants grow.
"Let's have nature strips growing productive stuff from an edible point of view and ecological point of view," he exclaims passionately. On the nature strip, Costa grows a plethora of plants - indigenous plants for habitat, beneficial plants for insect and bees, edible plants for people and colourful plants to feed the senses and the soul. And the food and delight of seeing the plants is for all to see. He tells me about a time he was approached by someone who warned him that anyone can come up and eat the food from the garden and he responded with "excellent" - that's his whole ethos; that people go back to the land and eat food when it's at its most nutritional to fuel your mind and body.
"When you grow your own produce, you are eating it when it's in season and you know what's in it," he says.
"It's come from your backyard or your nature strip and what's best is you pick it and eat it when it has maximum nutritional value. I can walk out now and pick it, wash it and eat it all within half an hour and the damn thing is still alive and it's pumping its minerals into me and I get all those benefits!"
Gardening for Costa is his life. It's something he's been doing since he can remember, and something he will continue to do so forever. What it gives him is so much more than just planting a seed and watching it grow, but at the same time, it's exactly what it is. It's the pace that he loves. The fact that no matter where you are in the world, you have to abide by the seed's time - if it says it will grow in 60 days, it will grow in 60 days. The connection that you feel through this seed, for the plant and the land begins the minute you plant the seed. He explains that it doesn't matter whether you are a regular gardener or not, everyone says that time just disappears when you're in the garden.
"The power of the earth engages you and slows you down," he says.
"As strange as this may sound ... getting out in the garden makes time, it actually creates time."
He says once you are in the garden, you turn off. You turn off from the rush of life, the consumer based paradigm that makes you want more, and you start getting back those little sweet moments of life.
"If you go out in the garden, you slow time down," he says ,"or you could say you make time ... and you get a benefit of eating your own produce!"
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