Jackie French: Garden Tour and General Gush
This week I crossed something off my literary bucket list.
Megan’s Literary Bucket List
Visit Jackie French’s garden
Go to 100 Acre Woods, alone and in the rain and get chased by a cow at Poohsticks Bridge
Visit Nutcote, home of May Gibbs
Stay a while in Narnia
Eat Heston Blumenthal’s Alice in Wonderland inspired food
It was the top item on the list in case you are wondering, though the second has happened also! Visiting Jackie French’s garden is something I have wanted to do for many, many years – since her days on Burke’s Backyard (remember Burke?) and ever since I first read her book about keeping chooks in 1993, which you can read about here. I actually loved Jackie French first because of her organic gardening books. When I became a teacher, I discovered she also wrote children’s books and now, let’s just say, I gush over her a fair bit.
Jackie French’s writing career has so far spanned 25 years, 248 wombats, over 140 books, 36 languages and more than 60 awards in Australia and overseas. Her books have sold almost 2.5 million copies globally and won many, many awards. My 85 year old nan is a great reader and a harsh critic…and Jackie French would be one of her favourite authors (trust me, this is high praise indeed!).
Jackie is was our inaugural Australian Children’s Laureate in 2014-2015 which you can read more about here and was the 2015-2015 Senior Australian of the Year. She deserves bouquets of flowers (native), baskets of organic produce, buckets of compost, hi-fives from wombats, contented clucks from chooks and a standing ovation from parents, grandparents and teachers for the gift she has given to our young people. Jackie French has given our children (and many an adult) books which will remain with them forever: books which have informed; healed; encouraged; inspired; and books which have transported them to a better/different place or which have reflected their life in literature. Jackie is a masterful storyteller and champion of children’s literature. She speaks with passion about every child learning to read and being given the gift of reading; Jackie herself is dyslexic.
So back to the visit to Jackie’s garden. As long as I live I do not think I will ever again see a more inspiring garden. Having read her gardening books, I imagined her two hectare garden to be well planned, but somewhat ramshackle in a very organic way. It was indeed incredibly well planned, but it was also incredibly beautiful, and apart from some half eaten (by wombats) melons, there was nothing ramshackle to be seen. Fruit trees were in ridiculous abundance, often with climbing roses or climbing fruits growing through them, the autumn trees were in full red and burnt orange leaf drop (as a Queenslander any autumn leaf display impresses me), a variety of beautiful native groundcovers took the place of grass and perennial or self-seeding plants ensured a year-round stocked vegetable garden. Jackie and her husband Bryan have carefully planted their property with an almost unbelievable range of edible everything – from native edible plants to fruit trees suitable for the cold climate to tropical plants which really should not be fruiting in temperatures which can go below zero (they have created a warm grove to facilitate this). You can read more about her garden and how she manages to have such abundance here.
The house, built by Jackie and then later by Bryan and Jackie, has over 30 solar panels powering it and also has a family of wombats living happily underneath. All Jackie’s books have an element of her garden in them – obviously ‘Diary of a Wombat’ is inspired by her own wombats but as you read her books more you start to see her garden pop up or inspire sections of her writing.
Not only did Jackie graciously open her garden to a group of awestruck librarians and writers/illustrators, she also welcomed us into her home with a lunch that was advertised as ‘soup and bread’ but which was in fact a feast which caused me to overeat terribly. I know, I know – those of you who know me will know that overeating is my modus operandi all day everyday. I love cooking, I love eating and I love eating good food cooked by other people who also enjoy good food. Jackie made us soups, breads, quiche, curried eggs, straight-out-of-the-oven kumara scones with cream and homemade peach and citrus jam, chocolate cake with wombats adorning it, white chocolate fudge…and…hmmm…many other things, you can see some of her recipes here. There was lemongrass tea poured from a chicken teapot and homemade cordial. I was overwhelmed. There was no stopping me. I was in food and garden and literary heaven.
If you do not already own at least 20 Jackie French titles – below are a few of my favourites. Click on covers to purchase for your home, school or library collection.
(Age range varies…check individual titles)
(NB – some of these books do contain mature content and are for an older audience so check suitability. You will often find these titles in the adult and YA section of a bookshop as they span all ages…just ask my nan!)
The series that I think ALL teens and YA readers should read is The Matilda Saga series, which you can see here and purchase for about $100 for the 6 titles.