By Tania Phillips
WITH people taking up gardening in record numbers during lockdown, Gardening Australia presenter and Horticulturalist Jerry Coleby Williams is a man very much in demand.
“I normally answer between eight to ten thousand gardening questions through my website and my Facebook page in a year – that’s doubled,” the Wynnum-based Brit-born garden expert said – and it’s only June!
Demand is so high he admits he is having a little trouble keeping up – though with the popular ABC TV show about to go into a budget induced hiatus for a few weeks he will have time to catch up a bit.
He said it was ironic that the show wouldn’t be producing new episodes at a time when so many more people were both gardening and needing help – though the hiatus had been telegraphed by the channel before the pandemic and has become a fairly regular occurrence.
“There has been such an enormous uptake of gardening because people have had the time to do things in their garden they would normally not consider doing,” he explained.
“And there has been the concern about health, so people are growing food when they would normally not do that.
“We’ve got an enormous upswing in people who are seeking information about really basic things and some of the things are so basic that you forget how confronting gardening can be for some people. They just don’t understand what’s going on in some cases. A lot of the time if you can help somebody through a simple problem and they can see a result, that’s often what results in people becoming a fulltime gardener.
“It’s amazing how small tweaks at the beginning of somebodies gardening experience can actually change them into a gardener and alter their career.”
And since Jerry has been gardening from the age of four, initially training with the Royal Horticultural Society, before working at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and qualifying in curation, horticultural estate management, soft landscape design, horticultural and botanical sciences, he is an obvious man for the job.
He admits he doesn’t have time to answer multifaceted questions or help with garden design but if you keep your request to less than 100 words – he will get to you as soon as he can – though probably not at his usual “within 24 hours”
As well as giving advice, aimed particularly at those suddenly out of work and still trying to pay bills and feed a family, Jerry also opened up his own collection to people not able to source seedlings or seeds after the rush on garden centres which left them unable to keep up with demand.
“I was in the final stages of preparing for our annual open day,” he explained.
“Every year for the past 15 years I have been opening my garden for two days during the mother’s day weekend. It’s actually built a following – about 2000 people each year and generally I will have 2000 plants – that’s what the demand will be.
“During my working year as I lift and divide or save seed, I’ll put aside a surplus (some for myself) but a surplus for other people for my open day.
“When the shops were unable to provide what people needed I was lucky enough to have 2250 food plants in pots. I had about 800 packets of home-saved vegetable seed.”
The plants were distributed in a socially distanced, safe way from Jerry’s driveway in limited number (the busiest day was about 10 people) but it made enough money for Jerry to turn a small profit and even make his usual donation to a charity – this year the Brisbane Bat Conservation and Rescue.
If you have a question about your new garden or need advice head to https://jerry-coleby-williams.net/ or follow him on facebook. Jerry holds his open weekend each May in the Brisbane suburb of Wynnum.