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Sophie’s patch

Sophie Thomson never intended to forge a career in gardening …

The writer, consultant and Gardening Australia presenter, whose Mt Barker Springs property, Sophie’s Patch, is one of the best known gardens in the region, initially planned to pursue naturopathy.

“My parents had a plant nursery that was open seven days a week and shut two days a year – Good Friday and Christmas Day,” she says.

“So I grew up in a magnificent garden and I loved the garden and I loved being out there, but I saw how hard my parents worked.

“I went of to Melbourne to become a naturopath and that was to get as far away as I could from the nurseries.”

But when her father passed away just before she graduated, she returned to the family business, setting her career on a trajectory she never imagined.

“I came back to give mum a hand in the nursery, theoretically for a couple of months, and found out I actually loved it,” she says.

More than two decades later, she’s a presenter on the ABC’s national Gardening Australia program, a regular voice on ABC Radio Adelaide and a renowned gardening speaker and writer.

“I sort of got addicted to gardening, addicted to growing things and also understanding how important gardens are not only for our personal health and wellbeing, but also community health and wellbeing,” she says.

Among those benefits are exercise, relaxation and – as Sophie’s Patch is for her – a place of sanctuary.

Purchasing the property about a decade ago, Sophie says she initially had a vision for a highly productive “River Cottage-ish” garden and, over the past decade, she has transformed the once-bare paddock into a sanctuary featuring 100 fruit trees, a thriving vegetable garden a menagerie of animals and an artist’s pallet of colourful flowering plants.

“This is my third garden and this has been the hardest – it’s the most challenging conditions – this is the dry side of the Hills,” she says.

“If it’s a 42C day in Adelaide, it might be 43C here … and it’s windy all the time and water here’s salty.

“But it’s made me a far better gardener, because if you’ve only ever gardened where the growing is easy, you don’t necessarily learn as much – or you learn specifically.

“I think integrity and experience in advice is really important.

“So I’ve killed more plants than anyone I know, but then I can say to people ‘well I’ve tried this and it didn’t work’ and you also analyse why it didn’t work and whether you try it again or whether you say ‘I’ll give up on that particular plant’.”

Earlier this year she and her husband, Richard, announced plans to sell Sophie’s Patch, but they’ve recently taken the property off the market.

“This was meant to be a demonstration on how you could transform a windy paddock into a highly productive oasis in a short space of time, being 10 years, so it was never going to be our destination,” she says.

“So we put it on the market, but we did also put it on the market right when interest rates started to go up and all that.

“So for the time being we’re taking it off the market.

“The right person will come along and they will love it.”

While she feels her time at Sophie’s Patch is coming to an end, she says for now it’s business as usual at Sophie’s Patch. She also has no plans to retire – or move too far away from the Adelaide Hills.

“I’m a Hills girl … for me the Hills is in my blood,” she says.

“I love the Hills and I love the country, but from a practical point of view I probably have to be within an hour of Adelaide.”

“I know what I want, it will be old – I love old buildings – and I don’t want something that someone’s already done up because that’s the challenge.”

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