The many benefits of gardening

Giant Kitchen Garden coordinator Barbara Wickes is looking forward to the 2022 Sunshine Coast Garden Expo. 282454_01

Erle Levey

Preparations are underway for the much-anticipated 2022 Queensland Garden Expo.

It is the State’s premier gardening event and the biggest annual event on the Sunshine Coast.

Helping make it such a success over the years has been Barbara Wickes, a tireless worker who just loves getting her hands dirty and taking time to smell the herbs and roses.

As coordinator of the Giant Kitchen Garden, it is rewarding to see the variety of ages and backgrounds of those who seek out this special exhibit, she said.

Now living on the Sunshine Coast, Barbara owes her love of gardening to growing up in the farming community of Strathalbyn in South Australia.

Since then she has moved around Australia and even New Zealand.

I caught up with her at last year’s Expo at Nambour Showgrounds for a tour of the fully-sustainable garden that had been created, to meet the volunteers involved, and find out what people can learn and see at this year’s kitchen garden.

Barbara has been involved in the Expo since 2003 but was a speaker with the Queensland Herb Society before that.

Now, as the program has been released for this year’s event from July 8-9-10, she has not lost any of the drive to make the kitchen garden successful.

Barb is passionate about herb and cottage gardens, and enthusiastically promotes this style of gardening in South East Queensland.

Some years ago she established a cottage garden group in the region.

The aim is to provide an abundance and resilience in subtropical gardens – a diversity of perennial and self-seeding plants and a selection of common but overlooked edible leaves.

“The permaculture groups – Yandina Community Garden and Noosa Permaculture – have been working with us a number of years in creating this garden,” she said.

“People are growing their own vegies, much more than just planting a few extra plants to feed themselves.

“Covid really got it working for us.

“There have been education and social benefits.

“Those suffering from stress through Covid need to get into the gardens, get their hands dirty. Smell the herbs, smell the flowers.

“Ten minutes in the garden and their stress has gone.”

Being involved in the garden expo for more than 15 years now, Barbara said it just continues to grow and grow.

“We do different things – the kitchen garden is inspirational. When you see young families come in, the children are learning about plants.

“They are never too young. They are fascinated.

“It’s rewarding to see them come in and then walk away with enthusiasm.”

After moving from Melbourne’s north-eastern communities in the late ’90s, and then to Buderim, Barbara worked for the Australian Open Garden scheme.

“I brought some plants up with me and they grew like topsy.

“You can grow anything in Queensland.”

Barbara pays tribute to the late Colin Campbell from ABC-TV’s Gardening Australia, who she says was a great inspiration.

“My love is cottage gardens.… and they can be made up with flowers and veggies.

“They do not need to be messy. You can have flowers to bring in predatory insects.”

Barbara considers people might think she is a bit crazy for the way she gets her hands dirty.

Her first time at Nambour, it poured with rain so she was invited to move to the pony club area.

“They thought we would have walked away.

“The garden is changing a bit this year. The permaculture teams are having their two tents.

“We will be using wicking beds to grow the plants in them – raised beds with thick liners, and wicking cells in the bottom to hold the water.

“Like a candle, the wick draws up the water.”

The idea was to inspire people as to what can be done with limited space.

There will be a pizza oven and garden area with the unusual sub-tropical gardens of Kevin Redd.

“It’s amazing how many people come and listen. It’s just something.”

The Big Kitchen Garden is always looking for volunteers but then so much can be learnt in the process.

“They can be on the gate, on the stand, looking after the plants.

“You do it because we love to.”


The Queensland Garden Expo is one of Australia’s most-loved gardening events, attracting the country’s gardening royalty to the speaker program, more than 40,000 visitors through the gates and injecting more than $10 million into the Sunshine Coast economy each year.

This year the award-winning, three-day event will open its gates on July 8, when more than 360 exhibitors will have everything gardening-related on offer, including one of the largest ranges of plants visitors are likely to see in one place in Queensland.

Event chairman, Simon Smith said that they were looking forward to welcoming back many of the regular interstate gardening presenters, exhibitors and visitors who have not been able to attend the event over the past two years. 

“There is a real excitement building and we are sure that garden lovers will come out in force to take advantage of all the information and huge range of gardening products on display,” he said.

Event manager Marion Beazley said the event will once again host Australia’s biggest gardening speaker program including favourites such as Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis, Sophie Thomson and Jerry Coleby-Williams and regulars Phil Dudman, Claire Bickle, Kate Wall and many more.

“What makes our event so unique in gardening circles is that Expo visitors have access to the best gardening minds in the country — both through the extensive three-day speaker program and by chatting directly to our growers representing the many nurseries exhibiting at the event,” Marion said.

“We have seen interest in gardening explode during the pandemic – people have taken to their gardens to grow their own food and to create a wonderful space to relax. We don’t see that slowing down as many have found a passion for gardening they never knew they had.

“Our young gardeners haven’t been forgotten – with lots of activities and workshops on offer to start them on their gardening journey.

“The Queensland Garden Expo provides a wonderful opportunity to learn more about all aspects of gardening – and for those without a back yard, keeping indoor plants is catered for too. The benefits of having live plants in your home have long been known and in the past couple of years, indoor plants have boomed in popularity.

“And if you’re having any trouble, one of our most popular stands is the Plant Clinic where visitors can ask any question – from bringing in leaves or photos for identification, to getting free advice related to your garden or indoor plants.

The event will once again celebrate organic gardening and permaculture in the Giant Kitchen Garden which is a collaboration of many gardening and permaculture groups from across the region, coming together to help create a piece of gardening paradise.

“This event really brings the community together but it also has a massive impact on our local economy given around 65 per cent of our visitors travel from outside the region,” Ms Beazley said.

“This results in an economic impact of more than $10 million benefiting a diverse range of businesses and the many community organisations involved in the event from across the Sunshine Coast.

“The event appeals to everyone from the most experienced green thumbs to absolute beginners. There is something for all ages, with entry free for kids aged 15 and under and a giant kid’s playground to keep them entertained.”

The 2022 Queensland Garden Expo will be held from 8-10 July at the Nambour Showgrounds, Coronation Avenue, Nambour.

To find out more and purchase tickets online, please visit

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