Plant / Life: Will Studd’s Edible Wonderland

Will Studd has been gardening all his life. He grew up in a large family in the UK – he’s one of six boys – and his father spent a lot of time tending to their backyard vegetable garden. ‘I suppose it’s where I got the bug for growing my own,’ he says. ‘It becomes obsessive after a while.’ As an internationally renowned cheese expert, writer and TV host, Will has received plenty of accolades over the years, but I suspect the school gardening prize he won when aged 10 rates amongst his most treasured achievements.

Will’s home garden is on the outskirts of Byron Bay, in northern New South Wales. It’s a large, lush, sub-tropical wonderland, complete with over 180 species of palm trees, and a huge vegetable garden. Will and his wife Bonnie moved to Byron around 10 years ago from Victoria, and the new climate and its associated plant palette was a real culture shock. “When a house plant turns into a garden plant, I think that pretty much underlines culture shock, doesn’t it?’ he says with a laugh. ‘I assumed gardening up here would be easy. It was a massive learning curve, working out what plants would and wouldn’t grow. Particularly in the vegetable garden.”

To help create the structure of the garden, Will enlisted a stonemason friend from Victoria, Otto von Johannsohn of Redhill Stonework, who spent three years building walls, stairs and terraces, helping define spaces within the steep garden. He worked with local plantsman Mike Lickfold and his partner Helen Fawell, who did all the ornamental planting. “Mike had a great eye. The garden wouldn’t be what it is without him and Helen. Having lived in Victoria for most of my life, I needed that help.”

As well as the huge collection of palms, there’s a bunch of rare cordylines and other colourful exotics. “The climate up here means you get really vibrant plants, with loads and loads of colour and texture. You just don’t see that in other places. The cordylines that Mike put in, he picked a really amazing variety of colours – bright greens and purples. People come around and ask for cuttings of the cordylines. I love that.”

Whilst Will loves the vibrant ornamental garden, his focus is firmly on the vegetable patch. “The defined seasons you get used to down south don’t really exist up here. Up here the weather is fantastic most of the time, we don’t get extremes. You’d think, then, that growing vegetables would be super easy, but from about November until just after Easter it’s difficult. Rain, humidity and heat is very destructive on a lot of plants. Some things grow really well – like chillies and aubergines and cucumbers, but I don’t bother to grow tomatoes anymore, they just don’t do well. The vegetable garden up here is very productive for around eight months of the year but over summer it’s a bit tricky. I’m still trying to find some interesting things to grow over that time.”

It’s clear that Will is a very, very passionate food gardener. His garden feeds him and his family on a literal level – ‘I definitely overproduce. Our kids, visitors, everyone gets stuck in but there’s still always excess. It’s the way it is’ – and on a soul level, too. ‘When you plant a garden, you plant for the future. There’s something very uplifting about that. When you plant a tree and know that it’ll hopefully be around for the next 40,50, 100 years, that’s a very special, very generous, thing to do.’

Will is right. A garden is a gift. It’s clear he treasures his, and the people who helped him create it. ‘I am incredibly grateful to the people who helped me make this garden. It wouldn’t be anything near what it is now without their help. Let’s face it, growing a carrot isn’t that hard!’