In Harmony with Nature

Written by fruit   // 28/11/2005   // 0 Comments

In the rainforest hinterland above Cairns, Harmony Farm is living proof that there is a Garden of Eden. WORDS BY ALLAN SMALL. Published in Australian Rare Fruit Review, January 2006

Gardening with nature remains a cornerstone of Marjorie Spear’s lifestyle and her greatest love. Marjorie, who turned 90 in July, spends much of her time on the upper verandahs of her home, overlooking the garden she grew over more than three decades. “I don’t get around very much these days,” she said.

Inside, there are numerous awards from the Cairns Show for her garden produce, as well as a 1993 Queensland Premier’s Award in recognition of her services to the community. More recently, she received a World War 2 Veterans’ Medallion in acknowledgment of her service in South Africa.

Acknowledged internationally as a pioneer and leader in organic gardening and healthy living, Marjorie said her flowering shrubs and trees including bottlebrush, gingers and heliconias, attracted many birds and butterflies, neem trees helped deter undesirable insects, and honey bees pollinated the garden and provided ample honey. Organically-rich soil in the gardens made plants healthier, stronger and more productive, and minimised the impact of pests such as nematodes.

Aptly named, Harmony Farm has no conventional flower beds and rows of trees. Instead, meandering grassy paths wind past gardens with numerous mature tropical fruit trees including black sapote, jakfruit, abiu, clumps of bananas, vibrant flowers, herbs and vegetables – tomatoes and coriander are self-sown and thrive in the soil rich in organic “goodies”.

There has never been a place for poisons and chemical fertilisers on this property. Marjorie found that products like blood-and-bone tended to attract unwanted visitors like bandicoots, so instead opted for dolomite and rock phosphate, seaweed concentrate with its abundance of trace elements, animal manure, grass and straw mulches for her organic gardens.

The farm occupies some 10 acres, with about four under cultivation, and runs from the end of Spear Road down through rainforest tracks to the bank of the Barron River.

Well known in Kuranda, Marjorie is an earthy, no-frills woman who says what she means. She practices the lifestyle she preaches, with a vegetarian diet sourced almost entirely from Harmony Farm.
This remarkable woman’s interest in gardening developed in South Africa, on her family’s farm. She also studied law and became the first woman barrister in Natal, South Africa, and remains an ardent supporter of animal liberation. For more than 20 years she was president of Cairns’ Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In 1945 she relocated from Africa to New Zealand, started a health food shop in the city of Nelson and was active in the Healthy Life Society, the NZ Organic Compost Society. Her formula for compost is a proven success – pull the weeds before they seed, chop, add grass clippings and leaves, dampen, add manure and cover with black plastic; turn and moisten occasionally, and within six months the weeds have become a great soil improver, which will also attract earthworms. Harmony Farm, and its abundant, delicious produce, is proof that it works.

With husband Phillip, a ship’s engineer, Marjorie moved to Kuranda in 1968 to continue spreading the message of healthy living. Back then, Harmony Farm was merely a sad conglomeration of weeds, scrub and long grass, and home was an old school bus. The soil was hugely deficient in just about everything, and the prospects of growing tropical fruit appeared remote. But with plenty of hard work and sustainable agriculture practices, the Spears were literally enjoying the fruits of their labours in just over a year. Before long there were more than 300 trees and shrubs on the property, many of which were then considered “rare” but are more recognised nowadays.

Before his death in 1978, husband Phillip was often away at sea for lengthy periods, so Marjorie used the time to build up the farm. She found it didn’t have to cost a fortune, but it was time consuming. She always enjoyed giving away surplus fruit and vegetables, and innumerable plant cuttings. When in her 80s, Marjorie found the challenge of maintaining her huge expansive garden somewhat daunting, even with the help of friends, and engaged a gardener plus the services of WOOFERS (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) who exchange labour for meals.

Phillip’s remains were interred in the Harmony Farm garden, to be reunited with Marjorie’s when the time comes.

Marjorie’s practical gardening know-how and impressive library of reference books provided her with an ideal base to assist other gardeners. For many years she contributed articles to the Rare Fruits Council on diverse subjects including growing vegetables in the tropics, managing fruit trees and dealing with pests. Through her column, she also provided readers with answers to their gardening problems, delivered in her characteristic no-frills commonsense manner. Failing eyesight has meant that, reluctantly, Marjorie has little opportunity to read her collection of books.

Lonely? “Oh, no. I always have a lot of friends who call by,” she said. “We used to entertain here, but not these days. Harmony Farm has made us almost self-sufficient.”

Late afternoon shadows were moving across the garden, towards Marjorie’s favourite chair on the verandah. She leaned forward, long silvery hair falling across her shoulders, and said: “I suppose I have always been a country girl at heart. While I have lived in cities, I very much prefer the country and this lifestyle. And – just look about – isn’t it wonderful?”

After more than 90 years, that magic harmony with nature is as vibrant as ever.

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