Leon and Fay Coventry with Mr D’Arcy in their blooming courtyard at West Ballina.
Leon and Fay Coventry with Mr D’Arcy in their blooming courtyard at West Ballina. Helen Hawkes

Be green with envy over couple’s gravel garden makeover

IF YOU think you can't have a garden in a courtyard or patio, think again.

Leon and Fay Coventry, of West Ballina, have created an oasis that is balm for the soul.

There are dazzlingly colourful and exotic orchids such as the Phalaenopsis, zinnias and sun jewels spilling from containers and anthurium flowers that add extra sparkle to paved areas or unit walls.

"When we first bought our home in West Ballina and were faced with a totally gravelled yard, the furthest thing from my mind was to develop it into the tropical paradise we have today," Mr Coventry said.

"I had built many a garden in my life and I always said I was never going to garden again.

"The question was when and where did we start."

Mr Coventry had always been interested in orchid culture - today he is president of the Ballina Orchid Society - so thought maybe he and Fay could start with an orchid house.

"It was built but it took a while to get motivated but, after some delay with cladding the orchid house with shadecloth, we were starting to get ahead," he said.

"As time went on and our orchids started to develop something swept over me, maybe I should garden again."

Mr Coventry dug a small piece of ground, worked some compost into a gravel-ridden patch and, before long, what he planted grew and prospered.

"Slowly but surely the gravel around the place got turned into the ground, and more gardens sprang up," he said. "By now I had started to border the gardens with copper logs (not nice put permanent) which I pinned to the ground with bits of reinforcing rod."

In went a pond now full of white cloud fish. Hybiscus, costus, gingers, a couple of palms and heaps of understorey plants were slowly planted.

"As things grew so my gardening interests also regrew," Mr Coventry said.

Today the soil in the gardens has been slowly improved with the addition of manures and composts and liberal use of dolomite and organic fertilisers. The couple try to avoid chemical sprays in the garden.

"The dug-in gravel, if anything, has been beneficial to the gardens' drainage and the addition of iron into the soil," Mrs Coventry said.

Now among the flowers the couple also grow herbs and sometimes a small amount of easy veggies.

"We have now progressed to another area of our small property and are in the process of upgrading," Mr Coventry said.

"We have installed another orchid house in this area and we have included a lot more container plants here as well."

Mrs Coventry added: "This place of ours is now a miniature version of a three-quarter acre developed rainforest/palm garden we had in Queensland. That garden was shown in the Open Gardens scheme twice."

To others who might like to have a go at building a garden, Mr Coventry said: "It is quite obvious to me that in Ballina's warm subtropical climate, creating a little tropical wonderland is not difficult - especially if your garden is protected like ours.

"When you grow a lot of plants as we have, add sunshine and water and the end result will be a little green wonderland with its own tropical microclimate."

As for Mr Coventry's other garden interests, he is also now joint vice-president of the Bangalow Garden Society and guests on the Sunday morning show for Paradise FM radio station as a gardening expert.

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