Transformed courtyard yields urban crop

THE Fremantle Doctor tickles at the tree tops that protect a small, limestone walled garden. Leaves rustle in a soft symphony of appreciation.

The setting could be southern Europe, so magical has been the makeover of a dusty, exhausted patch of ground in Palmyra.

In only eight months, senior citizen Lorraine Burke has transformed the once-neglected courtyard at the rear of her rented villa from rubble into an edible garden.   

From the moment Lorraine took possession of the property, she visualised a garden room where she could entertain friends and grow pesticide-free, edible greenery. 


To rescue the small back yard, Lorraine dug out the rubble and scant patches of buffalo grass. Then, with a mallet, she and her son broke up and loosened the hard, compacted soil. 

The next task was to level the area in preparation for laying pavers. At this stage, Lorraine had none. But she drew out a plan for how she would like paving to be laid and went online to look for freebies. 

Hunting for free or low-cost pavers, Lorraine found some south of Warnbro at a limestone paving company. She needed more and found terracotta coloured pavers north of Perth at Greenwood.

Singlehanded, in five back-and-forth trips she transported them to her villa. After drawing a plan for how they should be laid, another one of her sons helped her place them. 

The excitement and pleasure of seeing the courtyard take shape flowed over to Lorraine’s friends. One joyfully provided an unwanted outdoor round slumped-glass table, an original created by a Fremantle glass artist. 

To attract birds, the same friend provided a ceramic bird bath on a sculpted concrete stand. Chairs followed. Table and chairs were free, except for a grouping of cheerful blue and white chairs bought from a nearby chain store. 

While the courtyard was undergoing its makeover, Lorraine’s potted blueberry bushes were fruiting. 

Ever the hostess with the mostest, Lorraine resisted picking the fresh crop, keeping these for me to try. Tasting blueberries right off the bush was a first for me: how sweet they are! I felt so privileged, especially as I knew they were organic.

Lorraine had invited me to lunch and I was treated to a garden salad grown in this magical space with some extra luxuries, such as camembert and brie cheeses. For dessert, an almond meal cake emerged from her kitchen, so delicious yet so healthy. 

Munching like a spoiled rabbit, I was in awe of how an exhausted patch of dirt had succumbed to Lorraine’s creativity. She’d seemingly conjured a charming garden room and was cropping blueberries, tomatoes, watercress, celery greens, fennel, basil, mint, lemon grass, chive, aloe vera and lettuce: all growing in pots. 

Lorraine mainly uses her current crops in smoothies, pestos, salads and soups.

More plantings will take place over time and she already has some robust looking pumpkin seedlings almost ready for in-ground planting. Next will be potatoes. She also plans to introduce a bee-hive: one that releases the honey without interfering with the bees or the hive structure. 

Her efforts prove that a small space can yield a lot pesticide free food for any size family. 

Wanting to avoid toxic pesticide use, Lorraine has gathered bargain-priced potted calendula {marigold) plants and placed them throughout her garden. As well as being a companion plant that keeps pests away, they form an uplifting tapestry of orange and yellow blossoms. 

The calendulas are the first plants to be noticed when entering her garden room, so the viewer’s eyes are greeted with instant joi de vivre. 

Lorraine believes no one is too old or too young to have a go at growing their own. There is little cost if plants and cuttings are shared. She has also found bargains at garden centres and markets. Scouring the roadside collections is a way of rescuing treasures and even plants, she advises. 

Needing to upgrade her compost pots, she found a bin at Fremantle’s recycling centre: another freebie. All her food scraps go into it. 

Lorraine has a way of telling herself what she needs, and then, voila, it manifests.



What’s your garden story?

HAVE you created a healthy haven from the world, even in a tiny little courtyard? Or have a friend who’s green thumb inspires you? A story about a favourite (or secret) garden from years ago? We’d love to hear about them as well. Send us an email at or give us a call on 9430 7727.

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