The North Coast Post sat down and had a chat to Tom Crowley, the business owner behind Minstrel Gardening Services which operates in Deloraine.
Matt: Can we start with, what is your name?
Tom Crowley: My name is Tom Crowley
Matt: and, what business are you running?
Tom Crowley: I’ve just started a little gardening business doing general maintenance. As well as some, soil work and maybe a bit of permaculture design and tree work.
Matt: What’s the name of your business?
Tom Crowley: It’s Minstrel Gardening Services
Matt: Do you have some experience? Have you done this sort of thing before?
Tom Crowley: Yeah, I’ve been doing it for about 12 years. I worked as a musician through my twenties, which is where the name comes from. And and then about 2011 I was a bit fed up with moving around so much and wanted to find something I could do to stay still.
I started doing gardening. Had my own little business, then I started working for someone else. That was in Scotland. And then we moved to Australia in 2017. And then I did a bit of work for a local council. Which was an eye opener. Just working with big trees, big open spaces.
So I was just working as a casual. And after that, I spoke to the boss there and just said, “what do I need to get a full time job like this?” And she told me I had to study and get some certificates and a truck license. So I did all that. And then I worked a bit in conservation, because I studied conservation and horticulture.
And then I worked for hedging firms, doing topiary and stuff. Then eventually I got a job with a council in Adelaide, where I was redesigning all the gardens there. Which was great, I did some really, really interesting projects. Managing to do a bit of permaculture, I did a herb spiral, turning logs into wicking beds, and turning boats into planter boxes, and working a lot with native plants as well as trees.
And I did that for 5 years, until the end of last year, and then we moved here to Deloraine, and I thought, I’d like to have my own business again!
Matt: Do you find there are significant differences between, say, Scotland and Deloraine, or Adelaide and New South Australia and Deloraine?
Tom Crowley: It’s probably more similar to Scotland. Here, or England probably. There’s a lot of English plants in the towns. Very different to Adelaide. I struggle with the kind of arid climate there – the hot climate.
So here is a bit cooler. But the wilderness here is just out of this world. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before. I went up Quamby Bluff on Monday, and the Fagus Forest up there. It was just incredible. It was… the mist seeping through the trees and just so much moss it was… I find it very magical.
Matt: You mentioned permaculture before, is that the sort of garden work that you’re sort of looking for, or is there anything in particular?
Tom Crowley: I’m just happy to work with people to do whatever they want in their garden, but just try and apply permaculture principles to everything I do. You know, try and make sure every system you set up has more than one function.
I’m always looking to learn from people, but I’d like to share some of the knowledge I’ve learnt, studying permaculture and soils as well, just ways we can work with nature and our environment rather than trying to battle against it.
Matt: You’ve had a background in music as well, do you find being creative in the garden really works for you?
Tom Crowley: Yeah, I think doing both. It’s a nice balance when you’ve been indoors playing music. You know, having some headphones when you’re recording and socialising in that way, usually in the evenings. And then it’s a nice balance to be outside and doing work (during the day).
And yes, I like to do a bit of bush care as well and socialising with people that way. So yeah, I think it’s a nice balance. And you often find musicians like doing gardening. It’s just a different way to be creative. You’re not, perhaps, so much in control, because you’re working with nature, and you’ve got different, sort of things governing what you can do.
They seem to work together really well.
Matt: You’re doing work with some other gardens locally. Do you have space for more?
Tom Crowley: Oh, plenty of space for more, yeah. The business is just beginning. I’m interested in anyone who wants to get in touch.
Matt: Are you looking specifically for work in Deloraine or will you travel any further?
Tom Crowley: Yeah, Deloraine and maybe 50 kilometres outside of Deloraine. I’d like to not go too far. But If there was a certain project going on that someone wanted help with, I’d be willing to travel a bit further.
Matt: Do you have any favourite parts of your own garden?
Tom Crowley: Yeah, the vegetable garden is always my biggest passion.
I’m just trying to develop different, companion planting techniques. Like, the three sisters we’ve got over here. The sweet corn, and the beans, and the pumpkin. And I also really like these, the wildflower beds, so I’ll just throw a thousand or whatever mixed seeds of wildflowers in, see what comes up, and instead of planting stuff, you do it the opposite way around, where you’re just removing stuff to let things flourish. And it’s always a surprise what pops up – you get things like this buckwheat.
It shows you how much nitrogen you’ve got in your soil, by how spindly it grows. That’s my kind of gardening. But I also like the formal stuff. I appreciate a good hedge and a nice mowed lawn as well.
Matt: You’ve had experience with topiary in the past. Yeah. And that sort of formal garden. Would you still do that sort of thing as well?
Tom Crowley: Definitely. I wouldn’t want to do it as the main thing that I do. I learnt a lot doing that. It was very challenging, very demanding. Everything had to be very, very spot on. It was for some quite high class clients and really big gardens and wealthy areas.
And they’re paying a lot of money, so they want really, really good results. So, I like to think I can manage both ends of the scale.
Matt: Can you tell us a little bit about trimming the topiary bushes? And the techniques or the requirements that were required for that?
Tom Crowley: Everything was done with shears, so it was done by hand. Which is quite challenging for the operator. For ten hours a day, leaning over. But, it does do a finer cut and it is a nice sound to hear, so two or three guys just snip, snip, snip away. There’s like the French style that instead of putting a chamfer on the edge of the hedge, it’s more like a tight point.
That was very challenging because it’s very unforgiving. It’s easy to see if there’s any mistake or any deviation in the straight line. It is enjoyable. I like to do it. I like to include it in the way I do my gardening, but not the only thing.
Matt: You had some interesting projects at the council as well, I think you mentioned a boat?
Tom Crowley: I was so lucky. It was at Glenelg (South Australia), so it’s quite a touristy place. And it just hadn’t had any attention to the garden beds apart from the main square for years. And it was all overgrown and, and they hired a new guy who was my boss who used to work at the Botanic Gardens.
Once he saw that I knew what I was doing. He had a lot of confidence in me – and he kind of just said ‘show me what you can do. Nothing’s off limits.’ So I got to know these spaces. You’d spend every day going to these spaces and you’d just… all of a sudden the picture of a boat would kind of appear.
It’s a good spot for that it’s by the coast. And, I found an old boat and bought it. I was really lucky. We were working with a girl who was a trainee, and she was an artist. So she painted the boat with nice mandalas. And then I got to use some of my soil techniques and we put different flowers from every part of the world – from every continent in the world – to kind of represent unity, I guess, and the fact that Australia is this melting pot of people, with cultures coming from all over. It was very challenging there because it was right on the coast and it obviously gets very hot in Adelaide.
Matt: Do you have a favourite business in DeLoraine that’s not your own?
Tom Crowley: I have to say the, the music place down at the third room. Backshed music place – it’s not gardening, but I just think what they’re doing down there is great. And with the support they’ve got from the council they’ve turned it into a community music space. That’s one of the more interesting things I’ve seen since I’ve been here. There’s a lot of community stuff, so not necessarily businesses, like the seed library up the road at Deloraine House, and the community house there.
Just people getting together, sharing ideas, sharing plants and saving these seeds and the arts. Yeah, there’s a lot of things I love about Deloraine.