SERIES 31 | Episode 37
We meet Indigenous horticulturist and educator Kris Schaffer, whose native garden is built on bushfoods and belonging.
Kris Schaffer is an Indigenous horticulturalist and educator living on Muwinina Country in (Neika, Tasmania) that has been “cared for and sustained by Aboriginal people for 150,000 years”. “Every day we touch the morning and say, ‘we are honouring our ancestors, we’re honouring those that have walked this land before us, this beautiful island that is like a sanctuary for us’.”
Kris has been working with nature to build a garden 140 metres above sea level south of Hobart. Being above the snow line, there’s a “lovely, cool wet forest atmosphere.” The site had been cleared in the late 1800s for use as a horse paddock and become degraded and forgotten. “When I first acquire the land, I realised that I needed to grow a lot of plants, so to actually learn to propagate was critical to having so much open, degraded land. I really wanted to extend that knowledge further, so studying horticulture was that next step. Also, I was part of the Australian Plants Society and that was a critical way of learning how to propagate and grow the more difficult Australian plants.”
When Kris started the garden there were Climbing Blueberries (Billardiera longiflora), an iconic bushfood, so she started propagating it and grew it to the point where she had 6-kilogram harvests! That led to a specialisation and passion for bushfoods. “I’m part of a national Aboriginal women’s bushfood alliance that ensures that we as women are continuing to work on country through the collecting and cultivating, cooking, and eating of bushfoods.
“When I was looking at creating the garden, I was aware that I wanted to have those species of plants that were best suited to this spot.” Planted in bare clay soil, the indigenous Richea dracophylla grew without effort as it was simply the perfect environment for them. Pandani (Richea pandanifolia) is another iconic species endemic to Tasmania, which Kris successfully grew from seed thirty years ago. Kris also grew plants to attract birds such as Silver Banksia (Banksia marginate) and Old-Man Banksia (Banksia serrata) especially for the “manganas”, or black cockatoos.
“The legacy of this garden is letting nature do her thing, but those plants that belong here, if we can bring them into cultivation so that we can secure that that’s left in the wild, this is a demonstration of that.”
Kris’ garden is now “purely for the wildlife” including bettongs, bandicoots, potoroos, and pademelons. “I believe it’s using those Aboriginal, those Indigenous land practices, in the process of gardening that has made it so beautiful.”
Muwinina Country | Neika, TAS