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Brett King

Brett King

Brett King grew up in the Wellington district of central New South Wales and currently lives in northern Canberra. Brett’s rural childhood informs and motivates his gardening practices today. Brett serves as a steward in the horticultural produce section of the Canberra Show, where he organises the displays of fruits and vegetables, and assists the judges.

Read more about Brett’s lifetime experience of gardening. (The excerpts below are from an interview recorded with Brett in February 2012.)

Listen to Brett's lifetime experience of gardening

Brett King in his vegetable garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Brett King inspecting tomatoes growing in his garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

There were Chinese market gardeners around Wellington, and Dad used to get tips from them. He said: “I always had a garden but I never learnt as much as what I did off these market gardeners”. I’ve always been the same, learning from Dad, from the people at the show and I read a little bit. Dad said to me, “The Chinese said you shouldn’t let your tomato leaves touch the ground. That’s where the virus will get through”. So I’m diligent in making sure I prune off the leaves.

Brett King standing in his vegetable garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

With my rural background … I’ve always been outside, and by living in the city I haven’t been able to do a lot of the things that we used to be able to do out in the country. My wife Tracey comes from Young, she’s from an orchard. We both just really wish we could have a property. We don’t want the hard work; we just want the good parts that go with it.

Dad always had a big veggie garden, big in our context. I always learnt and was up there with my father. Then as I got older he gave me my own plots. It got to the stage where Dad – I suppose I earned his trust – “Right Brett, will you go and do this for me or that”.

I’ve always had an interest. Even there was a period for six months where we were trying to save up for a house and we lived in a flat. That was the worst. I didn’t have a garden. I had polystyrene boxes everywhere trying to grow vegetables in them. I must say I’ve never had any success growing things in pots. It’s got to be in the ground. So, I’ve always had a garden from whenever I can remember.

Brett King holding three unwashed potatoes in his hands.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
The taste – that’s what got me in to potatoes. I never knew a home-grown potato could taste so different from a shop-bought potato until I grew just a few, because I knew it took up a lot of room, and I couldn’t believe the taste. So now a great part of my garden is potatoes. A great compliment I got for my gardening – we had people over for a New Year’s Day lunch two years ago and with a simple thing like carrots she said, “Did you grow those carrots?” I said, “Yes, how did you know?” She said, “I can taste it”. That’s why I grow my own stuff.
Brett King picking carrots from his garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

The produce this year I hope to be entering – I’ll definitely have a go at the corn again. I’ve had good success with the corn. Probably my best ever is with the corn where I’ve won best exhibit in the show.

Cucumbers, zucchinis and potatoes are particularly good this year, some onions. Tomatoes – I hope everybody else in Canberra is having the same trouble with them not ripening, we haven’t had a hot enough summer. The same with capsicums, it hasn’t been hot enough.

But I’ll probably look towards not so much the individual exhibits, I like to go for the collection of vegetables, whether it be salad or vegies. You either have the salad vegetables or just the vegetables, or collections of herbs, or collections of potatoes where you have white, cream or red skinned or the smaller varieties. So, I’ll look at the collections although, as I said, it hasn’t been a great year.

A chook.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

The reason I’m not entering the beetroot this year is, we went away for a couple of days last week where I had everything getting ready for the show, and there was a bit of an accident. My son left the gate open and the chooks happened to love the beetroot especially. Not only did they eat the tops of them all they decided to dig them all out to see what was underneath them – so they’re not a success.

Two men inspecting a cob of corn at a vegetable show.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

In the first place what got me involved in the show was walking around and looking at the produce and saying to myself, “I can do better than that”. I suppose the only way to prove that you can do better than that is to enter.

With other shows, all through my life, we have been involved. We’ve come from the country and, as you may well be aware, shows are a big part of country life. The Crookwell and Goulbourn shows are the ones that first come to memory. Although I was born in Wellington, New South Wales, I was too young to go from there. Definitely it was the highlight of our year to go to the Canberra Show. We used to save up our pocket money. With Dad and Mum it was always the produce, provisions, the stock, livestock, and we were always carted along with them. Whether we wanted to go or not we had to stay with Mum and Dad and then, if we were good, we went and got a ride or a show bag.

You meet a lot of country people. It is just a great way to chat and catch up with people.

A young boy pictured with a vegetable sculpture titled 'Angry Birds'.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

The Canberra Show’s purpose I see is growing. I find it pleasing, being the steward involved with it, that it is growing and getting bigger every year where people are coming back to more organic, more gardens and are wanting to grow things.

Even with the people saying (as I mentioned myself), “I could do better than that”, they’re coming to enter. We’ve got a lot of people coming in asking questions on how to grow things, and then you see them there next year trying to exhibit. It’s really pleasing. And it’s getting people outside. I really like that it is growing and we’re trying to push it more. We’re trying especially to really push the schools. I don’t know if you’re aware that a lot of schools now have their own garden plots, so we’re encouraging them. The ones where we know they would like some help or something, we’re getting them involved and the kids are entering.

And the kids – you can see the enjoyment in their eyes when they come in on the Friday after the judging is done on the Thursday while they’re at school. From about 3 o’ clock on Friday afternoon when school finishes, you see a rush to the tables to see how their exhibits are. And the smiles on their faces. We encourage every child to enter. Even if it’s an entry not in the right class, we’ll do our best to make it seem acceptable – we give out encouragement ribbons or anything else like that. It is just the smile on their faces. I suppose that’s going to be prize giving. But yeah, the healthier lifestyle, they like to grow it.

Brett King's show awards.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

About the prizes in the show – of course I love to win. Again, it is a great talking point. When people ask you, “How did you go at the show?” and I can say, “Oh, not too good, I only got two firsts”. You think, “Oh you’re a bit of martyr”, but deep down you’re thinking “I’m so happy I got two firsts or I got one first”.

I love winning. The year I got the best exhibit – I still talk about it. It was over five years ago now but it was still my greatest achievement show wise. The ribbon is still out there on the table and it’s put up in my cabinet. It’s like from The Castle, “That’s going straight to the pool room”.