Meet Susanne Rix, host of Green Thumbs every Wednesday morning from 9 – 10am on RBM. Susanne runs the Blue Mountains Edible Gardens trail and is a recent recipient of an award from Blue Mountains City Council for service to the community.

Q: Hi Susanne, thanks for taking time out to speak with us!

A: Thank you. It’s always a pleasure to support Radio Blue Mountains.

Q: First and foremost, congratulations from everyone here at RBM on your recent award from Blue Mountains City Council! Tell us what the award is for and how it came about, please?

A: The award was presented by the Blue Mountains City Council for service to the community. I received it for my contribution to the community in founding the Edible Garden Trail in 2018 as well as my contribution to other Blue Mountains community organisations. The first edible garden trail involved over 40 gardens and has become a much loved annual community event now supported by the Blue Mountains Food Co-op. The concept is now spreading around Australia from Tasmania to Brisbane as well as many smaller communities.

Susanne Rix
Susanne Rix seated centre. (photo BMCC property)

Q: When did you first find out that you were being honoured by BMCC and how surprised were you?

A: I was contacted by Pru Hargrave at the council in January. And yes – I was very surprised and very honoured. There are so many people in the Blue Mountains who are deserving the same honour.

Q: Well congratulations Susanne, it’s very much deserved.

Now, you present the very popular Green Thumbs show on RBM every Wednesday morning from 9am – 10pm. For those who haven’t heard your show, what is it all about?

A: The show covers anything gardening. From edible gardening, organic gardening, ornamental gardening, community gardening, schools, herbs, pests, fertilising, and so on. I interview gardeners about their approaches and methods. I try to create a verbal picture of what my guest is showing me. I also try to end the program with some hints and tips on what to do in your garden this week/month.

Q: And what is your background in gardening?

A: I have been interested in organic gardening since the 1970’s when I had my first suburban plot in Willoughby. Then in the 1990’s, I established an organic farm on the south coast of NSW. When coming to the Blue Mountains 11 years ago, I was saddened to see the dead grass edges of so many beautiful gardens in the mountains. (the dead grass edges are evidence of poison. Poisons which kill not only weeds, but micro-organisms, as well as frogs, bees and all kinds of helpful wildlife.)

This was a trigger to found the Edible Garden Trail. To encourage people to grow more edibles, because when you are going to eat from your garden you are more thoughtful about the use of chemicals and poisons.

Q: And what was the inspiration for you putting down the trowel, as it were, and picking up the microphone?

A: The previous president of RBM , Julie Ankers heard about the Edible Garden Trail and asked if I would be interested in presenting a garden show on RBM. It is a great opportunity to share the community gardening tips and tricks. I guess it is my climate action. Encouraging one edible garden at a time.
However, I haven’t put down the trowel.

Q: I’ve tuned in to your show many times and heard you presenting interviews and recordings from places like Mt Tomah or from Mayfield Garden, as well as from the back gardens of your listeners. You’ve clearly got this huge interest in what you do, but I’m curious to know if you also have a background in media, because you manage to get people to feel at ease while being recorded which is no mean feat.

A: I think that may be because I’m really interested in what my guests have to say. But I guess it is helped by the fact that I have had several careers. Many decades ago I managed the statistics for Murdoch and Packer’s financial pages while I was studying Behavioural Science at Macquarie and Sydney Uni. I shifted careers to behavioural science – in particular using the research into the behaviours that contribute to personal resilience. I consulted and spoke publicly in that area for 25 years, working for government, and industry both here and overseas. I still use the essence of behaviour change processes in developing the Edible Garden trails to support people and communities in becoming more resilient.

Q: When you think of a garden Susanne, in particular someone’s garden at home, do you think of it as something to be viewed, something to be worked in, something to relax in, or something to be used as a food source?

A: A bit of all of that. Not any one exclusively. Gardens can look beautiful, are lovely to sit in, can be a decorative mix of ornamentals and edibles, lovely for children to play in and learn from, and can be a great source of healthy, clean organic food. And of course, need to be worked in – even if some of the hard work is done by a professional gardener.

Q: What are the main elements that people should take into account before they plant?

A: While I am not a landscape architect, it is worth drawing a map of your plot and think about where the sun is coming from and which parts are shaded. Then to consider how much space you want to dedicate to play, or entertaining. If you are wanting edibles, then plant the most frequently used (like herbs) close to the house, the less frequently used (like fruit trees) further away and everything in-between. You may want architectural features such as walls, ponds, pools, garden rooms, pergolas or steps. These need to be placed first, although if finances prohibit the immediate construction, plant around your future plans.
Gardening is a learning adventure. So unlike a building, it can be changed in a season. If you plant something today that doesn’t thrive, or quickly becomes too big – you can change it. Every gardener I interview tells me that they are always learning. So don’t worry about being perfect first time.

Q: In these times of rising food prices, what 3 things (or more) should people be planting at home to take the pressure off at the checkout?

A: Plant foods that you like, use often and that grow quickly. Herbs are great at saving money. A bunch of herbs cost 3-4 dollars, and much can be wasted as some don’t last well. Parsley grows all year around up here, as does mint, spinach, lettuce and kale. Remember when lettuces were $12 each? I had a constant supply of pick and come again lettuce. Free. It is also easy to have a constant supply of the ingredients for Tabouli. Tomatoes are abundant in summer. Zucchinis can grow faster than weeds. Some foods like kale are really rapid growers, but if you don’t eat kale, don’t plant it.

Q: Are there special conditions here in there Blue Mountains that people in Penrith or the Hawkesbury would not be experiencing, when it comes to maintaining a garden?

A: In the upper mountains, we need to plant frost tolerant plants – or at least protect them during the frost season. We don’t have the extreme heat to the same extent, but on super hot days, some plants need a soft shade (like a teepee of leafy branches) . Since it is cooler in the upper mountains, plants take longer. So make sure you plant early and in the sunniest north facing spot.

Q: Do you subscribe to a particular form of living and gardening together? I guess what I mean is, would you consider yourself a permaculture type of gardener, or a gardener with a strong environmental awareness, or a decorative gardener?

A: A great deal of permaculture has been part of gardening and farming traditions for centuries. So I subscribe to many of the permaculture principles, but I have always been an organic gardener – finding natural ways to build soil and plant health without the use of chemicals. I would also like to have part of my garden for purely decorative reasons, flowers to pick or give away and also to attract bees and beneficial insects to the flowers. I am definitely not a ‘hedge and soldiers’ ornamental gardener.

Q: So getting your hands dirty and being in touch with the environment and the soil is essential to you?

A: I try to wear gloves in the garden – you know, snakes, spiders etc. While my hands stay pretty clean, my clothes get filthy. Being in touch with the environment is a big part of my life.

Q: We live in a unique World Heritage listed wilderness, with a great highway cutting across the plateau. What are the effects of the ever expanding Blue Mountains population on the local flora and fauna – in your opinion?

A: That’s not my area of expertise. Although part of the downside of urbanisation of the Blue Mountains is the spread of weeds and predators into the world heritage area. Particularly that most destructive to our national park – CATS. The number of irresponsible cat owners really distresses me. Most cat owners don’t seem to realise that their lovely cuddly companion hunts for cruel pleasure. “Oh my cat wouldn’t /couldnt hurt a fly” Last month I found a slaughtered owl in my garden. In January, two small sparrows. We have to find ways to keep cats indoors or within the property boundaries. I have come across a couple of very responsible owners who have created an enclosed outdoor area for their pets. They have happy cats.

Q. Moving on then to the radio side of things – You’ve been at RBM for a number of years, which indicates that you’ve likely always had an interest in the platform of live radio. What station did you listen to growing up?

A: I grew up in Hobart. So we listened to the local Hobart stations. I can’t remember which.

Q: What was it about that station that appealed to you, do you think? Was it the music they played, or the chat and content? Was it a presenter? What was it do you think?

A: Top 20 hits. And the serials. Growing up I had no interest in politics, so talk shows didn’t do it for me. Education has changed that.

Q: When you’re on air, do you bring a script, or bullet point notes, or do you just wing it and hope for the best?!

A: At first I made the mistake of having a list of questions and interviewing in the studio. But I found myself distracted by trying to manage the sound, the promos, the music as well as concentrating on the guest. Now, I pre-record the interviews. And – essentially I wing it, basing my questions on their answers and what I see in their gardens. It is a conversation with an interesting person.

Q: What advice would you give anyone interested in getting involved in community radio?

A: Give it a go. Consider what you have to offer – eg interests, music etc. Listen to your favourite radio hosts to get an idea of good radio. Listen also for aspects you don’t like and do a little practice. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn more. RBM offers training for beginners and occasional ongoing advanced training.

Q: And what’s your favourite pastime outside of RBM and gardening?

A: Writing. Painting. Family. And of course getting together with friends.

Okay some fun, rapid fire questions now, Susanne!

True or False – there’s no such thing as a weed? True. There are just plants where they are not supposed to be.

Watering the garden at 3pm in the summer is a brilliant idea? No. Too early. Wait until dusk.

Favourite Band? The Carolina Chocolate Drops

Favourite Song? Too many to chose. It depends on the mood.

Favourite Music era? 1970s

Favourite food? Duck a la Orange.

Favourite Drink? Cocktail of Lyres Italian Orange with lemon and tonic.

Very nice! Favourite holiday destination? The Himalayas

And finally Susanne, complete this sentence: “If I won a million bucks tomorrow I would . . . . . “

Buy my sister a house. Pay off my daughter’s mortgage.

Susanne, thanks very much for this interview. You’ve put so much thought into your responses, you’re a really excellent interviewee!

Further reading

Susanne Rix in the Blue Mountains Gazette

Blue Mountains Edible Garden Trail

Susanne receives BMCC award for Services to the Community