Virginia Warby’s passion for gardening has grown into a hectic business and a bustling annual garden day on her family's Glenmorgan district property in southern Queensland.

Story By Sally Nicol

Two Jack Russells are scampering across the lawn, with three children streaming behind them. Virginia Warby and her husband Robert wear matching grins as they watch. It’s been a scorching Queensland summer, the type of weather where only mad dogs, Englishmen and the toughest gardens survive in the midday sun.
At Billinbah, 40 kilometres south west of Glenmorgan, the Warby family is relaxing in the cool green shade of their garden, insulated from the 42-degree Celsius heat and the harsh hot winds that are ripping across the bare cattle paddocks beyond.
“We’re going through another dry spell,” Virginia says. Summer is not the easiest season for this avid gardener. “In winter I garden, in summer I just try and keep everything alive,” she says of a strategy that seems to be working. “It’s a survival garden. The feature would have to be the hardy plants.”
Virginia’s garden is formal in design, but is planted informally. It is rich with shape and texture. It’s a garden other country couples envy, its simple practicality providing the green oasis so many seek in a tough climate.
Drought has been a huge factor in the evolution of the Billinbah garden, with the 10.2 centimetres of rain they received this summer the exception rather than the rule. “Rob and I have been married 19 years and I always say that I’ve done more drought years than not in my married life,” Virginia says.
When they first started the garden Robert wanted to see outside but after all the droughts they decided to have a haven inside the garden fence. “I like to be able to show people a nice outlook when it’s absolutely shocking outside,” Virginia says.
Robert is the third generation Warby on Billinbah. In 1994 he and Virginia moved into the main homestead that had belonged to his grandmother. Virginia quickly set about making lots of garden beds by raiding the weaner’s yard for hay and mulch. “It’s a garden that evolved by sitting on the front steps with a cup of coffee and seeing where I needed a garden bed,” Virginia says. Existing trees were incorporated into the design. “We didn’t pull any down because I didn’t know if I’d grow any more,” she says. On trips to town for groceries she would come home with a trunk load of gorgeous plants. It was a garden that began on instinct and has developed with experience.
In 1999, while pregnant with her third child, she put her experience to use and started her Potted Peace Nursery as a small side business to produce some extra spending money. Over the past 10 years Potted Peace has outgrown all expectations and has seen the Warbys increase the size of their house dam three times to keep up with demand. “Every time it goes dry we dig it deeper,” Virginia says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #69

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2010