The gardens of most rental properties are sorely in need of love – but not the one out the back of a red clinker brick house in Seddon, in Melbourne’s inner west.
It’s the home of Travis Blandford and Harriet Devlin of artisan tool making business Grafa, whose range includes six aesthetically pleasing and practical gardening tools made from copper, bronze and wood. Of course, the pair work the soil with tools they make themselves, and you have to wonder if this is behind the garden’s rich, loamy soil and bumper crop.
It’s winter when we visit, so the leafy greens are flourishing. Silver beet and heirloom lettuces dominate one bed, broccoli heads and sugar snap peas another. Nettle and chickweed spill out of one corner, and an entire bed is given over to a pretty mix of wildflowers that Harriet explains will encourage “good bugs”, and keep the pests at bay. Oregano, marjoram and prostrate rosemary tumble out of an old concrete laundry trough the pair found through a local salvage business. . Potted succulents sit on a stepladder leaning against the wall of the shed, and a lemon tree spreads its canopy over it all.
“There was nothing here when we moved in – well, apart from the barbeque and the lemon tree. Oh, and the weeds. They were waist high!” says Harriet.
They planted seeds almost straight away, but the garden really started to take shape when the pair heard about a surplus of bluestone blocks from a friend’s renovation. They hotfooted it down to Collingwood and put as many as they could in the back of Travis’ ute, then spent a few hours lugging them into the back garden, where they form the walls for two of five garden beds.
“We make our tools to look beautiful and feel good to use, but also because they are also beneficial for the soil,” says Travis, referring to the Austrian naturalist movement that inspired their interest in using copper in the garden. Copper doesn’t rust or leach toxins into the soil, and its properties promote growth and nutrient uptake.
A qualified fitter and turner, Travis made his first gardening tool back in 2011, after visiting a metal recycler where he purchased some copper tubing and sheets most likely left over from building sites. The tool he made turned out to be the prototype for Grafa’s ‘Tube’ – a digging tool made from a single piece of copper, which is cut open to form both the handle and the shape of the blade.
“We use copper because it’s malleable enough to shape but is still strong enough to handle years in the garden. Bronze is an alloy, made primarily from copper, so it’s very strong too. When we give a tool a timber handle, as with the fork, scoop and hoe, we use a species of Spotted Gum Eucalypt because it doesn’t splinter,” says Travis, going on to describe copper as “an extraordinary metal”.
“It’s malleable enough to shape into interesting and organic curves but strong enough to last you a lifetime in the garden. I also love that with use, each tool I make develops its own unique patina, that comes and goes with use in the soil.”
Like most backyard gardens, Harriet and Travis’ edible jungle is a constant work in progress. As we wander, Harriet points out a small, determined looking blueberry bushel that hasn’t produced any fruit – yet – and a native midyim berry she is keeping an eye on. Travis is a keen home brewer, and wants to give growing hops a go this summer. His interest in making his own beer points the way to the next handy item likely to roll off the backyard production line at Grafa: a bottle opener.