BACKYARDS, BUXUS BALLS AND BERRY
In this People of RYOBI interview, Barry Du Bois talks with garden expert Jason Hodges who talks about his love for plants, family and a town called Berry.
Jason resides here in the south coast in New South Wales, it’s where you now live and love. What got you here?
Well, it’s funny, I don’t believe in signs, but when I got my Ps (P-Plates), the first place I ever drove to was Berry. And my parents’ best friends lived down the end of this road. Then one day I went, “I’ve got this connection to this place”. So, when I was 40, I said I wanted to live in Berry when I was 50 and I bought this little block of land, and we drive down every Friday afternoon after the kids would get out of school. And I built a little hut out of second-hand timber and tin and windows I found the council had thrown out.
And we came down here to meet people. For the first 12 months we’d just mow the lawn. This place was immaculate because we didn’t know anyone, so we just kept the place tidy, we’d swim in the creek. I like the space down here, the sense of community down here is what I remember as a child. There’s always something happening here that’s community-based. Nothing else feels like home like this does.
Your dad was a brickie. How did you choose landscaping, horticulture, that sort of thing?
Well, he’s 87, and if he’s reading this, you have to say my dad still is a brickie, because he refuses to retire. He still does a little bit. I’ve never met a man like him. Straight back, strong arms, for a bricklayer he’s incredible. He was an amazing role model. I’m the youngest of four kids, both my sisters are florists and my brother was a horticulturalist. I love all of them, you know.
How have you ended up on TV, how did that happen for you?
I landscaped a house in Crow’s Nest. It was 1999 just before the Olympics. Scott Cam - you might have heard of him - he was the builder. And Jamie Durie, another bloke, was the garden designer. The guy who owned the house, he worked for Don Burke (another TV gardening celebrity) and he said: “Oh, I’ve got a camera crew coming over on Friday arvo, they’re just going to film your hands and your feet for the news. And then they just shot us some questions and I said: “Oh, Jamie’s cute, you know, he’ll be good when he grows up.”
He’s only this tall. Scotty Cam fought with my dog and we mucked around and that was the start of Backyard Blitz. Next year, he rang me up and offered me a job and I said: “Yeah, okay”, so 20 years with Channel 7. And I did this show called Auction Squad for four years.
Then it went up against Burke’s Backyard, which was an absolute institution. So yes, I started on that. And then after four years the real estate market tanked, and the show got pulled and for about 3 hours I thought it was over. Then they rang up and said: “the show’s not going to be on next year. If you don’t tell anyone, you’ll be on Better Homes and Gardens next year.
It was a fantastic 20 years. You know, I think it went to 50-something countries. Wow! I got to enter the Melbourne Garden Show and I won it five times. I got to represent Australia and go to the Chelsea Flower Show. And only 99 Australians have done that.
What are the tools that you have relied on in your career?
We’re so off-grid here. When we first came down, we literally pitched a tent to start with in the middle of summer. It was hot and I bought a RYOBI fan.
I then bought a RYOBI light and I just sort of dismissed it as camping gear and that would be fine. But, you know, it’s just convenient with the one battery. And then one day I started building a little hut and I brought down my tools, but I didn’t have a drill. So, I bought a drill ‘skin’ and thought that’s pretty good, and it evolved from there. I literally prune everything with the RYOBI Hedger because I find it lighter. If you’re doing this for a few hours a day every ounce or every gram is going to you take a toll on your body. And I find that it’s lighter and easier for me.
People always say to me as they pull up: “You call this work?” I’ve got a little RYOBI radio on, the dog’s either asleep in the car or at my feet and I’m pruning away!
What encouraged you to evolve to the RYOBI
36V system over petrol?
I’ve just got one other little story for you. Dad’s rings me up and goes: “mate, can you come and look at the mower? I can’t get it going. I think it needs a spark plug or the fuel’s gone off over winter, I didn’t use it.” I’ve pulled up, first go. Bang, it’s started. And dad went: “uh, give me a go.”.
I’ve said to him: “It’s you, it’s not the mower.” He goes: “Oh, I might have to get someone to mow the lawn then or you can do it.” And I’m not going up to mow his lawn.
So, I gave him my RYOBI 18V and I updated to the 36V. And now, 87 years old, he’s pushing this mower on a one-quarter acre block. That was the only thing that was stopping him. It wasn’t the half an hour of walking or emptying the catcher, it was just that power punch to get a petrol mower started.
I want you to show us how to turn a twig into a buxus ball and how many buxus balls do you have on the farm? How do they start? What do they have to do?
Well, it’ll take you 5 minutes to show you how to do it. But eight years to grow it.
Last count I had about 7,000 of them. They range in sizes from, you know, as big as my finger to my hand. And then I’ve got them to about 1.2m round - they’re about 10 years old. Every time you see a branch grow, don’t let it grow out far. Let it grow a couple of centimetres and just give it a haircut and it will divide into two, then give them a haircut in a couple of weeks’ time. They’ll divide into two. Yeah, you’ve turned that into hundreds of branches every time you’ve given it a light haircut. I’ve said to you before, never prune when you’re angry (because you can get too tough on your plants).
If you go out to do the gardening begrudgingly, you’re never going to do a great job, right? Gardening can be so much better than pilates or, you know, sitting on a hill watching the sunrise. If you’re in the zone … I did eight hours here yesterday, and my wife Lisa asks what did I do all day? I said I just pruned and that I’m just taking a little bit off. And, you know, it’s so rewarding.
Ha! Who says money doesn’t grow on trees? How much is art form? How much is just learning as you go? How much of that is enjoyment?
I put a podcast on, I can listen to the jukebox, talk to the dog, no one’s telling me off. But if you’re a beginner and you want to create a ball, I would say get a hula hoop or get something that can go over the ball and you put it on the ground.
So, if the ball’s half the size of the hula hoop, you just keep the gap even between the hula hoop and the ball. Your height is dictated to by the width. So, I try to do the bottom and the side, and then I make the height of the top to match it so it’s a ball.