Costa Georgiadis – The Greek God Of Gardening
During the month The Beast caught up with gardening guru, compost king and hirsute host of Gardening Australia, Costa Georgiadis…
Where are you originally from?
I was born in St Margaret’s Hospital on Crown Street here in Sydney. I grew up in North Bondi and I pretty much lived there all my life. I went and studied landscape architecture at UNSW after school and then I worked for about 12 months and saved up my money, because my goal was to travel the world. So I hit the road to Europe and I ended up living there for three years and then for the next few years I came back here in December, just before Christmas, I stayed here till the end of Feb and then went back to Europe and worked from late Feb, once winter was lifting, through till December. I had about three or four years without a winter, which was kind of cool. And I was probably away for six or seven years.
Being a second-generation Australian of Greek heritage, had you been over to Greece before as a kid?
Yeah, as a 15 year old my parents put me into this Greece trip for Greek Australian kids to go over and see Greece. I went over there for about eight weeks and I realised when I was over there that I could speak Greek. I was with other friends from here in Sydney – same sort of thing, second-generation kids – who couldn’t speak Greek. I was ringing up their relatives and saying, “Theo’s here, he wants to come and meet you” and I’d go there and I was the interpreter. I’ll never forget it. I came home and I said to my parents, “Thank you for making me learn Greek” because it was hard back then. When I was a kid in primary school having to go to wog school, I was getting paid out heavily. After school you’re supposed to be going out playing with your friends but I had to walk the gauntlet down the street with kids yelling, “Oh, you’re going to wog school, you’re going to wog school.”
Did your folks speak any Greek at home?
We spoke it with my grandparents and we spoke it with certain aunts and relatives, but day to day for me and my sister we spoke English and then Greek where required.
Where are you living these days?
At the moment I’m back at home with my dad, living in my family home where I grew up in North Bondi.
What do you love about living in the Eastern Suburbs?
I think what I love most about the Eastern Suburbs is just the sheer diversity of people. Everywhere you go it’s just a mix. And above that I reckon the biggest privilege of living around here is that you’ve got world class beaches that you can just roll up to on a work day. People in the rest of the world save up their holidays to go to the beach for a week and I can work all day and fumble down to Bondi or Bronte for a swim on dusk. I get out and I feel like I’ve been on a holiday and I’m right in the heart of the city.
Is there anything you don’t like?
What gets my goat is the way that the whole real estate reality has just blown into such a bubble that people are running around and they miss what’s actually here. The real estate’s on the surface, the landscape is what we need to appreciate. People are so busy running around to support a paper stack that they forget what they’ve actually got, and on a world scale it doesn’t get much better. I reckon we’re bloody lucky here.
How did you become a gardener, because I thought a Greek garden involved backing up a cement truck and letting rip?
Yeah, with a bit of green paint and lots of pots on top. I tell you, my childhood has seen many hours spent observing such gardens and also seeing the other extreme with the full blown, crazy Greek jungles. It’s funny because the more I get asked questions like this the more I remember these gardens of my childhood. Everywhere I’d go as a kid, people recognised plants, and they were constantly snapping things off and saying, “Take some of this,” or “Here, take a pot of that.” They really valued living things. I can’t tell you how many gardens I trundled through as a kid. I’d be standing there seeing my grandfather giving people this, giving them that, showing them what to do with the manure and how to paint some lime on to the trunk of a lemon tree. So yeah, that’s where it all started.
Tell us about the project you’ve got going on in your street?
The project is pretty much based on the fact that I go around the country telling people they’ve got to do things locally and that can deal with the big problems. So I thought if I’m banging on around the country trying to inspire people and telling them that this is what they’ve got to do, I thought, hold the phone buddy, why don’t you walk the walk in your own community? So I said okay, I’m going to turn my verge into a community garden and then it can be a model and inspire the street and slowly little satellite verges will hopefully pop up until we fill the whole street and turn it into a living, breathing, edible flower, veggie and fruit garden.
Were council happy to get on board?
Council have been really supportive and they love it because council want community and the best vehicles of community are the people within it. And the best part about the garden is that as people watch it grow they are freaking out. They cannot believe that in six weeks I could literally harvest a whole laundry tub full of mixed salad greens that could feed half the street. If we can roll this out and inspire people to use that space, council doesn’t have to have a gang of people mowing grass wastelands and spraying them with chemicals.
How would you recommend other people in the Eastern Suburbs go about making their own verge garden?
The simplest thing you can do regarding your own verge is to simply get on the council website and fill out a verge application. Just tell them what you want to do, start small and then talk to some other people and get them to help you. Just get going and then watch what it does. People will stop and you will suddenly realise how many people are walking up and down your street. They will stop and they’ll go: “What are you doing? Oh, that’s fantastic. Oh, I think I might do it myself.” So you will actually become a role model.
Do you have any other equally consuming passions as gardening?
Yeah, there are probably two that you mightn’t know about. Firstly, I referee rugby – a lot of young people’s rugby, schools and under 19s, under 20s. I just love it. I love the running around; it keeps me fit. I know an incredible number of people around the area just because I’ve been reffing them since they were kids and it’s a really nice thing. For me my rugby refereeing is meditation. I turn up and for that 70 or 80 minutes the world is turned off and all I’m focused on is what’s happening on the field. I find it incredibly relaxing. The other passion is the band that I’ve had with some friends from school, since school, and we do an annual gig called Beardstock. We do it down at the North Bondi RSL and we’ve done about 12 of them. It’s a crazy funk, disco, rock, cabaret catharsis that does everything from Prince, Chili Peppers, Hot Chocolate, James Brown, Cameo – all sorts of mad covers. What I love about it is we’re not doing it to pay the rent. We do it as a once a year gig and just turn the place upside down. It’s just crazy.
What’s the band called?
The More Please Orchestra.
What do you play?
My role is the quiet, unassuming, reserved person that stands at the front, and some may say sing, yodel, yell, squeal, jump up and down and play a little bit of sax on the side. When I pan the river of my life the gold chunks will be some of the More Please gigs.
How did your show, ‘Costa’s Garden Odyssey’, come about?
My good mate from school Sean Kennedy and I, when I went off and did landscape architecture he was studying film and doco making. For years we’d been talking about doing something but he was busy doing his docos and I was off here, there and everywhere. Strangely enough, a phone call came from a friend of ours who had been in TV, another Bondi girl, Dianne Smith, and she rang up and said, “I know that there’s a production company looking for someone to be on a lifestyle garden show, will I give them your number?” And I said, “Oh, yeah, why not, we’ll have a crack.” They rang me up, sent a camera crew around to film me working on this job where I was harvesting water and they shot some stuff and said, “Yep, that’s good, we’ll call you.” About 14 months later the production company rang me up and said SBS were interested, so we went in, had a chat with the production company, then we made a sizzle reel and pitched the show and the rest was history.
And so how many episodes of Odyssey did you do?
We did 25.
Is that on hold now that you’ve started with Gardening Australia on ABC?
Yeah, but odysseys never end and I left SBS as comfortably and as amicably as the day I began. I loved it there. They just weren’t in a position at this time to continue but I’m forever indebted to SBS because they backed me. I mean who would have backed a talking scarecrow, garden gnome, half man, half hedge? None of the other stations would have ever gone near me.
Do you realise that you’re only the third host of ‘Gardening Australia’ in 23 years?
Yeah, that’s pretty freaky, isn’t it.
How did you score that gig?
It was a knock on the door. The ABC came and tapped on the door and said, “We’re looking for change,” and I said, “Well if you’re up for change I’ll bring it.”
What can we expect from the show?
I really want to drive the importance that for everything we do we’ve got to ask one simple question: is my action building and supporting life or is my action supporting death? Am I eating food that’s going to make me more alive or am I eating processed dead food that’s been transported across the world using a lot of energy and then been infused with all sorts of chemicals to preserve it so that it supports an industry that’s very destructive? I really want health to be a big part of the show. Health of environment, health of ecosystems, support of nature’s systems, use of nature’s systems to regenerate her. That immediately alienates some people because they’re saying, “This is meant to be a gardening show.” My answer to that is that the whole world’s a garden and if we don’t look after that garden you’re not going to have your little garden to play with your plants because we’re messing with the joint.
When’s it on?
It’s on Saturdays at 6:30pm and repeated on Sundays at 1:00pm.
Did you ever dream you’d be hosting a television show?
I remember dreaming when I was in about second class that I wanted to be a scientist that took the venom out of snakes, which is very strange. And there was probably a time when I thought I’d love to be able to deliver a project that put all of these truthful ideas out there. So yes, that would have been a dream.
International Compost Awareness Week is coming up in May (May 7-12); can you tell us a bit about your involvement?
I’m an ambassador for International Compost Awareness Week and I’m hosting the Compost Ball. I’m also involved with a series of demonstrations down at the Bondi Farmers Market on the Saturday of that week. During the week the whole three council initiative (Waverley, Randwick and Woollahra Councils) are inspiring and encouraging people to do compost initiatives in their neighbourhoods. They’ll be holding workshops, getting specialists in, giving away worm farms and compost bins, creating some compost, and just generally acting on it locally. You can find out more about International Compost Awareness Week at www.compostweek.com.au or for more local events you can go to www.reduceyourfootprint.com.au.
How self sustaining are you in terms of your food consumption and waste output?
I’m really conscious of my waste output and I’m constantly doing as many little things as possible – always saying no to plastic bags, buying bulk supplies of simple things like nuts and muesli to minimise packaging, going to co ops and taking my own jars, buying from the local growers market where I can meet the grower. I cherish trying to not put the garbage bin out. I work in reverse. If I can go three weeks without putting the garage bin out that’s a victory.
And you have four chickens, don’t you?
Yep, and I just got offered a fifth. I think six or seven will eventually do because I’m now getting a lot of people bringing their scraps around to me. I’m not only composting it but giving it to the chooks too. What I love about my chooks is that they are fertility makers. The eggs are a bonus but their key mission statement is turning waste or scraps into fertility and the fertility fuels the produce and the produce fuels me.
Are they producing many eggs?
Yeah, out of the four girls I average two to three eggs a day. So that’s pretty much two dozen eggs a week, which is heaps.
What do you do with your excess?
Well, between Dad and I, we don’t eat two-dozen eggs a week. I could if I made more omelettes. But what I do is I put a little six-pack out once a week and people who put their scraps in to feed the chooks get to take them. So then the kids get to realise that their scraps have been turned into eggs and that’s cool.
And do, the chooks have names?
The two eldest are Henrietta and Thelma. My younger charge, who comes out with me everywhere on courses and so on, is Kinky, and then the fourth one was a recent arrival, a sick one, who I nursed back into health and it’s yet to be named.
Can you give The Beast readers a couple of quick tips to help them become more sustainable through gardening?
First point, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got six small pots, six square meters or 60 square metres, you can provide health changing nourishment for your body and soul by growing your own simple salad greens that are pretty much bullet proof. Don’t go for tomatoes straight away, just go with the salad greens. Secondly, look inside your bin then have a look in the mirror. You might get a bit of a shock at just what you throw out and the only person that can change that is you. Carry a plastic bag around with you all day and put everything that you’re going to put into a bin into that plastic bag and see what you’ve got at the end of the day. Remove the food scraps out of your waste stream and either start a composting system or find a neighbour who is into composting and take the scraps to them or your local community garden. Finally, take responsibility for everything that you put in your mouth. Eliminate preservatives and chemically produced food from your mouth. Think of yourself as your own personal border control and stop chemicals from going into your body by growing your own, buying from a growers market or reading labels.
Tell me about your beard; how long have you had it for?
The beard celebrated its 20th year in November. So it’s been 20 years since I’ve owned a razor and I love it.
Will it ever go?
What do they say in that Bond film? Never say never!
For the right cause it might?
A few people have asked me and I was at one school fundraising thing and they said, “Will you chop it for $500?” I said, “Mate, I wouldn’t even soap the brush for $500.”
Why did the beard first come about? Is your old man bearded?
No, he’s never had a beard. He never even has stubble. The first time I grew it was when my girlfriend at the time went overseas. I had these big lamb chops when I was at uni and I decided to go for the big link up. I closed it up and the beard grew and then she came back from overseas and foolishly I shaved it off. Then a couple of years later I grew it again. I was in Egypt at the time, we were cruising up the Nile and at about 2am on the final night on this cruise I got crook as. I was crook for a couple of weeks and I couldn’t be bothered shaving. I love not having to shave. I love that I can wake up in the morning and that’s it. I don’t have to fuss and manicure and pamper around. I just get up and go.
Do you have a career highlight thus far?
Probably the opportunity to go into Yirrkala in Arnhem Land and to be welcomed by the local rangers and to feel a true welcome to country that rattles your very cage. That’s two years ago now and it’s still settling. It was amazing. The welcome itself bought me to tears. I would rate that as one of my biggest privileges.
Do you have any advice for youngsters looking to convince their parents to let them build a veggie garden?
Yeah. That’s a good question. Just tell them that I said we have to start yesterday.
In an ideal world what does the future hold for Costa Georgiadis?
I want to continue to inspire people to put food and nutrition as the priority in their life, to let go of the consumption and the accumulation and just go for the simple here and now importance of taking note of everything they put in their body, building up an internal composting system that takes every bit of mineral out of their food and fuels a state of health and state of mind that gives them the opportunity to have visions, dreams and the capacity to achieve them.