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Girls in their Garden - Tessa

Our next 'Girls in their Garden' series muse is actor, voiceover artist, surfer, academic, environmental activist and the creator of The Nature Between Us podcast - Tessa de Josselin.

film photo of girl in vegetable garden
Tessa de Josselin in her garden on Garigal land

Tessa de Josselin is one of those people you instantly like. Someone you feel you’ve met before, or already know. I have no idea how many times I’ve actually met Tessa prior to our interview but it might have been just once. Even so, I fondly think of her as a friend. Perhaps it's our shared love for the environment, the ocean and the parallels in our work - her’s in film & tv and mine in fashion (both terribly polluting and wasteful industries we are trying to shift). At the time I am writing this, she is currently walking 100kms to raise money for the Australian Conservation Foundation’s  Biggest Bushwalk. She very nearly inspired me to do it (cue anyone who knows me laughing at the thought of me trying to walk 100kms) - and that's proof of a true pioneer.

Her fingers are in many pies (as well as her veggie patch). On screen, you might remember her from Home & Away or recognise her husky tone from one of the hundreds of campaigns she has lent her voice to. She holds a Bachelor of Art/Sciences, and most recently a Masters of Environment and Climate Emergency, where she focused her research on seaweed and climate mitigation. At present, she is also the Sustainable Content and Practitioner Lead with environmental non-profit Sustainable Screens Australia, focusing her efforts on facilitating sustainable production, and encouraging environmental storytelling. In addition, Tessa produces and hosts her own independent podcast The Nature Between Us which aims to demystify environmental issues and engage a wider audience in the climate conversation. She is also a very very good surfer. Do you have a crush yet? Same. Let’s jump straight in.


Describe yourself as someone who loves you would…

I found this hard to answer, so I asked my love Erik, and close friend Lucy. They said…Tessa is a determined, multi-talented, thorough, jolly, considerate, loyal silly billy.

Where is your garden and what is the Aboriginal or original land owner's name for where you have your space?

It’s in Narrabeen, on beautiful Garigal land.

Describe your garden in three words.

Sandy, recycled, enjoyable.

Favourite quote?

“Giving up your ego is the shortest way to unification with nature” - Masanobu Fukuoka

Favourite plant?

Hard to choose! At the moment, potatoes - the thrill of the harvest has not worn thin. And sunflowers - so big, bright and beautiful.

film photo girl gardening tomatoes recycled materials

What's something new you are trying right now?

Everything! I am in a constant state of experimentation. One thing I'm trying to prioritise is cultivating good soil, and also shifting my growing choices to complement what my garden naturally supports. Letting nature lead the way.

Living so close to the beach, and choosing to plant directly in the ground, my soil is very sandy - which is great for some plants, but not for others. I think when I started I just wanted to try to grow everything (and I still fall into this trap tbh). But I am now trying to observe what’s thriving, and then think about how I can support that by retaining and replenishing nutrients, and moisture. And not be so scared of weeds, because I’m finding that they give life to my soil (even if they’re not what I'm trying to grow!)

Can you explain a little bit about the mission of Sustainable Screens Australia (SSA) and what got you into it?

Sure! So Sustainable Screens Australia is an industry led and funded not for profit that aims to support the Australian Screen industry to reduce its environmental impact and inspire stories for a sustainable future. As an actor with an environmental background I had spent over a decade on sets thinking geeze, surely things could be done differently, but where and how to start?! I was unsure how to make meaningful change. Then I heard SSA had formed and they were looking to fill a position, so I jumped at the opportunity to get involved. It’s exciting to see productions shifting their processes to be more sustainable, and to start thinking about how on-screen messaging can also play a part in shifting hearts and minds. For anyone interested, our website is a hub of free information, resources and workshop opportunities - definitely check it out!

Your garden has a beautiful history, with your father growing food for the family over 35 years ago in the same plot you are growing now. Do you believe the continuation of care has made the space special in any way?

Oh for sure, it holds so many happy memories for me growing up. The chickens especially. God I love chickens, they are such funny little dinosaurs.  Now that I’m older I realise it was unique and very fortunate to have had these elements to my upbringing. I think without realising it, I was absorbing dads growing techniques and interest in good food and self-sufficiency. And the idea that nothing is wasted, everything can be recycled. That still lives on now when I’m gardening. All the materials I use to stake plants, or build a support trellis have been recycled, lots of the tools have been hand-built or repurposed, and I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. 

"I’m a very sentimental person, so there’s also a nice element of feeling very much connected and at home in this patch of dirt."

Even though there’s been constant improvements, and iterations of how the garden looks there’s also been some longstanding patch members - such as the two big avocado trees! Which are a big source of happiness for me, obviously to eat from, but they also give nice shade and mulch when they drop their leaves, and act as a nice habitat for animals and insects. I’m noticing that big old trees in urban areas are becoming more and more rare, so I love having them.

It wasn’t until recently I realised my upbringing in the bush, surrounded by nature, might be the reason I'm passionate about sustainability. You grew up with fresh food being grown in your garden, chickens, and your father also going directly to a local farm to get fresh produce.  Were there any other accumulative parts of your childhood you think moulded your love for the planet, your study and interests?

All those parts you mentioned for sure created an appreciation for natural systems, and local food cultivation. And also seeded the idea that DIY is normal. Local produce exists. Having your own chickens is easy if you have the space, and makes heaps of sense for waste management and food supply. I never thought twice about any of those things. But I think the biggest influence would have been our proximity to the ocean, and how much that played a part in my hobbies and interests. I basically lived at the beach and spent every minute, when not at school, in the surf. The ocean was a place of so much fun, and freedom and beauty, and something that we enjoyed as a family - and still do! That 100% was the driving force behind me deciding to pursue environmental studies and communication.

As a surfer, with a Masters of Environment and Climate Emergency, and a research focus on seaweed, one would assume your major connection to the natural world is the ocean - has growing your food grown your connection to the earth?

Yes, most certainly. On a very small scale I think so much about bugs and pollinators now, and how crucial they are for a healthy ecosystem and food production. I saw a blue banded bee recently, which is native to Australia, and I was totally star struck. I felt so proud that I had continued to nurture a place where these incredible workers can do their thing - without which I wouldn't have tomatoes to eat! And it’s the same with the bugs. I joke with dad that I’m growing food for the bugs, not for myself. But I don’t mind because they are the foundation of a healthy ecosystem, yet so under-appreciated.

"Some advice that always stuck with me is that the best thing you can do for pollinators and insects is to leave a patch of your garden completely wild. This allows them to nest, or find food sources, or pollen from flowering plants."

Dr Tim Heard, an entomologist I interviewed for S2 of The Nature Between Us, shared that, and I’m seeing it in practice now, with my somewhat wild little patch.

Your first step into growing was in the hinterland of Byron. I have a joke that if you were to throw seeds over your shoulder anywhere in that area it would grow a tree-sized plant in 3 months. The soil is so fertile. How is your current garden in Narrabeen different to your space in Byron?

Haha yes, you’re spot on! I definitely had an elevated sense of accomplishment after starting a garden in the Byron hinterland, everything grew so well. My basil plants were like trees! The climate up there is much more humid, with more rain and hot pockets of sun. Plus the soil is so much more nutrient rich. That’s the biggest difference with my garden now, as mentioned I have super sandy soil being so close to the coast. So I need to be on top of watering most days, and mulching lots. The patch I had up north seemed to get less inundated with bugs too. Which is interesting given it was a much more rural, ‘wild’ place to be growing, and there were bugs galore. Has me wondering if there’s less soil/plant/wild space in Sydney for bugs to thrive, so when they find it they really go crazy? Or perhaps the larger ecosystem is a bit out of balance in urban places and there’s less birds/predators feeding on them? I don’t have the answers, just observing.

We talked about how one of the beauties of growing food is failing. Failure is the greatest teacher. And growing food has taught me patience in life that is only now matched by my new role as a mother. Share with us some of your greatest fails!

Oh my gosh, gardening is a series of constant fails! Ha! Which is why I think I love that Masanobu Fukuoka quote so much. It’s a good reminder to leave your ego in the compost and know you can’t control everything. I seeded some carrots about 2 months ago, but when I went to harvest them I found that they were all impacted by root knot nematodes - a soil parasite which makes root and tuber crops all knotted, fluffy and gnarled. Massive fail! But a curious one, because I had successfully grown carrots throughout winter last year. So I did some research and I think my mistake was seeding the carrots in the summer months, when parasites thrive in warm sandy soil. I still have no idea how they got in there in the first instance, but like we said - it’s all about leaving your ego at the door haha. I’ve since seeded a thick ‘cover crop’ of mustard (rich in natural biofumigants) to mulch into the soil and naturally eradicate them. So see how we go with that!

What's some advice you would give someone wanting to start a garden in their apartment?

I was never able to grow much when I lived in an apartment, but I have friends who have full balconies of plants and herbs so it’s definitely possible. My tips would be; find a sheltered, sunny spot (doesn't have to be outside either, inside can work too), start small, see how you go with the basics (herbs, tomatoes) and then work your way up, and if you’re on a balcony, don’t forget to plant flowers!! They are just as important as the tasty stuff too.

Anything you want to leave us with?

Just that if anyone reading this is as garden obsessed as I am, please reach out. I love hearing about what people are growing, sharing tips, and seeing how they are using their harvest <3 And thank you Celeste for your excellent questions and chatting with me! Happy gardening everyone!


Listen to The Nature Between Us podcast on Spotify here


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