The very successful “Dry Spell Gardening” premiered on The LifeStyle Channel in April this year. The series received excellent reviews and was LifeStyle’s top rating show on the night it screened. We catch up with the host, Brendan Moar, a local Armidale man.
>Which Moar Family do you belong to?
To the best of my knowledge, if you check the local phone book all the Moars spelt M O A R are all related to me. Pre 1984 there would have been only one Moar listing, and that was Mum and Dad! Now all the Moars in the book can be attributed to my two brothers, Victor and Andrew. There’s my sister Bec of course, but she has taken her husband’s surname, Wood.
Dad and Mum ran the Ampol depot for 16 or so years, as well as a couple of bus runs. Dad now spends all his time looking after their 500 acre property north of Armidale, “Campton” and being an active member of Rotary. Currently he’s working his charm trying to get people to get involved with SLEX. That’s not a typo, by the way, the ‘L’ stands for ‘Living’ – the rest stands for Sustainable Living Expo, which is happening in Armidale in September on the 20th and 21st. Mum works hard helping out with grandkids and looking after the garden at “Campton” – which is lots and lots of work!
My eldest brother Vic, a legend among stock and station agents, runs Armitage and Buckley. Andy, my younger brother, one of Australia’s most brilliant joiners (I like the power here to talk up my bros!) owns and operates Moar Windows and Doors. My sister Bec is doing an astounding job bringing up three children with her hubby Damian. At the moment life is particularly ‘full’ for them, as their youngest Tessa is undergoing treatment for Leukemia in Sydney. Tess by, the way, is responding brilliantly to the treatment.
We moved to Armidale in 1974, after spending about a year travelling around Australia in a caravan. Mum and Dad were in search of an easier way of making a living, having spent seven years carting oil and wheat living next to a railway siding 40 km west of Quirindi. I always marvel at that now – four kids aged 2 to 9 in a small caravan in remote destinations would’ve been no mean feat. In fact, if friends who were in the same situation now announced they were to do a similar thing, I think they’d be regarded as courageous at best, but mostly insane!
> What was it like growing up in Armidale?
Growing up in Armidale was fantastic. We lived in Kentucky Street just near NERAM, across the road from the Teachers’ College playing fields. We used to run amok in those grounds. Of course we took it totally for granted, but now that I live in Sydney, in the thick of it, I realise what an amazing, fortunate thing it is to have such wonderful expansive green space literally on your doorstep.
My brothers and sister and I all went to Armidale City Public (or Armidale Demonstration School as it was known then) and then on to Armidale High School. School life was great. Being able to walk to school and move freely, safely and easily around Armidale is something I really value these days.
> How did your interest in gardening begin?
I was an enthusiastic student but was really crap at studying. When it came to my HSC I would need to ‘relax’ before a day of study with a full morning of television; Fat Cat, if I recall, followed with a healthy topping of Days of Our Lives and Young and the Restless. After that I still didn’t feel ready to settle to studying, so rummaging around the garden seemed like as good a distraction as any. There, in amongst the shrubbery, I got hooked. Gardening has a habit of doing that to people – sneaking up on them when they least expect it.
When I left school, photography, which had become my number one obsession, was all I wanted to do. I worked for a couple of years at Sydney University in their Dept of Photography, but all the while I had a niggling desire to go to university.
I wanted to do something that combined my eye for design (that photography had been satisfying) with something more environmentally focused. Landscape Architecture seemed perfect. It was a love/hate relationship. I loved everything except the study bit. Can you see a theme developing here?
> What led to you becoming a TV presenter?
I graduated from the University of NSW in 1993 and worked for three years for International Design firm Hassell. All the while I had started another obsession, theatre – the amateur kind. I would juggle both work and my theatrical endeavours, doing show after show to the point where I wanted to give it a go in the professional realm. I made the decision to leave Landscape Architecture and make the leap into professional acting and performance.
Somehow I managed to get into the over the top mega million dollar musical “Beauty and the Beast”. It was the beginning of a whole new life. The twelve months that followed were one hell of an introduction to the entertainment world, and I was hooked.
> Has your celebrity status helped your career goals?
Um, I don’t think I qualify as a celebrity – at all. Most of being a celebrity is about being known, a familiar face that everyone knows. I’ve been making TV shows full time for the last nine years, but working on subscription TV means that you fly under the radar to a large degree – which suits me just fine. Being recognised is not what I do this for.
I love making quality TV that is beautiful, intelligent and meaningful. The audience that tune into the shows I make are making a choice – a discerning choice. I’m very passionate about spreading the word about how life changing beautiful garden spaces can be, how gardening and garden making of all sorts at all levels is a richly satisfying endeavour.
> How often do you return home to Armidale?
My whole family lives in Armidale, so I have major incentive to return home – apart from the incentive that Armidale is just a wonderful place to be, full stop! I get home about three or four times a year, sometimes more. While I don’t mind giving June to August a wide berth, I do like to be reminded of the full range of seasons places like Armidale experience, and a cold winter makes for a magical spring – if there’s been a bit of rain about of course!
I love returning to work at the garden at ‘Campton’ – or I should say, marvelling at the work Mum has been doing! Gardening in Armidale’s climate is very challenging at times, but so very satisfying.
In fact, one thing I really love pursuing in our garden is how to make the plant choices more in line with a changing climate, which means greater drought tolerance as well as coping with greater temperature extremes. The fun bit is doing that in a way that creates an exciting visual and aesthetic experience.
> When did the first series of ‘Dry Spell Gardening’ go to air?
‘Dry Spell Gardening’ first went to air in April this year. The show was a chance for us to try and find new approaches to creating climate friendly gardens. It’s a whole new approach to garden-making shows in this country. Note here, that I avoid the use of the word ‘makeover’. I find that implies something that is quick, cheap and without great substance. Dry Spell focuses on the real journey that the people whose garden we’re building go through. It’s shot in an observational documentary/reality way. The gardens are absolutely cutting edge design, pushing forward the whole notion of what the Australian garden is and how it’s changing in a changing climate.
> Have viewers appreciated the difference?
The show has been received really well. The ratings have been great, regularly ranking in the top 5 shows for the channel every week. Apart from ratings though, people have responded to the show’s honesty.
It most certainly doesn’t just focus on all the good bits, but shows all the gritty bits – when things aren’t going so well, the stress (real stress, not the contrived variety) and when people aren’t liking what they’re seeing. Which was all pretty confronting for me at first, but I love the format now.
It was important that the show, given the focus of climate consciousness, was not preachy or guilt endowing for the viewer. Given that I don’t present straight to the camera, the viewer feels like they’re part of the conversation rather than being talked at.
> Thank you Brendan.