Costa Georgiadis will be 58 early next year. Despite a few grey hairs in that beard, the effervescent landscape architect who's best known for his television roles, seems to have not aged a day since he first appeared on our screens 12 years ago on SBS's Costa's Gardening Odyssey.
He puts it down to a few simple things.
"The more you have your hands in the soil and around the plants, there are so many therapeutic and medicinal benefits to it all," he says. "It just lifts your spirits."
The holistic power of connecting with nature is well documented. It lowers stress, increases immunity, improves sleep, overall happiness and wellbeing. For Georgiadis, sharing the message that gardening is good for the soil - and the soul - is part of his life force.
He shares this message, among many others, in his first book Costa's World. It's part practical guide, part call to arms, part journal of his own life and experiences. It celebrates the life-changing joy of backyard chickens, the role bees and other critters play in the garden, there are projects for families to complete together and chapters that delve into the bigger-picture things such as sustainability and biodiversity.
But the bigger-picture things begin, literally, in our own backyards. While he acknowledges that many people have done it tough during the pandemic, part of him is glad that for many of us the past couple of years has meant we've spent more time in that backyard, whether it be a yard, or a balcony, a rooftop, or 100 acres.
"One wonderful aspect of the pandemic is that it's given people a little more time to actually look at what's around them," he says.
"People have a better sense of connection to their neighbourhoods, their community, they've noticed when the leaves have changed, or what direction the wind comes from in different seasons.
"Look, it's been tough, don't get me wrong there, but if we're thinking more about where we live, what street, what suburb, what city, country, but more than that, if we think about our homes as their own entity, that connects us with the land.
"The idea that gravity will run a raindrop from your place into the gutter, and then down into the drain and that drain will run into a creek which ends up in the ocean, it's all about this interconnected nature of nature."
Georgiadis got hooked on gardening in his grandparent's garden. Greek migrants, they set up home in Sydney planting the first seeds of the concept of sustainability in their young grandson.
"There was a simplicity about their priorities, which is not something to write off as a peasant or so-called villager's view of the world," he says.
"On the contrary, their honesty and simplicity was carved and moulded in day-to-day connection with the world around them: the seasons, the garden, the landscape and the companions they shared their journey with.
"It was a concept of sustainability that was more directly about supply and care for the family. It was about leaving for the family a world and a place worth inheriting."
He loves working with children in his current roles, indeed Get Grubby TV, an ABC children's program, where he plays Costa the garden gnome alongside Dirt Girl and Scrap Boy, is in many ways his dream gig. On average Australian kids spend 50 hours a week in front of a screen, but only 40 minutes outside. Get Grubby TV looks a lot like PlaySchool but with a clear focus on the garden, with an accompanying early childhood curriculum.
"Kids understand a lot more than we think they do, they're capable of taking in a lot more.
"With kids I sometimes even ramp up the science, go deeper with the nuances and the facts, because the kids love it."
There's a chapter of the book which contains things to do with kids, and stuff kids can do on their own. Grow from seeds, when those seeds have grown, set up a routine of picking fresh vegetables together, visit farmers' markets, cultivate cacti.
"There are so many ways that we can inspire children to go outside," he says.
"Littlies often express sheer joy when they're out of the house, but as kids get older we need to take every opportunity to excite them with creative ways of connecting to the outside world.
"Some may be more interested in the living world, and by that I mean insects, birds and animals, while others may be little builders: keen to hammer and saw and nail and grind and construct things, really use their hands and get stuck into it.
"Others may be more interested in observing by drawing, painting, sketching or taking photos of what they see and feel.
"While others may just want to get grubby by getting their hands into the soil: playing in the mud kitchen, digging dams, making rivers flow or planting seedlings and collecting the harvest.
"It is important to use any flicker of interest as your leverage point, your clue to discovering that makes kids tick, so you can slowly connect them in lots of different ways with how nature works."
As we talk, our conversation jumps from bees to spiders, to maggots to composting, to how his little balcony at home doesn't see any sun in the winter. He's thinking about what he might plant once the sun comes back around as summer approaches. He acknowledges our First Nations people, and their contributions to the land, their observations, how all of us should have a love of country. There are messages about climate change, food waste, pollution and energy efficiency.
But the trick is he never gets preachy; I try to press him about what messages we should be taking to governments, alongside the messages he loves to deliver to children.
"I find that the more I let go and appreciate the way of things at this point, on this day, in this week, during this month, throughout this year, the more there is a comforting reassurance in that acceptance.
"This has taught me that things find their level, and that I can't change everything.
"There are things that are going to happen that I don't want to happen, and there are things that will play out that are bad, unethical or illegal - and sometimes quite evil.
"But what keeps me bouncing back to the plate, rebounding like that blow-up clown that you push and it rolls back up with a smile, is that beneath what can seem like a world just ploughing ahead on a road to destruction, there is a day-to-day opportunity to inform and excite.
"To create new habits that begin to effect change within one individual or one family - they then become the billboard that informs their family and friends, and influences their actions."
Costa will meet Mid North Coast locals in an online author talk at Kempsey library on October 27. Register at www.eventbrite.com.au/e/costa-georgiadis-presents-costas-world-tickets-175097560517
- Costa's World: Gardening for the soul, the soil and the suburbs, by Costa Georgiadis. ABC Books, $45.