Gardening was always going to rule Vasili Kanidiadis's life — it's in his blood.
His early exposure to backyard veggie-growing left a lasting impression and, despite stints in engineering and even classical piano, the simple beauty of homegrown produce is where his passion lies.
Kanidiadis is something of a household name these days, thanks to his cult television show Vasili's Garden, which started broadcasting on Channel 31 in 2003 and moved to SBS in 2007.
At its height, the show was attracting more than 400,000 viewers a week, almost unheard of for such a low-budget show on a community station. The show returned to its roots on Channel 31 (broadcast on Digital Channel 44) last week.
Flamboyant, cheerful and with a piano accordion in-tow, Kanidiadis and his camera crew have a basic formula for Vasili's Garden: visiting mostly migrant families across Australia who tell the story behind the establishment and success of their veggie garden.
The aim is to celebrate homegrown food and show how even the smallest backyard, patio or side garden can be used to grow fresh, healthy produce.
By the show's conclusion the crew and garden owners usually wind up eating and drinking the produce grown in the garden, with Kanidiadis providing the entertainment with his beloved piano accordion.
Before you know it cast, crew and gardeners are arm in arm dancing to Zorba as the credits roll.
Kanidiadis reckon's it's all pretty basic and a lot of fun. "It's about simple people who love to garden and, yes, many are migrants with little formal education, but the wealth of knowledge they possess in practical gardening is far greater than any school education can offer you.
"This knowledge has been handed down to them from past generations, from parents and grandparents who in their time had to garden to survive with simple methods, using simple equipment and in the end achieving a very healthy and sustainable lifestyle."
Exceedingly proud of his own migrant heritage, Kanidiadis believes the show has also struck a chord because it plays an important role at keeping traditions alive.
"A lot of people of my generation actually didn't stay in touch with the traditional practices. They got on with the new life in Australia," he says.
"But now there is a bit of a resurgence in some younger people, that next generation. So many people we feature on the show are that generation older than me, so I think it's important to keep these methods and traditions alive."
The son of Greek migrants, Kanidiadis was born in Coburg but moved to Keilor Park at the age of six.
After not truly embracing a career in engineering, he opened a plant and garden store in 1993 in his old stomping ground of Coburg.
Word soon spread about 'the Greek guy with all the great fruit and veg advice', and Kanidiadis was approached by a friend who worked at 3XY multicultural radio to take part in a talkback gardening show.
The show proved a huge success and profits for the station. It was on the back of the radio show's high ratings that Kanidiadis was invited to try his luck on television.
Still somewhat surprised at his rise to fame, he believes much of his show builds on the adventures he had with his father as a child.
"My earliest memories of gardening were at the age of six or seven," he recalls. "Each day my father would pick me up from school and drive past the old property in Coburg where we used to live. He had the house demolished and turned it into a huge vegetable garden.
"Every day we would go there and harvest the freshly ripe produce. My dad would always have a couple of village-style bread rolls with him and some feta cheese.
''We would break open the bread and fill it with a bit of everything picked from the garden then go and sit under the old lemon tree to enjoy the afternoon feast."
Besides moving to SBS in 2007, Kanidiadis has appeared on the ABC, had a couple of spots on Channel 10 and written a newspaper column. He still has a weekly spot on 3AW and SBS radio.
His new series promises to stick to the old formula, albeit with some new additions. "It will have a whole new line-up of guests and new presenters," Kanidiadis says. "The show is being grown out to one hour of gardening and cooking tips and advice, along with crazy guests."
Kanidiadis says it's the people of Melbourne and, of course, the people from all parts of Australia, who continue to inspire him.
"Most importantly, it's the migrant generation: our parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours who grew up gardening purely to survive. It's their stories and gardening and cooking secrets that I want to explore and share."
It's not lost on Kanidiadis that while it might be in vogue for inner suburban trendies to be get involved in community gardens or start their own herb patch, for generations many migrant families have been doing just that without the fuss.
"It's a way of life that more and more people of today are turning to, and yes we are proud to say that Vasili's Garden has been a strong influence towards this healthy
change. As my father and grandfather would say, 'It's about growing it yourself', knowing where it grew and how it was grown, with nothing short of tender loving care given to every seed germinated, every plant propagated and every tree grafted."
Kanidiadis's new show screens at 7.30pm Wednesdays on Digital 44.