After returning from the fantastic Expo this afternoon with the feedback received following my presentation I have decided to post the basis for my presentation. This is part one. And I had thought it might be in lieu of doing a 5 Year Update post, but I think that will be forthcoming too!
The Story of Petit Paradis
I want to encourage you to grow at least some food in your own living space. Three or four generations ago we did this anyway. How soon we’ve lost touch. It takes so little room and in our society we’ve got a lot of space in comparison to other countries. And you’ll reap multiple benefits.
When I was asked if I would do a presentation for the Expo I wanted to talk about permaculture and growing food in your own backyard. I could have chosen seed saving, its what a lot of people associate me with, but I’ve also gained a reputation for my family garden where I practice permaculture principles. Over the years we’ve hosted some open garden events and had a couple of Living Smart course participants come through also. Permaculture comes from the words permanent culture – and in its truest context we mean a sustainable culture. Because a sustainable culture will lead to a state of permanence and resilience.
When my wife and I moved into our house five years ago my goal was to grow what I could from my own backyard and supplement it with produce from the local farmers market. I wanted to take more responsibility for my food. And I wanted to do it because we were about to grow as a family and I wanted my kids to know about Nature and our connections to it. I have a background in hospitality and I wanted my kids to know the real source of food. From the seed to the table.
Our house and garden was on a 500m2 block here in Albany, in Spencer Park. I remember watching the house get built when I lived down the street from it and thinking “It’ so small, who would want to live there?” Anyway, …. some years later, married and returning from Perth and looking for a new home, my wife and I were living there. So I turned it into an urban oasis. By thinking big on a small scale.
It was a two step process.
- Eradicate the lawn, and
- Grow food.
There came a collective cry of concern from friends and family.
“Nooooooooooo. Where are your children going to play? They need a lawn to run and play and be kids!”
To which I would reply… “In the park! Where the nice bloke from the City mows the lawn! I turned 40 last year and I mowed my first lawn about 6 months ago. I see that as an accomplishment. I’ve owned three houses and I’ve killed the lawn at virtually every one of them! Lawn has a place, but its not at my place! Why, because I don’t eat lawn, my family won’t eat the stuff and I’ve yet to meet anyone that does!
Instead of lawn in our backyard we had koi and at one point rainbow trout, chooks, free-range guinea pigs, worm farms, fruit trees, vege gardens, herbs, berries, bananas, it evolved with every passing year to suit the needs of a growing family. We had sub tropical plants. We’ve got dragon fruit flowering right at the moment. The most time spent away from home was on average 3 days and everything would tick along nicely in that time frame without any concern. Anything beyond that was a matter of getting friends or family to keep an eye on it.,
In its last incarnation a whole side garden became a jungle of berries for our boys to graze on at their whim and fancy. It wasn’t the be all and end all of our food consumption by any means, but it filled our lives with extra nutrition, interest, entertainment and a place to relax and unwind as we wandered through it.
Here is the flipside to my social experiment with not having lawn. My 3 year old garden grub son will show you how to pick a tomato properly, what a tamarillo is, how to suck the sweet juice from a stick of sugar cane, where to find the chook eggs and get them to the kitchen in one piece. He became my number one snail and slug collector and fed them to the chickens and fish. And he developed patience by waiting, waiting, waiting for those delicious strawberries to finally ripen.
But one thing bemused me about our garden.
Unsuspecting visitors to our house would come in and look out the window and, upon being immediately confronted by our urban jungle I more often than not heard these words.
“Wow, you’ve got a garden.”
And I guess once they realised they’d just stated the obvious out loud, they would then usually add something like…
“I mean, you’ve actually got a GAAAARDEN.”
And yes, our garden stood in stark contrast to the neighbouring backyards. On google maps it’s a little green oasis in a sea of rooftops, browning lawn, concrete and paving. Over time I grew to better understand our visitors remarks. I came to realise we’ve totally, literally, lost THE PLOT. Our backyards are getting smaller and the indoor home entertainment area is getting bigger. We’re subdividing our land. We’re even building houses nowadays with virtually no backyard to begin with!
So what can you do? How can you move towards where you want to go, starting with what you’ve already got. Well, I want you to know you don’t need a heap of room to grow your own food. And most of us have a backyard or a space we can utilise if we really put our minds to it. Well, lets take a look at some considerations and please keep in mind your own house and land as I go through some of these.
The best starting place is a plan. Now stay with me here. Its as simple as a mud map, on a good day we’ll call it a sketch. A design which incorporates the various elements you want and will enable you to move towards your vision with a step by step plan.
And allow me to tell you right here that permaculture does not exist in a black and white realm of design. Its sustainable, it’s green, its organic, its not fixed, it’s fluid – things change, you change, your requirements change. Things in your environment that are outside your control change. You will go far if you can understand this and embrace it right from the start.
To be continued …
A Garden Salad – with some important community connections. Parmesan cheese and Macadamia nuts from the Albany Farmer’s Market, and smoked garlic from a friends gardening and preserving efforts. Everything else came out of our own garden.