Wednesday, April 28, 2010


When driving through immaculate suburbia, it is impossible not to notice the pocket gardens of clipped and edged lawns bordered with pretty little annuals in tasteful splodges of colour. Occasionally you may see a tree, and even here and there be surprised by a hedge, sadly boxed into a shape that screams out madness against the vigour and fecundity that nature so generously seeks to give. Call in the landscape artist to tame your outdoor living space, and should you find that the rigorous effort to maintain this state of uniformity is generally managed by degrees of drudge, then this job can be offloaded on a garden service doing its weekly rounds. I have to ask: What is the point? Lay out some plastic lawn and be done with it.

What am I seeing? Ecologically I am looking at a piece of earth constantly kept at a juvenile stage. Pioneering weeds keep trying to bring in bio-diversity as they attempt to endlessly fill the earth that stretches brown and neatly cultivated from one plant to another. They are ripped out each week to start over and over again in an attempt to cover that naked and hurting soil. It is an endless battle; a battle between natural processes and the “Owner”. Neither ever wins in this contest, unless said owner moves on and no duplicate replacement moves in.  And then most would think the battle lost, for it has been lost to nature.

I have seen some who love to pour their time and effort into these ecologically immature creations. I understand this. There was a time I was just so. Everything nature would provide for free I tried to give with love and tending. And each year the season would end and the garden would die. How I exhausted myself with such unsatisfactory returns on my time. I had to notice that where I loved to walk in natural settings there had been no such "love and tending", and yet I sensed in these wild wonderlands a response from the very core of my soul that time and so much effort had failed to replicate. These tamed arrangements bring a tamed response. There are  no surprises, or special gifts or discoveries.

Instead of fighting this pointless battle, we can rather enlist the help of nature, and even encourage accelerated succession toward a more rapid maturity. A mature garden needs little tending. It can be beautiful too; but with a beauty that is blessed by  the magnificent bounty of a generous dynamic we call Mother Nature.  A misnomer - it is Father God. And in all this abundance most of the work entails harvesting, or cutting back vigorous growth to be used for mulch, compost or even free animal feed. 

Where the dominant plants in an immature system are annuals, the governing plants in a mature system are perennial. In this progression from one to the other, bio-systems become more complex, organic matter builds up, and the ecology diversifies into an inter-related and exponentially developing synergy that gives back more than the sum of its individual parts. We need to increase the pace of succession until a balance is realized in which the contest is replaced by a pleasing serendipity of discovery and enjoyment. We share in what nature is so good at doing without the drudge. Plant perennials in many and varied textures, shapes, heights and colours, along with those pretty self-seeding annuals between, and watch nature move in and smile a bounteous thank you for letting her get on with the job. 

Wisdom brings maturity and rest.

Until next time,

Friday, April 16, 2010


When taking a broad scale overview on how to start out establishing this miracle of farming sustainability - the Food Forest – those first chosen plants are important considerations.

I started with Moringa and Mulberry as priorities on my list, amongst the usual orchard trees. I have already posted my reasons in earlier posts; the main being food and fodder. The Mulberries pop up here like weeds and are encouraged. The Moringa was carefully and lovingly introduced.

I would call my Food Forest more of a backyard design than an extensive open range forest. Richard Hart, when interviewed, suggested that to start a Food Forest you only have need to take Overstory fruit tree species and plant them with the usual required 20 foot distance apart. Then to take more shade tolerant trees and plant them between, with shrubs such as berry bushes snuck in between all these, and level by level work down to ground and root crop level. Climbers and creepers could be placed as best suited too, probably up against the highest trees. This has given him a very successful Food Forest, and greatly aids us in understanding how really simple it all can be.

In a backyard design certain little personal tweaks can by used in an attempt to maximize all that the location has to offer. I have a river of water below that I will be using, and so am well on my way to building little reservoirs below my pathways for underground irrigation; a little “tweak” that is expensive in terms of labour and time initially, but will pay off handsomely later with a forest of thirsty plants above. No evaporation of a precious resource when delivered. This is over and above all other water harvesting techniques I hope to employ.

I also have an abundance of boulders, rocks and stones here. If I was asked what it is that I farmed, I could easily reply: Rocks! I have certainly enjoyed harvesting them for multiple uses. And the sifted soil is returned between layers of bio-mass and manure into raised beds for planting.

What do you have in your hand? Use it! Use it in step with nature and her end design, and join me in marching alongside with pure enjoyment........... : )

Until next time,

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


When we look at a piece of degraded and bare earth, it looks like a wounded gash in the green mantle that the Earth dresses herself with. 

I always marvel at how quickly this is colonized by rapid growing pioneer plants. We call them weeds. And most traditional gardening is wrapped around how to prevent their presence in the neat brown spacing between prized plants. They are seen as messy and unwelcome, but are, in fact, an essential start to the healing and restoration of the land. They rapidly cover the nakedness of the earth, thus protecting from erosion the life of the soil as they draw up nutrients, sometimes from great depths, to the top, and distribute this wealth in the form of leaf litter. They also act as nurses for more enduring herbs, shrubs and baby trees by creating a protective niche for the next stage of succession; one plant succeeds another in ever growing size and longevity.

The Earth is constantly marching toward productivity; she is obeying the original instruction to produce after her own kind – once given and forever obeyed. There seems to be nothing she does not seem to want to break down and use for more productivity; even that neglected and rusted garden gate, or forgotten pile of discarded bricks. And the march is toward forest bio-diversity or wet-land abundance. There is no holding her back. Step in line or be worn down by her persistent endurance; each niche set to creating succession and increased bio-diversity.

I have chosen to step in line and watch and learn. It is a wonderful movement of glorious life demonstrated in over-correction and modification in a determined attempt to bring order out of functional chaos. Watch her cover the land, and then reach for the skies with larger and stronger plants, to cover our Earth in generous abundance. Slowly and incrementally “wonderful” unfolds. Have we the eyes to see these wonders?

Until next time,


Friday, April 9, 2010


I have always been fascinated by the concept of Companion Planting. Plant the carrot with the onion to repel the onion fly, and the onion with the carrot to repel the carrot fly; such a neat and tidy arrangement on a page as you read it. I even went so far as to design on a clean new page the best way to place all the plants I wanted to effect such benefit. It became very complicated because some books listed certain plants as good companions, but in others this was contradicted. And the only plants discussed were herbs and vegetables. My great interest of the moment is Food Forest Design, and so naturally I got to thinking about how this would work in a Forest Garden; particularly a Food Forest Garden. Here we are looking at a multi-storey design from top-story trees down to root crops, and this is where the challenge comes.

There seems to be a common struggle in trying to understand the concept of actually starting a Food Forest. Talk of the bio-diversity, multi-level guilds, sustainability, succession and ecology of a Food Forest and before too long you get quite a few nodding heads; but talk of actually going out there on your own piece of land and doing it, and all the theory makes the task seem too daunting to start.

Let me make a suggestion: Ask a few simple questions. Why do you want a Food Forest? What do you want to grow in your Food Forest? Food! Naturally! But what kind of food, and for whom? Is there livestock and wildlife you also want to cater for? When thinking of wildlife, would this include beneficial birds and insects too? Do you want your Forest to offer more than food? Perhaps you need a windbreak or frost barrier? Perhaps wildcrafting really interests you? Perhaps even an area drenched in fragrance that affords sanctuary from the crazy demands of this world. Brainstorm such ideas in order to surface what you hope to achieve.

When you have a good idea of where you want to go, simply ask yourself: What goes with what, and why? If you do this plant by plant it becomes less complicated. It’s all about relationships anyway, isn’t it?

Until next time,