Monday, February 18, 2013

Purposeful Permaculture

My garden vision: a resilient, beautiful sanctuary for creative work and deep connection 
So I'm a student again which I've always enjoyed, not just learning new things, (which I do all the time as a compulsive autodidact), but also Being a Student: the structure of learning alongside others, engaging with tutors and completing assignments.

For the Permaculture Design Certificate we have to develop, and present a design project of our own choice.  I mulled a variety of enticing options for permaculture art and/or community projects but have settled on a permaculture design for the property where I live now. The first assignment is to develop a project brief  which means I've been thinking hard about what I want from the garden.

My primary purpose for this garden design is resilience, both for the ecosystem and for me personally.   I live in a rental, albeit fairly secure, so I may not be here to enjoy this garden in its maturity. My landlords are enthusiastic about my vision for their property so I have the freedom to put in place a long range vision.

I'm gardening as though I will live here for decades, yet know that I probably will not.  I'm investing the effort despite the risk because practicing this kind of gardening gives me experience and skills that will make any future garden that much easier to establish.  And better to make my inevitable mistakes here and now, while my well-being is not dependent on the results, than in circumstances where the consequences could be more serious.

A polyculture of tomatoes, rainbow chard, celery, mint, sweetpeas, sunflowers and cucumber, leeks, radishes and lettuce 
Climate change is well underway, and every month I read another report where some expert says that even recent projections were too conservative.  The most noticeable effects seems to hit particular places in pulses: big storms, big fires, big floods. One of several reasons I chose to live in Hamilton, New Zealand  is because its relatively safe from earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, hurricanes etc. They reckon the most likely natural disaster to affect us would be ash from a major volcanic eruption a few hundred kilometers away.

Meanwhile like frogs in a kettle, we get used to the gradually hotter and drier summers and rainier winters, but Hamilton doesn't really do extremes of temperature. So developing a resilient garden here means one that can survive summer drought and and constant winter rains, as well as human neglect (and possibly a blanket of volcanic ash some time).

Herbs and flowers to attract beneficial insects
Peak oil has probably passed in the last year or two and now we are setting off into an unstable decline of our fossil-fuelled culture. It seems extraordinary to me that most people continue to behave as though they think nothing will change, except more-better-faster technology.  The immanent food shortages, or rather food distribution failures, that are anticipated for swathes of the global population will probably manifest here in New Zealand only as higher prices at least for the next few years. I don't foresee food riots and famines for us, but last week a neighbour came to my door twice asking for help because she can't feed her family.  People are going hungry in my part of the world.

So, I'd like my garden to nourish me in every season, from year to year. I'd like to be able to share homegrown food with my neighbours in need and friends in fellowship. I'd rather spend money on food as treats than as staples of my diet.  In an emergency involving food shortages I want to be able to feed myself and others well enough not only to survive, but to allow us to respond usefully and creatively to the crisis.

Although establishing a resilient and productive permaculture garden will require a lot of effort and resources at first, my intention is that within a few years it will require minimal effort and external inputs to maintain.  Permaculture is attractive because it offers the possibility of a self-sustaining complex system that can survive almost anything.

Drying heirloom borlotto beans  for winter protein and for growing more next year


Helen said...

Beautiful post, Meliors - the best thing I've seen on the internet for a while! & your garden photographs are lovely! x Helen

Anonymous said...

This is kind of inspirational on many levels, thanks. I lived in a house once with beautiful mature lilacs and a friend called them a "legacy" left by a past gardener. The idea of food legacies is even more appealing than pretty flower ones. I have a very strong memory of my father planting a walnut tree, which was to him all about investing in a future he probably wouldn't be around to see. Me, I've planted berries and asparagus and such. Also, I think it is time I tried harvesting some syrup from the lovely maples in my front yard. And in other news I walked to work today.