Tag Archives: botanic garden

Permaculture Praise

Five months into my 6-month Dreer travels, I reflect back to the origins of this course of study I’ve been immersed in.  I have pasted below a post that I wrote while carrying out an internship with Durban Botanic Gardens (South Africa) in June-July 2009.  For me, it was a defining moment that has shaped my future as an environmental educator.

16 June 2009

Tuesday I assisted in leading a Permaculture Program for 15 senior primary learners.  What an inspiring group!  These youngsters were incredibly enthusiastic about learning, and genuinely interested in understanding plants.  My American accent worked in my favor here, and the endearment was mutual.  As part of my usual process, I collected Straight Talk at the program’s conclusion.  One learner wrote, “This was one of the best days of my life!”   Who could ask for more??

Giving a seedling to DawnA student eager to take care of her own plant.

I am convinced that permaculture is one of the best growing systems for teaching about the natural world.  It’s almost like magic – no dig beds, EM, plants that are DOING so much for each other, even while looking innocently passive.  Insect-plant interactions, ecosystem awareness.  And chickens do the work to boot!  What a sensible system!  I am enrolled in a 10 day Permaculture Design Course that starts in two weeks, so I’ll keep you posted on new learning!

Mount Annan Botanic Garden

Mount Annan Botanic Garden is totally unlike any botanic garden I’ve visited. Sited in a suburban area at least a few kilometers from the nearest public transport, it is spread out across a sprawling 440 hectares (almost 1100 acres) and is designed for people to have a drive through experience. According to Caz McCallum, Assistant Director of the Botanic Garden Trust, the garden was intentionally spread out for the original director, as a strategy to discourage the city from reclaiming pieces of the land. As a result, the four main theme gardens alternate with tracts of meadow, bush and arboreta.

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I spent the morning meeting with Dan Bishop, Manager of Horticulture, Helen Byfield-Fleming, Coordinator of the MacArthur Center for Sustainable Living and Allen Powell, Community Education Officer and Caz MacCallum. According to Dan, “Mount Annan has never had a permaculture garden. We do sustainable gardening instead. Sustainable is different than organics, but we do use chemicals… sometimes chemicals are part of creating a sustainable environment.” As in the case of Chilean needle grass, he explains, without using chemicals, you have no chance of controlling the weed. “We don’t have the staff or resources to hand pick.”

Before becoming a botanic garden, the land served as a dairy farm, then horse land, and as a result, Mount Annan inherited a huge weed seed bank. “We have finite resources and staff and we’re trying to present to the public, which presents a challenge,” adds Caz.

Messages of sustainability, however appear throughout Mount Annan. A recently converted bottlebrush garden now focuses on backyard sustainability: the Big Idea Garden. This garden presents accessible cultivars that can be purchased in the local nursery, information about caring for the home garden, sustainable water use, recycling, as well as interpretation about beneficial interactions and microbes.

One display shows Lilly Pilly (Syzygium, a native Australian plant) being used for topiary, demonstrating you don’t need buxus to do the job. Numerous examples show recycling and reuse of materials, from benches and walkways to a worm farm made from a repurposed bathtub. Chris Cole, the principle horticulturist for the Big Idea Garden was taking a course at Permaculture Research Institute when I visited Mount Annan. It will be interesting to see what new ideas he brings back to Mount Annan.

Mount Annan Botanic Garden is also home to the Sydney research facilities, including a tissue culture laboratory, seed drying and storage rooms, growth cabinets, climate controlled glasshouses and several shade houses, all focused on the conservation and horticulture of Australian plants, particularly threatened species and species with economic potential.

I also visited Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living (MCSL) which, while an independent organization, sits on 5 acres of Mount Annan land and partners with Mount Annan on aspects of administration and education. MCSL aspires to showcase sustainable living practices including waste-water management, recycling, green building and green energy techniques to the public, as well as organic gardening. I spoke with Tao Tribels who has been a volunteer tour guide since 2003, and Ruth Bolomey, another volunteer who designs the food gardens and works them two days per week.  Ruth hails from Chili where she grew up on a farm.

The gardens are lush, productive and beautiful, chock full of flowers, herbs, and vegetables and showcase companion-planted beds. I asked Ruth what her take on permaculture is. “I’m more flexible than permaculture. If you go in the forest you see there are still water and food requirements, it’s not just anything growing anywhere. It doesn’t work when it’s all mixed. You really need to organize your plantings.”

Permaculture has earned a reputation in some circles as planting more or less randomly, while many permaculture sources advocate for thoughtful planting combinations to promote most effective use of resources and promote healthy guilds. Ruth completed an introduction course in permaculture but did not pursue the full permaculture design course because, she said, it seemed to apply more to big farms, which was not relevant to her needs.

Allen Powell, community education officer, explains Mount Annan’s school education program which begins at the pre-k level and continues up through technical college. “We need to hit every teacher individually. Every grade has sustainability and Aboriginal Culture in the curriculum, which is new this year. We have the best Aboriginal program in the Sydney area, as well great sustainability programs, but the botanic garden competes with environmental education centers.”

“Botanic gardens have been amazingly slow at picking up this whole sustainability thing. Because it’s our future, our kids future, if we do the right thing now and lock in these things as habits when they’re young…….”

Mount Annan is actively encouraging cyclists to visit the garden, for example by offering a significantly reduced admittance fee. The main mission of Mount Annan Botanic Garden is to inspire conservation and appreciation of plants, in particular, Australian plants. “We also have a responsibility to increase participation and visitation, and as part of our state mandate, recreation as well. Cyclists generally consider botanic gardens to be boring places, where they’re not made particularly welcome. It’s a user group we haven’t reached yet,” says Dan. Development of a 7 k mountain biking trail – the Enduro Trail – through the botanic garden is another way of meeting these objectives.

Caz McCallum adds: “It’s hard to engage with people as a botanic garden because there are so many other distractions. We want to educate, but we also want to focus on recreation. There has been quite a lot of nearby development of big houses on small blocks, leaving very little land left to enjoy. They come here to recreate. It’s good for them and good for us, because over time they might get something more out of it.”

“Most people come for recreation, and bring their eskies (coolers) and barbecues,” continues Dan. “The garden is wallpaper for their experience. While most people visit other botanic gardens for recreation as well, there tends to be an expectation that they will have a ‘botanic garden experience’ as well during their visit, which is typically not the case here. We have to work a little harder than most botanic gardens in this regard.  The siting of the new entrance to the botanic gardens will be through the conservation area first, which will help bring the focus to conservation in more direct way: it will be the first thing people see rather than the last.”

Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

On October 8, I met with Dorothy Dhaeze, Acting Education Coordinator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, who toured me around the gardens with extra attention towards the children’s and kitchen garden and other features that speak to sustainability and education.

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While not practicing or educating about permaculture, the Royal Botanic Gardens of Melbourne does a fair bit of environmental education.  Botanic garden education serves all grade levels from pre-k on up, including a toxicology course for tertiary (college level) vet students.  In addition, the botanic garden offers professional development courses to teachers in topics such as no-dig gardening, a concept often practiced in permaculture gardens.  “We have learned to ask teachers when they book whether they have a school garden, and most do.  And most of those are food gardens.”

The Kitchen Garden is part of the Children’s Garden, designed with raised beds and some fruit and nut trees.  It’s packed into a fairly modest sized area but packs a pretty big punch of color and crop.  While tidy and well-organized, this garden demonstrates process as well as product:  there are several propagation trays around, and beds that have recently been cleared.  Dorothy explains that children are invited to do a hands-on activity in the garden as part of the Kitchen Garden school programs, whether planting or harvesting, weeding or mulching.  There’s also a water tank with a sign explaining why it’s important to capture rain water, and a compost turning bin right in the middle of the garden.

A pond in the children’s area is used to run a mini-beast class, with nets and microscopes and hands-on activity. The spores from the underside of the water fern ‘Nadoo’ was used by the Aboriginal people for food, and John King, the sole survivor of the Burke & Wills Expedition, lived with the help of Aboriginals and by eating these spores.

Do the programs explicitly address sustainability issues?  “It depends on the program:  Some programs are plant biology, like ‘Plant Works’, and most programs you do something hands on, like planting or propagating, and in doing so, we talk about maintenance.  Water is always a big focus and we talk about how they’re going to water the plants without using tap water, so mulching, collecting rain water, and selecting plants that don’t need a lot of water are all discussed.”

One of Dorothy’s favorite classes is ‘Changing perspectives, changing landscapes,’ in which they look at historical perspectives, Aboriginal heritage, and different philosophical approaches over time.

The same philanthropist who funded the children’s garden also provides a bus for under-resourced schools, so everyone can participate.

Another exciting program the botanic garden runs is through their endangered and rare plants collections.  School groups visit the collections then propagate some of the species with the guidance of horticulture staff, and then reintroduce these seedlings to their native habitat.

Guilfoyle’s Volcano showcases innovative ways  to harvest and recycle storm water, including use of biofilters, as well as featuring low water use plants.  The volcano is part of a larger water management system that is in development, and though there’s not much interpretation now, there will be more to come.

The rainforest walk has changed over time into the ‘forest’ walk, as the rainforest plants were unable to cope with the lack of water that has been a pervasive situation over the past decade.  This is one of the ways the botanic garden has adjusted practices to align more closely with resource conservation.

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

While in Tasmania, I met with Mark Fountain, Deputy Director of Collections and Research, and Marcus Ragus, Manager of  Learning & Community Engagement of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in Hobart, and enjoyed good conversation about botanic gardens and permaculture over a nice cappuccino.

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I first phoned the garden weeks earlier to inquire about a permaculture course I saw advertised online, to be told by the receptionist that the course wasn’t likely to run since there weren’t enough bookings.  It was the first time the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens had offered a permaculture course.  I asked Mark and Marcus why the course hadn’t filled.

“We’ve done very little in the way of promotions.  It’s also the perceived value of what we do at the botanic gardens.  People are not aware of what we’re doing educationally.  This has been the first round of classes like this we’ve offered.   A product is only as effective as its marketing, and currently, our marketing department focuses more on major events and communications than education.”  Perhaps not unlike many botanic gardens, though there is hope, and some evidence, that the trend is changing.

“We are very aware of what’s happening around the world in botanical gardens and the shift in focus, and that seems to be very strong in America.  You can see it in some that are converting carparks into food gardens, with organic gardening and that kind of approach.  We’ve had a very strong focus on things just like that.

In fact, the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens is quite famous for its Veggie Patch, the site of a beloved segment of the same name, on ABC’s Gardening Australia with Peter Cundall.  Organic gardening principles are followed in the patch, using green manures and compost to naturally enrich the soil. The main beds follow a 6-year crop rotation system to prevent the build up of pests and diseases for healthier soil.  (Though Peter Cundall wasn’t at the garden when I visited, and I still haven’t seen the show for myself, it was a treat to see this small-scale, 6-bed vegetable garden in person.)  All meant to inspire the home gardener.

Marcus continues, “Organics is really the focus in Australia. Organics is made up of Permaculture, encompasses permaculture.  Biodynamics is another one that is very very strong.  Biodynamics groups have an effective national and state organization and they form a basis of our growing techniques.  There are not as many permaculture farmers as biodynamic farmers, who are more structured.  Natural Sequence Farming is another one.  One of our aims is to bring these groups together to form partnerships, because we see synergies.  There will always be these practices and there’s no use alienating them.  In other words everyone has their own mustard, and we work with them all for some sort of learning.  Our focus is really to make sure that the community is aware of all these practices.”

I was impressed by this perspective. Rather than shying away from offering a course for fear of perceived endorsement of one land management approach over another, the botanic gardens is rather reflecting back to the community various practices that are already occurring within Tasmania and around Australia.  And these are all important, given their relationship with and impact on local ecosystems.

“When we’re looking at permaculture or biodynamics, we’re looking at aspects of these approaches that are impacting natural systems.  Farming practices impact local bush, flora and woodlands, and the natural systems at play there.  That’s why it’s important to address these issues, and educate about various practices and how they respond to and effect those natural systems.”  And how does a botanic garden go about doing this?

“People hear a lot about biodiversity and threatened species but don’t know what that means. If we can package it in a way that’s close to their heart like lifestyle and food then you can also get this connection to the land and plants. It’s also important to get this info out to farmers.”

Why hasn’t permaculture gained traction yet within the botanic garden world?, I asked.

“I think it comes back to esoteric aspects of teaching.  The organic areas field is very fragmented as well.  There’s a book a week coming out related to organic gardening and they all have similar values but different techniques.  Permaculture hasn’t been in the community long enough for people to digest if it’s real or if its up there with myth and legend.  It’s only time before these things are taken in and become ‘fact’.

“My belief is there’s not one particular be all and end all; permaculture is one option of a very strong environmental perspective, with Bill Mollison’s emphasis on environment.  Permaculture is very structured from a design aspect, and that is really how it stands apart from other strategies, as well as interpretation of natural ecosystems.

“Even with permaculture, I have great problems with certain aspects of it.  For example, sometimes they [permaculturalists] are quite limited with how plants can be used in certain environments, and some of those plants are actually weeds.  So weed impact with certain types of areas is a big issue across the nation.”  Marcus continues, “Issues of sustainability are still not well explained within permaculture, for example bringing external materials in, or allowing adequate quarantine between farms.  Some plants chosen might be completely exotic to plants that surround a permaculture property. Also, we have a huge network of community gardens.  One wanted to clear out native bushland to put in a vegetable garden.  That’s the kind of thing we want to educate about and change.”

After levying some common criticisms of permaculture, Marcus considers the standard limitations found within botanical garden institutions.

“I’m not saying we should go to a hunter-gatherer system, but as far as botanic gardens go, we’re still stuck in a very conservative mindset.  We go to the traditional core business of botanic gardens.  There’s a skepticism to moving into new areas:  How much is it going to cost?”

A possible next step?  “There’s a huge movement into healthy living, sustainable living and how to produce food. Community needs to weigh in on how to make these things happen. ”

Permaculture Sydney North

It was my birthday and my family had spent the better part of the day shopping for ingredients for my birthday dinner before I realized I had an evening meeting to attend.  With regret I was missing my own celebration, I boarded the CityRail anyway, for the monthly Permaculture Sydney North meeting.  My family cooked and ate without me, later reporting it was delicious.

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Arriving after dark, I was pleased to discover the meeting was only one block from the train station, and as soon as I approached the building, I knew I was in for a treat. With seating for about 100, people were just beginning to arrive.  Patricia Meagher was the first person I happened to speak with, and I quickly learned she is a horticultural researcher for the Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney.

“Sydney is the site of the first Australian settlers.  Farm Cove (an inlet in the Sydney Harbor on which the Botanic Garden sits) has been a farm garden over the years through history.  It’s a very important part of our education program.  There’s also an indigenous garden that is used for school education programs.  Not permaculture per se, but they do do sustainable gardening.  Really, you can’t garden without sustainability. It’s ridiculous if you’re not sustainable.  The botanic garden’s role is to develop information then share that with the public.”

Patricia also told me that the Sydney Botanic Garden is the oldest scientific institution in Australia, and will be celebrating its 200’th birthday in 2016.

As for the organization, Permaculture Sydney North has about 500 members, with 8 teams: communications, advocacy, gardening (which tends to be the most active group), seed savers, living skills, shows/booths, and education. Everyone who is a member of Permaculture Sydney North is also a member of a smaller, more local group within their individual communities and neighborhoods.  However the energy of this large, well-organized group of impassioned permaculturalists allows for a lot of action and staves off burnout.  There are many opportunities to get involved in virtually any project, with lots of company and support.  This organization seems to lift up its members, and participation seems to be a real privilege rather than a chore.

Each meeting consists of several pre-meeting activities, including plant exchange, “junk” exchange, bookstore, seedbank exchange, and t-shirt sales (and I’m probably missing something).  President Andrea Pape welcomed attendees and introduced our guest speaker of the evening, David Loneragan, who gave a talk entitled “Leading Permaculture Food Growing and Production Techniques.”  David, growing food on acreage in the Kangaroo Valley since 2004 and doing so quite successfully, gave an honest critique of perhaps one of the biggest limitations of permaculture.

“Permaculture lacks the dimension of the intention of producing food.”  With this he quoted David Holmgren’s permaculture principle, ‘Produce a Yield,’ and continued: “A little bit here and a little bit there is simply not going to satisfy me, nor is it going to answer the question of how we will feed people.  We have to produce stuff, otherwise, we’re just fooling around.”

This criticism was of particular interest as it echoes criticism I have encountered back home, both from the Cornell University, and our county Cornell Cooperative Extension.

David is conducting an experiment of sorts to find out what it takes to grow enough to feed four families of four.  He reckons he’s doing pretty well toward his goal, though the other three families have not yet been identified.  At the moment he trades surplus with neighbors.  In front of about 100 permaculturalists, David bravely admits, “I like row cultivation for certain crops.  If you want to produce stuff, you need some row cultivation, especially for alliums, etc.  It would just take too much time mucking about if you didn’t do some things in rows.  I also believe in growing annual vegetables.”

Much of David’s talk focused on specific strategies for increasing production, such as using fishing net to exclude butterfly moths and pesky cockatoos, and nesting flexible tubing to construct more durable hoop houses.  David has received his Permaculture Design Certificate and has run several permaculture courses on his property, and is not afraid to point out that if we are going to employ permaculture as a sustainable solution, it needs to do more than make us feel good.  It needs to produce!

Milkwood Permaculture Farm

Over a bush track of water-covered causeways, hill and dale my non-4-wheel drive rental car- a white Holden sedan I’ve dubbed “the Beast” – bumped and strained for 17 k along Campbell Creek Road.  Having not been able to access the directions Kirsten had kindly emailed me, for lack of internet and cell-phone service, I relied on the confidence of the barman for directions. Thankfully he told me I’d feel I was on the road to nowhere.  Indeed I did.

And then a small river flowed across the road in front of me, and I brought the Commodore to a halt.  There was no way this low clearance car was going to forge this river, so I put the car in park, took a photo, (see slideshow) and contemplated my options.  I could try to hurdle the river, which seemed an unlikely success, or better yet, pull on my gum boots, (the nice thing about living out of one’s vehicle is that everything you need is within arm’s reach) wade through, then jog the rest of the way (it seemed I was nearly there!) as I was due for lunch at noon and it was about 11:58.  That’s when I heard the sweet sound of someone calling my name, and the sound was coming from this side of the river.

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Apparently trained in rescuing bewildered city folk (note: while NYC folks might consider Ithaca, from whence I hail, the outback of New York State, in this neck of the woods, the term city-folk aptly applies), Nick opened the gate and I pulled The Beast in, relieved to be saved from both river-hurdling and sprinting in gum boots.  And I was on time.

Nick, proprietor of Milkwood Permaculture along with his partner Kirsten, immediately began touring me around the property. Milkwood is flanked to the front by his parents’ farm, comprised of primarily hundreds (thousands?) of olive trees, and about 150 sheep.  Kirsten and Nick are currently living in a modest abode on his parents’ land while they build a small home (about 70 square meters) of their own. The current headquarters of their educational operation is a shear shed cleverly repurposed as a  classroom/dining/hang-out space and an insulated, heated caravan-kitchen, with an adjacent open-air dish-washing station.  While Nick’s parents farm is about 4000 acres (1k X 4 k), Milkwood is a small farm of 17 acres nestled into the hills, backed up by an additional 400 acres being reserved as undeveloped natural habitat.

Three years ago Kirsten & Nick moved up to the farm from Melbourne, and haven’t looked back.  As visual artists, they were tired of working tirelessly for grant money that was unpredictable and short-lived.  They wanted more freedom and less overhead, and the land presented an opportunity to provide both.  Now, Milkwood is becoming recognized as one of the leading permaculture education institutions in the region and beyond.

In addition to teaching PDCs (permaculture design courses), Milkwood partners with well-known permaculture teachers such as Bill Mollison, Rosemary Morrow, Geoff Lawton, (Virginian David Salatin of Polyface Farms will be coming over  in October to lead a course) to offer a wide and varied option of courses. Milkwood also runs Farm-Ready certified courses, and has over 50 farmers slated to attend their upcoming course on Bio-fertility.  FarmReady is a federal program which allows farmers to be reimbursed for the cost of the course as part of a national program to assist growers in becoming climate-change ready and adaptable.  These various strategies, along with employing their experience and skill in marketing, including savvy with social media (see the Milkwood Blog), and, I surmise, their apparent passion for people, plants, and permaculture, have all contributed to Milkwood’s status as a well-respected, rising enterprise on the permaculture scene.

In talking over lunch about how botanic gardens and permaculture relate to one another, Kirsten and Nick expressed confidence in compatibility between permaculture and public gardens.

“There’s no reason why permaculture can’t be part of a more formal design; the only reason it [permaculture] is stigmatized as less formal is because that’s what early permaculturists did.  But there’s no fundamental reason why you can’t have companion plants and other permaculture done in a more controlled and formalized way,” says Nick.  “In fact, it might even be more productive to have slightly more controlled landscapes.”

Perhaps Kirsten & Nick represent a new generation of permaculturalists.  Maybe Milkwood is a model of ‘new permaculture,’ untethered to old stereotypes, engaging in both traditional and modern technologies in complementary ways to bring a new face of permaculture to the fore.  Untethered to the stigmas of early, radical (and perceived as radical) permaculturalists, Nick and Kirsten’s approach is one of contemporary relevance and personal connections: an approach to permaculture that is both heartening and refreshing.

“We want to take back the word permaculture.  It’s such a brilliant design framework, we want to reclaim it,” says Kirsten.  Indeed, Milkwood will be worth watching into the foreseeable future.

Cecilia Macaulay’s Zany Approach to Personal Permaculture

By popular request, I will summarize the unique aspects of permaculture as applied to humans as it emerged in Cecilia Macaulay’s webinar during my permaculture teacher training class at PRI several weeks ago.  Be forewarned: this is an approach to permaculture not yet considered previously in my blog thus far.

Cecilia’s voice is worth hearing on your own, so I also recommend a peek at one or more of her websites/blogs here:

http://intimatepermaculture.blogspot.com/
http://ceciliamacaulay.com.au/

Trained in permaculture, Cecilia has gravitated toward exploring how permaculture principles can be utilized in urban settings in creative and beautiful ways.  Yes, beautiful ways.  I’m learning that within permaculture circles, aesthetics are commonly ignored, if not frowned upon, and I found Cecilia’s willingness to embrace this unsung potential in permaculture refreshing.  (This tension between beauty and permaculture is a topic I hope will emerge in future blog posts, so stay tuned.)

Many people who study and practice permaculture are unwilling to define permaculture as a strategy, a tool, or even a tool box.  Rather, these stalwart permaculturalists define permaculture as ‘a way of life,’ or ‘a way of thinking.’  By such definitions, it is incomplete to relegate permaculture to the garden sphere, even if the garden is a central focus of a particular permaculture design.  While Cecilia does plenty of work in the garden dimension and is well-known for her urban permaculture balcony gardens, she does quite a lot indoors as well.  And not just with houseplants.

Cecilia is an endeavoring share-houser in and around Syndey and Melbourne.  “Lots of people are spending resources on building brand-new energy efficient dwellings, which is wonderful, but by adding one person under the roof, you automatically decrease your energy consumption by 50%,” she explains.  But not just anyone under one roof will do.  As all plants have value, so do all people.  And similar to plants, not all people are meant to be in the same space with each other.  While some combinations make fantastic companion plantings, others are doomed from the start.   So the first step in operating a successful house share is getting the right house-mates.

A key qualification for selecting the right “companions” is finding people who share the same standards of cleanliness as you do.  “Nothing,” Cecilia explains, “will ruin chances of success faster than co-habitating with individuals whose home habits are neater or sloppier than yours are.”  To make sure Cecilia finds the right companions, she has adopted a communication strategy that ensures success:  Ask questions that can only be answered with one word: ‘Yes.’   In the true spirit of permaculture, Cecilia does not like to force or push or nag or waste unnecessary energy with inefficient systems.  Rather, she looks for ways to coax the natural potential within her share house system.  After lots of experience and observation house-sharing, Cecilia has devised a system that works for her, and ultimately for her housemates.  Cecilia, a self-declared “monster of mess” has devised a system that nevertheless keeps her abode in a tidy condition.  When she interviews prospective house-sharers, she explains that every Saturday  morning they have a two hour house-cleaning party.  “Doesn’t that sound like fun?” she asks. “Would you like to participate in that?”  ‘Yes,’ they say.  Cecilia also explains that because she works from home, the kitchen must be clean, spotless really, at all times.  All dishes must be washed, dried and put away immediately.  Not a knife shall remain in the bottom of the sink.  However Cecilia understands that we are all human and that sometimes we are just plain running late.  “In those cases,” Cecilia explains, “you can put your dirty dish on a tray and take it to your room and you can wash it up when you return home.  Doesn’t that sound good?” she asks. ‘Yes,’ they say.  And so become members of a tightly run ship.

Good communication and taking care of each other are really important parts of successful permaculture, and something we often hear much less of in the permaculture world.  There is much about earth care, and indirectly, people care through provisioning with food, fiber, etc., but Cecilia talks about the more interpersonal parts of permaculture.  Could botanical gardens branch out to include this important aspect of permaculture?  Don’t some already, like Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Chicago Botanic Garden do this, by reaching out to their community through community garden and education programs?

I hope to speak more with Cecilia as I make my way toward Melbourne & Sydney in the coming weeks.