While in the beautiful Queensland city of Brisbane, I visited Brisbane Botanical Garden (Mount Coot-tha). There I met with visitors services coordinator, Margot Macmanus, who graciously explained the garden’s involvement with permaculture.
Though the gardens don’t run any permaculture programs, they do offer up their garden space as a venue for a local instructor, Linda Brennan, a local horticultural celebrity of sorts, to teach permaculture classes along with other organic gardening courses. “The gardens is a really great place for her to run her classes and its great for us to have someone really well known (she has a column in the newspaper). Permaculture classes get booked up pretty well – it’s worth her while to do them. She charges a reasonable price. We provide venue and promotion. She manages bookings and
inquiries – that works really really well.” However, Brennan’s classes and workshops are geared toward the homeowner rather than local school groups; Margot refers local school groups interested in school gardening to Northey Street Farm, an urban, community permaculture farm. (I also visited Northey Street while in Brisbane, look for a post in the next day or so.
Margot explains the limitations of getting more hands-on with school groups:
“We only get to spend an hour and a half with the kids in lessons and we try to do some sort of potting up activity with the kids and it’s so time and labor intensive that it just didn’t work for us.” Though many teachers are repeat visitors, each class tends only to come once per year.
Though the focus on permaculture is not geared toward kids, the focus on kids education really revolves around sustainability in the garden.
“All of our lessons do address sustainability in the garden. Our Keeping Cool in Changing Times lesson does a biodiversity role play around the garden. They are asked to think about what it would be like if they were a creature, like a koala. Two kids stand on a piece of paper. They’re told there’s a new estate going up; and asked to think about what that will mean to them, as koalas. They have to fold the paper in half (to represent the diminished habitat) and still stand on the paper. Now there’s a drought and the paper is folded in half again. The idea that there is limited resources. We try to make it as experiential as possible. We’re trying for that ‘aha moment’.”
“We had ‘Worm Magic’ with Growing Communities on Kids Day (an annual event at the gardens). That’s the sort of thing we’re really good at. The education staff get right into it. Drawing kids in and helping them see how things work.”
I asked Margot what the general visiting public seems to know about permaculture. “I think people would have heard of permaculture but would not necessarily know what it is.” Apparently, even in Oz – the birthplace of permaculture- it has not become as mainstream as one might imagine.