Tag Archives: animals

Sustainable Backyard: One of Hamilton Gardens’ most popular gardens

Shortly after arriving in Hamilton, I had the chance to meet with Peter Sergel and Gus Flowers of Hamilton Gardens, Director and General Manager respectively.  I asked about public interest in the Sustainable Backyard.

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Gus explains, “It’s a small garden, but the interest in it is huge. The gardener [who left and was replaced between the time of this interview and the time of writing] would have been asked frequently all kinds of question. A common question at the Visitor’s Center is, “Where is the Sustainable Garden?” People also want to know what types of plants grown in the Sustainable Backyard and the chickens attract a lot of interest, as well as interest in knowing more about companion planting and beneficial insects. This public interest is the reason we started with developing the [Sustainable Backyard] booklet. (Currently, the Sustainable Backyard is one of only two gardens for which individual booklets have been made available for sale at the Visitor’s Center.)

When asked how the Sustainable Backyard fits into the whole of Hamilton Gardens, Peter replies, “We have a concept for all the gardens here. It’s about the history and meaning of gardens. We are not a botanical garden. We are really about the story of gardens. The Sustainable Backyard formed a community of interest around it. They [Hamilton Permaculture Trust] started as a community garden (in the site next door to its current location). Because it complemented our collections perfectly and because of public interest, council approved it. The stated goal of the Sustainable Backyard is to produce enough to feed a family of 4. It provides a message about sustainability. It’s a permanent fixture here.”

Gus speculates that of the visiting public, it’s about 50/50 who know about permaculture. “Others are curious about what this new thing is. From word of mouth I think it [the Sustainable Backyard] is one of the most popular gardens.” Peter referenced a survey in which visitors ranked their favorite gardens, and the Sustainable Backyard was right at the top, only behind the high profile Italian Renaissance and Indian Char Bagh Gardens.

I asked about partnerships that are in place to support the Sustainable Backyard. “We have a very good relationship with the Hamilton Permaculture Trust. They provide all of the formal education that takes place in the garden, which is very good for us because we don’t have an education program. It’s one of the main reasons we wanted to have the Sustainable Backyard garden here. We also work with a father-son team to manage the bees. Wintec is also a partnership we can tap into – the students give us some extra help.”

So far it seemed like the Sustainable Backyard and Hamilton Gardens was the perfect marriage.  I asked about unique challenges that are presented by the Sustainable Backyard.  “We get complaints over the condition of the chickens. People are always concerned about the chickens. We’ve had vandals. The worst was when there was a ruckus in the garden and someone called the police. The media showed up with the police and it turns out someone who was strung out on drugs was eating a live chicken. The cameraman caught the whole thing and aired it on T.V. Also, our solar panel [that operates the pond pump] has been stolen twice, and crops sometimes get stolen. The storage shed was broken into and the information board was attacked. Throughout the garden, we’re increasing our security, including putting in irrigation and quarry alarms, stationing a security guard and upgrading fences. Parkour is also a huge problem throughout the whole gardens.”

I also spoke with Sheree Austin, Assets Manager at Hamilton Gardens, about unique challenges that managing assets of the Sustainable Backyard presents.

“We are required to use contractors approved by Council, and many of them refuse to use sustainable products, for example untreated wood. [Using sustainable products in the Sustainable Backyard is one of the mandates of the design concept of the gardens.] I have been able to source with Cheryl’s (coordinator of the Hamilton Permaculture Trust) help. It’s really good because it’s a different kind of garden. We’ve been very very lucky that we’ve had the Permaculture Trust support us.

“I also order plants for the garden so I’ve had to learn about rotation of the beds. Because I only want a small number of plants for the Sustainable Backyard, and the nursery is used to supplying at least 50 plants of each variety, it’s been an adjustment to thinking about ordering. We get heirloom seeds from Kings Seeds because we’re trying to go for different color tomato or different carrots than people are used to seeing in the grocery store.

“One thing I had trouble with early on when the solar panel got stolen multiple times was that it took some time to find someone who understood what we needed it the panel to do. The Permaculture Trust gave me a list of all the assets and rough costs because there are things in this garden that are no where else in Hamilton Gardens (like solar panels). I basically contact the Trust first if I need to source anything for the garden outside of the usual materials. They are always available.

“I came in on the weekend to help them [Hamilton Permaculture Trust] build the adobe pizza oven and it was really interesting to get involved with that. People are really interested to learn what they can do in their backyard. We get lots of questions about the chicken coop and the bee hives.

1 To address this theft concern, the solar panel was relocated to the top of the pergola, making it less visible and providing natural guards in the form of lively honey bees, whose hive is perched right next to the panel.

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Plants, animals and cultivated ecology in The Sustainable Backyard

After spending two months researching a particular subject, it’s difficult  to summarize all that is worth mention, or even the highlights, in one blog post.  To ease the challenge I have featured other voices, and will continue to post several more interviews of other key stakeholders, on the Sustainable Backyard.  However this post is meant as part two of Finding the Sustainable Backyard, Hamilton Gardens, the reward to virtual visitors in the form of a 60-photo slide show featuring the cultivated ecology within the Sustainable Backyard.

One major focus of my work with the Hamilton Permaculture Trust was redevelopment of their website, and as part of that work I created a virtual tour of the Sustainable Backyard.  Rather than duplicate that effort, I encourage readers to visit the main Sustainable Backyard page, and link directly to the virtual tour with a clickable map, which shows the garden design.  I have chosen different images for this slide show, and readers who view both should get a pretty good idea of what the Sustainable looks and feels like, and maybe even get a sense of the sounds and smells.

As you view the slide show, I ask the reader to consider the following questions:

What unique challenges does a permaculture garden located within a public garden face?       and…

How does the Sustainable Backyard address (or not address) these challenges?

I would love to hear your responses, so when you’re done watching the show, please take a moment and write a comment.  Also, if you’d like a caption or more information on a particular image, let me know!

If you’d like to stop to read the interpretive panels, roll your mouse over the show to reveal controls. The show is 4 minutes, and I’d recommend opening your favorite radio station on Pandora or Live 365 while you watch.

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Learn more about the history and development of the Sustainable Backyard and other initiatives of the Hamilton Permaculture Trust by visiting the  Hamilton Permaculture Trust website.

St. Joseph’s School Garden, Hamilton NZ

While in Hamilton, New Zealand, I met with Clark McPhillipp, Associate Principal at St. Joseph’s Catholic School.  Five years ago, four students and one teacher got together to do a sustainable garden project.

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They contacted the Hamilton Permaculture Trust and took a field trip to the Sustainable Backyard garden for ideas and inspiration. They did some serious research and analysis on paper and worked with Cheryl, the Coordinator of the Trust, on the design and plans, which included worm farms made from old bathtubs, well-built raised beds, and chooks.  The students were involved in an authentic learning experience and leadership capacity from the very beginning.

Now that the garden has been in operation for a sustained period, the systems are pretty well in place, and the garden has become part of the school’s identity.  The school scraps get fed to the worms and the extra worm pee is sold at Parish.  The chooks are used in sexuality education.  Students learn about companion planting by putting plants together with their ‘friends’.

“We do inquiry-based learning in all things here at the school,”  says Clark of how the garden links in with curriculum, “and the garden is a fantastic way to bring the curriculum to life in a real way.”  He also explains the garden is a much more effective way to address learning outcomes than the traditional, more removed and abstract curriculum content.

The garden beds are extremely well-built and, Clark concedes, are made out of pressure treated lumber.  He knows that is not the typical permaculture way, but opted for a durable solution that would last a long time using readily accessible materials. To protect against the leaching of the potential for toxins into the soil, they lined the beds with an impenetrable membrane before filling with soil and compost and planting.

The following year students put together the garden shed.

“This wasn’t done by adults.  This was done by kids with some adults overseeing,” says Clark.

The garden has been featured on garden tours and the students host regular visitors.  Today involvement has grown to 30 kids and 3 teachers and is still growing strong in its 5th year.

Wwoofing at Rhianna Ridge

While visiting Melbourne, we had the fortune of wwoofing with Marianne and Cameron, who live an hour south in Beaconsfield.  They haven’t studied permaculture, but sure do seem to be practicing it.  Marianne and Cameron raise goats for meat, milk and breeding stock, grow nearly all their own produce, raise chickens, grow their plants from seed, harvest their animals’ fertility to improve the soil, and have developed efficient systems for virtually everything they do.  All while creating a modicum of waste and repurposing/recycling what they can on site.  They practice organic principles, (don’t use synthetic chemicals), have a thriving worm farm right outside their door that get whatever food scraps are beneath the goats and chickens, have solar panels to heat water and did I mention they are terrific chefs?

We helped clear sticks and fallen winter wood to prepare for fire season, turned in 2 beds of cover crop, transplanted 1 bed of strawberries, milked the   goat (though we were incredibly slow!) and helped put up a huge net over half of the entire garden/orchard area, in spite of the rain.  Still, we got the better end of the exchange!

Please see the slide show to get a flavor for the place.

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