Tag Archives: demonstration garden

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.”

Ceres Community Environment Park

Weeks ago, on my flight from LA to Brisbane, the woman sitting next to me asked what I would be doing in Australia.  After getting an earful, and seemingly not quite sure what to make of it, she suggested I visit Ceres. I asked her what it was and she said she wasn’t exactly sure.  I filed it away in my dusty, zone 4 file cabinet, until the Permaculture Sydney North meeting, when it was mentioned again in the context of a community garden.  The name moved into Zone 3, and then when David Holmgren mentioned Ceres during his tour of Melliodora, I emailed to schedule a visit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

David explained that Melliodora is perhaps the best documented example of a working permaculture garden, but that it is not necessarily the best demonstration garden, since it was set up to meet the needs of his own family.  Ceres, he said however, is a great example of a demonstration permaculture garden.  Indeed, the site is something to behold, get lost in, and meander unhurriedly throughout.  Far more than a community garden, Ceres encompasses a visitor’s center, permaculture nursery, café, education building, global village, market garden, chook area, aquaculture operation, energy demonstration site, and more.   After exploring the site on my own for a while, I met up with Judy Glick, School Programs Manager.  I asked her what the role of permaculture is at Ceres.

“Ceres was set up 30 years ago. One of the first things that was built was a compost heap and a permaculture garden.  David Holmgren helped with the design of it.  The principles of animals working in orchard for example, are still there.  Food gardens of Ceres have been set up with an amalgam of biodynamic principles:  natural predators, natural fertility, planting by the moon, etc.  And some permaculture diploma courses now use our site to run courses.”

Most Ceres teachers have permaculture training and personal permaculture experience, which they can incorporate into each of Ceres pre-planned 50 minute programs.  Though in some tours and programs permaculture is mentioned by name, Ceres doesn’t specify care of Earth or Care of People, [two of the three core permaculture ethics], or focus on teaching permaculture by name.  However, Judy confirms that permaculture is embedded in the ethos of what makes Ceres tick.  According to Judy, “We come at sustainability in a number of different ways, however David Holmgren’s original ideas are becoming rediscovered and coming back again. “

I noted that by way of having a well-developed site and hosting school groups, Ceres shares some of the same issues as botanic gardens who have a vested interest in bringing schools to the site.  Judy acknowledges the similarity, but clarifies the distinction: “We’re not a botanic gardens; it’s not a manicured site.”

Last month, Ceres had their one millionth school visitor to the site.  They’ve been running school programs for 21 years, and addressing the curriculum before school curriculum even addressed it.  Ceres doesn’t get any funding from the department of education or government, which, according to Judy, is actually quite freeing for the organization.  “Anything we do in terms of matching programs [to curriculum] is a service to teachers or is a marketing exercise, but not because we have to.  Basically we’re spot on because there are commonalities, we’re talking the same concepts regardless of what grade.  We don’t have any touch screens, it’s all hands on, real life, things break, are not always working.  The experience of coming here is like an immersion.  It’s not just a program.  The greater part of the organization is doing whatever students are learning about in a program. Any activities on site have to fit with the Ceres mission of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Whether you go to the café, farm, or community garden, all the programs fit within the mission.”

What message does Ceres want school children to walk away with?  “You as an individual are part of the natural and social world and you have a role to play.  We want the kids to have fun and have their eyes open and we want to give them positive solutions, which is sometimes a bit tricky.”

The bottom line on permaculture at Ceres?

“Permaculture is embedded in everything we do.  But people don’t necessarily leave here knowing more about permaculture unless they do a PDC (permaculture design certificate) here. “

I also spoke with Luisa Brown, Ceres Training Coordinator, who runs adult workshops that focus on energy, food and sustainable gardening.  They currently run a complete urban farmer course, which qualifies for ACFE funding (Adults Continuing Further Education, this is federal funding earmarked for supporting marginalized groups, e.g. Aboriginals, men over 45, adults over 55, and those without degrees) which addresses topics such as soil, bee keeping, composting, fruit trees.  An introduction to permaculture is also part of this course, and all the educators have taken a PDC as well as having a certificate in horticulture.

“We have a lot to do with sustainability organizations.  But we haven’t had any contact with botanic gardens.”  Why not? I asked.  They just haven’t contacted us, I suppose.”

What is Djanbung?

…pronounced [zjahn-bung] (silent d), Djanbung is the local Wiyabul name for platypus.  The name was giving by a senior elder to what is now Djanbung Gardens, run by permaculturalist Robyn Francis.  An ancient story tells of the platypus reminding animals of their true names and relationships with each other and their environment.  By all appearances, an appropriate name for this 2.16 hectare (5.4 acres) garden situated in Nimbin, New South Whales.

With a mission to, “inspire, educate and empower people in earth-friendly and sustainable lifestyle and design,” Djanbung Gardens has come a long way since 1993, when it transitioned from dairy farming and cattle grazing to its present permaculture land management practices.

Though Robyn was in France during my visit, I took the self-guided tour, which lasted an enjoyable hour and a half.  I had the pleasure of encountering several interns who helped to further interpret the educational aspects of the gardens, but the map and details were so well-laid out that I didn’t get lost once (though I did backtrack when I realized I might be trespassing on snake habitat;  It was a warm, snakey kind of a day.) I found the booklet contained all the pertinent information I needed.  Rather than spell it out for you, please have a look at the slide show, interpreted with captions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Ranch at the Huntington Botanic Gardens

My last stop before departing the States was The Huntington Botanic Gardens to meet with Scott Kleinrock, project coordinator of The Ranch.  In line with its long-standing agricultural roots as an orange and avocado grove, The Ranch is a new project designed to cultivate agricultural literacy among visitors to the Huntington Botanical Gardens.  About half of the 15 acres are in Valencia orange cultivation (as they have been for decades), and the remaining 7 acres are devoted to an agricultural/educational display and learning garden.  Most recently, this space was a gravel parking lot.  It now looks quite different:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While permaculture is not the primary focus of The Ranch,  “Permaculture is one of the things that informs the garden.”  Kleinrock seems to have an authentic understanding of what permaculture is about, and the limitations of the system he works within. “Permanent agriculture is not what I’m doing here.   I use a ton of plastic for example.  I don’t see it as a permanent system, though hopefully as a resilient and adaptable one.  For example the organic fertilizers I use are still a byproduct of the industrial system.  But permaculture will definitely be part of the discussion.”  Kleinrock has completed an intensive 2-month permaculture certificate and is currently working on his masters in landscape architecture.

One 400 sq ft section of the garden will be comprised of individual beds that will be planted to be easily replicable.  “Unlike the rest of The Huntington, The Ranch is about being hands-on.  With a more realistically sized space, we hope to demonstrate how people can grow food.”

The Ranch is slated to open to the public this November, and I look forward to a return visit to check its progress.

Permaculture moves forward at the LA County Arboretum & Botanic Garden

Jill Morganelli, Horticultural Curator at the LA Arb explains an artistic feature of the Permasphere

18 Aug. Back in LA and just hours before taking off on V Australia #8, I stopped in to chat with Richard Schulhof, CEO of the LA County Arboretum and Botanic Garden about the status of permaculture at the arboretum.  I was pleased that Jill Morganelli, Horticultural Curator was also able to join us.

Despite the recent departure of the garden’s permaculture curator, Caitlin Bergman, permaculture is not only holding steady, but growing at the LA Arboretum.  Plans are afoot for developing a new permaculture garden in a space now referred to as ‘turf island,’ that also happens to be right out in the middle of the garden.  It will feature native California plants, along with some edible and medicinal plants important to local indigenous cultures.  Different from the Permasphere tucked off in the back 40, the new permaculture garden will be hard to miss.  It will also be well-interpreted.

According to Jill Morganelli, “People want to see how they can do this in their own backyard.  To me, our job is to show an example of what homeowners can do at home.”  Morganelli also emphasizes the role of community: “permaculture is as much about community as it is about growing.”

One of the challenges of public garden education, according to Schulhof, is “how to make it more accessible.  Public gardens can do a better job of teaching natural systems.  It’s very difficult to get people interested in carbon cycling and mycorrhiza.  However in permaculture, you’re physically doing it; you’re engaged in it.”

Permaculture also differs from traditional public garden horticulture in its focus on process as much as on the end product. According to Morganelli, ” A permaculture garden is entirely about process.”  Many public garden displays are about creating a display for the public, but don’t necessarily teach a visitor how to do it, nor do they create an impression that such a display is achievable or accessible.

Another way permaculture stands apart from other types of public garden education, according to Schulhof and Morganelli, is that it “holds particular appeal for teens.  Especially teenage boys, who are one of the most under-served audiences of public gardens.”

With such a positive public response and the educationally apposite nature of permaculture at the LA Arboretum, why are so few other public gardens following suit?  “There is a great deal of risk aversion in the museum and public garden fields,” suggests Schulhof.  Schulhof also posits that some may think permaculture has been superseded by other more sophisticated green technologies.  “Permaculture is extremely low tech, and you can do it in a very local way.  However, understanding of permaculture also requires a certain level of science literacy that many people don’t have.”  Many public gardens may also find the low-cost of implementing permaculture to hold significant appeal, especially in our now sluggish economy.

Yet permaculture is still widely misunderstood.  The first question most people ask about permaculture at the LA Arboretum is, “What is permaculture?”  When I asked whether any concern or negative response about the aesthetic quality of the permaculture garden had been raised by the public, Shulhof reports he’s heard only positive, great things about the aesthetics.  He admits, however, that with the new, much more visible permaculture garden, more criticism is likely.  “As director,” he says, “if I were not provoking visitors to ask questions, then what are we here for?”

“I’m from the era of ornamental horticulture, and I really feel I’m witnessing the end of that era.  Young people today want to make a difference.  I see permaculture in public gardens providing an avenue for that impulse and interest.”

NOTE: Keep your eyes out for interview clips in future blog posts.

Fun-tastic Permasphere, L.A. Arboretum

The planting methods in the Permaculture Sphere follow two basic permaculture principles: 1. Make use of the resources you have, and 2. Mimic nature.  When you eat a tomato, simply smoodge the seeds out on the ground and let nature take it from there.  Look to the fruits of the market to provide your seeds rather than those little expensive packets. The squirrels might make off with some, but they’re bound to leave a few behind to take root in your garden.


Caitlin explains planting like Nature

Visiting the Permasphere, L.A. Arboretum‘s Permaculture garden was a highlight of the 2010 AHS Children & Youth Garden Symposium in Pasadena.  The excursion day offered three options; a public garden tour, a school garden tour and an environmental education tour.  The public garden tour included a visit to the Permasphere, which for me was a launch of sorts for my permaculture travel-research.  With so few public gardens in the world that actively engage in permaculture, and the L.A. Arboretum the only U.S. example I have identified that actively practices permaculture and calls it that, I was eager to see it for myself. However I managed to get on the wrong bus and about ten blocks after we’d pulled out of the Westin, our tour guide introduced herself and announced the itinerary, which was NOT the itinerary I had signed up for.  I grabbed my bag and asked the bus driver to kindly let me out, then jogged 10 blocks until I found an open business:  Bally Total Fitness from whom I borrowed a phone book.  About twenty minutes of phone time and two cab companies later, a yellow taxi pulled up and I was off to my true destination: The Los Angeles Arboretum.  My cabbie, a lovely Armenian man who spoke of his neurosurgeon nephew and his teenage daughter who excelled in math and science chuckled as I told my wrong bus story, and appreciating my plight, delivered me to the arboretum in what must have been record time.  I thanked him and approached the desk positioned out front of the main entrance, which was staffed by what appeared to be day-camp greeters. None of them knew about the permaculture garden, and directed me to the front desk.   I hurried in.

The woman at the front desk graciously allowed me to the front of the line when she saw the sweat on my brow, conference badge around my neck, and twinge of panic in my eye.  A lost duckling her expression read.  She kindly invited me to the front of the line and pulled out a garden map. “Yes, let’s see, I hope we can find it here.  Oh, yes, here it is,” she said, as she pointed to the perennial garden.  Eager to lose no more time than necessary, I said, “I’m looking for the permaculture garden.” “Hmmmmm….” she said. “Best to check with Mark – mustache, hat, guy who knows pretty much everything, and you can find him in the gift shop.”

Moments later Mark was lamenting there was no staff to lead the way; it was nearly impossible to find on my own, he said.  He paused, reconsidered, then thoughtfully explained how to find it; “follow this path straight ahead until you get to the circle plantings; bear left then right and go through the gate into the back alley, parking area, and you will see it on the right.”  I started on my way and soon realized there were multiple paths spurring off in different directions and with no signage or clear landmarks I abandoned my map and asked a visitor (or maybe it was a camp counselor?) who, fortunately, knew just where it was.  I arrived at the Permasphere in time to catch the last half of Caitlin’s tour.

If you’ve ever attended a conference that includes excursions, you know what it is to be whisked along on a time-table that belongs to someone else.  Large group field trips rarely allow time to soak in a place or experience.  The goal is to introduce a place or project, a whetting of the whistle perhaps, not  in-depth exploration.  I was fortunate that the group had been split into two and I tacked on to the next group for a repeat of the 15 minute tour of the garden.   Caitlin explained the state of the site when it came under her purview not even one year ago.   Old furniture and trash filled the site.  In addition, thousands of gallons of rain water were swept across the adjacent asphalt, down the drains, and out to the ocean during rain events.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After ridding the site of the debris, a team of volunteers cut the curb and dug swales to invite  rain water in to the garden.  From there, the site design emerged.  The garden has only been ‘finished’ (in as much as a permaculture garden is ever ‘finished’) in the last few months and now features a hand-crafted cob oven and welcoming keyhole cob shaded seating area.  The food forest includes bananas, figs, rosemary, poppies, tomatoes, chard, among many other species of edible and medicinal plants.  The space, though only recently planted, is already becoming lush and inviting. And it all exists on a very modest and replicable scale: about 20′ x 40′  (74 square meters).

Caitlin was originally hired as a nursery horticulturist and with the support of the arboretum’s CEO, Richard Schulhof, moved into her current role as Permaculture Curator.  By all appearances, it seems the Permasphere and the permaculture principles demonstrated and taught there have been very well received by the public.

However, Caitlin is moving to San Fransisco in just less than a month, and her replacement has not yet been identified.  What will become of the Permasphere in her absence?  Technically, the garden is not open to the public, and visitors clearly miss it if not on a specific mission to get there.  Will another permaculture curator be hired to continue the work Caitlin started, or will it fall back into the background that it has recently grown forth from?