Tag Archives: public garden

Reflections from Hamilton Permaculture Trust co-founder, Adrienne Grant

Adrienne Grant, co-founder of Hamilton Permaculture Trust, with kiwi on Mokoia Island, Lake Rotorua

I met with Adrienne Grant, co-founder of the Hamilton Permaculture Trust to talk about the genesis of the Sustainable Backyard and the Hamilton Permaculture Trust.  Adrienne currently works with New Zealand’s Enviro Schools and while she is still occasionally involved with the Trust, the Trust has developed a life of its own.  She reflects here on the early days of the Permaculture Trust and the genesis of the Sustainable Backyard.

“In 1997, I worked as a researcher in the U.K. looking at social disadvantage and environmental action, and when I got back, I wanted to do something that would make a difference.  I met Al (Alaisdair) Craig through City Council – who also knew Mel (Melanie Allcutt, co-founder of the Hamilton Permaculture Trust).  He saw idealistic, young 20-somethings and put us together to get us out of his hair.

What a mistake!  Mel and I got on great, and we decided we wanted to learn how to grow our own food with other people.

We saw community gardens, organic gardening, learning to grow your own food with other people – a communal thing which could inspire others.  Mel had done a Permaculture course.  We saw this as a way forward.  This was something that was really grounded.  It wasn’t out in the forest, it was something that could be brought back home.  It was something everyone could do – it was really practical.

We didn’t think about whether Hamilton needed it, we just wanted it.  We got funding from Council ($5k). We were young, idealistic and naïve.  We organized a couple of community meetings to see what interest there was, and that’s where we found Cheryl (current coordinator of Permaculture Trust) and Katherine, Anna, Chris and Robin (current Trustees)  It was 1998 when we first started talking, and that year we founded the Hamilton Permaculture Trust.

We looked around town for a site.  We met with Bill Featherstone (Head of parks & Gardens).  We basically asked, “Could you give us a bit of land please?”  He replied, “ I’ve done it before and every time it fails. What makes you different?”  I was gobsmacked, and said, “Because we are!”  Somehow he gave it to us.  (See Bill Featherstone’s perspective in my next blog post!)

We had some city council funding, and had contacted community agencies.  Everyone we talked to seemed to be really supportive of the idea.  We had examples from over seas [of successful community gardens].  We put together a portfolio to sell the idea to the community.  We were gauging interest of funders and agencies that could support us.

In 1999, a site at Hamilton Gardens that was covered in rubbish was allocated to us for two years.  We had a core of three volunteers, Mel and Cheryl and myself, and half a dozen people who would occasionally work in the garden, but it was hard to get ongoing help on a regular basis.  There wasn’t a clear idea of management at the time, we were spending a lot of time trying to get funding, etc.  We cleared the site and landscaped it and learned to grow vegetables.

After a year they [City Council] said, you know you’re going to have to leave this site, but you can take on the Backyard Garden as a permanent project.  The Hamilton Gardens have a history that every garden has been developed out of a community organization.  He saw that we were really committed to it.

We gave it a good long think and saw it as a positive thing.  We began winding down community gardens and took on [what is now] the Sustainable Backyard.”

I asked Adrienne what the secret to longevity of the Hamilton Permaculture Trust and the Sustainable Backyard has been, when so many other volunteer-started projects fall by the wayside despite best intentions.

“The Permaculture Trust has been essential, like a family, and we’re aligned because we’ve always had a sense we were doing something really critical.  We’ve all had a sense of ownership.

More than 10 years have passed, and it’s [Hamilton Permaculture Trust] still there, still doing stuff and making a difference in Hamilton.  We started something and it endured.  It’s about the people having a common goal, common purpose, and good honest communication.  We operated in that consensus framework.   We’ve also benefited from continuity.  So many board members have been there from the beginning.  It’s not just about governance; it’s been about the Sustainable Backyard and running organic gardening and facilitating community gardens, education in the community and events.

“The sustainable concept can be difficult to understand.  That idea of permanence provides another interpretation to the idea of sustainability.  We also explain it [permaculture] as a design system for living sustainability.  We used it [the word permaculture] to drill into what sustainability is.  Permaculture is a useful word to explain and use to break down and drill down.  We made Permaculture really really simple for funders – we broke it into simple language.

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.

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.

Hamilton Gardens: More than a path to the Sustainable Backyard

For those of you who read Finding the Sustainable Backyard, I thought it only fair to mention that Hamilton Gardens is more than a long and curvy pathway to the Sustainable Backyard. Hamilton Gardens is an unusual public garden in its own right.

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While at first appearance it looks to be a botanical garden, the visitor will soon discover that the focus is on cultural and historical interpretations of gardens and their design, rather than the traditional botanic garden focus on botanical collections of plants.  Peter Sergel, director of Hamilton Gardens, is trained in landscape architecture so it is no surprise that the design of each garden is carefully considered as an independent work of art reflecting a specific culture and era.  While plants are integral to telling the story of each special garden within the Hamilton Gardens collections, the buildings, temples, paths and bridges claim at least as much attention.  Perhaps it is even fair to say that in some gardens, the plants play a supporting role, rather than a starring one.

Because Hamilton Gardens is a collection of very diverse gardens, from the first traditional Maori garden, Te parapara, to the Indian Char Bagh, Italian Renaissance and Modern American Gardens, strolling the grounds is a multi-cultural experience.  The garden staff, employed by Hamilton City Council, work closely with community groups corresponding to the various garden themes in order to assure the most authentic representation of each garden.

The Gardens officially opened in 1960 and consisted only of the Tropical Display House and 4 acres of lawn, now incorporated into the current plan as “The Victorian Flower Garden.”  The Roger Rose Garden was developed in 1971 for the first World Rose Convention, and the majority of garden development stems from planning that commenced in the 1980’s.

Covering 155 acres, Hamilton Gardens receives about 1.5 million visitors, 2300 hours of sunshine and 48 inches of rain per year.  Wintec, a technical school that includes horticulture, arboriculture, floriculture and landscape design, is sited adjacent to the gardens, facilitating student learning opportunities that also benefit the gardens, and is considered by Peter to be, “one of our best partnerships.”

So how did the Sustainable Backyard come to take up residence at Hamilton Gardens?  The path, much like the winding walkway you must travel to at last arrive at the garden itself, was anything but straightforward.  Interviews with Hamilton Permaculture Trust co-founder Adrienne Grant and former Manager of Parks and Gardens Bill Featherstone will provide insight into the evolution and development of the Sustainable Backyard.  Stay tuned!

Finding The Sustainable Backyard, Hamilton Gardens

Looking for the Sustainable Backyard?

This year, the Sustainable Backyard of Hamilton Gardens, will be celebrating its 10 year anniversary.  It  is the longest established permaculture demonstration in a public garden, and the primary reason for my visit to New Zealand.

After working with the Hamilton Permaculture Trust and Hamilton Gardens for 2 months, there is much to share.  Previous posts feature interviews and stories shared by people who have been inspired by the Sustainable Backyard, and upcoming posts will feature additional insights from historic and contemporary perspectives.  However, for now I want to  introduce the Sustainable Backyard from the perspective of a first time visitor.  Because the topic warrants multiple blog posts, this one will be devoted to the experience of getting to the Sustainable Backyard once you’ve arrived at Hamilton Gardens. (If you want the short version, skip to the slideshow below.)

First, if you are visiting Hamilton Gardens, you’ll want to stop at the visitor’s center and pick up a map for good measure.  If left to your own devices, you may wander through the bulk of the garden and miss it completely.  This is largely due to the current construction that has resulted in the removal of some key way-finding signage, however not entirely.  The Sustainable Backyard is tucked at the back of Hamilton Gardens and at the back of the Productive Collection to which it belongs (which also includes an herb garden, time court and kitchen garden).

Once you leave the visitor’s center you will pass through the piazza with fountain and curve through and around the recently opened Te Parapara garden, which is the first traditional Maori garden in existence.  (I had the fortune to meet with Wiremu, the chief coordinator of the Te Parapara garden, which is entirely based on his Maori ancestor’s cultural traditions, and was pleased to be able to assist in the planting of the kumara (sweet potato) crop. However, I will save details for a future post.)

On the perimeter fence of the Te Parapara garden, the visitor has the benefit of a small placard with arrows pointing toward the remainder of the productive gardens.  It’s a comfort at this point to know you are heading in the right direction.  Next, walk through an  archway. This is where the tricky part begins.  You will arrive in the time courtyard, with a beautiful and extremely complex sundial, with 6 doorways to choose from (well only two, as four are blocked off during construction). Take your pick, and if you pick the one on the left, you will pass the perfume garden on the right and a spanse of land under development on the left. (If you choose the other open door, you will wind your way through the herb garden and kitchen garden, and if you show fortitude and persistence, you will spot an unmarked door (and hopefully it will be open) at the back of the kitchen garden, through which you will wander directly into the Sustainable Backyard.)

Continue along the path past the hedge. When you arrive at the lawn court on the left, (which had the sign warning visitors of chemical sprays the entire duration of my 2 months there), you will see an archway before you, and you will know you have arrived.  Congratulations!  You made it to the Sustainable Backyard!

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And though your efforts, dear reader, will not be rewarded today, your efforts as a visitor most certainly would be. (Check back shortly for your reward of a virtual tour of the Sustainable Backyard!)