Welcome to this months A Meaningful Garden post. Carly from Making Sense of Things has written such a beautifully descriptive post, I challenge you to not feel like you are in her garden with her (and the stunning photos do help with that!).
I've been following Jean and Carly on Instagram and Facebook for a while now, and love the way that Carly captures their everyday moments. Her story below starts off in a way that is so similar to mine (well, minus the London and engineer bit anyway) and I love how she has woven the spirit of permaculture thoroughly into her beautifully productive garden. This is how we should all be aspiring to grow, in a way that creates an interconnected ecosystem that we live within, rather than just an observer of.
In 2010 I left my career working in London as an engineer in search of a life that would have me living more in accordance with my values. At the time I didn't know what that would mean exactly, I just knew I needed to get away from corporate life, I wanted space to contemplate what I might enjoy and time to learn new things. I immediately started visiting and volunteering at a community garden because even though I had barely any gardening experience I wanted to see how I felt in a more natural environment, to get out of the constructed, man-made world and into the 'real' world.
The 'real' world felt great! That community garden was full of open hearted, giving people who shared their knowledge of permaculture with me. I completed a Permaculture Design Certificate and noticed my lifestyle naturally aligning more with my inner values. I felt less hypocritical and defensive, more authentic and peaceful in my life. I had been feeling overwhelmed by the world's problems and the state of humanity but permaculture gave me solutions that were practical and could be implemented by anyone. With the support of my loving partner, Jean, I changed the way we bought food, I started growing food, fermenting, composting and learning.
We have been fortunate to spend a lot of our time abroad, in interesting parts of the world and along that journey I have been involved in natural building projects and permaculture gardens in various places. Everywhere we have been I have set up compost systems, grown whatever I could and visited inspiring people doing amazing things to make this a better world. Most recently we lived in La Paz, Bolivia, for 2 years where I grew dozens of vegetables in pots in the lounge room of our flat, at 4000m altitude! I set up a worm farm in our stair well. There were so many challenges but I couldn't stop - the beauty, the observation practice and the opportunities to learn were too enticing, not to mention the food!
Around a year ago we decided we'd like to 'settle down' somewhere, so we chose Mullumbimby in Northern NSW, Australia. We moved into a little rental property near town to give us time to get to know the region, organise Jean's Australian visa and look for some land to possibly buy and call our own. That little rental property had just a small grass lawn but I couldn't resist converting part of it into our kitchen garden.
Using whatever resources I could get, from our own garden to our neighbour's prunings, I carefully sorted everything by their carbon to nitrogen ratios and built no dig garden beds that have been surprising me with their productivity. I cram in seasonal seeds and seedlings every 6 weeks or so, stacking in time and space to ensure there's always something to harvest. I ensure there are legumes to fix nitrogen in different parts of the garden. Inter-cropping and companion planting are the norm with such diversity and intensity in small spaces. I'm really pushing how much I can fit into a small space. After living in Bolivia for 2 years, growing at altitude and indoors, in pots, I have been excited to be back at sea level in the sub tropics, converting grassed areas into abundant food production gardens. Here, our plants grow so fast that I feel like I should be able to see them gaining height real time. Insects come and go but seem thoroughly confused. Occasionally we lose a plant but I just call it my sacrificial plant. Besides, that's fair share, right?
Summer can be a difficult time to grow food here because of incessant, intense heat and frequent, monsoonal-type rain. However, our garden was flourishing because we were growing climate appropriate plants, especially the basil, kang kong, Brazilian spinach, galangal, lemon grass and beans. They were protected from harsh UV by shade cloth and we fed them with an extra layer of compost and mulch regularly. So, everything was thriving… including the critter populations. Small, large, blue striped, yellow and black bees visited our basil and pak choy flowers. Grasshoppers chomped on the leaves of our super productive beans but seemed to ignore everything else, thankfully. Lady beetles industriously reproduced and cleaned up the zucchini leaves, occasionally landing on us. During the Summer afternoons the crickets chirped but were drowned out by the frogs roaring into the evening or when it rained. Wasps, flies and black soldier flies found their niche amongst it all too. We took the shade cloth off for Winter, allowing more airflow and light for our cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower and delicate herbs like coriander, dill and fennel. Butterflies sometimes lay their eggs, but not too much – perhaps they are confused by our inter-cropping and companion planting. A few caterpillars are discovered despite their incredible camouflage but nature seems to keep everything in check. All year around spiders weave and reweave their webs each time the rain tears them down. Lizards dart quickly out of sight every time we harvest. Worms are unearthed as I plant. I can see that no chemicals are needed, everything is producing abundantly and finding its own balance. I’m so grateful to observe, enjoy and reap the benefits.
Each evening I like to hang out with my growing garden, often with a bottle of homemade kombucha in hand – watering these abundant lives, observing shooting growth, bigger leaves and insects. In the evening it cools down, the light is soft, the sky displays her changing colours, the galahs peck at the grass, the parrots screech, the cicadas start chirping and all seems good in the world… I take slow deep breaths of gratitude as the day ends and slows. Each morning I also enjoy sitting on the stairs nearby, sipping my coffee and observing. I call it my permaculture meditation. My vegetables, that I nurture, teach me simplicity by simply being… they don’t need validation or acceptance or to be liked.. they are just themselves, growing and prospering anyway… all I have to do is love them. Gardens feed us, teach us, connect us and I’m so very grateful.
Sometimes we have so much produce, especially leafy greens, that we can make big beautiful bouquets as gifts, or ferment them to preserve for probiotic nourishment at a later date. What I've noticed is that the abundance shared, gives back. We are often gifted whatever is in season from our neighbours and friends - mandarins, lemons, limes, mangoes, bananas, pumpkins, passionfruit, lemon myrtle and more.
We are still living in that little rental property, I'm still tending our abundant kitchen garden, we are still waiting for Jean's visa and we still haven't bought land to live on. It has nearly been a year, so I now have a year of seasons under my observation belt. I firmly believe in doing what I can, with what I have, where I am. I've even started up a small fruit tree nursery in preparation for our future projects. This little garden has given me so much to prepare for wherever we end up living next - knowledge of the seasons and ecosystems here, food, gratitude, peace and many small lessons.
Once upon a time I worked as an engineer but these days I do many things. I am fascinated by this amazing world we live in and passionate about permaculture, travelling, nutrition and all things creative. I don’t quite feel well if I’m not creating something. When I'm not gardening, I'm photographing, fermenting whatever I can get my hands on, making things and trying to "make sense of things", which is the title of a blog I run (haphazardly) with the most patient, kind man I am lucky to share my life with. Making Sense of Things is where we try to frame and articulate our ideas on many topics of interests.