It's been a little quiet around here of late - I'm still fresh outta words, with our big move last month requiring some rest and settling in from it seems. But, I am still around and I'll be back with new posts soon enough.
For now though, I'd love to welcome this month's A Meaningful Gardener. Tricia (one of my favourite 'bloggers' and Instagrammers) writes at little eco footprints about living a slower, simpler, lighter life - and I adore both her words and her photos (check out the #anhourinthegardeneachday hash tag on Instagram!). She is someone I often turn to for how-to's and advice, and I've been loving watching her journey in Permaculture this year as she's undertaken a Permaculture Design Certificate. Tricia walks her talk, and I know you will be inspired by the way she works with her garden, rather than trying to force it into something it's not.
Thank you so much for contributing to the A Meaningful Garden series, Tricia. May your summer rainfall be enough to keep that garden bountiful!
Time in a garden and home-grown food on my table are two of the most important ingredients for my “good life”.
For me, it's the 'gardening' rather than the 'garden' that holds meaning.
Gardening helps me to connect with nature, my food, and most importantly - with myself. I don't feel complete unless I can dig my hands into the earth and grow my own food.
My Gran would delight in starting each meal with a tale of where the food came from. “The beans and beetroot are from our garden and the mushrooms are from Uncle Bernie”. I now find myself telling a similar tale at the start of each meal.
The joy that comes from being able proclaim that everything on the plate came from my garden or was foraged is something I find hard to describe. I feel resilient, grounded and connected.
I love how gardening helps me to notice the changing seasons. I harvested my first cob of sweet corn for the season today. I've rarely eaten sweet corn in the past 12 months and this first cob was all the more sweeter for going without.
I intentionally plant more than my family needs. Having a surplus to share is one of the biggest benefits of gardening for me. At the moment I'm harvesting armfuls of zucchinis each day. A few weeks ago the glut was of broad beans. And in a few weeks time it will be tomatoes. Each weekend for the past few weeks I've used my zucchini glut as an excuse to quickly pop in and visit friends. I call and ask “can I drop off some zucchinis?”. That quick visit becomes a chat on the road verge or a longer conversation over a cuppa.
My current garden is a large sprawling garden on a rural property we moved to a couple of years ago. Despite having more space than I've ever had before – it is very similar to all my past gardens- messy and transient. I value function more than form and enjoy the challenge of making do with free and local resources.
Visit my garden and you would see a mess of weeds and past crops that have gone to seed. The beautiful and diverse baskets of vegetables that I harvest from my garden remind me that something doesn't need to look perfect to be perfectly useful. Rather than fret over weeds I often leave them be for a while and embrace them as chook food, salad greens or use them to perform a function. Weeds can shade and support other plants or be used to mine nutrients from deep in the soil.
I leave the skeleton of past crops in place if they perform a function. Right nowthere's dead broad bean plants providing support for cucumber vines. And shrivelling pea plants shading the ground around my bean plants.
I see gardening as an opportunity to practice working with nature rather than against and to be creative and frugal. Spending a lot of money would take away much of the reward. The soil in my current garden was built up using local spoilt hay, compost from a local mushroom farm and manure from our ponies. In my previous urban garden we used free stable manure from the local racecourse and manure from our chickens.
The saying “bloom where you are planted” is very relevant to gardening. I've learnt to accept that nowhere is perfect. When I gardened in the city I would frequently wish for more space. Now that I have more space I wish for more water. I think a good gardener accepts, and perhaps even embraces, local limitations and grows good food despite.
One of my favourite past gardens was in a small courtyard of a rental property. The courtyard was only a few metres wide and covered in concrete. I added thick layers of manure and hay directly over the concrete and ended up with the most incredibly productive garden right at my back door. When it was time to move on I shovelled the rich soil into a trailer and took it with me – valuing it as much as my other belongings.
My garden is winding down for the Summer. We don't yet have sufficient water to carry it through the hot and dry summer- so I've learnt to give up on the garden for a few months. Instead I grow microgreens in pots and sprouts on my kitchen bench. I leave my garden to the pumpkins. They scramble through the garden beds and their adventitious roots make the most of whatever nutrients were left after the most recent crops. Their leaves shade out most of the weeds and by the end of summer my garden is nothing but a mass of pumpkin. In autumn I harvest barrow loads of pumpkins and start my garden from scratch again.
Each autumn my garden looks unloved and neglected. I use my chickens to help me prepare the soil; add a few layers of compost and manure; and sow some seeds. Within weeks my garden is bursting with life and I'm harvesting food again. I like that if I stepped away and didn't restart my garden in autumn - that within months it probably wouldn't be obvious that a garden was ever there.
It reminds me that we can enjoy, and be nourished by, this beautiful planet - without leaving a mess behind.
Tricia lives on a small rural property in the Hunter Valley and writes about trying to tread lightly at little eco footprints. She shares her adventures in growing, foraging and simplifying on Instagram and believes the world would be a much better place if we all learnt to be creative contributors rather than consumers.