Jan. 31, 2013

In Randwick, the PIG survives the heat

THIS MORNING, I thought I would go and visit the Permaculture Interpretive Garden (better known by its acronym, the PIG) at the sustainability hub to see what had survived the hot weather and what hadn't. 

So along I went, down the path and into the garden. The black bamboo had turned into a few dried sticks but the green bamboo (Bambusa oldhammii) opposite was doing just fine. A couple blueberry bushes were dried and shrivelled and the cherimoya seedling was completely missing. The ice cream bean was quite happy and the lime tree and black sapote seedling similarly so, as was the persimmon. The NZ spinach had suffered though Fiona suggested that could be due to root knot nematodes — this is the dry, sandy soil in which those pestiferous little creatures thrive. The arrowroot had shot up unbelievably since I last saw it and the cosmos likewise. Marigold were not only in flower but were apparently happy with the onslaught of hot weather. The sugarcane appeared unaffected, the sunflower bright, the tansy tall and in bright yellow flower and the herbs happy.

There had been losses — fewer than I expected — but much had done well. During this time — during the hot weather we have experienced since before Xmas — nobody had overhead watered the garden though around 4am twice a week the drip irrigation, buried below the mulch, came on for half an hour. It seems this might benefit some plants but not others, including the seeds of sunflower that had been planted.

I was feeling happy about the condition of the garden — it had not turned into a dry, desertified wasteland populated only by a few heat-adapted succulents like the pigface that grows here and by scaly reptiles — when in the distance I spied what seemed to be a mobile part of the garden. I looked. It was a biped, I realised, definitely in the Homo sapien evolutionary line... and moving purposefully as if interacting with the plants. Spotting a spade being carried in its hand, I could see that it was a tool using species.

"Hey, Russ and Fi", the apparition called as it came over as if was a bit of garden that had somehow got up and walked and talked... and then I realised that this wasn't some bit of ambulant herbage... it was none other than our colleague, Costa Georgiadis.

Costa was in the garden this morning with his production crew shooting Costa with plants and gardeny-stuff for, I think, ABC Organic Gardener magazine or ABC Gardening Australia show. It was good to make contact again and to see that the Permaculture Interpretive Garden — known as the PIG — was being used for purposes we had not imagined... a sign of success.

The PIG is a hybrid, and like botanical hybrids it is starting to display hybrid vigour, the result of mixing species or, in the case of the PIG, landuses. Just as the South American babaco is the natural hybrid of the pawpaw and just as a mermaid is an elusive hybrid of a woman with good swimming ability and a large fish, so the PIG is a landuse hybrid bringing together public park (with edible landscape), a training facility for Randwick Council's courses in composting, Living Smart, Organic Gardening and Forest Gardening, and, as it grows, a small botanic garden of useful species. 

The idea of combining landuses like this introduces new thinking to urban planning. It's the sort of innovative design thinking that we need in a city whose population is growing and densifying. More people bring competing demands for the use of limited public open space such as city parks, which makes design for multi-purpose a sensible approach to urban landuse. It's in this way that the Permaculture Interpretive Garden, as a city park with an edible landscape including a still-in-seedling-stage food forest garden, is a rapid prototype of a good idea.

It was a very warm morning that day we went along to check out the garden survivors of our recent hot spell. It was good to talk to that mobile part of the garden, Costa Georgiadis, again and to see him and his crew at work among the herbs and the arrowroot. I noticed that, like the plants, he too was feeling the heat. 

The PIG is an evolving garden agriculture growing as best it can in our Eastern Suburbs sandy soil, a soil that water drains through rapidly, taking the nutrients with it, a soil that can dry our rapidly after rain.

If you want to learn a little gardening-by-doing, or build on your knowledge gained though council's free Organic Gardening or Living Smart courses, there's the opportunity for you to do so by becoming a voluntary gardener at the PIG. You can find out more from: [email protected]


Story and photos by Russ Grayson

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