Nov. 16, 2012

Planting the PIG

Jaboticaba, cherimoya, miracle fruit... you would be wrong to say that planting these and many other fruits was a PIG of a day, but you would be right to say it was a day in the PIG (Permaculture Interpretive Garden)

A fine day of blue skies and high, wispy altostratus against a blue Eastern Suburbs sky and a brisk, cooling wind off the sea from the north east... a good day for a phase two planting of the PIG—the Permaculture Interpretive Garden's food forest... or forest garden as we more commonly call it.

Whatever you know it as, it's a component of the PIG's edible landscape. And that edible landscape is not only an educational facility for Randwick Council's organic gardening, Living Smart, permaculture and other courses and workshops in DIY urban food production, it's also a public park. That's design for multiple purpose and it's a feature of the permaculture design system.


A mixed planting to demionstrate urban food gardening

"It's good that we have this breeze today, otherwise it would be hot", said Jane Mowbray, one of the constant gardeners at the PIG (helpers always welcome), a member of Glovers Community Garden (NSW's first community garden), president of the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network and educator with Inner West Seed Savers—a multi-role woman with multiple—purpose skills.

A couple months earlier, stable sweepings had been spread over the forest garden at the southern end of the PIG. Several generations of green manure had preceded the mulch to add nutrients to the soil, including a vetch/millet and a cowpea/oat mix and others according to season. These had been turned into the freely-draining, low-nutrent value sandy soil.

Previous planting days had established a range of citrus varieties; an ice cream bean (Inga edulis for those botanical mavens reading this story) established in the windbreak where it will eventually protect the garden from the blustery southerlies that flow strongly through this area and spin the adjacent wind turbine to churn out electricity; arrowroot and sugarcane (more windbreak species); bamboo with stems useful in the garden and edible shoots (Bambusa oldhammii); and lots of comfrey for those deeper-lying soil nutrients and, for people, blueberry, plus an assortment of flowers and herbs and a couple pomegranate, banana and almond trees.

The plant mix established today includes fruit trees such as Japanese raisin tree; cherimoya; joboticaba; longan; black sapote; miracle fruit. Other plants for the understorey include: New Zealand spinach; large leaf bush pea (Pulteneae, an indigenous legume); Camelia sinensus (the tea bush that gives us our everyday cuppa); bermagot; rhubarb; stevia (a sweet herb used as a sugar replacement); echinaceae; petunia; and Acacia myrtifolia, a low-growing native legume.


The PIG — its's all about biomimicry

Plantings to be carried out over time follow a planting plan that spans the first ten years of the forest garden. This lists species and where they are planted according to their need for sunlight, susceptibility to the area's strong winds, the spread of their mature canopy and whether they are to grow as a ground layer, in shadier conditions, a shrubby understorey of as the canopy.

Permaculture is a system of nature-assisted design in which we take the principles employed by nature and interpret them for our edible gardens, what is known as 'biomimicry'. Eventually, like the forests that nature builds, the PIG's forest garden will consist of at least three vertical layers—a ground layer of low-growing plants adapted to shadier conditions; an understorey of shrubs and low-growing trees and a canopy of taller trees.

Importantly. this is not some food forest spread over a large area. It occupies a small, compact space. The PIG is a modest forest garden representative of the land areas you find in the city for community orchards or larger home gardens.

The plan for the garden envisions it as an evolving mini-ecosystem in which sets of plants succeed each other over time, just as they do in the bush.

Eventually, those young trees we planted today will form a canopy casting a welcome shade in summer and food for foragers and gardeners, and, at the windward edge, those two bamboos will have grown into tall clumps where, every so often, you might see people at work cutting down culms to make something in the garden, and others bent over, cutting away the young shoots to be cooked up with other plants on the PIG's biochar barbecue. Meantime, in the vegetable garden area, a class learns how they can grow some of their own food in their small Eastern Suburbs gardens while others point their mobile phone-cams at the container garden demonstration, gathering ideas on what they can do in their courtyard and on their balconies.

It's a different vision for this part of Randwick and Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, and it's lessons spread by the ripple effect as students and visitors take what they see and learn out into the community.

The PIG, with the adjacent Randwick Sustainability Hub and council's courses and workshops, has started to grow into a learning and demonstration centre for those DIY ideas in tactical urbanism that, when you add them all together, create a sustainable urbanism and a city that is a place not of degradation, but of opportunity.



Story and photos by Russ Grayson

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