This is how it all began! The very beginning of a complete garden makeover. Two 4×4 foot raised garden beds and two 4×8 foot beds were created. Quite small really, but the seed of a whole creative project that would see me working through the whole cold 2008 winter, full time, and mostly on my own.
Over 85 square meters of garden were cleared and levelled, and many existing plants were replanted, what was left was mulched and put back into the garden. From this I created 686 sq. feet (64 sq. metres) of garden beds.
Here’s the cat testing out the new redgum sleeper raised garden beds for size! (OK, this bed is closer to 3×8’, and yes, it’s a huge cat!)
That was the easy part! There were at least 75 plants that were in pots that had to be planted into the ground, which were pot bound after two years, so I had to dig holes larger and at least as deep as the height of the pots to plant them, so this necessitated the removal of several cubic metres of soil by hand to plant them all up.
Along with the plants, it took a bit more materials to build the garden. About 260 feet of redgum sleepers, 150 feet of Jarrah edging, one cubic meter of cow manure and two and a half cubic meters of pine bark mulch (for all the 45cm (1’ 6”) wide paths in the garden beds and the 12 square meter flower bed in the front yard) to be more precise about things!
Here is the original garden design which I put together.
(Click to enlarge to view the details).
Update: Designs do change in time, here what the design looks like two and a half years later
(Click on image to see full-sized design)
Here is the list of the main fruit trees and berries that were included in the design, with the corresponding numbers to indicate their planting position in the schematic:
- Lemon (Lisbon)
- Apple (Granny Smith)
- Apple (Pink Lady)
- Lime (Tahitian) – dwarf
- Pear (Williams) – espalier
- Pear (Nashi – Nijisseiki) – espalier
- Cherry (Starkrimson) – dwarf
- Lemon (Meyer)
- Passionfruit (Black)
- Plum (Satsuma)
- Plum (Mariposa)
- Grape (Sultana)
- Peach – dwarf
- Nectarine – dwarf
- Orange (Navelina) – dwarf
- Goji Berry
- Cherry Guava
- Pineapple Guava (Feijoa)
- Goji Berry
- Orange (Valencia) – dwarf
- Goji Berry
- Goji Berry
- Goji Berry
- Blackberry (thornless)
- Mulberry (in pot)
- Blackberry (in pot)
The garden design was based primarily on creating a backyard orchard with under-plantings of berries, companion plants, herbs and ornamentals. It all had to be organic, and was designed as a no-dig garden, hence the distinct mulched paths and raised beds. All plants were put into guilds with supportive companion plants and plants that help bring in beneficial insects. The Permaculture principle of stacking (more on this concept in future articles, I promise) was utilised to create multiple levels of planting all the way from trees with a high canopy through to ground covers.
The result is a 150 sq. meter backyard with 686 sq. feet (64 sq. metres) of garden beds, that contains 22 fruit trees (24 if you count the extra two in large pots), 8 types of berries, 2 types of fruiting vines, several dozen culinary and medicinal herbs (over 90 actually), and 10 sq. metres of dedicated vegetable beds, though vegetables may also be found scattered in the rest of the garden too! And there are plenty of ornamentals planted throughout the garden to keep things interesting.
I did have to level and rebuild the old lawn, but I reduced it in size (not sure if anyone noticed!) to 10 square metres. I guess it functions as rain catchment area for the fruit trees planted nearby…
The garden is still fairly young, with many of the fruit trees still growing to size, and being under a meter tall currently. Once they gain some height and form a proper canopy, the garden will begin to function in the way it was designed, and the amount produced by the garden will increase accordingly.
I am currently installing drip irrigation throughout the garden, approximately 150 metres of it all up, and automating the whole system, so it’s easier to tend to and not worry about if you need to travel.
And, in the true spirit of Permaculture, I’m getting ready to move on to the next garden somewhere, to see if I can design a little more life into a garden somewhere!
Here are some pictures of the completed construction, showing various features of the garden:
This is the grapevine support (trellis) for the sultana grape, made from two 8′ star pickets planted 2′ into the ground, with one 8′ star picket bolted across the top (I used an electric drill to create extra holes for bolts). It is oriented (runs lengthwise) from north to south so that it does not block midday sun to the vegetable beds behind it. I have strung 2.5mm plastic coated steel wire every 1.5′ from the top and tensioned the wires using turnbuckles, as can be seen on the left hand side of the picture.
One of the principles of permaculture is that all things serve more than one purpose.
In this case, the grapevine, when fully grown, will shield the two 8’x4′ vegetable beds behind it from the harsh west evening sun and strong winds. It provides a microclimate for the strawberry bed underneath, which is mulched with Lucerne straw, which keeps the strawberry berries from touching the ground, and conserves moisture for the grapevine. The leaves that fall from the grapevine will also provide mulch for the strawberries in the future. And of course, it produces grapes and vine leaves which are both edible!
At this point there are no other plants in this bed, but there definitely will be. The practice of companion planting is to plant together plants that are "good companions" that help each other out, and to avoid "bad companions", plants that are detrimental to each other. Companion plants are plants that either assist the health and growth of another plant, repel pests and diseases or benefit other plants in some other way. The relationship is a synergistic one where both plants grow better together than they would on their own.
I must stress, this isa purely scientific practice, and there is no voodoo or mumbo-jumbo here!
Plants can exude substances from their roots or leaves which may:
– repel pests
– combat diseases
– increase the growth and vigour of neighbouring plants
– provide scents that mask the presence of other plants that insects may seek eat
– attract bees and other pollinator insects
– attract beneficial predatory insects that will devour pests
For example, the herb hyssop is beneficial to grapes. It is also extremely attractive to bees as it flowers for long periods and seems to be a favourite of bees.
The benefits of attracting bees into your garden are obvious – pollination. If I were to plant hyssop, which is a small bushy herb that grows around a foot and a half high, I would plant it in the corners so that it doesn’t overshadow the strawberries.
Basil is also beneficial to grapes, and would be planted possibly in the other corner for the same reason.
Beans and peas are another companion plant for grapes, and these, being legumes, contribute nitrogen to the soil because they have nitrogen fixing bacteria in their root nodules. These can climb up the grape trellis when the grape vine loses its leaves in winter. But I could only use winter growing beans, such as broad beans. Regular climbing beans grown during the same time as the grape vine and would shade each other out.
Blackberries are another companion for grapes, but I would not put them here simply because they would overrun this small area, and the thorns will make the area inaccessible.
Geraniums are also another helpful plant for grapes. Chives help repel aphids. So, these are all the good companions for grapes that I can use.
Plants that are bad companions for grapes are radishes and cabbage, so these cannot be planted here.
I also need to determine what are good companions for strawberries – these are Bush Beans, Borage, Chives, French Marigold, Leek, Lettuce, Onion, Pyrethrum Daisy, Sage, Spinach. Bad companions for strawberries are all plants from the cabbage family.
From this we can see that if I choose any of the good companions for grapes, they won’t be harmful to the strawberries. And we can see that chives may be a benefit to both the grapes and strawberries. Also using size as a criterion, I’ll only plant companion plants to the sides of this garden bed to leave the strawberries accessible.
Here are some more pictures of the completed work, these are of the west side of the garden:
The lawn has been dug up, and reduced in size to make way for even sized garden beds. It will need to be re-sown…
The paths between the garden beds can be seen to either side of the rear-most bed in this picture. They are about 50cm wide (1.5′) and covered with pine bark mulch. The wall is north facing (southern hemisphere) and retains the heat well. The post visible on the left hand side is an 8′ star picket mounted 1′ from the wall with heavy duty steel brackets fastened into the brickwork with masonry anchors. There is one on the far right hand side. Wires run across approximately every 1.5′ from the top, and these are to support the two espalier pears growing in the rear bed. The brackets space the posts and wires away from the wall so the trees do not get burnt from the hot brickwork in the full summer sun.
These pictures are of the left rear side of the garden facing south:
In the coolest, shadiest corner of the back yard sit my two worm farms. These process all fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, and produce worm castings and "worm juice", which is the liquid from the worm castings, both are great plant foods!
U-shaped garden bed under mandarine tree, with comfrey patch above and potato patch below. Comfrey is a great source of green manure, it is very high in nitrogen, and can be used as a compost activator. When the leaves rot down, they produce a very nutrient rich plant food, which helps the mandarine tree produce prolifically.
Here are more of the raised garden beds, mulched with straw:
Redcurrant, with dwarf orange tree behind it, and raspberries on left hand side along wire supports
Blackcurrant, with dwarf nectarine tree behind it, and ground cover Pennywort (Arthritis plant) in front corner.
Two smaller 4’x4′ beds filled with rampantly growing broad beans. The bed along the side is a mulched rose bed, with an underplanting of strawberries and chives.
Two 4’x8′ beds with the grapevine trellis and strawberry underplanting
Tropical Babaco tree heavily laden with long torpedo shaped fruit to the right of the madarine tree. Tall grass plants at the front of this garden bed are a Citronella grass on the left (yes, that’s where Citronella oil, the mosquito repellant comes from) and its close cousin on the right, Lemongrass. Pots on the far right are surplus soil from the graden that will be used to grow potatoes!
You can just make out the fork shaped young espalier pear trees against the wall, a Nashi pear and a Williams pear.
A few more views of the completed garden:
A border of Allysum and English Daisies to attract beneficial insects, such as pollinators and predators of pest insects.
Watergarden and aquatic plants, with carnivorous plants behind them!
And here are some aerial views of the garden (not easy climbing up to get these shots!):
I put in a watergarden because the garden wouldn’t be complete without aquatic plants! There are several containers housing the aquatics, as can be seen in these pictures:
And just in case you’re wondering, those prominent green pegs are holding a piece of fine bird mesh across the top of the main water garden container to prevent "unauthorised fishing" by birds or cats…
Since I mentioned the carnivorous plants, well, they deserve an introduction too:
Just because the garden beds were put in, doesn’t mean I couldn’t also use the concrete areas to grow more plants. Even though there are plenty of plants in pots. I decided to experiment with a hydroponic system too. This system is the Australian Autopot hydroponic system, I chose it because there is no waste of either water or nutrient, it uses no power (gravity fed), and the plants draw water and nutrient when they need it. It may not be organic, but I’m curious to see how it compares to the organic garden with various plant species.
Hydroponic dual 10" pots with three 35 litre nutrient tanks in the middle raised up on concrete blocks
Radish seedlings starting to emerge from the perlite substrate
Snow peas growing vigorously
Lettuce filling the pot, almost ready for harvest
Young tomato plant
Middle pot growing Ashwaghanda, an Indian herb with propeties similar to Ginseng, but from the Tomato family
Aloe Vera growing hydroponically??? We’ll see how it goes. I put in this three spare plants to see how they grow in this system.
All systems are in and ready to go now, so we’ll see what the following months bring!