- Date published:
7:21 am, December 18th, 2016 - 22 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, farming, food, sustainability - Tags: food forest, green activism, resiliency, resiliency gardening, Riverton, robert guyton forest gardener
Robert is a sustainability pioneer who along with his family grows the oldest food forest in NZ. A long time organic gardener, permaculturist and heritage orchardist, he’s a columnist, a regional councillor for Environment Southland, and an early climate change adaptor.
My garden is forever spilling over its borders; onto the roadside, into the orchard next door and across the neighbourhood. I’m responsible for some of that spillage, being a proponent of “surreptitious gardening” and the sowing out of the bare spaces found in towns like my own, but I’m not the only agent of dispersal. Birds carry seed in volumes that can only be guessed at and spread those far and wide as part of their every day activities. There must be offspring from all of my seeding plants somewhere in the local environment, deposited in a splash of guano by a bird recently feeding here. I see examples as I walk about and while I can’t be sure they came from my forest garden, I’m certain enough to smile a little when I see them. The wind will be assisting also, lifting feathered and plumed seed and whisking it away to open ground somewhere.
Visitors to the garden often leave with pockets swollen with seeds, so I’m assumingly that those will be planted in gardens that are sometimes well beyond the borders of our region. We’ve scions also, of our garden that are being purposefully grafted into ordinary properties in towns throughout the country. Forest gardening is popular already and keen growers are always on the lookout for the tools of their trade; leguminous trees, shrubs and vines that will keep the rest of the garden supplied with nitrogen, members of the Apiaceae family such as fennel and giant parsley for attracting aphid-eating hoverflies, and deep rooting ‘nutrient miners’ like comfrey and burdock that serve to capture leached nutrients and return them to the surface of the soil. Carrying home roots and off-shoots of useful plants is something I like to see my visitors do, knowing they’ll use them to establish colonies of their own, wherever they have their own gardens.
I’ve made conscious efforts also, to provide plants for anyone who visits my garden and likes what they see growing there, by creating several nurseries amongst the trees that provide the semi-shade prefered by the young plants as they get growing. They’re difficult to find though, those nursey beds, and many visitors walk past without seeing them at all, to my delight. I’m not an especially methodical person and have to create systems that care naturally for vulnerable seedlings, shading them from the summer sun, watering them with freely applied rainwater at regular enough intervals to keep them alive and providing the same level of natural pest control that’s available to the established plants in the forest garden.
I cultivate free-form propagation beds where ever a space is available and exhibits the conditions needed. Poking cuttings into soil that has been made healthy through its connection to the wider garden means fungal diseases aren’t an issue. Chewing and sucking insects are at such low levels that they don’t need to be considered, thanks to the network of insect predators that are always present here. The only task I have to attend to in and around the propagation beds is lifting the newly rooted plants at the end of the season and planting them out in my own forest garden or in one or other of the satelite gardens I lay unoffical claim to.
Those that I give away or sell, I transplant into recycled plastic pots or wrap in wet newspaper once they’ve been selected. It’s a simple and effective way of contributing to a larger ‘garden’ that, while thin at this time, will grow and grow until it becomes the dominant feature of the landscape hereabouts; or at least, that’s my dream and I’m pursuing it vigorously. Given the number of young parents who visit and take home armloads of plants for their own budding forest garden, I believe I’ll see the manifestation of my vision before too long.
There is also a growing interest in planting the common ground of villages and townships like ours, with useful, fruit-bearing plants that can be harvested by anyone interested in ‘wild’ foods or needing to forage in order to keep themselves and their families fed. There are people who love to wander and gather from the largely neglected parts of city, town and countryside, coming home with pockets and bags full of blackberries, hazelnuts, mushrooms; all manner of edible treats, and I am one of those people. I believe the “outdoor-pantry” that is the unused, unplanted space that is found wherever there are councils, can be planted with a far wider range of edible plants than presently grow in such places, and that they can be managed in a way that won’t make council employees fretfully pull out their hair by worrying about how to manage the growth. The forest garden model is the ideal one, I believe, for a new form of commons and one that will offer people of these communities opportunities to augement their diets with good food.
There’s potential also, for the planting out of the whole roadside network that criss-crosses ever region of New Zealand. I’d begin with our lovely native hebe, just to show the unconvinced how attractive and trouble-free roadside plantings can be, then add edible shrubs and perennial plants once the sight of something other than mown or sprayed grass along the road edges becomes the norm. It’s not unreasonable to expect the roading agencies or the district councils to make those long, thin spaces available for people to harvest from, in fact, I believe it’s an opportunity they would be delighted to take, were they approached the right way. The cycle trails that are becoming widespread throughout the country are also perfect for the role of providing access to fruit trees and their lesser fruiting cousins, and I know cyclists would revel in the chance to eat as they pedal; there are few things so reviving to a dry-mouthed cyclist than a juicy 5-star pippin apple or a Purple King plum!