web analytics

The Essential Forest-Gardener – chapter 2

Written By: - Date published: 12:05 pm, October 15th, 2016 - 20 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, food, sustainability - Tags: , , , , , ,

The following is a Guest Post from Robert Guyton and is part of a series appearing over 12 Sundays. Other parts can be seen here.

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. 

In my pre-forest garden period, 28 or more years ago, I lived in another part of the small fishing village of Riverton, in a schoolhouse. I worked then as a school teacher, doing all I could to encourage the children of my classes to read and write and see the world as I saw it. My home gardening activities were stymied somewhat by the rules of the Education Board landlord who demanded that nothing other than grass grow in the grounds, though they did concede to my planting a small vegetable garden to feed my young family, so long as I returned the plot to lawn at the end of my stay. Those restrictions played a big part in my adoption of the exuberant, no restrictions system I operate under now, and I suppose I should be grateful for their obsession with law’n’order.

At the weekends, my wife Robyn and I would drive around the town, looking for a place that we could move to and remake in our own image and one crisp autumn afternoon, we found it. Over looking the Jacob’s River estuary and facing directly north into the sun, the gently-sloping hill section won us both over in an instant. The soil was deep and loamy and hadn’t been cultivated for many years. There was a creek, and, we later learned, a spring of cold, fresh water. Any two of these features would have been enough for us to say yes to the land agent, so we acted swiftly and bought the property. It cost us very little, though the neighbours said we’d paid too much.

No one else had seen the potential of the acre or so of untidy, gorse and broom-covered land, and it had sat unwanted for many years, something for which I am even now, very grateful. The level part of the property, on the brow of the hill, was strewn with rubbish from the previous owners whose house had been so damaged by the smoke from a fire in the ceiling that they’d upped-sticks and left, leaving their discarded worldly possessions lying about the place; car parts, piles of kitchen rubbish, rusted water tanks and beer bottles, dozens and dozens of beer bottles, all smashed and scattered near and far. I’m sure that the junk that lay all about was responsible for having turned other potential buyers off purchasing the land, and I’m thankful for the carelessness of that beer-loving family. If it weren’t for them, I might still be simmering away in a schoolhouse somewhere, restrained and frustrated by someone else’s rules and prejudices about plants and chaos.

We set to work, escorting everything that couldn’t be composted to the local refuse site, and felling the broom and gorse in the belief that it was a problem. That was my first mistake, sawing down what could have been a standing resource that would have protected the soil and every newly planted tree from the strong sou’westerly winds that blew in regularly from the southern ocean, but there were other mistakes to follow, so I’m not being too hard on myself over that one. We learn as we go.

With that ill-judged felling done, we set about planting native trees to replace that freeby shelter; tough, leathery-leaved shrubs and trees that grow naturally along the exposed coasts of Southland and the islands further toward the Antarctic. Like Edward Scissorhands, I chopped and diced my way through the tangled blackberry that hid the creek and spring, and laying down the sickle and machete I wielded for that prickly job, I took up a spade and dug innumerable buckets-full of mud until I rediscovered the rocky creek bed and blue-clay bowl of the spring.

We built a house, had another baby and settled in to grow what we now wander happily amongst; a forest garden that has become an on going inspiration for ourselves and a great stimulation for people visiting for the first time. The messiness and exposure to the elements we struggled with in the early days are a thing of the past and we’re now flourishing in a sheltered, productive and vibrant environment that we’d sensed could eventuate, even on that very first exploratory visit, almost 30 years ago.

This post is part of a series appearing over 12 Sundays. Other parts can be seen here.

20 comments on “The Essential Forest-Gardener – chapter 2 ”

  1. Jenny Kirk 1

    Lovely story, Robert Guyton. We’v e just planted a dozen orchard trees on a flat lawn at the back of our house – it gets plenty of sun, in fact gets too hot to sit out in during summer – so hoping to eventually emulate your photo above. Shade and fruit !

  2. Good for you, Jenny. Now that we’ve plenty of ‘framework’ to our garden, I’m releasing the vines, planting grapes especially, at the base of a couple of dozen trees and encouraging them to clamber up into the canopy where they will display their clusters of fruit for us to pluck, at our leisure and in friendly competition with the birds:-) The grapes are heritage varieties sent to me as cuttings by an elderly woman from Central Otago who has a passion for collecting plants from the old stations and long-since-passed mining settlements – once you show signs of interest in old varieties of anything at all, kind people make up parcels of the most wonderful things and share. Makes visits to the letter box a great excitement.

  3. weka 3

    Robert, have you worked with using gorse as a nursery plant down there? Just wondering what it’s like working with it given it’s prickliness.

  4. Sabine 4

    going back to the gardenhouse next week
    lucky me.
    thanks for a nice read to start my sunday with.

  5. Hi weka – yes, I’ve planting under “old man” gorse to good effect. It’s not a great idea to try to use adolescent gorse as it doesn’t allow enough light in for whatever you’ve planted. I broadcast seedballs under gorse also, and that works when the seeds you’ve used in the clay/compost mix are from pioneer species, like tutu or poroporo. Other natives are slow to establish and need a different method. Getting manuka established on pasture is a test, and the best method is to use “slash” – seedpod bearing branches cut from live manuka and laid thickly on the ground. They provide an environment for the manuka seeds to strike in and grow through and it’s very effective, allowing you to miss out the nursery/tray/planter bag steps and do large areas very cheaply. Cut gorse makes great rabbit and hare repellent when piled around the trunks of newly planted fruit trees. I didn’t have to do that here though, as our understory of herbs and biennials kept them away entirely. I’ve some beautiful gorse sticks to use when I get old and infirm 🙂

    • weka 5.1

      Nice!

      Do you think that succession method (tutu/poroporo first) under gorse/broom is better, or faster, than planting higher succession trees/shrubs initially?

      Does the gorse have to be cut out at some point or do the other plants just take over?

      Were you planting manuka for its own sake, or as part of a succession?

      questions, questions!

      • I go for broadscale, fast growing, short-cycle pioneers, native or exotic, to get any and every project started. I favour tree lupin (Lupinus arboreus) for anything near the coast – maritime gardens like mine or anything on an offshore island. Inland, I’d use other legumes, like tagasaste, sown en masse. Even lucern and clover – start with a smothery nitrogen-fixer and add, always add. The manuka slash method is for conservation repairs, rather than forest gardening. Where native forest has been turned to pasture and you want to reverse that action, the manuka method is a quick way to convert back to native. You know farmers imported the smut/blight that blackens the manuka throughout the country in an effort to beat the “pest”?
        You don’t need to cut old man gorse, if you are patient and sensitive to the cycles the uncivilized world follows. Standing gorse that is dead and or dying is habitat for all sorts of organisms and we have the unfortunate need to tidy everything up, for reasons most people would struggle to justify, if asked. Standing “spent” plants offend our sensibilities, but not those of the wild world. There’s a lesson in that.

        • weka 5.1.1.1

          I didn’t know that about the smut. So manuka will be succeeded by something else and won’t form a climax state? (I’m more used to kanuka, which tends to hold on to its patch).

          • Robert Guyton 5.1.1.1.1

            Yeah, manuka will eventually yield to the next iteration, but a “manager” can hasten the process easily. I prefer to use exotics, as they cycle so much faster and there’s no anguish with harvesting/felling them if need be. My rule of thumb though, is add, not subtract, so I’m always using more plants to make changes, rather than clearing away. If you understand the life cycles of those short-lived perennials, you can ease in the next crop while the first is resting/wintering underground etc. Softy plants are easier to manage/sacrifice/utilize than hard stemmed plants, like manuka and kanuka.

            • weka 5.1.1.1.1.1

              I love that philosophy to always add.

              • Yep. Take the life-giving path in favour of the life-destroying, I reckon. That’s why I’m no fan of antibiotic behaviours. Attracting aphid-eating hoverflies and ladybirds to your garden by planting and encouraging to flower, parsley, parsnip, carrot and fennel is so much more elegant than spraying with an aphidicide 🙂 Providing nest sites in the tops of tii kouka for starlings that collect caterpillars for their newly-hatched is the life-promoting alternative to poisoning the soft-bodied leaf-chewers with something lethal from Monsanto.

                • weka

                  That will be the thing for me to think through today, thanks (it’s also what I am thinking politically).

                  In terms of gardening, there is a lot of experience there, right? It’s how we would all be gardening if we lived in a culture that was still immersed in nature, but given that we don’t, I think there is a shift that needs to happen, and then there are skills that need to be learned. I’m pretty aligned with that in my own gardening practice for a long time, but hadn’t quite framed it the way you are doing, and still many areas where I have things to learn.

                  • Me too, weka. I’m learning not to say or think, “nature” as that implies “other”. I’m substituting “wildness” for that which is not civilized. It changes the way I think and behave.

                    • weka

                      “nature” as that implies “other”

                      Is that because the over culture sees it that way? For me nature is something I am part of whether I am being civilised or wild (or in civilisation or the wildness). I agree that choosing different words changes us though, maybe I’ll try wildness and civilised on for a while.

  6. RedLogix 6

    A beautiful headline picture Robert! I’ve never been to Riverton, but I imagine it captures the mood of the place well.

    Our instinct to clear fell does need to be resisted. We learnt the same lesson rehabilitating a road-side creek bank in Wellington; the best results were in areas where we either left or planted the coloniser/pioneers species such as manuka, koromiko, tree lucerne and hebes. The key was to weed release them the first year, or protect them with some bio-degradable matting (about a m2). By the second year they’d be waist or head high and start suppressing the weeds and grasses. Only then was it worth planting the more ‘glamorous’ canopy podocarps.

    Without that protective micro-climate, it was just one loss after another. Even trees that looked quite well established would suddenly die for no apparent reason.

    After about six years the creek was an entirely different place. From deep thickets of blackberry and rubbish, we had a profusion of natives jostling for sunlight. From sterile bare soil, a layer of leaf litter was building. From hostile to welcoming. We would take an inordinate pride in going back to visit … although of course it was nature which had done most of the work!

    Oh and we found Greater Wellington Regional Council extremely helpful. Both on the ground and in providing resources.

    http://www.gw.govt.nz/what-to-plant-at-your-place/

    • Thanks, RedLogix; that’s a view from the veranda on a day that’s promising rain 🙂 It’s taken at this time of the year too, so when I look out now, it’s like that, only no skeins of rain. Your description of how to succeed with revegetation is spot on, and your advice to not clear fell is the most valuable ‘take away’ concept of all. You’ve recognised that the wild world is an ally not an enemy. When the rest of humanity reaches that point of understanding, we’ll be in with a chance of survival.

  7. Karen 7

    Your description of having to get rid of years of accumulated rubbish brought back some memories! We only have a fifth of an acre (on a steep slope) but the amount of rubbish hidden beneath the undergrowth was extraordinary – 3 stoves, a couple of fridges, bits of cars, loads of corroded metal of unknown origin, and hundreds of tins and bottles. Everything was covered in vines and noxious weeds – lots of gorse, privet, old man’s beard, wild ginger etc but there was the saving grace of a kauri tree, a few punga and one cabbage tree. 35 years later we have a big vegetable garden and the rest of the section is covered with mostly native trees, but also a few fruit trees for us and some camellia and cherry trees for tui to feed on in winter.

    Not nearly as wonderful a transformation as you have achieved of course, but it gives me great pleasure whenever I start to despair of the state of the world. I am very aware how privileged I am to have this.

  8. Corokia 8

    We lived in 2 school houses when I grew up, clearly my mum paid no attention to Education board rules on gardening. Thanks to her and the previous residents the school houses were surrounded by fruit trees, vege gardens, flowers and shrubs

  9. Good on you, Karen – cleaning up the detritus of other people can be very therapeutic; I regard it as cleaning up the mess I made myself when I was young and headstrong/stupid. I broke more than my fair share of glass bottles and windows when I was a lout lad and am grateful for the opportunity presented to me when I finally grew up, to make amends.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Twenty highlights of 2020
    As we welcome in the new year, our focus is on continuing to keep New Zealanders safe and moving forward with our economic recovery. There’s a lot to get on with, but before we say a final goodbye to 2020, here’s a quick look back at some of the milestones ...
    3 weeks ago

  • Jobs for Nature funding will create training and employment opportunities
    A major investment to tackle wilding pines in Mt Richmond will create jobs and help protect the area’s unique ecosystems, Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor says. The Mt Richmond Forest Park has unique ecosystems developed on mineral-rich geology, including taonga plant species found nowhere else in the country. “These special plant ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    19 hours ago
  • Pre-departure testing extended to all passengers to New Zealand
    To further protect New Zealand from COVID-19, the Government is extending pre-departure testing to all passengers to New Zealand except from Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “The change will come into force for all flights arriving in New Zealand after 11:59pm (NZT) on Monday ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    24 hours ago
  • Bay Cadets learn skills to protect environment
    Bay Conservation Cadets launched with first intake Supported with $3.5 million grant Part of $1.245b Jobs for Nature programme to accelerate recover from Covid Cadets will learn skills to protect and enhance environment Environment Minister David Parker today welcomed the first intake of cadets at the launch of the Bay ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 days ago
  • Cook Islanders to resume travel to New Zealand
    The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Mark Brown have announced passengers from the Cook Islands can resume quarantine-free travel into New Zealand from 21 January, enabling access to essential services such as health. “Following confirmation of the Cook Islands’ COVID ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Supporting communities and landowners to grow employment opportunities
    Jobs for Nature funding is being made available to conservation groups and landowners to employ staff and contractors in a move aimed at boosting local biodiversity-focused projects, Conservation Minister Kiritapu Allan has announced. It is estimated some 400-plus jobs will be created with employment opportunities in ecology, restoration, trapping, ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Border exception for some returning international tertiary students
    The Government has approved an exception class for 1000 international tertiary students, degree level and above, who began their study in New Zealand but were caught offshore when border restrictions began. The exception will allow students to return to New Zealand in stages from April 2021. “Our top priority continues ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Tiwai deal gives time for managed transition
    Today’s deal between Meridian and Rio Tinto for the Tiwai smelter to remain open another four years provides time for a managed transition for Southland. “The deal provides welcome certainty to the Southland community by protecting jobs and incomes as the region plans for the future. The Government is committed ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • New member for APEC Business Advisory Council
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has appointed Anna Curzon to the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC). The leader of each APEC economy appoints three private sector representatives to ABAC. ABAC provides advice to leaders annually on business priorities. “ABAC helps ensure that APEC’s work programme is informed by business community perspectives ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Govt’s careful economic management recognised
    The Government’s prudent fiscal management and strong policy programme in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic have been acknowledged by the credit rating agency Fitch. Fitch has today affirmed New Zealand’s local currency rating at AA+ with a stable outlook and foreign currency rating at AA with a positive ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Additional actions to keep COVID-19 out of NZ
    The Government is putting in place a suite of additional actions to protect New Zealand from COVID-19, including new emerging variants, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “Given the high rates of infection in many countries and evidence of the global spread of more transmissible variants, it’s clear that ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • 19 projects will clean up and protect waterways
    $36 million of Government funding alongside councils and others for 19 projects Investment will clean up and protect waterways and create local jobs Boots on the ground expected in Q2 of 2021 Funding part of the Jobs for Nature policy package A package of 19 projects will help clean up ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Zealand Government acknowledges 175th anniversary of Battle of Ruapekapeka
    The commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Ruapekapeka represents an opportunity for all New Zealanders to reflect on the role these conflicts have had in creating our modern nation, says Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Kiri Allan. “The Battle at Te Ruapekapeka Pā, which took ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Better care for babies with tongue-tie
    Babies born with tongue-tie will be assessed and treated consistently under new guidelines released by the Ministry of Health, Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall announced today. Around 5% to 10% of babies are born with a tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia, in New Zealand each year. At least half can ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Prisoner disorder event at Waikeria Prison over
    The prisoner disorder event at Waikeria Prison is over, with all remaining prisoners now safely and securely detained, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says. The majority of those involved in the event are members of the Mongols and Comancheros. Five of the men are deportees from Australia, with three subject to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Pre-departure COVID-19 test for travellers from the UK and the US from 15 January
    Travellers from the United Kingdom or the United States bound for New Zealand will be required to get a negative test result for COVID-19 before departing, and work is underway to extend the requirement to other long haul flights to New Zealand, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed today. “The new PCR test requirement, foreshadowed last ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • PM congratulates New Year Honour recipients
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has added her warm congratulations to the New Zealanders recognised for their contributions to their communities and the country in the New Year 2021 Honours List. “The past year has been one that few of us could have imagined. In spite of all the things that ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • David Parker congratulates New Year 2021 Honours recipients
    Attorney-General and Minister for the Environment David Parker has congratulated two retired judges who have had their contributions to the country and their communities recognised in the New Year 2021 Honours list. The Hon Tony Randerson QC has been appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago