web analytics

The Essential Forest-Gardener

Written By: - Date published: 8:30 am, October 9th, 2016 - 21 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. 

If I was transformed into an orangutan, and could choose where to spend my days, I’d stay here in the forest garden I created in my previous human form. It’s got everything a brachiator needs; branches from which to suspend myself using my hairy arms, a canopy to sleep in, under the stars and out of sight of any tourists to the garden below, fruit aplenty and nuts for Africa. I’d be a happy ape here, swinging about the place with a full belly. There’s even a source of fresh water to quench my simian thirst, should all that aerial cavorting create one. I could hang out with the birds, of which there are many, nibble on the leaves of dozens of varieties of edible annual, biennial and perennial plants, scratch myself with the twigs and branches of trees from around the world and even spend time with the gardeners as they do some of the very few tasks a forest garden demands of its keepers. It would suit me just fine, especially if a mate was provided for me, to prevent me from pining.

As it is, I’m not likely to go ape overnight but even as a puny-by-comparison grown man, I’d want to stay here, in the woodland I’ve developed in the southern reaches of New Zealand’s South Island. The combination of vine-bound trees and shrubs that constitute the framework of the forest garden, along with the supporting annual, biennial and perennial plants that provide edible flowers, fruits, berries and leaves make an ‘edible landscape’ that anyone who eats would enjoy foraging from and I count myself a keen forager of the sort that likes to collect their own food in preference to buying it at the supermarket.

I’d continue to live here, as I do now, in the house that my wife and I built 28 years ago, when we made the decision to create a forest rather than find a ready-made one and set up there. I’m very glad we made that choice, along with the one to raise children here and have them roam the leafy glades of our own garden, like little forest creatures. They’re adults now, and seem to have benefitted greatly from being raised a little feral, being both intelligent and broadminded, as we’d hoped they would be.

Although they’ve moved off-site for now, the garden still bears testimony to their habitation; a trio of circular flower gardens in the lower orchard where my daughter grew wild flowers for the table, radishes and turnips for the kitchen, the remains of a brick castle built by my eldest son when he was 10, in which he and his warrior brother and sister could crouch during bow and arrow battles with the neighbouring children, and a wide clay-pit excavated by our younger son, in preparation for the construction of a windmill he’d carefully drawn up on paper and begun collecting the necessary tools for the building of.

Like Ankor Wat however, those signs of previous occupation are being swallowed up by the jungle and have to be searched for if they are to be seen and marvelled at. The house still stands though, a tribute to my wife’s single-mindedness and love of history. Modelled on the pioneer cottage at Brightwater near Nelson in which the young Lord Rutherford of atom-splitting fame was raised, our home is a lovely nest from which we have all enjoyed spending time growing up. It’s many paned windows look out into the greeness of the forest garden and provide shelter from the elements that can drive even me, a confirmed plant-o-holic, back indoors in seek of shelter. From the north facing upstairs window, I can survey much of the forest garden, its canopy anyway, and get great pleasure from doing so at least twice a day; when I first get up and just before I retire for the night. It looks different everytime I look and it always makes my heart swell with pride, even knowing as I do, that the vast majority of the achievment there must be credited to nature, not to me.

This post is part of a series appearing over the next 12 Sundays. 

21 comments on “The Essential Forest-Gardener ”

  1. Glenn 1

    What a surprise. An enjoyment to read. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Jester 2

    Very much looking forward to your posts Robert. And congrats on your election to the Southland Regional Council.

  3. vto 3

    Good stuff Robert, I have seen your place in the media before and admire what you have created. We follow a similar grow-lots path but nothing like what you have done, especially the edibles aspects, but are slowly heading in that direction.

    Inspirational..

    .. and I hope you don’t mind me saying this but …. always follow the hippies

  4. Jenny Kirk 4

    Great to bring some reality from nature into what is essentially a political scene – thanks Robert G.

  5. Stuart Munro 5

    NZ could use a bit more of the sustainable growth you model – great stuff Robert.

  6. Thanks all. I believe also that the hard grind of political commentary needs to be tempered with gentler stories where ordinary people are finding a sweet spot in the often-gritty world. My “stories from the forest garden” will, I hope, reflect the pleasure and rewards that wrapping a natural cloak around one’s self brings and the ease with which such a mantle can be assumed (a bit wordy, I know, but I’m still very chirpy following yesterdays election result 🙂 This post is the first-toe-in to what I hope will be for you all a refreshing dip in the very deep pool of forest garden life. I’m more than happy to field questions about anything that might occur to you as you read. That said, I’ve a new clutch of chicks hatched yesterday that I have to keep a watchful eye on today, so I’ll be in and out as the day goes by. Talking to Tony Murrell on RadioLive this morning, I learned that much of the North Island is sodden, making me even more grateful for having chosen Southland as my place, given we’ve enjoyed the warmest, driest spring on record. The sheep farmers have declared it a “gym-shoe” lambing, it being one where gumboots have sat un-employed at farm house back doors across the province. That’s something no one saw coming.

  7. Thanks Robert. You are showing us a real legacy we can leave for our descendents and an example of now-action for us all.

  8. RedLogix 8

    By describing to us what is important to him, Robert is making real the values which motivate him. Each of us can take a portion of what he has shared here, and can add what we choose to the picture of our own lives.

    This is how human lives are nourished, how they expand, how they flourish. It is mana in action. And it is a wonderful way to use The Standard.

    This is a series of 12, so I’ll be patient with my questions. Given that it is a rule of life that nothing worth achieving was ever easy, I’m interested to hear about the challenges and setbacks. The mistakes and wrong-turnings … and most importantly the insights you’ve garnered along the journey.

  9. Thanks, marty – I’d love to tell you all about the archipelago of orchard-parks we’re establishing across Southland as well, but should probably wait for another time 🙂
    RedLogix, I’ve described a lot of the things you’ve cited in “chapters 2 to 12” and agree wholeheartedly with you when you talk about the value of perseverance – there’s great value in being patient, something I learned from being a planter of trees in an environment that can punish the vulnerable. I planted 12 ginkgo trees last week and have no concern at all about the slow pace at which they might grow – I’ve a dozen other “tree projects” running concurrently and never find myself drumming my fingers in frustration at the pace at which nature moves.

  10. Karen 10

    Thank you Robert for sharing your garden with us.

    I heard about you and your wonderful garden many years ago and was very pleased when you started making comments on the Standard. There are very few who comment here that I bother reading any more, but your contributions are always worthwhile (even when I do not agree). Now there will be a weekly treat.

  11. feijoa 11

    Thanks Robert. Have seen lots of pictures of your garden in NZ Gardener over the years, along with great advice- it’s always a must read section for me.
    Great to see someone giving back to the earth. I try a much reduced version in the city, but it’s great to see what’s possible.

  12. Thanks, Karen and feijoa, your comments are very encouraging. I’m really delighted with the NZ Gardener’s “reach” and how so many of it’s readers, like yourselves, identify with a “wilder-than-the-average-garden-columnist’s” world view. Gardening is good but writing about it is wonderful!

  13. adam 13

    I like your post Robert. But many in Auckland are locked out of owning land, let along the ability to plant anything.

    There are options I know, like having a plot at a local community garden like I do. This however comes with no long term hope. For example, it could all be over in seconds if the council want the land.

    As for being a renter, landlords end tenancy, and goodbye garden.

    I’m in the wonderful world of having a container garden at home, with bits and pieces leafy greens mainly. So if worst come to worst, and I have to move, then at least I can still have my greens.

    • RedLogix 13.1

      True. Some of the smartest solutions don’t involve any digging up dirt at all.

      I’ve a great personal fondness for these:

      http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/

      • Draco T Bastard 13.1.1

        My sisters got a few of those on her back deck constantly full of greens, reds and yellows.

    • Hi Adam – yeah, but “King of the Sprouters” is a fine title and a powerful capability. “Prince of Micro-Greens” too. Sometimes being free to move and able to create food in a short time-frame is more enabling than being a landowner and having to labour day in and day out to pay the mortgage and work the soil. Then there’s foraging and mooching – these are Noble Arts. Mahi nga kai has many faces.

      • weka 13.2.1

        “Then there’s foraging and mooching – these are Noble Arts”

        Especially if people are planting trees/plants on wild/marginal/council/abandoned land 😉

  14. Ad 14

    This reminds me a lot of Yi-Tuan’s Topophilia.

  15. Philj 15

    Thank you Robert for being a fine example of positivity. Can’t wait for your series. Courage to face the future rather than fear, is what is required IMO. Your input to The Standard is welcome relief from the usual narrative.

  16. Thanks, Philj. I reckon it’s “getting-ready” time and that requires verve and pep plus lots of planting, so there’s not really a place for gloom. In any case, there are great people everywhere who are doing these things also and I want to be part of their movement.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Tokelau Language Week reminds us to stay united and strong
    Staying strong in the face of challenges and being true to our heritage and languages are key to preserving our cultural identity and wellbeing, is the focus of the 2020 Tokelau Language Week. Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, says this year’s theme, ‘Apoapo tau foe, i nā tāfea ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 hours ago
  • NZ announces a third P-3 deployment in support of UN sanctions
    The Government has deployed a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion (P-3) maritime patrol aircraft to support the implementation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions imposing sanctions against North Korea, announced Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters and Minister of Defence Ron Mark. “New Zealand has long supported ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Pacific trade and development agreement a reality
    Pacific regional trade and development agreement PACER Plus will enter into force in 60 days now that the required eight countries have ratified it. Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker welcomed the announcement that the Cook Islands is the eighth nation to ratify this landmark agreement. “The agreement represents ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Securing a pipeline of teachers
    The Government is changing its approach to teacher recruitment as COVID-19 travel restrictions continue, by boosting a range of initiatives to get more Kiwis into teaching. “When we came into Government, we were faced with a teacher supply crisis,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. “Over the past three years, we ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Border exceptions for a small number of international students with visas
    The Government has established a new category that will allow 250 international PhD and postgraduate students to enter New Zealand and continue their studies, in the latest set of border exceptions. “The health, safety and wellbeing of people in New Zealand remains the Government’s top priority. Tight border restrictions remain ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • First COVID-19 vaccine purchase agreement signed
    The Government has signed an agreement to purchase 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines – enough for 750,000 people – from Pfizer and BioNTech, subject to the vaccine successfully completing all clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals in New Zealand, say Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Health Minister Chris Hipkins. ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • International statement – End-to-end encryption and public safety
    We, the undersigned, support strong encryption, which plays a crucial role in protecting personal data, privacy, intellectual property, trade secrets and cyber security.  It also serves a vital purpose in repressive states to protect journalists, human rights defenders and other vulnerable people, as stated in the 2017 resolution of the ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Ministry of Defence Biodefence Assessment released
    The Ministry of Defence has today released a Defence Assessment examining Defence’s role across the spectrum of biological hazards and threats facing New Zealand. Biodefence: Preparing for a New Era of Biological Hazards and Threats looks at how the NZDF supports other agencies’ biodefence activities, and considers the context of ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Approaches to Economic Challenges: Confronting Planetary Emergencies: OECD 9 October 2020
    New Approaches to Economic Challenges: Confronting Planetary Emergencies: OECD 9 October 2020 Hon David Parker’s response following Thomas Piketty and Esther Duflo. Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, wherever in the world you might be. I first acknowledge the excellent thought provoking speeches of Thomas Piketty and Esther ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Kaipara Moana restoration takes next step
    A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed today at Waihāua Marae between the Crown, local iwi and councils to protect, restore and enhance the mauri of Kaipara Moana in Northland. Environment Minister David Parker signed the document on behalf of the Crown along with representatives from Ngā Maunga Whakahī, Ngāti ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Zealand and Uruguay unite on reducing livestock production emissions
    Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Uruguayan Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries Carlos María Uriarte have welcomed the launch of a three-year project that will underpin sustainable livestock production in Uruguay, Argentina, and Costa Rica.  The project called ‘Innovation for pasture management’ is led by Uruguay’s National Institute of Agricultural ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • 3100 jobs created through marae upgrades
    Hundreds of marae throughout the country will be upgraded through investments from the Provincial Growth Fund’s refocused post COVID-19 funding to create jobs and put money into the pockets of local tradespeople and businesses, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta have announced. “A total ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Health volunteers recognised in annual awards
    Health Minister Chris Hipkins has announced 9 teams and 14 individuals are the recipients of this year’s Minister of Health Volunteer Awards.  “The health volunteer awards celebrate and recognise the thousands of dedicated health sector volunteers who give many hours of their time to help other New Zealanders,” Mr Hipkins ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Community COVID-19 Fund supports Pacific recovery
    The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio says a total of 264 groups and individuals have successfully applied for the Pacific Aotearoa Community COVID-19 Recovery Fund, that will support Pacific communities drive their own COVID-19 recovery strategies, initiatives, and actions. “I am keen to see this Fund support Pacific ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Community benefits from Māori apprenticeships
    Up to 50 Māori apprentices in Wellington will receive paid training to build houses for their local communities, thanks to a $2.75 million investment from the Māori Trades and Training Fund, announced Employment Minister Willie Jackson today. “This funding will enable Ngāti Toa Rangatira Incorporated to provide its Ngā Kaimahi ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Training fund supports Māori jobseekers
    Rapidly growing sectors will benefit from a $990,000 Māori Trades and Training Fund investment which will see Wellington jobseekers supported into work, announced Employment Minister Willie Jackson today. “This funding will enable Sapphire Consultants Ltd. to help up to 45 Māori jobseekers into paid training initiatives over two years through ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Ruakura Inland Port development vital infrastructure for Waikato
    The Government is investing $40 million to develop an inland port at Ruakura which will become a freight super-hub and a future business, research and residential development for the Waikato, Urban Development and Transport Minister Phil Twyford, and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced today. The funding has been has ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Appointments made to Defence Expert Review Group
    Defence Minister Ron Mark announced today the establishment of an Expert Review Group to review a number of aspects of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) structure, information management and record-keeping processes.  The Expert Review Group’s work arises out of the first recommendation from the Report of the Government’s Inquiry ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • No active community cases of COVID-19
    There are no active community cases of COVID-19 remaining in the country after the last people from the recent outbreak have recovered from the virus, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “This is a big milestone. New Zealanders have once again through their collective actions squashed the virus. The systems ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Clean energy upgrade for more public buildings
    More public buildings will be supported by the Government to upgrade to run on clean energy, the Minister for Climate Change James Shaw announced today. Minister Shaw announced that Lincoln and Auckland universities will receive support through the Clean-Powered Public Service Fund to replace fossil fuel boilers. Southern, Taranaki, and ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Schools back donations scheme for the second year
    More schools have opted in to the donations scheme for 2021, compared to 2020 when the scheme was introduced. “The families of more than 447,000 students will be better off next year, with 94% of eligible schools and kura opting into the scheme,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. “This is ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Ruapehu cycle trails gets PGF boost
    The spectacular Mountains to Sea cycle trail in Ruapehu District will receive $4.6 million in funding from the Provincial Growth Fund for two additional trails, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced today. “This is an exciting development for the local community, and one that will provide significant economic opportunities ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago