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

  • Māori land owners left in limbo
    The measly figure allocated to the troubled Te Ture Whenua Māori reforms in Budget 2017 are a sign the reforms are a low priority for the Government and will leave many Māori land owners in limbo, says Labour’s Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP ...
    1 hour ago
  • Another fish hook in Budget costs families
    Some families with teenagers will be left worse off by a ‘Teenagers Tax’ hidden in the Budget, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “More than 6,000 families with teens face losing more in their Working for Families payments than ...
    8 hours ago
  • Our position on National’s 2017 Budget
    Around Parliament, Budget time is one of the busiest times of the year. Last week, things were hectic. A number of people were left with the impression that the Greens had voted for “the Budget”. This is incorrect. The Green ...
    GreensBy James Shaw
    23 hours ago
  • Ports of Auckland decision a win for workers and the environment
    Ports of Auckland’s decision to no longer release the toxic fumigant methyl bromide into the atmosphere is a win for their workers and for the environment, says Labour’s Spokesperson for Biosecurity Damien O’Connor.   “The intention to move to a ...
    1 day ago
  • Single Child Tax hidden in Budget
    Buried in National’s so-called family Budget is a Single Child Tax that will hit medium to low income families, says Labour Leader Andrew Little. ...
    1 day ago
  • Commerce Commission investigates Ron Hoy Fong
    The decision by the Commerce Commission to investigate Ron Hoy Fong and his questionable advice to property investors to use fake names and target ‘dummies’ is good news, Labour’s spokesperson on Consumer Affairs Michael Wood says.  “I am pleased that ...
    3 days ago
  • National running out of excuses on Pike
    The latest Pike River revelations further erode National's position of blocking a manned re-entry of the Pike River Mine drift, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. ...
    3 days ago
  • Nats’ Budget locks in housing crisis
    National’s ninth Budget forecasts house prices will rise at three times the rate of wages, locking in the housing crisis for years to come, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “After nine years, all National can offer is a ...
    4 days ago
  • Small change that is sorely needed
    The big headline of the Government’s Budget yesterday was its Family Incomes Package – a range of measures including changes to income tax thresholds and the Family Tax Credit. Overall the Budget is a huge disappointment and a missed opportunity ...
    GreensBy Marama Davidson
    4 days ago
  • Kids bear the brunt of Budget
    Future generations are the ones bearing the brunt of National’s failure to provide education services the funding they need to make ends meet, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says. “For nine years in a row the Government has told our ...
    4 days ago
  • The real costs of National’s election bribe
    The cost of National’s poorly-targeted election year budget bribe is that there’s nothing to fix the housing crisis, health funding is cut, and funding for schools is cut, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “As the dust begins to settle ...
    4 days ago
  • Health running on empty
    Get ready for more cuts to health at a local level, affecting all New Zealanders, after a Budget that failed to deliver even enough for health services to stand still, says Labour’s Health spokesperson David Clark. “District Health Boards this ...
    4 days ago
  • Nats’ budget a double-crewed ambulance parked at the bottom of the cliff
    National’s election year Budget shows that there’s no coincidence Finance Minister Steven Joyce doubles as National’s campaign manager, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson. “The 2017 Budget reveals a lack of vision, and is simply an election year budget with ...
    5 days ago
  • After nine years, it’s the One Dollar Bill Budget
    National’s Budget 2017 is an irresponsible election bribe which after nine years exposes a government that’s run out of energy and ideas to tackle the big issues facing New Zealand,” says Labour Leader Andrew Little. “This is simply cynical electioneering ...
    5 days ago
  • Alfred Ngaro might be sorry – but to whom?
    The fact that the number of people classified as homeless on the Social Housing Register has doubled over the past year alone should be the real reason for Alfred Ngaro’s recent apologies, says Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni. “As ...
    6 days ago
  • Government’s data-for-funding backdown embarrassing
    The Government’s U-turn on their shambolic attempt to collect private client data from social services is an embarrassment for a senior Minister, says Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni. “After months of criticism and mismanagement, the Government has finally cut ...
    6 days ago
  • Overloaded hospitals reach crisis point
      The country’s hospitals have reached breaking point with some hospitals discharging patients to free up bed space and patients with serious injuries having to wait hours to be seen by a doctor, says Labour’s Health spokesperson David Clark.   ...
    6 days ago
  • National fails on critical school building needs
    Students are paying the price of the Government’s failure to invest fast enough in school buildings to keep pace with Auckland’s increasing population, says Labour Leader Andrew Little. “Parents should lay the blame for their children having to put up ...
    6 days ago
  • Tipping culture is not welcome in NZ
    Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett’s comments about tipping have been in the news and have sparked off a series of furious discussions about tipping in Aotearoa. From our point of view, tipping every time you’re provided a service is a ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    1 week ago
  • Mental Health a huge cost for Police
      The cost of dealing with mental health incidents for our police was a staggering $36.7 million which shows just why we need Labour’s fresh approach on Mental Health, says the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.   “Police now ...
    1 week ago
  • Grant Robertson: Speech to Otago-Southland Employers Association
    Thanks to the Otago Southland Employers Association and Virginia for hosting me this evening.  It is always a pleasure to come back to the city and region that shaped who I am as a person. I believe that growing up ...
    1 week ago
  • Renting a home in the Wild West
    It can be tough renting a place to live, and it could be about to get tougher. Radio NZ is reporting that the American Rentberry app wants to start operating in New Zealand. Rentberry allows landlords to play perspective tenants ...
    GreensBy Metiria Turei
    1 week ago
  • Free West Papua leader in Aotearoa
    Last week I hosted Free West Papua leader Benny Wenda at Parliament and travelled with him to a number of important events. Benny is spokesperson for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua and lives in exile in England. 14 ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    1 week ago
  • Nats unprepared for record immigration
    National’s under-investment in housing, public services, and infrastructure means New Zealand is literally running out of beds for the record number of new migrants, says Labour’s Immigration spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour opposes Ports of Auckland sale
    Labour would strongly oppose the sell-off of the Ports of Auckland to fix a short term cash crisis caused by the Government blocking the city’s requests for new ways to fund infrastructure, says Labour’s Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford. “National ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Workers pay the price of Silver Fern’s Fairton closure
    The threatened closure of Silver Fern Farms’ Fairton Plant in Ashburton raises serious questions about the Government’s support of the sale of half of the company to a foreign company, when it appears this outcome may have been inevitable, says ...
    2 weeks ago
  • National’s answer to the housing crisis: One new affordable house per 100 new Aucklanders
    National’s fudge of a housing plan will make Auckland even more of a speculators’ paradise, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Government can’t be trusted with private data
    The independent review of the Ministry of Social Development’s data breach in April has shown, once again, that the Ministry cannot be trusted with private client information, says Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni. “The investigation by former Deloitte chairman ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Another crisis, another half-baked National plan
    The National Party may have finally woken up to the teacher supply crisis facing our schools but their latest half-baked, rushed announcement falls well short of the mark in terms of what’s required, says Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Nats: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
    Alfred Ngaro’s recent comments have exposed the Government’s ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you’ approach, says Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Breaking news – National admits there’s a housing crisis
    National finally admits there’s a housing crisis, but today’s belated announcement is simply not a credible response to the problem it’s been in denial about for so long, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “National can’t now credibly claim ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Nats lay the ground for housing bust
    Goldman Sachs’ warning that New Zealand has the developed world’s most over-priced housing market, with a 40 per cent chance of a bust within two years, shows the consequences of National’s nine years of housing neglect, says Labour Housing spokesperson ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?
    Property investors’ lobby groups have been up in arms this week about Labour and Green parties’ plans to close tax loopholes and fix the housing market. That’s probably a good thing. Like an investor in any other sector, they expect ...
    GreensBy James Shaw
    2 weeks ago
  • Alfred Ngaro reflects National’s culture of silencing debate
    Image from Getty Images Community groups must be free to advocate for the people they serve. It’s these people who see first-hand if ideas dreamt up in Wellington actually work on the ground. It’s essential that they can speak freely ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    2 weeks ago
  • Bill English must reassure community organisations
    The Prime Minister must do more to reassure community organisations after Cabinet Minister Alfred Ngaro's apparent threats to their funding if they criticise government policy which has left a born-to-rule perception amongst many, says Labour Leader Andrew Little. “Alfred Ngaro ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Extremism and its discontents
    Another scar on global democracy appeared recently, this time in Germany.It seems that the number of soldiers on duty with extremist political leanings has become a concern to the military leadership in that country. Soldiers were found openly possessing ...
    GreensBy Kennedy Graham
    2 weeks ago
  • Government’s suicide approach disappoints
    Mike King’s sudden departure from the Government’s suicide prevention panel, amid claims the Government’s approach is ‘deeply flawed’, is further evidence National is failing on mental health, says Labour’s Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern. “Mental health is reaching crisis point in ...
    2 weeks ago
  • National backs speculators, fails first home buyers
    National is showing its true colours and backing speculators who are driving first home buyers out of the market, says Labour Leader Andrew Little. “By defending a $150m a year hand-out to property speculators, Bill English is turning his back ...
    2 weeks ago
  • More oversight by Children’s Commissioner needed
    More funding and more independence is required for the Children’s Commissioner to function more effectively in the best interests of Kiwi kids in State care, says Labour’s spokesperson for children Jacinda Ardern. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour to end tax breaks for speculators; invest in warm, healthy homes
    Labour will shut down tax breaks for speculators and use the savings to help make 600,000 homes warmer and healthier over the next ten years, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “It’s time for fresh thinking to tackle the ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Health of young people a priority for Labour
    Labour will ensure all young people have access to a range of health care services on-site at their local secondary school, says Labour’s deputy leader Jacinda Ardern. “Our policy will see School Based Health Services extended to all public secondary ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Ratifying the TPPA makes no sense
    The recent high-fiving between the government and agricultural exporters over ratification of the TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) is empty gesture politics in an election year. Ratification by New Zealand means nothing. New Zealand law changes are not implemented unless the ...
    GreensBy Barry Coates
    3 weeks ago
  • NIWA report proves National’s trickery re swimmable rivers
    National have a slacker standard for swimmable rivers than was the case prior to their recent so-called Clean Water amendment to the National Policy Statement (NPS), says Labour’s Water spokesperson David Parker. “The table 11 on page 25 of the ...
    3 weeks ago
  • MPS shows new approach needed on housing
    The Reserve Bank’s latest Monetary Policy Statement provides further evidence that only a change in government will start to fix the housing crisis, says Labour Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “It is more evident than ever that only a Labour-led government ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Fresh approach on mental health
    Labour will introduce a pilot scheme of specialist mental health teams across the country in government to ensure swifter and more effective treatment for those who need urgent help, says Labour’s Leader Andrew Little. “Mental health is in crisis. It ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Sallies back Labour’s plan for affordable homes
    The country’s most respected social agency has endorsed Labour’s KiwiBuild plan to build homes that families can afford to buy, and delivered a withering assessment of the National Government’s housing record, says Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Education is for everyone, not just the elite
    Proposals by the National Party to ration access to higher education will once again make it a privilege only available to the elite, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says. “Speaking at the Education Select Committee, Maurice Williamson let the National ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Cancer support changes far too little, certainly late
    Anne Tolley’s belated backtrack to finally allow Jobseeker clients suffering from cancer to submit only one medical certificate to prove their illness fails to adequately provide temporary support for people too sick to work, says Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel ...
    3 weeks ago