- Date published:
8:30 am, October 9th, 2016 - 21 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, food, sustainability - Tags: food forest, food forests, 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.
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 sisterÂ 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.