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

  • New Public Housing Plan announced
    The Government has released its Public Housing Plan 2021-2024 which outlines the intention of where 8,000 additional public and transitional housing places announced in Budget 2020, will go. “The Government is committed to continuing its public house build programme at pace and scale. The extra 8,000 homes – 6000 public ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    10 hours ago
  • Prime Minister congratulates President Joe Biden on his inauguration
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has congratulated President Joe Biden on his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States of America. “I look forward to building a close relationship with President Biden and working with him on issues that matter to both our countries,” Jacinda Ardern said. “New Zealand ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    12 hours 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
    2 days 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
    2 days 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
    3 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
    6 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
    1 week 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
    1 week 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
    1 week 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
    1 week 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
    1 week 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
    3 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
    3 weeks ago