Get the relationships right between elements in your garden, to maximise efficiency and abundance, writes Bena Denton
I love gardening. Even more, I enjoy the satisfaction of surveying a lush, productive landscape… maybe even more than eating the produce! … Until my fresh basil goes onto our pizza, or I look down at my plate and see that this evening everything is from our garden – that’s the ultimate!
So where do you start on your journey to a rewarding, edible garden that’s going to succeed? So many gardens are set up to (gulp) fail. Most likely the planning and design stage has been missed and that’s unfortunate because it’s the fun part (for me). It’s much easier to rub out a pencil tree than dig up an actual tree and move it (three times).
Let’s assume you have a clean slate, or your existing garden needs an overhaul. What are all the “infrastructure elements” your garden will need? Infrastructure is just a fancy way of saying things like compost bins, hothouses and chook coops…it tends to be the “hard stuff” but can also be permanent “soft stuff” like shelter or access ways… things that need to be considered right at the start.
This infrastructure has requirements unique to you and your site. For example, you may like to feed the chooks as you head off to work, so the coop may be best placed near the car parking area – logical. What we are talking about is maximising the functional relationships between infrastructure elements, with a synergistic result.
Here are some things you can do to get started…
First, list all the infrastructure elements you would like to fit into your garden.
Draw a wee sketch of your garden, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Try an easy scale like every 1cm on paper = 1m in real life. On another piece of paper, draw up the elements to the same scale. Cut them out. These can be moved around your sketch to explore positions without having to re-draw.
Shelter is a permanent element. Where are your prevailing winds coming from? In Taranaki it’s often the westerly, but the south-easter can be a shocker too, so position shelter to filter these winds. In an urban environment this may only be as tall as flaxes and hebes, which make great wind breaks.
For a family of four, allow for 20-40sqm to grow all your own veges, or even just begin with a 1x1m herb garden. One handful of herbs in your dinner supplies the bulk of your daily vitamin and mineral needs. Plants require 6hrs of winter sun to photosynthesize, so the vege patch gets the sunniest, prime position. If possible, place it close to the back door or off the deck (convert that lawn!). My experience is, if you see it you will maintain it and eat it.
Orchards and food forests can be a little further away from the house as you may only visit once a week. Fruit trees require 6hrs of summer sun, and evergreen trees will also need 6hrs of winter sun, so choose spots carefully.
Chooks are well worth considering. All productive gardens need nutrients, and chooks are the ultimate recyclers of garden waste. They are valuable just for the nitrogen in their poop! Place the chook coop where you can easily feed and collect eggs daily, ideally uphill of your vege patch to allow nutrients to percolate downhill and fertilise your patch. Consider a straw yard so the chooks make your compost.
Position a compost heap close to where you may bring in resources like seaweed, cardboard boxes, or woodchip for carbon. Again, uphill of the vege patch or orchard is ideal for nutrients to seep, and for easy shovelling into the garden itself.
If you are investing in a rainwater tank, position it high in the landscape so you can gravity feed, even when there is a power cut. If you are on town supply, water meters are not far away so future proof now.
Looped paths (as opposed to dead ends) increase efficiency, as you can undertake a number of tasks in one walk, such as feeding the chooks, bringing in the washing, and picking herbs for dinner.
Remember to include elements like a washing line, woodshed, cold frames, seedling beds and garden shed.
Gardens are for enjoying … so do include those elements that make you feel good, whether it’s a swing for the children or a beautiful maple to sit under. Feed the soul as well as the tummy!
Bena Denton is an ecological garden designer and is part of the GreenBridge team. She lives with her family in Omata and is enjoying developing their 10acre property.