Im a little biased toward Emma and William Thorps sustainable garden as GreenBridge was extensively involved in the broardscale design of the three acres, firstly by ecological designer Kama Burwell and then by myself for the intimate scale of edible garden.  Emma was enthusiastic from the start and her brief was to be advised on what edible plants could be grown where, and what systems to put in place to support food production.  

Having moved from the foreign climate of Otago to our fertile planes of Taranaki just one and a half years ago, its hard to imagine that Emma and Will’s sustainable journey garden began such a short time ago, with all they have achieved.  Emma is a full time Mum of two beautiful boys Eddie and Angus and former dental technician who has embraced all things growing – even integrating a triangular sandpit in the midst of the veg plot to entice her two boys to play while she plants!  It works well.

Inspired by European pottager gardens, Emma’s veg garden is semi-formal with a clear triangular layout based on 1.2m widths (double reach so all parts pf the garden can be handled from the path).  Small awkward corners are permanently gifted to the bees and beneficials, as spots for perennial flowers to grow and where predators bugs can overwinter.

Paths themselves serve several functions (as all good sustainable designs should), whereby carpet in laid directly on the soil and overlaid by wood chip to suppress weeds, act as a long term carbon mulch and the wood chip absorbs water for slow release – effectively keeping the garden moist so that less irrigation is needed.

A basic four bed crop rotation is in progress whereby up to 50% of the garden is for growing carbon (for compost making) at any one time.  Root vegetables like carrots and parsnips follow gross feeders like corn (stalks are also a carbon source) and and tomatoes.  Nitrogen is planted rather than artificially added by working into the crop rotation lupin, broad beans, peas and beans – again utilising that permaculture principle of one element serving many functions.

The overall layout of the three acres are being developed along permaculture principals.  This begins with matching crops to the right habitat, for example if a spot is warm, still and rich then it’s a great spot for subtropicals, so grow subtropicals.  Or if a spot is hot, north-facing, sheltered and free draining, then citrus is likely to do well, so grow citrus!  This approach is practical and obvious really – why make work for oneself when you can respond to the habitat and climate and grow that which will naturally do well there – thats a great start to a very sustainable garden.

Sustainable gardens also require no to low inputs, so recycling nutrients is big on Emma’s agenda and you can see this happening all over the three acres; ducks are fed comfrey (high in protein and potassium) and as the ducks forage the orchard they poop out the potassium, feeding the trees – the ducks have done the work for you!  Chooks also are vital to the health of the system as well as producing a yield (eggs and potentially meat) by scratching in a ‘starwyard’.  A strawyard is essentially a ‘confined’ place, with a carbon base where you can throw all your scraps for the chooks to eat, turn and make compost for you.  Sited high in the landscape, the strawyard filters nutrient downhill to other productive areas and is also right next to the veg area so that the ‘black gold’ compost can be directly applied to the veg gardens.

Not only is Emma’s garden productive, its beautiful.  I fully embrace that our permaculture, sustainable gardens can be both productive (notorious for being ‘messy’) and aesthetically pleasing.  In defence of ‘mess’ however, what we are actually often seeing is natures diversity (if you know what to look for).  There are no rows or mono native plantings in a sustainable garden.  Like Emma’s garden there is often a profusion of colour, bees buzzing and that elusive thing called ‘life’, as its ultimately life in all its diversity that a sustainable garden supports.

Happy gardening Emma and thank you for sharing your journey with the GreenBridge team and the wider Taranaki community.  You can visit Emma and William’s garden at 9 Surry Hill Road, Oakura.

Bena Denton is an Ecological Garden Designer and is part of the GreenBridge team.  She lives with her family in Omata and is enjoying regenerating their 10acre property.

News Photo Andy Jackson/Fairfax NZ. Keen Oakura gardeners Will & Emma Thorp with their boys Eddie, 4 and Angus, 3. Playing in the sandpit
News Photo Andy Jackson/Fairfax NZ.  Garden designer Bena Denton from Greenbridge holding Emma’s garden design drawings in front of the finished garden.