Explore a garden aligned with 'Earth's natural systems'

Explore a garden aligned with ‘Earth’s natural systems’


This garden in the heart of Melbourne has gone from being merely decorative to an edible jewel in tune with Earth’s natural systems

Jennie and John wanted their inner-city garden to be both ornamental and productive, as well as beautiful to look at, but like many people they sought help with setting it up and ensuring it followed organic principles.
In our organic garden-care business we are approached more and more often by people like this couple, who want to retain elements of their existing formal garden but also understand the importance of having edible plants and herbs. Our mission was to transform Jennie and John’s garden into an aesthetically pleasing and functional space, which included an edible makeover. In Jennie’s words, “We wanted an ornamental garden and to retain some existing elements but have vegies, fruit trees and herbs as an essential part of the greater garden scheme.”

Despite the constraints of inner-urban locations such as theirs, lack of space need not be a hindrance to creating a beneficial, organic kitchen garden when you use techniques such as building raised beds and incorporating fruit trees among the ornamentals. For example, the pathway into this block has a low formal hedge but the garden bed has a nectarine tree and peach tree complementing the existing plants. These new feature trees are both ornamental and edible. When space is limited, as in this garden, an effective way of growing fruit trees is the two-dimensional espalier method. Jennie and John have espaliered pear, apple and lemon trees to perfectly suit the restricted space. As long as the branches are tied in a figure eight and the plants are watered well, espaliered trees will fruit almost exactly as their standard tree counterparts.

Making it productive

The raised vegie beds were built using cypress, a naturally termite-resistant timber, and colour was applied only to the outside, allowing John and Jennie to have a continual supply of organic vegies, herbs and other useful produce available throughout the year. The bounty of these two beds is quite considerable: Jennie and John enjoy seasonal produce such as bok choy, broccoli, celery, beans, rocket, capsicum, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries and a huge variety of herbs that add culinary and aromatic interest in the beds and the kitchen.

Our team uses organic practices combining permaculture techniques of companion planting and crop rotation. Jennie and John were keen to use these measures in their garden. A large-scale worm farm is used to replenish and feed the soil profile to keep it as active and alive as possible. This provides the best form of organic compost available to top up the garden beds when necessary. In addition, we have developed an organic composting system that allows us to recycle 100 per cent of the green waste gathered on this property to form rich organic compost. This adds value to the garden, keeping microclimates healthy, and really strengthens the natural ecosystem.

For instance, if plant varieties that attract native birds are planted — predominantly native species such as callistemon and grevilleas — in addition to carefully locating low, shallow ponds or bowls, the garden can be a place of sanctuary for all sorts of important and beautiful animals, including butterflies, bees, dragonflies, praying mantis and katydids. Of course, the herbs attract beneficial insects, particularly the pollinators, too.

A helping hand

Many gardeners need a helping hand to get started in their new organic space and, as designers and horticulturists, we are qualified in and committed to organic practices and can offer clients the initial design service as well as garden care and a teaching platform.

We aim to give clients an understanding of organic and permaculture principles. Jennie says, “We now consider the natural processes taking place in our healthy garden ecosystem and we can be more in tune with what must be done to maintain this equilibrium in our own garden space.”

One of the things we are completely committed to is ensuring zero carbon emissions in managing clients’ gardens by creating organic compost that’s available throughout the year to replenish and support healthy, living organic soil. We reuse all the green waste gathered onsite to create humus-rich compost so nothing is wasted or lost. This also means we can be certain that no parasites or invasive seed material enters any of the gardens in our care. This is essential if one wishes to garden naturally. We carefully monitor and record what’s happening onsite so we and the homeowners are in tune with plant health, soil health and what areas need attention in order to maintain balance and harmony in the garden.

Feeding the family

It’s not just John and Jennie who revel in the bounty of their garden. Their grandchildren can’t wait to get to Nanna’s place to check if the strawberries, snow peas, lettuce, carrots or nectarines and peaches are ready for snacking on. They race to get the ripest and best fruit before anyone else does.

Isn’t that what it’s all about? There’s no better reward for the effort put into an organic food garden than the delight a family takes in harvesting and eating their own organically grown produce.

Tom Remfry is a multi-award winning horticulturist, garden designer and director of Tom’s Secret Garden.

Written by Tom Remfry

Photography by Adrian Vittorio

Originally in Backyard Magazine Volume 14 Issue 2