We’re now standing on the precipice of our fifth Spring on this piece of land and I think we may finally be reaching some sort of alliance; the land and I, I mean.
In the beginning, I was at a loss. First of all, there were so many flowers, shrubs and trees all lovingly and/or purposefully planted by past residents but for why? I just didn’t get it. Why expend so much energy and time on a flower garden when our beehive keyholders have an abundance of food all year round and that food plus their buzzy attention invariably leads to we Homesteaders enjoying a more varied dinner plate? As for shrubs, if they didn’t produce berries or nuts it just seemed a bit, well…nuts for them to be taking up ground space, even if there was a heap more of it than we were used to. I did understand the need for shelterbelt trees, but why were our trees a mismatched hotchpotch of species, tall and squat, sturdy and lithe, skinny and stout, instead of all uniform and beautifully trimmed – especially taking into account the whole pretty flower garden thing?
Now, after spending close to five years living with the ferocity of the gales that rip across the Canterbury Plains, I understand the foresight of the varied plantings that filter and diffuse the wind while not creating damaging turbulence elsewhere. That’s clever and, while some of the trees give us fruit or nuts as well, I’m now happy to expend equal energy, time and resources looking after them all and smile as I chuck their prunings onto the kindling pile.
It took a little longer to see the worth of the flower gardens. All that weeding and deadheading for what? I ranted loud and long about the idiocy of planting even one rhododendron, deadly to most animals, on land intended for livestock and decimated a good number of seedlings in my begrudging weeding sessions. It was when I found myself smiling at a patch of self-seeded forget-me-not that had escaped my ignorant garden cleanup that it dawned on me: there’s a demarcation line. The paddocks are for the animals and they can be messy and smelly and muddy and dusty; walk through the shelterbelt gate and the living is easy – well, that’s how it feels with the mown lawns and floral prettiness. It’s the difference between Sunday best and farm duds and I’m happy to expend a little effort in maintaining our oasis.
But it’s the vegetable garden that made me see the light. We started it from scratch, a truckload of peastraw bales laid out in a U shape (because I had read somewhere that is the best shape for a vegetable garden) in the sheep paddock behind our first attempt at fencing (“Well, it’s still standing,” the fencing contractor sniggered during his visit to quote for our upcoming work, “It has that going for it.”) and it’s been…okay. While it’s produced adequate crops there’s been no real abundance and I have been heard to wail at my inability to coax even a glutlet (a little glut) of any crop out of the same earth New Zealand Gardener magazine’s Gardener of the Year (yes, she is our neighbour) green fingers tend. Then last summer things started looking up. As the family moaned at yet another courgette meal the realisation hit me: the garden and I had reached an understanding. The mountains of coffee grounds The Farmer hauls home from his day job, the locally sourced bagged horse manure, the haphazardly prepared Homestead compost, the Homestead animal’s contribution had finally paid off. In celebration, we’re giving it a makeover; seems the U shape was not my best idea.
I’m not for a moment saying I have this gardening thing down pat, I’m way too slapdash, whirlwind, what is colloquially known as rip, shit or bust. What I know, though, is that this ground I spend my days on and I have now reached an agreement: I show it a little love, exercise a little patience, have a little faith,
and it’ll keep us fed.
We’re on the same page; call us permaculture allies.