Sunday, November 30, 2008

Urban professional's edible balcony shade garden, Melbourne

The brief here is to design a productive, lush shade-gardens for the 8th story home-office of a philosopher/I.T. professional. He cooks, he entertains, and spends a heap of time here. A captive audience. I have a feeling he will invest the time and care into making something extraordinary.

Starting with a design for the second story, here is what I would do:

Install awnings, to shade the garden below so its fun to start work in.
Get the biggest oblong self-watering planters I can find, to go behind the window-railings. String some twine or wire across the rest of the sun-drenched walls and window, and plant some climbers to shade the whole area.
My choice of climber, for now, is bouginvillia flowers, mail ordered for soft, unique colors, and intertwined with vanilla.


photo from elementaryteacher in the Middle East

My bouganvillia 'flowered' for almost half the year, right into winter, on my north-facing Melbourne balcony. They like fertility, sun, and hate being over watered. They loose their leaves in winter if its cold. Not here.
Vanilla orchid photo from Spicelines
I've never seen vanilla growing in Melbourne. Now might be the chance.
It needs a trellis-friend to climb on, good sun, some shade. Vanilla plants can be ordered by mail, or grown from cuttings - they are costly, which is discouraging, if you expect it to die anyway, or encouraging, if you expect to propagate and sell them on again.

This vanilla bean mural from Spicelines gives away the theme I have in mind for downstairs...
(Tabacco plant, soft colored chillies and tomatoes, coffee bush, cocoa plant, and maybe a toothy fish for the pond...). More of this in the next installment.
Thanksgiving day is tomorrow. We have lots of delicious things to thank a certain continent for.

These are the shade vines I thought of and dismissed:
Passionfruit: it needs deeper soil than a window box
Clematis: it needs its roots kept cool. Too much direct sun on the pots. Wisteria: too heavy to grow on the lateral strings. Structures like wooden lattice would't be allowed by body corporate, and rightly so - it looks a mess from a distance, unless all neighbours have the same structure.

Here are plants that could be good, but don't fit into a theme I have in mind (its secret, for now)
Honeysuckle or Jasmine: lovely fragrant yellow or white flowers
Hardenbergia: native, delicate purple flowers, not very bushy though.
Ornamental or fruiting grape: light, and there is JUST enough acces for someone to harvest and trim once a year.

So, why does a combination of two complementary flowers intertwined look so much better than one?
Bouganvillia Photo from Daves travel corner
Is it our romantic nature noticing the harmony between two well-matched flowers? Sympathetic gladness that they are not alone in the world?
This bougenvillia is glorious, but could almost be made of polymers. Kind of 'dehumanizing' (the plant version). From a distance, the blaze of color would visually disturb the balance of the house, and thats no good.
Maybe we need each other to be beautiful. Maybe its all about context.

My hope is, that once the bouganvillia is tried and successful, the other neighbors will do the same. The office workers on the other side of the urban canyon will look up, see what we have created, and their souls will be soothed.

Friday, November 28, 2008

home grown carrots exchanged for art

Tonight I attended the opening of a unique exhibition.
Plant Matter Neo-Eden Melbourne, by the Taiwanese artist Hsu Su-chen
Here she is, getting 'paid' for her work, in carrots.
Tomorrow (saturday) will be even better, as community growing groups get a trading day with her, and her collaborator, eco-architecht lu Chien-ming. You grow food, swap, she draws, swaps.
Now you are intimately connected.
I'm really crazy about the Taiwanese, and love being around them, living with them. They have all the politeness and powers of observation of the Japanese, are intensely educated and creative, but also an innocent, childlike fearlessness, and graceful way of saying what they really think, which makes life unpredictable and good. I haven't met an exception yet.(but maybe the reason I find out they are Taiwanese in the first place is because I'm so taken with them, and ask).

Its a lovely project, having us re-view the scraps of plants that decide to co-exist with us in our city lives.

The exhibition is on until the 13th December, 11-5pm Wednesday to Saturday.
Its at Domain House, just opposite the National Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Swiss Family Treehouse ingenious watering at Tokyo Disneyland

Cecilia in the 25 year old gardens of Tokyo Disneyland, Autumn 2008

All you need to make this 100 percent natural rainwatering system for your outdoor room is a very big tree, forest foraging, and a 19th century shipwreck.
If you are really into Permaculture, you may find yourself stuck for a long time in this six-story high tree, pondering and marveling at how it really, really might work (if only the mosquito excluding net was finer!)

It all starts with a flowing stream under the tree, which both powers the whole contraption, and supplies the fresh water to be scooped up to the top of the canopy.
A rope-ladder of bobbing bamboo vessels carries the water up, letting them swing over at the top of their circuit, and splash their water into the bamboo pipe aquaduct.

Which then carries water as desired to all the 'rooms' of the tree house.

Here is the grow-it-yourself kitchen, with ingenious food storage, a coolgardie safe, and everything you would need to whip up a tropical dinner.
A washing up sink to make everyone happy. Except maybe the Clam.
An imagination-inducing study would be quite necessary, for thinking up such impressive inventions.

And good sturdy vessels for holding everything up and together.


At the very very top of the tree, with a dizzying view of Tokyo bay, is where the Robinson boys sleep and dream the usual dreams: the pleasures of love and family and resourcefulness, the terrors of the dark, the unknown, the future (weak and alone?) The aspirations to one day go somewhere far, far away.

We are all frightened, life-loving, resourceful castaways. With everything we need already around us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Indoor Japanese garden of dreams

This outside-in garden captivated me, when I first saw its picture in 'The Modern Japanese Garden'. I just had to meet its creator, and so I did, yesterday and today.
Nagakura-san is one of Japan's most celebrated potters, living far, far away in a mountain forest, by the old pottery village of Machiko.

Her garden, it seems, came about the same way as her pots: a collaboration between mud and human, chance and strong visual tastes. "I was watering the potplants as usual, which sat on the traditional tramped-earth floor. And I thought, 'why bother', and just planted them. They liked it and spread, some other seeds joined in, and it all just happened".



Although she claims 'accident', anyone could match the pots and the garden to the same creator: there are the frilly lines and dapples of geranium, maidenhair fern and clover. There are the jewel-like pockets of color that appear, radiating surprise and liveliness, all hovering over a background of undisguised earth.

Now the consistancy gets uncanny when you get familar with her conversational style - once again, frilly, unabashedly earthy, multi-layered, spontanious and shimmering.
"Where are you? I thought you would be here at two" said the voice on my mobile, as I wended my way towards her house, through the labyrith of unnamed steep and narrow country lanes. "Oh dear", I thought. I've made an important, busy lady wait. "Don't worry" whispered my companion. "She is old, and has probably been looking forward to visitors since she woke up."
Later she told me: "yes, once it got to 2pm, every time a car passed, I turned on the kettle, re-arraged the platters..".
She doesn't seem to think that hiding her 'mud' is necessary in conversation.
I asked what it was that caused her to become a celebrated professional, while most do not.
'My husband. We married young, I was 19. I'd make a pot, and he would say 'excellent', which made me strive harder, and he would say 'genius', which made me striver harder, and soon I was starting to win big prizes, starting to criticizing him, and then the praise got less and less, and we finally got divorced."

Total focus on one thing may be the reason for her success, but there are two sides to everything. Her arms started to seize up about three years ago, stopping her from working. This is a terrible thing, if your life is your work, she said, and told of the various treatments that all failed, and other emotional troubles that went with infirmity, and that had kept her at home for the last three years. "People were wondering if I was dead, and I was wishing I was, I couldn't bear it. But now here I am, half-better." then she added "The investor-buyers will be very dissapointed"
Posing for this shot, she first untangled a thick rope that was hanging on the tree 'I'll take down the noose" she said. "I guess I won't be needing it after all".

Nagakura-san is 72 years old, with the perfect complexion that I've learnt to associate with Japanese women who do three things: avoid sun, and avoid 'yang' foods like sugar and meat, and avoid unsatisfying work. She served us salty plum tea, in which floated flecks of gold, and platters of macrobiotic-style food: sweet potato, baby sardines, and a spinach and yuzu citrus dish. The ingrediants were so simple, it made me wonder where the deliciousness came from.
"I only know five dishes. I'd wake up, and find myself kneading clay for a pot. I'd work all day, then cook myself one of my five dishes" she said of her daily routine.
When you walk in the house, the air is forest-like, tinged with a humid cool greenness. While the floor is happily spreading green moss, the walls and tatami-mats are fresh and crisp, the blessings of having a house made of materials that breathe: Porus local Oya stone, old timber, and straw matting. I guess the walls are 'shikui', a kind of clay render.

One spot in the earth floor kept my footprint "Oh", she said "I just dug a plant up from there to give a friend. I have a constant spreading supply".
While I took photos in the fading light, my driving companion drove off with her, so he could get a bit from a neighbour to fix her outside light. 'You-hoo, Its Nagakura. I found a good looking man, so came to show you'.
Well her charm has worked, as he has already made a plan to do the 3 hour drive again later in the month. Gardens bring people together.