Sunday, December 27, 2009

lilly pilly eco christmas tree

What happens in a decorative Permaculture garden for an Aussie Christmas?
Well, the rhubarb is frilly and heathly, with its lovely pink legs. Sage has just started blooming with mauve flowers, fitting right in with the violas, that make their way into festive salads.

Tiny pansies to make salads nourish more than just our bodies

Chives, chamomille, and strawberries and mint give us things to eat (or drink), but the lettuces are spindly - not enough sun and water where I've put them.

Lilly Pilly christmas tree, with Dutch passers-by

I was Eating a quiet Christmas breakfast behind the lilly-pilly christmas tree, when Diana wandered into my garden, all the way from Holland. Diana lived here a few years ago, and is now a freshly-graduated architect, with a lovely new architect man to work with and love. Like the other two Netherlanders who have stayed with me here, she is as sunny as buttercups, and has endless capacity for cheerful hard work. Knowing her character, I'm confident they will succeed at building beautiful buildings together.

Being designers and Dutch, Diana and Rou went straigt to work, reprogramming my automatic dripper system, and planning better ways for me to get my tank water overflow to my thirsty lettuces.
Note the lillies. They were from rejected bulbs my WWOOFer collected and planted while I was overseas. The first ones bloomed on Christmas Eve, giving us a frothy sea of pink above the rocket seedlings to enjoy. To enjoy until the hot day, when the buds were toasted like marshmallows. Had there been more moisture in the soil they may have been fine. So my search continues for a handyperson to help design a better shade watering system for the next 46 degree day we can expect this summer.

Galliger the cat contributes to the Christmas Spirit

How is this for an edible container garden? I found it in the dining room on Christmas morning, Created by Stephan Lau, the German scientist who is staying here over the summer. So next time you are tempted to say that Germans and Scientists are not creative, please recall this snowy scene. It was delicious.

So here's the gist of Melbourne Christmases: they are not white, but blue. Jacarandas, Agapanthus, and whatever Hydrangeas survive our water restrictions. That's what I think of when I picture December, a quiet time for tying up the loose ends of all the years projects and tasks. Merrily.

Monday, December 7, 2009

WWOOFing at Yukari Desjardins

Yukari's children Stephan and Fabian.
Dashing JuJu has already set off for school

After teaching the course Yukari was scheduled to teach, I was lucky to have the chance to WWOOF for a couple of days with Arnaud and her three children.

I did only my favorite things - streamlining storage in the kitchen, and cooking. The children were enthusiastic, have-a-go cooking companions, and we made new things such as fried rice, things they can cook themselves, enjoy eating, and feel proud of.

What I most enjoyed was sorting and re-labeling the Tea Collection.
One of Yukari's ambitions must have been to have Every kind of tea - there must have been 40 0r 50. Packages were a jumble of luxurious, mysterious, forbidding and inviting, many picked and dried from the DesJardin garden, such as the lemon myrtle. I could read the Japanese labels, and vaguely knew if it was to be steeped or boiled and strained, so Stephan and I re-labled things in English, with instructions. If you don't know how to use it, you don't really own it. Now its even harder to sit down to a cup of tea though - all these new choices!

Nice big chooks in the movable chicken tractor.
The mystery of the dissapearing little bantams was found one morning - as a bump in the tummy of the snake, having an after-dinner nap in the (other) chicken coup.

I awoke to potted blooming water lillies outside my cottage.
My balcony lillies just don't get enough sun to work up to flowering.

The Fabled Banana circle. Arnaud found a nearly-ripe 'hand' of Bananas, which He cut down to yellow up in the cool shed, away from predators. The idea of the circle is that the mulch and leaf litter all collects in the center, enriching the soil rather than blowing away. Surely some other reasons though...
Arnaud freezes the bananas, and then blends them into 'icecream', a 100% fruit thing that the children love.
Hey Arnaud - maybe this is the solution to your eggplant/fussy children problem.

Pools, ponds, dams, galore, and I never reached the edges of this semi-tropical paradise, with only two days. I still havn't seen the artists studios they built for renting out, haven't entered some of the food forests.
A groundcover of sweet potato, to keep out the weeds, keep in the moisture. I saw pictures of these growing in water tanks on the roof of a high-rise in Ginza. The leaves scramble everywhere in just a few months.

Multiple functions. Everything has a few uses, and one of them is usually pleasure.

Snake 'guarding' the raised veggie beds from birds. Chicken enemy in the morning, gardening ally in the afternoon. Life is like that.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing these fun, curious and beautiful children again, hopefully in Melbourne this January.
Thank-you Yukari, your brought so many treasures into this world, in so few years.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Finally got Laid

Robert Samuel from East Germany. Photo: Cecilia Macaulay

For so long I have desired this, and its finally happened.
A man of excellence, strength and impeccable taste turned up at my house, and with his bare hands and brawn re-laid my bricks. My regimented, bored bricks.

The first day he tossed away the bluestone steps, and layed a delicately fan-shaped array of finely chiseled bricks.
Then he went to they gym.

Bricklayers shirt.

The next day my mate Frank the Creative turned up with a lend of all the right tools, and my landlord did something landlords are not usually known for, but that's just because there's a trick to it. After seeing the quality of Robert's stairs volunteered money for the materials.

When Permie Paul Bongiorno visited and saw the action in the garden, he commented "It does my head in seeing a German lay bricks.  Bricks are for the Italians, Germans are meant to stick to making Mercedes."

He's a high-tech brickie though, and found a way to video-skype me while adjusting the brick patterns, while I went to teach balcony gardening in Queensland.
Each day photos like this would turn up, asking
"Are my curves okay?"

Robert, your curves are great.

30's Argentinian wrought iron chair, Christmas lilies, one white brick, all on flowing currents of brick

Fanning and swerving, placed as if a former dental technician had laid them.
As was the case.

Robert with Rugsy the Norwegian Forest Cat, and politically correct brick layer's beer - V.B.

About Robert
Robert is a vegetarian. For him carrots are something like water, I've never seen such capacity for eating carrots before.
He likes to do things perfectly, and happily. When they are less than perfect in his eyes, he just pulls them out, says 'I'll try again', and does it over.

By day 7 he decided 'Cecilia, no more changes', and worked like a he was striking the fear of God into those bricks.
Then he finished, and the beautiful smile, the joyful chuckling returned.
He likes pink, likes flowers, and likes talking about his next girlfriend.
Not his ex girlfriend, his Next Girlfriend - he met her on the internet, arranged for falling in love to happen while he was wwoofing down here in Australia, and will meet her in real in a few weeks.

I hope she adores him as much as we all do.

About bricks
This old dude, typical eccentric New Zealand style, spend a few decades of his life collecting discarded broken bricks, and layed them in these organic, flowing shapes, block after block till the whole street was awash with wild swirling bricks.
It was the highlight of my visit to Christchurch a few years ago.
By then the fashionable people had moved in, trying to borrow the Eros, the vision that this old fellow had.
It would have energizing him every every day, never fading.

Here's the 'Before' photo of my back courtyard
I caught it this 'Eros'

In the above photo, the dinner table had just been brought sensibly back inside, leaving a chess game of extra-guest stools, on the seriously unimaginative, yet very nice bricks.

Why are bricks great? Well, unlike concrete, they let rain soak into the ground for the plants.
But the best reason is that you can haul them home, for free.
When I made the Elwood water catching Garden, I was left with a pile of lovely bricks nobody would buy, or even take for free. I drove around the neighborhood looking for piles of bricks, and asking the rennovation gangs that put them there to if they would take my bricks off my hands. Instead, they tried persuading me to take their own expensive-to-dispose-of bricks off Their hands.

Just go for a cruise, get a big man with a van, and a swirly brick dream can be part of your life too.

Thank-you New Zealand for the inspiration, thank you Robert for the strong mind and spirit, and thank you Lon who's cooking kept Robert going. Thank you Graham the landlord, and Frank for the brick cutter.
Like raising a child, it takes a whole village to get your bricks swirly. But if the desire is strong enough, it happens.

It was Fun: Balcony Garden workshop, veggie village

My favorite way of spending a couple of hours would have to be giving balcony garden workshops. You meet people at their most interesting, hatching up schemes for achieving the improbable: paradise on concrete. And see how happy they get when they hear all the tricks that will allow their fuzzy balcony aspirations to become crisp, leafy reality.

This 3 hour workshop was originally planned for the local permaculture dynamo, the wonderful Yukari Desjardins. We have lost Yukari. No matter how much we wish it to be different, she is gone. But continuing on projects she started, that's something we can actually do. For this day, I just had to hop on the Melbourne to Sunshine coast aeroplane, and do my thing.
I was so happy I could do this small thing.

Participants are always so different from each other, which makes break times the best kind of parties. Who turned up this time? Included in the mix of 40 could be found a soil life expert, heaps of artists, a horticulturist, architect, a few grandmothers, a professional Permaculturist, and another Japan-addict like myself.

Here's Shannon, helping me model the sign that tells me where we are. This one got herself a nice Japanese husband. Maybe my turn is next...

Barry Mcfee, Cecilia, and creative Pizza Oven
The event was impeccably organized by the Veggie Village Maestro, Barry Mcfee. Barry is one of those Engineers that the whole world wants, so it was wonderful staying with him and his dear wife Frances, and hearing all their stories of life lived out in exotic locations.
It took me about half-a-minute after meeting Barry at the airport to guess his profession. Engineers are my favorite people: concise, relaxed, yet accurate. They happily do the groundwork required to make things succeed, while the rest of us skip the little things like confirmation phone calls, etc saying 'She'll be right, mate". But she won't.
Whats the best thing about engineers? Maybe its their flexible attitude to the surprises that life insists upon dishing out. Engineers, like ideal Permaculturists, go with how reality IS, rather than how we think it SHOULD be.

Barry, you were an inspiration.

And I loved your old Citroen.

Permaculture Keyhole garden at Veggie Village
Veggie village is the neatest community garden I have come across, and I've seen them all over the planet. Neatest of the pretty: neat and dull doesn't count.

Reed bed design by artist Glenda Hennig

I especially loved this man-made 'creek' that the volunteers reconstructed from a diverted spring and swamp. Its almost Japanese, the natural placement of rocks, reeds and flow. And how is this for a good story: the reeds get almost too thick by the end of the season, and that's when the lady artist who created all this says 'Harvest time", and turns them into handmade paper.

What did participants think?
"Most enlightening. I loved the possum theory i.e. 'The problem is the solution'".
"When you were born, the world made room for a little more fancy - love your approach while providing vital info".
J& D

"I loved your positivity and I will create a garden! I also loved your Japanese-ness. If you have any nice wwoofers who want to stay in Noosa, give them my address. If my garden isn't established yet, they can couch-surf!"
Well, I really hope they find a way to invite me back next year.
For now, I'll make do enjoying the 'before' and 'after' balcony garden photos that have started trickling in from the participants. That's the desert.