Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Flirting with the chicks - Sharing the surplus and Urban chickens, Sydney



My brother John's quality of life just keeps on climbing.

In December, he got bride. 
Today, he got a chicken.
In fact, Five chickens.
Five gorgeous girls, his for a whole fortnight.

You might have heard my story of meeting Steve Webb though my 'Chicken Sitter Available' classified.
My brothers garden is too shady to grow vegetables, but replicates almost exactly the South-east Asian forests that Jurassic chickens evolved in.
If you want to make anything healthy and happy, replicate its native environment.  A few minutes after Steve came with his cardboard box full of chooks, this is how they looked:

This garden is chook heaven.
And here is a useful tip for increasing the amount of happiness in your life: just make the creatures around you happy, and borrow theirs.
Its such a joy to watch these fluffy girls sail around the garden, hearing happy 'brrrook' every time they strike yet another tasty treat in the leafy ground.
Half the rent is suddenly redeemed, now that the Twilight Zone of the massive garden is being shared with new friends.

Steve had just bought the chooks and this 'Three bears' style house, for $100, second hand. 
Assembling it gave us a afternoon of being kids again, playing cubby house.
Over the next few weeks, Steve will be creating his own Urban Chicken Palace, and once its ready, we will give them back to him, and know if we really, really want chickens or not.


By the next afternoon, we had seven eggs. 

The plainest chook, the speckledy dusty one, had gone on an adventure. Jumping from tree to tree she went over the canal, and left her 4 companions wondering.
My brother trotted off down the street, calling out for her.  He found her in a distant neighbors garden canoodling happily. What are the chances she had landed in a house with the neighborhood's only rooster?
That's exactly what happened.
She came home to her friends eventually. Maybe the telling the elopement story to her cackling friends was more satisfying than the bloke himself.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Quirky Doorstep Garden designers of Sydney - I found one!

If you want to meet unique people, then do quirky things.
Here is how I met Steve, a young daddy of 4 and a real, culture-creating Start-At-Your-Doorstep Designer.

Stephen Webb at his inner-city home, where things flourish

I met him through the add I put up on Gumtree Classifieds, "Chicken Sitter Available'.

Like many things I do, it sounds weird, but is eminently sensible.
Try-Before-You-Buy is a low cost, low burden, low angst way to ease yourself into something new.
Into, and then out of it again, if it doesn't go as hoped.

Chicken sitter available - my add
My brother has long wanted chooks for his jungle back garden. Spring is coming, and is the time to take action.
Steady, flamboyant action.

Well, yesterday my chicken add got a reply from Stephen, who thought it was a good idea too.
He has plans for a renovation to his Urban Chicken Palace, and his ladies could do with a holiday.

After checking out his website 'Edible Kids Gardens', his low-tech, improvised designs, I dashed right over to meet him. That very night.
He is a real Doorstep Garden Designer, someone who starts a garden - tiny, urban, useful - from where people actually are. From the energy and resources and dreams they actually have.

A person very well placed to save the world.
I wasn't going to wait.

Gumboots for his children as they stomp about the garden

Maximum productivity from Minimum space

This Permaculture design principle doesn't just describe what he designs, it also describes how he does it - minimum drawing, with maximum communication to the future garden owner as to how it will all look and feel.

He draws alternatives, with the stories of all the elements he want to include, and why.  There are tunnels to transition from adult area to children's secret fairy garden, clipped mini-hedge edges to protect herb garden from children's ball games, multiple reasons for everything.

Allow for Evolution

His designs are light, quick and flexible, with alternatives.  He can re-design around the obstacles and opportunities that appear - Finding great rocks as you dig, or a pipe that sends your riverbed in a new direction.
But mostly, he allows for his own evolution. 

Garden-creating is weekend job for him, a love since his own childhood.
He studied Landscape architecture, not horticulture, so he is now learning about plants as he goes, asking his mates what will work.  
Instead of paying for a Horticulture course, he gets paid as he goes. Not paid much, but enough to keep on creating.

A house of treasures. Children and other kinds.

Maximise useful connections
The gardens themselves are full of useful and thoughtfully-linked playing, hiding, digging, messing areas. 
But again, he maximizes useful connections in How he designs, not just What he designs.
Latin is useful for the priestly ones to hand down accurate orders to the middle man, who then does the construction - the owner does not need to interfere with personal plant preferences.
Here Google image searches of important plants show the owner just what will be coming to live with her.  
He makes that connection for her, so she doesn't have to wonder.

Dry river bed in a school garden

How is a children's garden different from a regular garden?
This is what Stephen said:
"Adventure, Interest. Adults like gardens for sitting, drinking tea, viewing. Children like to engage deeply, clambering through tunnels, into hidey-holes, constructing little nooks and gadgets themselves. Plants are chosen to be handled, not just looked at.

I don't make gardens to teach children about sustainability. How they turn out depends on who their parents are, really, that's the more constant influence.

 I want to make gardens that will captivate and delight, keep their attention. I don't make gardens for political reasons. Ive always made gardens, since I was a child. Its to delight myself, really."
He tells the story of how last week he went to 'Reverse Garbage', and brought a pile of pipes and elbows for a few dollars. His children spend a few days putting them together as a chute for racing their cars. After that they made them into a telephone system for communicating in the garden tunnel. These children are unlikely to grow up boring. 
And the pipes and elbows will probably have many more re-incarnations before they are truly garbage.

Being a paid Permaculture designer is something you can start, from now. 
Pick up a pencil, trace over a photo on your computer screen, do a google search for plants you think might be happy there. 
Find someone who really, really wants a garden, and help them.  Take a photo, and put it on a blogger blog - a free website. Learn Search Engine Optimization, and put useful stories in there, to get known.
Then don't stop till you get there. 
I will help.

               Wonky, rough, but good enough to change the world. Someone's world.

Contact Steve Webb, or get inspiration from his Edible Childrens Garden website:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I want to live at Vaucluse House - Low-tech Home, grand mansion, and useful kitchen Gardens

Something people don't know about me is that I grew up in a wood-stove powered, rosary-praying Edwardian-era farmhouse.
Not the whole time, just when my mother was giving birth, which happened every year, or when it was time for a holiday from Chadstone. 
Off I would go to Nellie's, at Fern hill. 

Beautiful, useful blacksmithing, the old stove at Valcluse house.

This morning here in Sydney I was a bit sad. I had just dropped of my lovely companion at the international airport. So instead of heading 'home' to the vast Balmain mansion,  I detoured to the other side, to National Trust's Valculse mansion, for comfort and uplifting. 

You enter into the 150 year old kitchen, with the wonderful resin-like smell of layers and layers, decades and decades of woodsmoke.
All from the very beautiful, useful old stove. 

Perfect Aromatherapy. I was uplifted.

Here is the drawing room, almost as beautiful as the stove.
It was designed to lure suitors to check out the daughters. Their beloved mother was 'illegimate', so they couldn't enter Sydney society the usual way.

Maybe that's what I'm lacking - fancy chairs.
Get that right, and a betrothal, a family is just around the corner....
Maybe its something else though. 

Here is the inner courtyard garden, something I have always wanted, being a cloistered kind of a lady. It recalls the otherworldly convents I visited throughout my childhood, calling on Sister Cephas and the other nuns close to our family. My own mother was brought up not in a home, but a beautiful convent.

At Valcluse, this courtyard's purpose was to separate the kitchen, with its threatening fires, from the main house.

How chaste and lovely is this delicately-lit nook, of floating pot plants.

More Greenery, hanging on in there, on the shady side of the house, in the babies room. Nine babies, I think they had, most of them growing up to thrive and flounder at about the same rate as all of us, it seems.

Oiled eggs, preserves from the garden, displayed in the kitchen

At the 1910's Tea House next door, I had a breakfast so perfect, it almost made me cry.

Photo by Pia Jane Bijkerk
The jam was made from Rhubarb from the kitchen gardens, with apple and vanilla added. The tea was perfect, there was sourdough toast and avocado lemon. They let me sit by the heater, where I read a book by my hero Shaun Tan. The roof was very like that of my grandfather's house in Trentham. I think his father built it himself, in the style of the day.

Making a house like this is about the only thing I really want to do with my life. And a family to bring it to life.