Monday, April 30, 2012

Toronto Balconies Photo Competition - Guest Judge interview with Cecilia Macaulay

'Torronto Balconies Bloom' are holding their annual balcony garden photo competition, September 30, 2012.
This year, I'm a guest judge.  A kind of armchair judge

Below is my interview with Fern, the grand balcony master. 
If you have a lovely photo to inspire the gardeners of Canada with, send it in to their website.
You might even win a prize. But if you live too far away, they will just keep it till you visit. The real prize of course is having a beautiful balcony garden bless your life daily.

Fern: What inspired your passion for growing edibles in pots? 

Cecilia: Pot-plants are pet-plants, especially the edible ones. You have a relationship with them, and the more you love and attend to them, the more beautiful and rewarding they get. 
Garden plants don't need you as much, and they don't sit beside you as you eat your breakfast each day, and give you their 'news'  - a new bud, a surprise creature. 

For me, balcony gardening is cubby-house building for grown ups. Despite our 21st century wealth, we have very little say in how our surroundings look. Mostly they look like the shops in which the stuff was purchased. But a balcony is small enough to have full artistic say over what happens there, with borrowed vintage chairs, mail-order seeds, rare breeds and a 3D lively universe of your own.

I probably fell in love with porch-gardening as a child at Nellie's house.
Nellie was the relative in the country I was sent to say with when my mother had a new baby, which was every year, for years and years. 
Nellie ran her house on 19th century technology - a wood-fired copper to wash the clothes, with blue bags and a wringer, the lot. She would send me out to the veranda to get mint for the mint sauce. Even though she was surrounded by acres of empty land, she had a full orchestra of plants in pots. Not pots though. Old tin cans. Big ones, little ones, with the quaint lettering and bright graphics of the 40's and 60's, and mint and geraniums spilling over the tops.

What is your favourite time of day to photograph garden plants?

Anytime is good, so long as there is no strong sunshine.  The deep shadows and glary light of direct midday sun makes things look 'dry', you cannot see the details or textures, everything looks the same.
But if you are doing a close-up in full sun, and make a shadow over the pot with an umbrella or just your body, the ambient light makes the subject look beautifully sculpted. Try it.
Of course, the slanty sun of sunrise and sunset makes things look spectacular. The problem with balconies is, they are always best-lit from the other side. We need flying cameramen!

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Have you a most fascinating or surprising 'crops in pots' sighting to share?

When I first moved to Japan I had almost no money, but sometimes treated myself to a marvellous traditional breakfast at this tiny, ancient shop. Their doorstep was only as wide as a shoe, but hosted an 'edge garden' of great generosity. 
Mountain herbs grew through spring. In summer, a water-filled polystyrene box appeared, with a sign in beautiful calligraphy: 'World's smallest rice paddy'. In autumn, astringent persimmons were peeled and strung up to dry, looking all festive, and in winter, every now and then they scraped together a little snowman. 
The Japanese make so much of so little. 
People are beautiful when they do that. 
Its the beauty of the gardener's spirit that touches people, not the garden itself. 

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Please offer one piece of advice to prospective contest entrants:

Make Families. Consciously choose and gather together things that are varied but related, things that become their best selves in each others presence.  Don't put things there that don't contribute, that feel out-of-place and lonely in your arrangement. You know what they are, those default things, the plastic pots that were there, the spider plant that just won't die. 

Restrict colors, materials. Families don't let just any-old-thing in off the street.
Make a phrase that describes the 'family' you are making: 
Wabi-sabi rust & wood Zen edible garden. 
Lush, 3D Singapore fragrant garden. 
Happy-cat catnip and napping-spot garden. 

Make sure every pot, every bit of mulch material, every plant and its insect-attracting companion plant are essential to this theme, and everything that is essential is there. That will be one strong garden!

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Blue, green and terracotta. Flowers attract mantis to eat the caterpillars. 
Pots are like 'siblings', related yet different, made by a loved friend. 
Water is on-hand in the water-pond, to scoop onto plants as you sit nearby and sip tea.  
Tea might be the lemon balm you are gazing at. and the rocket might be in your lunch too.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Right mess in the Right Place - beauty, truth and love at Mario's house

Yesterday was ANZAC Day Holiday, a mid-week day off, to remember serious and sad things.

After a breakfast of fresh dill and salmon crepes at my brother's place,  I strolled down the sunny dappled road and called out at the door of Mario's 

"Anybody home? Its Ce-ci-li-aaaa"

"Cecilia! Come on down' floated up a voice.
Downstairs I went, to the strangely darkened living room.

"Cecilia, come and see this!"
Mario was playing with a blowtorch, and bits of silver.

Making jewellery is one of his jobs, but I had the impression he was doing this for the first time, and just discovering what silver was.

"Look, you heat and heat and suddenly, it shows its alive. It stretches out."
So it did. The off-cut bits of silver would suddenly go the colour of stars and stretch like a cat. That meant it had turned to liquid.
Then it curls itself up,  into a perfect ball.
Why it does this, I don't know, but thats the only thing liquid silver wants to do, after a stretch.

Predictable in its tastes, just like we are.

While Mario is marvelling over his metal, his wife Akeri is busying herself in the orderly kitchen.

"The bananas were on their way out, so I'm making banana bread' she said.

Banana bread! This is the first time in over a year, first time since the Queensland cyclone that I've seen anyone making banana bread.  Except for the Permaculture mates who grew their own and suddenly had the most valuable currency in Sydney, golden fragrant bananas.  

Nothing is forever. Not bananas, not the lack of bananas. 

Akeri and Mario's house demonstrates my conviction that if you get your kitchen sink right, the rest of your life will fall into place. 
 Look at it - beautiful, orderly and productive.  Everthing has a home, all the colours are friends with each other, and there is no printing, advertising in sight. 

As the banana bread bakes, a Japanese housemate wanders in for her breakfast. 

There is always a Japanese housemate, its a house suited to harmoniously hosting visitors. The beauty inspires them to be on their best behaviour,  maybe to say 'thank-you' to the house for delighting them. Everything is easy to use and clean up after - how lonely a pile of dirty dishes would look in this house, you wouldn't want to let that happen.

He has painted a mural on the concrete wall that lets in light from the street, where Mario has his balcony garden flourishing, spilling down sun-side and shade-side. 
Every surface that can be played with has been played with. 

I first met Mario as he sat on his doorstep in the sun, just him and his guitar, having a little sing together. 
Here are last year's stories, and more stories giving you a glimpse into Mario world.

Mario's books tempt me - he wants to know what life is about, this man, and doesn't give up. 
The book topics are in 'families', and even the knick-kanks that surround them are a team. 
Owls, for wisdom.

His studio is action-eliciting. 
Why leave the materials in the crummy plastic bags they came in? You don't have to. 
Mario gets his beads to seduce him into working with them, putting them all available in pretty wicker baskets, ready to be worked with.  

As I go upstarts and outside to live my Anzac Day, I see Mario giving his Japanese wife a big hug as we pass the kitchen.
In all my years of living in and loving Japan, a hugged wife is a sight I have never seen.
It must be tough living in Mario-world, if you want to live in your own world.
But the Love, that gets you staying.

My beautiful former Melbourne housemate, Naoko is visiting Sydney tomorrow, to celebrate her successful jewelry exhibition.
For sure, I bring her along to see this sight, life lived in full creative liveliness.

So today I'm remembering the Young Anzac soldiers who never got to live their lives.
Today I'm reminding myself to live my life, on purpose, and in full colour.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What is life for? Its for you! Profile writing workshop in Balmain

Lunch: smoked salmon & lemon cream pasta,  greens and garnish picked from the
guerrilla garden I planted last year. Vegetarians had mushroom and sage cream, bless them. 
Looking at these photos from our profile-creation workshop the other weekend, my mind says 'this looks familiar". 
Yes, I know this is our second go at it, as we found in the first workshop in Annandale that writing a profile is HARD. But super-absorbing. 
It forces us to rewrite how we work and even why we work, and that kind of re-framing doesn't happen in a day. 

But thats not the 'familiar' that I'm talking about. My 'familiar' memory is heaps older.

What would I have been doing on a typical Sunny Saturday,  34 or so years ago? 

Eight year old me, with flowers pegged to the swing,  suburban Chadstone  1978

I would have been doing something constructive with my six little brothers and sisters, out in the suburban garden.  Something that we ourselves took the initiative to do, and would do for 8 hours at a time.

We would dig a bunker to hide in, in case there is another war. We would  dig for dinosaur bones, and find them. We made curry-powered mud pies, and layer them out alluringly, taking a covert position as we waited for the bad big boy down the road to stumble upon then and irresistibly eat one. 

Those are the things I did 34 years ago, and really, nothing has changed. 
Here I am with six creative people, different ages and types, but cohesive,  all engrossed in something we don't want to stop doing.

Vince the website Designer of competence and focus

And 34 years later, I still ensure I am always surrounded by flowers. 

Rebecca the wholistic health practitioner

Vince setting the tables

What I loved about the day is that I had an idea that I would help my guests write profiles, but I didn't know exactly how, or the timing. 

Everyone make their contribution, just like when we were children - someone would start the singing, someone would find he lost tools, someone else would go and fetch icypoles.  
Furniture re-arranging was always on the menu.  
Back then, if we wanted a nice house, we just thought one up. 
Thats kind of what I did here, but real - I'm now in my second autumn of house-sitting, and I am grateful.

Rebecca brought food for the vegetarians. 

Eimer the chiropractor brought her fiddle, and played it as a kind of mental sorbet, to refresh our minds after intense writing. 

Vince and Kerry-Anne re-arranged the tables on the verandah, making a kind of pretend restaurant. We resisted the urge to cover it with a blanket and eat underneath it though. 

 Laura brought her professional photographer husband to share, calling us out one by one for a shoot in the harbour-reflected light.  We all went home with beautiful photos, taken in no time, and put right onto our laptops. 

Not even photoshoped. Alex Larumbe, you are darn clever. 

Alex and Laura have a small, creative Aids Prevention charity. 

I think its not just me. The things that gave us joy as children are probably the things that will make us happiest now.

Whats life for?
Its for you! 

Thats the line to tell yourself when times are tough,
Being eight again, and finding mates to do it with will all help.

To do fun things in Sydney, join the Tim Ferriss Meetup group To do fun things all the time, register for my 2-day 'inside Permaculture' Design workshop, at the Permacutlure Sydney Institute, Sept 22 & 23, St Albans NSW