Monday, May 14, 2012

Permacultulture, Japanese Culture, and Sustainability - Connected and Creative, in Cities

Look who's giving a most unusual presentation at the Japanese Embassy's Japan Foundation: Me.

Here is what Im doing. Come along, if you are in Sydney, Friday May 25th, 6.30.

Permaculture & Japanese Tea culture: 
Design for a connected and creative home life, in cities.

"Pick up a heavy thing as if it is light, and a light thing as if it is heavy" 
With colorful stories and images from her cross-cultural international homes, Cecilia shows these twin design systems in fresh, useful action: Japanese traditional culture and Aussie Permacutlure.   

Home life can be a work of art in progress, and the laboratory of working out how to craft a new, ‘Sustainable’ culture, one that is so attractive, everyone just copies. 

Tricks you will learn range from how to declutter, to how to let your mates know they are bugging you, lightly, so you can just enjoy each other.  Its all just a design challenge. 

Want to come, but you are too far away? Leave a comment with your good ideas. 

What Japanese traditions can we use to make our life gorgeous, low waste, and full of love?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Japanese Edible Balcony Garden, Balmain, Sydney

Linda and her Japanese Edible Balcony Garden

Linda makes things happen. 

She is a computer programmer who decided, just for fun, to turn an old Balmain House into a traditional Japanese Ryokan, or inn. 

When I first heard that it existed, I ran down the street to go and do some blissful gazing. A real Japanese inn, crafted with all the delicately chosen, natural elegance a Japanese inn is meant to have. 

Now how do you think I felt when I looked up from my favourite thing, the rarified world of Japan, to see on the second floor, my other favourite thing - a balcony garden. With the beginnings of a beautiful passionfruit vine, on impeccably-installed, almost invisible support strings. 

Doorway from the upstairs living room to the dappled balcony 

"I've  just found a new friend!', I thought, and put my business card in the post box with a note, waiting for good things to happen.

Inside, a covered passageway leads to the guests tatami-rooms

And we met. 


'I don't know much about container gardening' she said, when she heard balcony gardens were my thing.
Well, I had to inform her that her type of balcony was extremely lucky, the ideal, in fact.

A covered, north-facing balcony. 

Whats so good about that?

They are drenched with the low-angled sunshine in the winter months, but shaded from the withering rays of high summer sun, and largely sheltered from wind.
Constant wind, like constant nagging, is something in which you can survive, but cannot be your strong, productive self.
So it has just-right solar input,  minimum stress, and most importantly, it has You. 
The dappled, sheltered sunniness makes it a place you want to be, gazing, grazing and cherishing the creatures that surround you. 
Its human interaction that causes wild success up there.

She could grow almost anything.

Secret back garden. Shady & suitably planted in moss & fern


When I first met Linda she had just planted soft silvery grasses. They looked elegant, coped with drought, and screened the view of the road. 
Three functions is pretty good. 
Not great, but good. 
Grasses are what I  recommend for only the most bleak, windy balconies, where nothing else is possible. 

The next time I visited, a revolution had taken place.  
In just a few weeks, there was a second-story, completely edible Japanese farmyard.   Shiso,  mizuna, komatsu, edible chrysanthemum leaves, were all doing their thing, with lots more on the way.

Be careful what you say to Linda. She will turn your airy words into something 100% real and complete.

I introduced my go-getter friend Mrs Hirano, and and before I knew it, those two had a traditional Japanese sweet making workshop going. Full story to come.

Here are the three nerikiri white-bean sweets I made, posing in the dappled balcony light.

Japanese edible greens, with seeds from 4Seasons Seeds

'7-grass rice porridge' from 'la Fuji Mama' blog

Seeds and Recipies

4 Seasons Seeds is where Linda ordered her seeds, for tiny money. 
Seedy Asian grocer's can also be fantastic, for weirder, more wonderful strains of seed. Just get them to translate the instructions for you. 
All the organic gardeners of Australia tend to end up with the same thing, from the same 3 organic seed companies.  
Monoculture is definitely not what its about!

Komatsuna will be lovey in salad

The fragrant leaves and creamy stems of Shugiku, or 'Spring Chrysanthemum' are one of my favourite green vegetables ever. 
I love them cooked for one minute, like spinach, and dressed with sesame sauce.  Along with a bowl of brown rice, one umeboshi plum, and green tea, you have a 3 minute lunch. 

Shungiku and sesame sauce photo from JanCanCook blog

In winter, they go into the hotpot 'nabe',  cooked and served from the middle of the table, and seasoned with Yuzu, the amazing Japanese citrus.

I jumped out of my seat when I saw Linda had Japanese Beets (they are nothing like that bane of my childhood, turnips. Don't call them that). 

When I'm in Japan, I eat beets every single day. 
Just slice them raw, sprinkle salt and vinegar, and you just can't stop. 
Their flesh is sweet and melting, the most seductive vegetable I know. 
See my Tokyo urban beet story, its a lovely one. 

Cloak and Dagger - Managing Pests

The reason everyone doesn't have edible gardens is that every creature alive wants to eat them. Disappointment and resignation hit about 2 weeks after the bugs do, for most people.

How would I manage aphids?
1. Wait for ladybugs and lacewing to turn up,  attracted to the party of sweet alyssum flowers I planted for them. They should then eat the aphids.   
But in all the years, these predator-bugs never showed to my carefully-planned aphid-eating party.

2. Plant things that aphids like in small pots. Pick the whole pot up and run the plant under the tap. The aphids go down the drain.
If you wash them off onto the soil, you can then watch them climb right back up again. 

3. Wipe the plant with a tissue dipped in my cup of tea dregs. Yes, squash them.  
Don't worry, eating is never an innocent activity.

Japanese Garden dreaming.
Thank-you Linda, for being such an inspiration.
I've ordered my seeds, and the beet seeds you gave me have sprouted already, on the roof-garden here in Edgecliff.

I will tell the story of the Balmain Ryokan Gojyuan, next post. 
Be amazed.