Eleanor Young has created a lush food forest using permaculture principles. Her love of permaculture has led her to run an ecourse based on these principles called Earth Mamas – Permaculture for Passionate Women. Thanks Eleanor for sharing your story with us!
First of all how would you describe your garden? (What do you grow? What is your climate like? )
My garden and my home (we live off the grid) follows the principles of Permaculture so I would describe it as a bit of a edible jungle at times. It doesn’t tend to be uniform or grow in rows but rather consists of lovely guild plantings or stacking in order to emulate nature. It’s a food forest! I live in Sub-tropical South Eastern Queensland am very lucky that I can grow a variety of different things year round depending on the heat, rainfall and humidity. In line with Permaculture Design, I rely heavily of perennial plants rather than annuals, though of course I grow those too. Most plants will have more than one use e.g. (comfrey as a compost activator, understory in a guild, chook fodder, medicinal herb). At the moment we are moving into Summer here so I’m growing silver beet, Brazilian spinach, sweet potato, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes of all varieties, zucchini, beans, turmeric, ginger, kale, tamarillo, papaya, arrowroot, pigeon pea, figs, peaches, mulberry, herbs like yarrow, basil, plantain, lemon balm, wormwood, chamomile…the list goes on…
How did you get started in gardening?
I got into garden as a youngster. I had hippie parents that lived a fairly self-sufficient lifestyle so my Dad was always working in the garden and growing vegies. It was just the normal way of life to me and we knew where our food came from. I still remember my Dad going on about the beauty of a “good pumpkin”. and the importance of growing organically..My childhood garden was utterly magical and a lot of the treats never made it into the house. Snow peas were always pinched and eaten behind the frame and we loved seeing the first asparagus spears emerge from their feathery frond nest in Spring. My grandfathers were also keen gardeners so I spent quite a bit of time with them as a child and teenager, talking about the fastest way to make a good hot compost or graft trees. I don’t think I could ever not garden, to tell you the truth! It keeps me sane, grounded and connected to the earth.
What motivates you to get up and garden?
I don’t usually need much motivation as it’s an every day thing but generally applying one of the most fundamental Permaculture principles- “Observe & Interact”- will do it for me. I like to spend a little bit of time each morning checking out what’s flowering, being attacked or in need of picking. Then that usually leads to doing some harvesting or other little jobs such as seed raising or mulching. Reading gardening magazines and books is great for theoretical ideas and concepts. I also love to teach Permaculture, especially with mothers and children, as it’s such a wonderful foundation for growing food and nourishing ourselves, so the community motivates and inspires me to no end too.
What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your garden? How did you deal with them?
Argh. Learning to really work with nature and really honour the interconnectedness of us all has been a big learning curve. Particularly with animals or insects often known as “pests”. Once again, it’s about emulating nature so I would never use harmful pesticides or anything like that. My motto is to just keep planting and if you have an abundance it’s easier to share with the king parrots, caterpillars and chicken break-ins. I’ve learnt to really work with the nature of animals like poultry and use them for good rather than evil! The problem is the solution if you think creatively enough.
What were some of the unexpected benefits from gardening?
Definitely the peace and grounding effects of getting one’s hands in the dirt. It’s been an unexpected therapy modality for me and something I definitely craved when I lived in the city. Also, the wonderful conversations, learning and community built from interacting with other gardeners!
Is there a gardening moment that stands out for you?
There are too many but in general I love seeing my children harvest food and eat it with great gusto. I love that they delight in seeing a kingfisher perch on the scarecrow or exclaim with excitement over the first ripe strawberries. Those moments of sharing this wisdom with the kids has been truly beautiful. Watching my partner get bitten by the gardening bug has been really great too as now there is yet another person to help out, share the mistakes and joys with. Giving away or bartering produce has been really nice too.
What has your garden taught you?
Just about everything can be taught through Permaculture so my garden has taught me many, many things especially the humbling lesson of not being in control of things and that that is totally ok. It has taught me to relax and get to the heart of slow living, to really notice the small things that are often the most profound or beautiful. I just love it.
If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
Oh without doubt a beetroot. Earthy, robust and slightly sweet.
What tips would you offer first time gardeners?
Get into Permaculture! It’s a brilliant system for sustainable living, food production and ethical living and you’ll never go back to intensive production or monoculture again!
If you are interested in finding out more about Eleanor’s Permaculture ecourse, check out it out at Wise Roots.