Edible gardening is always great, even when renting
by Denise Gouvea
(Yamba, NSW, Australia)
Side fence garden
About a year and a half ago my partner and I moved to this little coastal town in Australia called Yamba. We found this great 3 bedroom house in a suburb by the lake that was pet friendly, powered by a solar system and already had a chook coop and a small vegie patch – the perfect place for us, our cats, dog and ducks to rent. The downside was quite a bit of lawn both on the front and back yards to mow and lots of tall trees on the surrounding properties that restrict a lot the amount of sunshine the house and gardens get.
We soon realised the vegie patch was too small, didn’t have a functional shape and the gate allowed the ducks to get in and eat most of our leafy greens – yes, we thought we were being really smart by getting ducks instead of chooks because they wouldn’t scratch and damage the garden beds, but soon we learned that our beautiful ladies love eating the leaves of our vegies and trample over the ones they don’t eat! Cheeky, cheeky ducks. So we decided a refurbishment was required. The result was awesome, we got excited and ended up creating more garden beds outside the vegie garden and protected them with wire mesh.
We always wanted to add edible plants to the front yard that currently has traditional landscape (ok, to be honest we wanted to transform the whole garden into edible landscape, but we are renting, so we have to be more subtle than that…) but always ended up discouraged by the compacted sandy soils and the abundance of shade. Through last year I started introducing some edible plants here and there, mostly herbs, to see if they would survive. I always added a good amount of compost and mulch where I was planting and was amazed to see how quickly the sandy soil “eats” the compost and after only a few weeks the compost is gone. Nothing was doing very well, except for the sweet potato which was taking over everything – is there anything easier to grow than sweet potato?
We decided to change strategy and build a new garden bed along the side fence where our neighbour already had some edibles growing as it’s the spot that gets a bit more sun than the rest, so we could build the soil from scratch. We also wanted to grow some edible vines to screen her house from our front porch. We decided to work mostly with perennial edible, teas and medicinal plants and make it look nice in a landscape mode so the landlords would be pleased with our improvement.
That’s the garden in the first photo: Passionfruit, blackberry, dragon fruit, rosemary, five spices, sacred basil, calendula, red sorrel, coriander, thyme, variegated mugwort, daylilies, pineapple sage, thai basil, aloe vera, herb Robert, curry plant, fruit sage, variegated mother of herbs, climbing spinach, sweet marjoram, oregano, rocket, patchouli. You can also see my partner’s experiment for a vertical garden system at an early stage – the metal mesh box – with strawberries, calendulas, lemon thyme, mint and oregano.
On the second photo you can see a very small garden bed in the centre under the window where we have: dragon fruit, five spices, brahmi, geranium, spring onion, thyme, herb Robert, rose, rainbow chard, a different type of aloe vera, strawberry, parsley, red sorrel, chilli and white yarrow. On the right on the corner of the existing garden: sweet basil, parsley, Lebanese cress, mushroom plant, lovage, ginger, cardamom leaf, yellow dragon fruit, nasturtium and aloe vera. Because we rent and can’t prune the trees or build gardens all over the lawn we end up with lots and lots of pots! The pots under the window have dwarf lemon tree, dwarf mandarin and dwarf navel orange, then the small pots have lettuce, lemon grass, pineapple sage, New Zealand spinach and indian fig. On the front row of pots: lemon scented tree, cuttings of grapes, horse radish, rosemary, daylilies, Natal plum, rosella, stinging nettle, pine plum. In the pots behind: Olive tree, tropical peach, panama berry, perennial leek, red currant, jade and peanuts. Most of the pots have clover planted as living mulch. It fixes nitrogen, reduces evaporation and is edible. In the photo you can also see the remaining of our compost pile that will be used on the back yard.
The third photo shows the existing garden at the very front of the property where the soil is very compacted and sandy. As you can see the sweet potato has no problems with that. Also we planted a macadamia tree, a jaboticaba (that isn’t doing very well, we are going to transplant it soon), a few pineapples, perennial basil, dragon fruit, indian fig and a pot with a bunya nut tree. The photo doesn’t show but to the right of the palm there is a big lavender plant that is doing great and a bell pepper that isn’t. We had yacon there as well, but it didn’t produce well as it was too shady.
The last photo shows another garden bed we built on the other side along the other neighbour’s garden. That spot is very shady but gets more sun during winter due to the low angle, so we decided to experiment anyway. We planted 2 citrus trees and many blueberries with ginger at the back. There is also turmeric but the leaves died back because of the cold. Again we used the clover as living mulch. The white pipe is a worm tower where we put food scraps to feed the garden. The clover is doing great, but everything else is growing very, very slowly, so we will transplant before spring and try something more shade tolerant there.
We love eating the fresh organic and nutritious produce from our gardens. Combining the perennial plants from the front yard and the annuals from the back yard we harvest a great range of produce that make our recipes much more delicious. We are not the only ones to grow edibles in our front yards here where we live, so neighbours see it as just natural that we grow food here. Our family doesn’t live around here but our friends love it. Every time one of them comes for a visit they ask for my creative combinations of herbal teas from the garden and I’m always presenting them with some yummy things that they never tried before like yacon, tamarillo or indian fig fruit!
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