Guild Session – Fairfield Revisited – two years later
Walking past the home of Jim, Sandra, Bao Hiep, Mark and Matthew, you could be mistaken for thinking the house must be older than it looks, with such beautiful established gardens visible from the street. However only two years ago this was all bare soil, having just completed construction of their new energy efficient home.
On Sunday 27th of October 2019 a group of 15 designers and keen learners visited to advance their knowledge and experience the results of two years of growth since Permablitz #202. We started the event with a tour, with Jim and Bao Hiep explaining the different areas.
The front (west facing) was designed as a food forest and a tropical plant zone, with dragonfruit, guava, a thriving elderflower, chilli, lemon grass and lots of daisies. In the food forest the lavender and broad beans were growing great, but the citrus trees are not yet thriving. Planting more pioneering or nitrogen-fixing plants could act to break up the compacted clay that is not far below the surface and help build soil fertility.
On the nature strip there is no lawn to be found, instead it is planted with a variety of native ground covers. Interestingly, the pavers that had been put in during the blitz were not accepted by council, so these were replaced with more plants!
Moving to the northern side of the house we saw two re-purposed bathtubs working well as a pond and wicking bed. The pond is a beautiful feature with water celery and water parsley both growing well and being used by the family. Currently it has goldfish to prevent mosquitos from breeding, however there may be an imbalance in the ratio of fish to plants as algal growth builds up quite quickly. A suggestion to reduce the algae growing was to add a bucket of water collected from a healthy wetland ecosystem to introduce beneficial organisms.
One of the key design features of the house is the living room, which combines large double glazed windows on the North with a high thermal mass concrete floor to passively heat the house in winter. In the spring, we saw that the fruit trees are beginning to produce a solid green wall to shade the northern windows and prevent excessive heat gain in summer, as well as providing tasty fruit.
Out the back there are a number of elements, mostly constructed using recycled materials from the old house. Raised vegetable beds built with bricks and old bunk beds as trellises were growing a great selection of annual produce when we visited. The bed closest to the back fence had struggled after its first season, likely due to moisture competition and allopathy from the nearby gum tree in the neighbour’s property. The backyard also had a greenhouse for starting seedlings for planting in the garden or sharing at the local food swap.
The designing doesn’t stop after blitz day, with Jim explaining his plans to plant more natives to provide natural habitats, re-arranging the vegie beds to be longer and east-west orientated, upgrading the irrigation system and adding more rainwater collection.
After the tour we enjoyed homemade elderflower cordial and discussed what can be learnt for future Permablitz designs, with some notable learnings being:
- It takes time to prepare a design, when you consider meeting with the hosts and inspecting the site. The designers at the tour suggested that 3 to 6 months is typical. Changes during the design process can also impact your timeline. This project had a number of changes during the design as the house was being built at the same time (Eg. the driveway moved halfway through the design process)
- Consider the workflow for blitz days. Make sure you know how people can work safely with so much going on. The Fairfield blitz was complicated by the fact that there was only one path to the backyard.
- Consider what can be done by unskilled volunteers and which tasks need a qualified person.
- The outcome is never exactly what is on the plan. Things are always being tweaked on the day and over time. However, aim to have your slow growers and permanent structures in the right spot the first time.
A big thanks to Jim and his family for opening up their home and to everyone that came along and made this such a great afternoon.