Burwood – 10 years later
Driving along Sheh-Mae’s street,it was obvious which house was hers. Along an older, tree-lined and well maintained urban street the fruit trees in the front yard stood out: a permablitz family lives here! Sheh-Mae started out by showing me photos of her place pre-blitz. The blitz was one of the early ones – ten years ago – and was not documented on-line, so we are including some of the blitz photos in this re-visit.
Starting in the front yard, we explored and she explained how plants that were not successful in one area were often thriving in another position. Before the blitz, privets shaded the back yard; a few sparse trees, low shrubs and a bird of paradise at the front completed the scene.
Sheh-Mae loves to try new things. She has an amazing variety of common and uncommon edible things (and a few non-edibles) and has clearly enjoyed her permaculture journey. She teaches piano and creates art and edibles from home, so needs to be able to enjoy her personal environment more than many of us.
An almond tree, netted against marauding birds (last year they got them all) decorates the front corner of the property, sheltering the Macadamia and Asparagus . Smaller plants (a fruit laden strawberry guava, ruby red grapefruit), a small but fruitful olive tree, and a bird-of-paradise that refused to be uprooted guide you to the front path. Clumping bamboo near the front not only shades other plants and a west facing window but also provides stakes for netting and support . Midyim berries peek out from the small pomegranate tree. Blackberries at the corner are pretty much finished for the season but the vines are healthy, a leafy peach tree is next to Golden Delicious and Fuji apples, wrapped in WGAC paper against the wild life, and male and female kiwi fruit vines shelter the carport.
Even the space along the south side of the house is useful. The remains of banana plants, lying prone on the ground are home to pumpkin and squash vines. The rain water tank is tucked away here also, along with 3 different salvias: pineapple, grapefruit, and a blue salvia that attracts our native blue-banded bees.
Then comes the big surprise. I knew Sheh-Mae grew bananas, but…a lush tropical forest of bananas towered over the back corner, providing plenty of bananas. The Lady Finger bananas have already produced at least eight spikes in the past 5 months, although the dwarf Cavendish bananas have only produced one viable bunch to date.
Most people don’t realise that bananas are actually a herb! As Sheh-Mae has shown, it is certainly possible to grow these in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs – see this Sustainable Gardens Australia article for tips on how.
The original plan with Tadhgh, Seila and Heather was ambitious enough to warrant a few volunteers returning the next day to finish off, even though Sheh-Mae had made a start on the work, with her young son even pitching in. She had installed solar panels, a rainwater tank and done a few plantings. The plan called for redeveloping the Koi pond into a grey-water reservoir, reusing the river stones from the pond to help filter the water. This endeavour was not so successful, so it is now a mulch pit with compost, grey water and a spreading water plant.
The blitzers dug out all the dreadful couch grass, developed the base for a shed and built a geodesic chook dome, to move the chooks around the circular vegetable beds. Sheh-Mae no longer has the chickens, the chook dome, or the circular beds, but now has a small apiary.
The original black worm farm died off several times over, so Sheh-Mae made her own from Styrofoam boxes with lids, using egg cartons for further insulation. The worms are fed mostly coffee grounds and seem to be happily producing.
Her food forest is incorporated throughout the yard rather than being a separate area for fruit trees. Note that the blitzer lying on the ground in the photo is not slacking off – he is demonstrating how to measure where trees will go!
The bananas are not the only exotic edibles in the back yard; there is also Perilla, Malabar spinach, Chilean pepino, Peruvian chilli, purple fleshed sweet potato, taro, galangal, turmeric, cardamom, peppermint, babaco, yakon, arrowroot, sugar cane, lemongrass, coffee (grown in the shade of the lemon grass), and two different varieties of eating grape. That’s not to say there’s are more common plants in her garden; she also grows garlic chives, sage, onion, oregano, basil, lemon thyme, mints and self seeding parsley. A tall lemon verbena shrub provides shade to potted curry leaf plants, white strawberries, and the worm farm. There are also three varieties of blueberries sheltered under an apricot tree, with the blueberries ripening at different times giving a longer fruiting season. The remaining circular bed is home to a resting persimmon tree, while the fruiting lime is happily basking in the north facing aspect of the back fence. A young mango and black mulberry were the most recent additions to the back garden.
Sheh-Mae is paragon of blitzing. She has a yard full of edible, medicinal and interesting plants, has explored and found out so much about how to grow and nurture them, how to use native plants, and how to attract beneficial insects. She shares this knowledge, as well as her produce, with her fellow volunteers at Whitehorse Urban Harvest, a journey that continues to be a big part of her life, even ten years after the blitz.
To see more pics from Permablitz #84 in 2009 and Helen’s visit in March 2019, click here!