Building a Perennial Garden

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About six weeks ago High School started their first module of classes: Six different classes, four hours a week, taken for a total of six weeks. One of the classes I am taking is with Ibu Jackie. It is titled Biopiracy. It is all about biodiversity, seed saving, and getting our hands dirty. The first week was perfectly timed with Vandana Shiva’s visit. During the next two weeks we spent two hours each week in the garden getting lessons with the local gardening staff. For the rest of the class, we embarked on a new project. Our class split into two groups: One propagating and planting fruit trees, and the other, creating a perennial herb and food garden in the old permaculture garden area. I am in the second group. Our goal is to have the start of our perennial garden ready to grow in two weeks time, and to have a blueprint of our “dream” finalization for the garden that we can pass on to future classes.

So why perennial? Why not just go forth with the old permaculture garden? The definition of permaculture is: “the development of an agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.” It seems quite straight forward; of course you would want your garden to be sustainable and self-sufficient. Through research I found that people’s perception of what permaculture actually is, is very vague. In a study, it was found that when students studying permaculture were asked whether permaculture was more about design, philosophy, social movement, a set of gardening practices, or a profession, there were over 71% of people agreeing with each category. Permaculture not as vague.

By definition, perennial means: “Lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time; enduring or continually recurring.” Perennial gardening is permaculture. But by definition, it is not as vague. The contrary option to planting perennial species wold be planting annual species. Annual plants are only harvestable once a year, making it much less sustainable. Perennial plants are beneficial for many reasons. Usually, perennials have very deep and extensive root systems which prevent erosion and capture and break down nitrogen stopping it from polluting the land around it. The roots also make it harder for weeds to grow meaning less need for herbicides. Perennial is sustainable. It is permaculture, it just not as hard to define.

The first week and a half mainly consisted of planning, prepping our garden space, and writing out a written proposal. As you can see, the space we were given, the old permaculture garden, was in dire straights:

The old permaculture garden/ what we had to work with

The old permaculture garden/ what we had to work with

During the first week we also created a design for what we wanted our finalized garden to look like. This was our inspiration:

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Our initial design for our garden was to have a Neem tree in the centre of of the space. We wanted spiraling beds in a circle around the tree that would be shaded by the Neem. We also wanted an herb garden in another smaller space we were given. We wanted to eventually have a passionfruit trellis on the pathway leading to the garden.

We also had to do a lot of research on what kinds of perennial food and herbs we wanted to grow. This proved much harder that expected since most vegetables are in fact, not perennial. Through a few classes of drafting and research we came up with this list (Thanks to Oren from Bumiku, we will have all the plants donated to us):

  • Neem- When Vandana Shiva came she spoke a lot about the Neem tree. Neem is a highly beneficial plant as it is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, it can be used as a natural mosquito repellant, it is a natural pesticide, and so much more. To grow, Neem requires a lot of sun and space, which we have.
  • Kale- Kale is high in vitamins and iron, is a great anti-inflammatory, and is just super yummy! Kale can tolerate sun, as well as partial shade.
  • Galangal- Galangal is local to Java. It is very similar to ginger, and is used wildly in Asian cuisines. Galangal is great for any stomach issues, it is anti-bacterial, and can even be used as a deodorant. To grow,  galangal requires shade and moisture, so we will plant it closer to the Neem tree.
  • Eggplant- Eggplant is not generally a perennial, but it can be grown as one if you prune it back every now and then. Apart from being delicious, eggplant leaves can be great for stomach issues when boiled down. The vegetable itself is a great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. To grow, eggplant loves hot weather.
  • Turmeric– Turmeric is incredibly beneficial to your health. It great for your stomach, it is an anti-inflammatory, it is great for your brain, the list goes on. Recently a study went out showing that turmeric is as effective as 14 drugs. To grow, turmeric loves the Bali tropical weather, as it is native to here.
  • Tomatoes- Tomatoes are normally grown as annuals but can be grown as perennials when pruned regularly. Apart from simply being a commonly eaten food, tomatoes are proven to prevent cancer, reduce the risk of heart disease, and help with constipation. To grow, tomatoes need a lot of sun.
  • Chile- We are being given our chili plants so we are unsure about the exact variety we will be planting. Chili is full of vitamins and minerals, and is used a lot in Asian cooking. To grow, chili enjoys tropical climate and needs to be watered regularly.
  • Markisa- Markisa is otherwise known as passion fruit. Markisa is full of vitamins and fiber, it is also known to cure coughs. Passion fruit requires half or full shade to thrive.
  • Basil- Basil is incredibly beneficial. It is an excellent anti-inflammatory, it contains nutrients essential to the health of you heart, and has anti-bacterial effects. Basil grows best in hot, dry conditions.
  • Aloe Vera- Aloe vera is great for skin care and treatments, it aids sunburns, and is an excellent digestive. Because Aloe Vera consists of 95% water, it thrives in a hot climate.
  • Mint- Mint is great for treating common colds, indigestion, and allergies. It is also great for your skin. Mint likes full sun and mulch.
  • Mango- Mango clears the skin, lowers cholesterol, and is a cancer preventative. We plan of having two mango trees. For the best fruit, mango requires full sun.

We also started turning the soil. The soil in the original space that was provided was almost rock hard. It was clear nothing could thrive on it. It was completely lacking of nutrients, and needed a lot of cleaning up. So, we had a team work on turning the soil and weeding the area until we had a nice flat working space.

The first week was a bit of a challenge. Our group was very big, and it was hard to find a job for everybody. We tried our best to group off into research, proposal, and labor teams, but not everyone was being used to their full potential. It was not until week two that the real progress and teamwork started to happen.

Working on the beds in the garden.

Working on the beds in the garden.

By the second weak there had been no major work done on the garden besides the basic prep. After an inspirational talk from Ibu Jackie about the importance of completing this project, we were ready to go. Lucky for us, one of the four hour Wednesday electives offered at Green School was gardening. The gardening team had already laid out a measured tape outline of where our beds were to be. All we had to do was start digging. We also scratched the herb garden idea as there was simply not enough time to complete it. There was already more than enough work for everyone. We automatically all gravitated to a certain bed and worked there with another person. It was hot, hard work, but the feeling of having something tangible completed was incredibly rewarding.

The next time we worked on the garden I went and collected worms to help fertilize the soil. I also carried up baskets of compost, and started a compost pile in the back of the garden. The rest of the class was spent laying more bricks for the beds. By the end of the day we had nearly completed two of the beds, and had made significant progress on the rest of the garden.

Our garden taking form

Our garden taking form

The next day, we finished two of the beds. The garden was really starting to take its shape, though some of the beds were uneven. We made a plan for the Wednesday elective group, and told them some things that would be great to accomplish such as: evening out and finishing the beds, and filling the beds with compost and worms. A lot of work still had to be done.

After we had finished some beds and the Wednesday team worked on it.

After we had finished some beds and the Wednesday team worked on it.

In the end, not all the beds were completed, but those that were, are prepped and ready for food to be planted. I think that, all in all, we worked as hard as we could, and for the most part we did stick to our initial time frame, though we had to swap planting days for extra garden labor days. It would have been great to have some food planted though. The second week was a true example of the power of motivated teamwork. I think that it also shows how energizing and inspiring it can be to get your hands dirty once in a while. Knowing that you are creating something living and beautiful makes all the sweat worth it. Gardening is elemental- you realize you are working with the source of all other living beings. It is also is so rewarding to know you are making something sustainable for the community around you. I believe our entire team felt that and was motivated by it. Working so openly and intensely also effected the community around us. We had many people come up to us and ask us about our project. I have had many conversations since I started this work, about permaculture vs perennial, and what that means. We now have a team of gardeners working rigorously every Wednesday. Hard, good work inspires people.

Two weeks to create a garden was a challenging goal to try to complete, and even though the garden is not nearly at its final stage, part of the goal was that we would have something to leave behind. All we need is a group of inspired individuals who are willing to work hard. For the future, we wish to have the passion fruit trellis set up, and the rest of the perennials planted (for which we have a blue print).

Our future blueprint

Our future blueprint

We also wish to set up a herb garden, and a few benches, to make the space somewhere where people can hang-out. Hopefully, Green School will soon have a new inviting space, with edible food, that will be self-sustainable.

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About Author

My name is Shanti Balam Belaustegui Pockell. I've got a mom from America and a dad from Argentina, but I was born in Mexico. I have been living in Bali, Indonesia and attending the Green School for about three years now, and this is my second year blogging.

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