Make the grey go!

| May 19, 2014

Urban design is increasingly incorporating gardens into their planning. Loani Tierney invites us to look around and take the initiative to transform our bit of the world into a green space.

I was born in Papua New Guinea and walked bare foot on the earth for the first five years of my life so I guess I was always guaranteed to have an affinity with nature. Gardens though were in a different category, too tamed and controlled by man for me to really enjoy. I did however have a sneaking admiration for people like my maternal grandmother who could stick anything in the ground and make it grow or those like my paternal grandfather who in the midst of fighting in a second world war managed to grow a garden around his tent.

It would appear that despite my overall lack of passion for gardens my inherited genetics were destined to eventually take hold. In 2011, I found myself in a position where I had to teach others about composting, worm farming and no-dig gardening, and so I was fast tracked into teaching myself how this all works in my own backyard as I did not want to be preaching and not practicing.

I now have the ‘bug’. I love making soil from commonly discarded materials such as twigs, grass clippings, coffee grounds and waste paper. Layering them carefully, adding manures and worm tea and planting leafy vegetables that grow and can be picked fresh to go with our lunch each day. Have you ever tasted a lettuce freshly picked, and observed how crunchy and full of flavour it is?

I have a scientific background. So often in science, whatever you are investigating, it is taken out of context and isolated so as to reach a greater understanding of the object of your study. Certainly this process is important, but in the garden or natural world it works so much better if you can incorporate working with the natural environment and accept that there is a degree of unpredictability. Learn to listen and observe the natural rhythms of your green space and respond accordingly.

Should your beans not grow beautifully in your backyard but tomatoes do then go with that and swap your tomatoes with someone whose area provides them with an abundance of beans. If the blue tongue lizard in your backyard not only eats all those pesky snails but also fills him/herself with your prize winning strawberries then think of it as Fair Trade and grow some extra strawberries on a vertical wall garden so you can have some too.

If you are in a more built up area think of your roof space, balcony or a community garden and remember to encourage wildlife and microbes to you green space. Do a bit of research, experiment, think outside the box. Welcome different animal species and remember that even the ones you cannot see with the naked eye are highly important to the nutrient levels within your soil. Diversity is key to all areas of your garden from soil to plant to animal.

Urban design is increasingly leaning towards incorporating green spaces for all sorts of reasons including food security, air purification and of course the wellness factor that has been the basis of my story thus far. However, you do not have to wait for urban design to catch up to your part of the world. In fact, I urge you to think about the spaces around you and if they are looking a little grey, transform your bit of the world and make the grey go.