My wonderful friend and fellow gardening-from-scratch-in-horribly-rocky-ground warrior, Linda, recently gave me a heads up about an open garden over on her side of our little mountainous region. She said that it sounded like a garden much like the incredibly productive one that she is creating, so of course I was on board to go for a stickybeak.
The owners of Roogulli describe their property as a "small farm and big experiment". They are landscape designers by trade and are using their property to test some of their ideas about sustainably sound landscape design practices. When they bought the property back in 2004, it was pretty much heavily grazed paddocks with a couple of trees dotted around. So truly, they started with a blank slate (albeit one with soil, which neither Linda nor I are able to claim) and have built a productive and beautiful garden in roughly a decade. Even though the garden at Roogulli is vastly different from the one that we are building here, I can't tell you how reassuring it is to know that they have achieved all of this in just 10 years or so. It gives us hope that we are not fighting a losing battle!
The kitchen garden is fully netted, which is a brilliant idea but difficult to execute... Certainly a goal for The Coopermarket, but a distant one. Within its confines, there is a small polytunnel greenhouse with wicking beds, as well as open air beds of fruit and veg. The fence visible from the driveway has been cleverly used to espalier apple trees - the perfect use of space and a lovely way to make the whole space look less utilitarian and "caged".
Beyond the confines of the kitchen garden, the owners have created what they call a "food forest". The trees within the forest are all fruiting (not an ornamental to be found!), and mostly underplanted with edibles or green mulches. The owners have planted a native hedge around the outside, designed to channel cold air away from the fruit trees, which has really made us think about doing a similar thing here... the cold winds in winter and the hot drying winds in summer are a huge issue on our mountainside, and unless we design well to manage them we will always be fighting a losing battle. Excellent take-home from this open garden!
Also within the food forest, a second smaller polytunnel contains old bathtubs being used as wicking beds for herbs and citrus. We have always had so much trouble growing both herbs (I know - seems like it should be the easiest thing to grow right?!?! I mean, I use to grow them on a tiny balcony in the inner city for goodness sakes!) and citrus. We are planning to put in a greenhouse this winter and whilst I do hope to use it to get a small earlier crop of tomatoes, I think it's primary function will be herb and citrus growing... must investigate further because greenhouses are fraught with rapid-solarised-plant-death problems if not managed well in the Aussie summers.
For me, one of the most interesting things about Roogulli was actually something extremely insignificant in the scheme of this beautiful garden - the presence of fumaria! A lot of it, clearly allowed to run its rampant ways and not torn out to look presentable for an open garden!! Fumaria is basically the reason that I started this blog, so obviously I had to ask the owner about it. Although he seemed utterly perplexed that my only question about the whole garden related to a weed-or-not-a-weed, he answered very thoughtfully: yes, he does let it do its own thing, so long as it doesn't take over productive plants; and yes, he is pleased to have it (pollinator attracting, as evidenced from the happy bee below, and an effective nitrogen fixer for the soil apparently). He noted that it dies back completely in the winter and, whilst it does run rampant, so far it hasn't bothered him enough to take measures to control it beyond pulling it back every once in a while. I feel so much better about my decision not to try to eradicate it after seeing it at Roogulli.
I was intrigued by the landscaping around the house too - the only "unproductive" parts of the garden (in that they aren't edibles). Plantings in these gardens are based around native grassland plants, although it is worth noting that the owners are slowly replacing the grasses with small shrubs and groundcovers because the maintenance of the grasses is too intensive. I've never been a huge fan of grasses in gardens - they do provide really interesting shapes and structural focal points, but they can so quickly look unruly. I find it interesting that the owners are slowly phasing them out here...
I'm always curious about groudcover choices (due to an aversion to mulches and a desire to rid our garden of all dry mulches within the next few years), so I was taking note of the various ones in use here - particularly the beautiful gravilleas which were covered in bees.
Roogulli was such an interesting garden to visit - "small farm and big experiment" really seems an apt description. Although it's quite different to our ornamental/cottage-y garden (with edibles as a secondary component), this garden is how I imagine Linda's garden to be one day - full and beautiful and productive, with not an inch of space wasted. It'll be fun to watch it slowly come to fruition over the next decade or two!