Letters from Melbourne – Cam and Jesse’s Urban Retreat
An urban hideaway managed by Cam, Jesse and Yarrow Wilson
(Yarrow was taking a break for this shot)
All photographs © Craig Mackintosh
On my recent trip to the Bill Mollison/Geoff Lawton course in Melbourne, that I forced myself to miss so I could go on site visits in the area, Cam Wilson kindly offered to be my guide – giving me very knowledgeable insights into the places we visited. As well as the Dalpura Farm site we just posted about and giving me the heads up on Angelo the Wizard, covered in this post, Cam took me to see the very cool stuff he’s doing on an urban block currently under his expert control in the ‘burbs of Melbourne.
Cam’s garden is rich in biodiversity, yet purposeful placement and organisation
makes for a very aesthetic retreat – one you truly feel a lure to spend time in
Cam has that kind of a quiet, understated personality that inspires confidence. He said his garden "should be worth a look". Being a Permaculture instructor – running regular PDCs – and being one of the main guys helping get the Permablitz movement off the ground, I was keen to do exactly that.
Cam uses a broadfork to aerate the orchard soil, stimulating microbial life and
soil building, whilst chickens get busy maintaining the section through their
irrepressible behaviours and their manure
The section is rather generous – three quarters of an acre all up, leaving a full quarter acre to garden once you subtract the house and garage. Cam and Jesse take care of the place for Kim and Clive, who are currently doing international Permaculture project aid work in Africa. Rather than leave their home to grow musty and the yard to turn rapidly into a candidate for a small scale carbon offset venture, Kim and Clive thoughtfully placed their own hard working pioneer species in their garden – namely, Cam Wilson!
Distractions of colour and fragrance, as well as beneficial host plants with
multiple purposes, all make it very difficult for ‘pests’ to become an issue.
Healthy soil, means healthy plants, which also repels pest attack.
And, what would you do once when you’ve successfully roped an expert Permaculturist into house sitting at your place? Well, you give him a budget, a big thumbs up, and tell him to let his creative knowhow loose on the place in whatever way he wishes, of course!
And so he has.
The original mainframe design of the section was done by Dan Palmer and Cam Wilson (placing the swaled orchard, chook system and raised kitchen bed), before Cam was invited to move in and take it further. Cam has since designed and implemented the terraces, the food forest, a very cool and functional water feature, and more.
Next-in-line plants wait their turn….
Everything about Cam’s work is ordered. Raised beds are on contour to ensure passive water filtration, and, with the whole yard sloping, plants like yarrow (achillea millefolium) are planted on the downward side to act as dynamic bio accumulators – collecting and storing the downward flow of nutrients, where they can later be pulled and returned to the beds as mulch.
Yarrow, bottom, mops up nutrients that leach through the garden
Grapes are being planted to run along wires above paths, where they’ll cut light intensity in the hot summer months, before dropping their leaves as mulch in autumn, and thus allowing full winter sunshine through during the colder months.
Cam checks the temperature of his compost pile
Nasturtium flowers add colour and
a peppery tang to salads
I visited in mid-winter – but would love to take a lengthy wander, preferably at lunch time, through the orchard in summer and autumn months, when your average fruit preserver would be getting frantic with vacuum sealed jars. You’ve got persimmons, plum, apricot, pomegranate, olive, peach, nectarine, pear, apple, fig, orange, lemon, grapefruit, mandarin, hazelnut and mulberry. Interplanted support species – for nitrogen fixing and/or biomass – include tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis), Acacia floribunda, subterranean clover, white clover, vetch, broad beans, oats and wheat during winter, along with nasturtium and comfrey for chop and drop.
Yarrow swings through the larder
Comfrey works well here, with its deep root system bringing nutrients up to the surface from depths that regular grass never could. Nasturtium is used in many places, also acting as a nutrient accumulator and a great ground cover – protecting against erosion, improving soil structure and providing beneficial insect habitat. (Hoverflies love ’em.) Excess growth is simply broken off and put around fruit trees, or eaten!
Chunky wood chips make for guilt-free, comfortable walking along paths – holding moisture, absorbing pressure to reduce compaction, and ultimately converting into rich, dark humus.
Even the laundry gets a great view
The latest addition is what will ultimately become a gorgeous and still practical centrepiece for the yard – a pond fed by a cascading series of infiltration basins that slow-soak water through to a number of newly planted trees.
Those of you interested to combine urban water harvesting and food forest establishment with yard landscaping will find Cam’s detailed article on how and why he built this invaluable.
Despite the garden still being in full establishment mode – i.e. quite new, being only two growing seasons in since initial designs – it was producing a good amount of food already, and my visit six weeks ago was right at the trailing end of winter. Cam and Jesse have been at the site only since January, and Cam has put in an average of one day per week into the garden. For what you’re getting in return, base costs look modest:
- Huge worm farm – $250
- 4 main terraces – $2000 (should last at least 50 years)
- Greenhouse – $700
- Food forest plants – $400 (mainly fruit trees and shrubs and some of the herbs). Cam grew most of the under-storey himself from seeds, cuttings and divisions.
Cam’s already taunting me by email with descriptions of how it looks now that spring is in full swing. I can’t wait to check it out again. In the meantime, I asked Cam to give us all a few tips from his storehouse of knowledge – be sure to check them out below.
Worth a look it was Cam!
Cam’s Top Five Not-so-Common-Tips for Edible Gardening
The basics are covered in a thousand books, so here are a few tips you don’t come across quite so often.
Feel free to check in anytime to read about some of the stuff I’m up to.