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...by Russ Grayson

An Eastern Suburbs council hires a local permaculture designer and commercial landscaper to set up a training garden for its home food gardening courses.

Sydney landscape architect, Steve Batley, has installed an organic training garden at Randwick Community Centre. Steve, who completed an urban permaculture design course in Sydney some years ago, operates his own landscape design and construction company, Sydney Organic Gardens (www.sydneyorganicgardens.com.au).

The garden is used by participants in Randwick City Council's Sustainable Gardening courses. The free courses consist of five Saturday meetings at which participants learn organic growing practices, site analysis, water conserving irrigation, garden design, soil improvement, plant characteristics, composting and mulching as well as pest and disease management. The most recent course attracted a total of 45 participants, some from outside the Randwick Council area.

The garden includes a keyhole bed sized to accommodate a large number of participants. Keyhole beds have been popularised by permaculture educators and the idea has spread beyond the permaculture milieu. Like the bed at the community centre, keyhole beds are sized so that gardeners can reach about half way across the garden from both sides, providing full access to crops and avoiding the need to trample the soil by stepping into the garden.

Native legumes an experiment

Elsewhere in the garden, indigenous legume shrubs are being trialled as interplants with herbs and vegetables to provide the plant macronutrient, nitrogen. These will later be coppiced and the foliage used for mulch.

Integrating native plants, including flowering species that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, forms part of the garden design to demonstrate integrated pest management. It also accommodates the wish of some course participants to learn about native plants, although Council offers workshops at its community nursery on this topic. The planting of perennial natives involved Council's Bushcare Officer, Tina Digby, who is responsible for bushland regeneration.

The garden adjoins a large area of native vegetation that is to be rehabilitated, so care was taken in plant selection to avoid species that could become bushland weeds. Sometimes, kestrel can be seen hovering over the bushland near the garden and Steve uncovered a blue tongue lizard - a beneficial species because of its appetite for snails -  when he moved a plank.

Making use of waste

Mulch for the garden consists of sweepings from the NSW Police stables in Redfern, a source also used by the nearby Randwick Community Organic Garden.
The sweepings are heaped and left to mature to start the decomposition process and to allow any veterinary chemicals to break down.

Course participants contribute their own kitchen and garden wastes to the compost making lesson.

Qualifications and experience provide reliable information

As a qualified landscape architect, Steve teaches the garden design topic. He also advises householders on the concept designs they draw up during the course, and leads the irrigation and water harvesting topic. Emma Daniel, a TAFE qualified landscape designer and horticulturist, and a spokeswoman for the Randwick Community Organic Garden, assists in teaching. Fiona Campbell, as Council's Sustainability Education Officer, organises the courses. The experience and qualifications of the trainers meets Council's need to provide reliable information that participants can safely act on.

The small training garden is a temporary installation. Eventually, it will be replaced by a larger one in a different location an the community centre.

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