“Permaculture is genuinely a revolution disguised as gardening.”

PA member and permaculture educator Michael Wardle’s take on weeds, water management and the importance of the choices we make in practicing permaculture.

PA member and permaculture educator Michael Wardle lives and works around Brisbane and the Lockyer Valley. He owns and runs Savour Soil Permaculture (a PA partner), which provides land design consultations and Permaculture Design Courses. He works on his own site in the Lockyer Valley as well as a few others in his local area. He is also the adult education coordinator at the Northey Street City Farm in central Brisbane. Check out his website here (as well as an active blog here!)

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When and where were you bitten by the permaculture bug?

I cannot say for sure when I was bitten by the permaculture bug. I first encountered the idea shortly after high school. I found a copy of Permaculture One and the Introduction to Permaculture tucked away in the back of my local library. The views and concepts really made sense to me, as was their foundation in ethics. It was not until I was a full-time stay at home dad did I start to experiment with the ideas and concepts seriously, but it was around that time I could see substantial benefits that it could provide to our land, our lives and our community.

What are you working on currently at your Lockyer Valley site? What’s in store for 2020?

I am currently working on a few sites in and around my community. There is an 8-hectare site on council land I have been tinkering with for years, and continue to do so. More a regeneration project than a permaculture design per se, as our community is surrounded by food-producing systems, so this site is about habitat for local insect and birdlife (zone 5).

For my own home, currently, it is about rebuilding as the climate and weather patterns have definitely been on the extreme here over the last few years. Rains, drought, fire and flood. With forest gardens, holistic orchards, potager gardens, chickens, ducks all while supporting habitat keeps things occupied.😊 While initially designed to function on half the average rainfall, dropping to almost a quarter was not expected and needed to do some redesigning. It has been a good lesson in water management. Watching things change from most would consider subtropical to temperate to arid and then back again has definitely highlighted how brittle our environment really is.

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How does your rural site in the Lockyer Valley, outside Brisbane, differ to the densely urban setting of Northey Street City Farm? What are the challenges in each? Do you find one more challenging than the other?

Each is unique and diverse, and I have found it both exciting and challenging. Two completely different bioregions, different soils, varying rainfall and varied climate. One of the biggest challenges I have found, though, is temperature. The difference on some days can be as much as 13 degrees on the same day (Summer and in Winter) so completely different strategies and design techniques are needed.

From your blog, you seem to have a big interest in weeds! How do they fit into your garden?

Not so much interest in weeds, but an investment in succession and more specifically the dynamic equilibrium. Weeds are the healers of the land and the initial stage of succession after a disturbance, then understanding their language gives us a window into what is going on, not just above the soil, but below. And from that we can help guide succession, building to a crescendo like a conductor with an orchestra.

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What is your PDC teaching philosophy? How do you differ from other providers?

To begin, I do not see it as a philosophy. I see it as a tool that we can use and that with time, that tool will get sharper. The idea, the vision regardless of where I teach is to ‘Make it Real’. I try as much as I can to bring it into a real-world context so that it is something people can use and apply in their own life and meaning. Not just teaching from a textbook, but also the application from my own home and the consulting work I have done both locally and further abroad.

Brisbane has been hit hard by floods and extreme weather in recent years. How have you managed to bounce back?

Many places have been affected by extreme weather in the last few years. Not only Brisbane but my own home area too. From what I have seen both at home and in Brisbane what has brought it back quickly has been community. It is a fantastic experience to see how communities come together after a disaster, regardless of the type and see people start to rebuild and push forward to a hopeful future.

What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t believe they have the time, space or funding to incorporate permaculture into their daily life?.

I guess it really depends on how you define ‘permaculture’. For me, the best description of permaculture I have seen is “a design process to meet human needs while enhancing ecosystem health”, with the active verb is ‘design’. We are always designing, making choices. So asking yourself the simple questions when presented with an idea, decision or action – Does this care for the earth? Does this care for people? And does this care for the future? If yes, awesome.. If no, then what can you change to make it a yes and then push forward. Permaculture is genuinely a revolution disguised as gardening.

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