Written and Photography by Rosemary Morrow
Sundry thoughts about the cutting edge, or the unrecognised edges of permaculture.

No. 1. Decolonising designs for Zone 1 kitchen gardens
Spending time with refugees in sub-standard crowded housing in camps woke me up to the idea that the classic design for Zone 1 – the kitchen garden – was not going to work here. The traditional Zone 1, with the lemon tree and circular path, was excellent for those who had land and resources but couldn’t be considered the ‘gold standard’ for kitchen gardens. Most of the world’s people did not have this possibility. Was permaculture too elite to apply globally?
We, permaculturists, had already accepted that people in high density housing would probably have their kitchen garden some distance way – say at Community gardens, or, on a roof top.
However the thought that they could pack in good quality food in windows, roofs, hang from barrier fences was not a thought in most permaculture minds.
So did that mean that permaculture had nothing to offer where large numbers of people did not have land and access to resources?
We at P4R – Permaculture for Refugees realised that Kitchen Gardens, Zone 1 in these places was an essential need and also possible but they wouldn’t look like the traditional Zone 1. We developed kitchen gardens that looked like the photo below where every and any space grows food whether on the ground, in a ditch of dirty water or on a roof.

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And Wall Gardens – Zone 1 – like the newly planted one which within a few weeks would be prolific with kitchen vegetables. And we established that permaculture design for Kitchen Gardens was possible in tiny spaces and vertical spaces.

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But that raised the question of First Nations ‘kitchen gardens’?
From South East Asia I knew that most kitchen foods grew and were harvested on trees in forests and weren’t planted as annuals in beds. This is necessary where monsoon floods, torrid temperatures and pests destroy the conventional plants and beds. I knew that the people of Tenganan went to the forrest when the fruits and vegetables were ready and harvested them in place in their microclimates and ecosystems.
However what about Australia, for example, and the First Nation’s agriculture? From my years in the Kimberleys and Alice Springs many years ago, and some reading, I realised that Kitchen Gardens are those created by ‘enrichment’ planting. Which means establishing plants where the
microclimates are most suitable. For example, along river beds which tribes and clans would visit in drought or perhaps ceremony, many seeds would be planted and later visited and harvested appropriately.
This required detailed knowledge of a plant in its ecosystem and increasing its number in place not modifying an ecosystem to suit a plant as it done with ‘colonial’ planting. The Australian attempts at bush tucker gardens tend to follow the colonial model.
However close observation of plants and place reveals what flourishes. With implementing this design, harvesting means visiting the ppropriate microclimate which may be slightly inconvenient but also an opportunity for a rich engagement with Nature.
When appraising the Planetary Health Initiative site in Katoomba; a place with many microclimates, there was discussion was about bush gardens design which tended to favour the ‘colonial’ placing vegetation together for easy harvesting and sometimes in ‘guilds’ but not logical and traditional enrichment planting in the appropriate microclimates.
This would establish best practice for other bush tucker’ gardens. Such a planting design is more likely to endure and survive, droughts, floods, and fires because plants are in their natural ‘guilds’ and also good for disaster planning. It would also be a valuable model for other First
Nations people in the region to restore their traditional practices.

By visiting and harvesting food where it grows best in microclimates, and the plants are mainly perennial, we again become food gathers in the sense of the past.  It’s likely to be very rewarding.

Your comments and responses are welcome.

For the Earth,
Rowe Morrow

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