At that time I was living in a second-floor flat, in Thornbury, in the heart of Melbourne's Greek community. Their bountiful gardens were a daily reminder of the potential productivity of the land we occupy for food crops, as much as beauty. Grape vines climbed over carports and ballustrades, giving a lush feel to the suburban streetscapes, the citrus trees were as glorious as any ornamentals I have ever seen and as for olives, I fell in love with their soft grey leaves that glittered in the sun and moved irresistably in the wind, as well as offering an annual crop to process and consume.
By the time I purchased my first house in Pascoe Vale, I was a convert to the combination of edible and ornamental plants in my own front garden, which was pretty much a blank canvas when I purchased it. The front garden consisted of lawn, with three federation daisies, bordering the fence-line on the western side.
I immediately set about creating a garden of my dreams, I also worked to improve views and block negative aspects, such as a view directly up the driveway of the home opposite. To do this I began with strategically placing a self-pollinating olive to enhance the view from my living room, as well as provide me with an annual crop. Next I added a peach and nectarine, then a raspberry patch in a shady spot. Meanwhile, I ordered in a dwarf, fruiting pomegranite and finally added a blood plum, for the contrasting foliage colour to add a point of interest in an otherwise drab spot.
My garden beds were initially created using some imported soil, until I learned the technique of estabilshing "no dig garden beds", where you lay a thick wad of wet newspaper, then layer up with blood and bone, manure, then straw and keep sandwiching it up to create a new bed, whose weight both suffocates the existing grass, as well as breaking down to improve and enrich existing soil.
My love of roses dictated their inclusion to ensure springs and autumns where the air would be heavy with their heady scent. Then came day lillies, iris and salvias, which I later learned would attract bees and other benificial insects in to my garden. I also interspersed my ornamental beds, with edibles including tomatoes, eggplants, lettuce varieties, zuccini, silverbeet, spring onions, garlic, broad beans, cabbage, broccoli and beetroot.
As the drought led to severe water restrictions, lack of water forced me into giving up on my large north facing vegetable patch in the front yard, due to not being able to adequately protect it from hot north winds in summer. I then planted out this area with drought tolerant perrenials, that would provide habitat and attract birds and beneficial insects. I scaled down vegetable production to more sheltered spaces, still within the front and back yards.
Essentially what I had achieved was to create a self-sustaining eco system within the front garden. More than that, it inspired other neighbours to design their gardens with the same combinations of edible plants, that then married our yards into the existing plantings of my Greek and Italian neighbours further along the street and opposite.
The neighbour to the west and I further worked to integrate planting schemes to meld our front gardens into one, giving the sense of a much bigger expanse of garden, than either of us had in reality.
The sense of community that garden propagated was enormous, resulting in my regularly speaking with community members out walking and admiring my garden. This led to huge numbers of plant and produce swaps happening on a regular basis. A very effective way to inexpensively expand the collection of plants within my own garden, as well as the joy of seeing plants that began in my garden, thriving around the neighbourhood.
Upon moving to Ballarat, I formalised and expanded my knowledge of the practices I was already engaginging, by undertaking a Permaculture Design Certificate course.
I am currently in the process of expanding the areas under cultivation in my front garden here in Ballarat. Already, my hazlenuts and pomegranites were establishing, joined last year by ballerina (verical growing) apples and crab apples for structure. Most recently they have been joined by a row of roses, blending in with the existing established ones. The feijoas I initially planted are looking rather seedy, so I am contemplating moving them to a more sheltered spot in the back yard and replacing them with an olive, again, to screen the driveway opposite and improve my view from the lounge. An added bonus of the olives fine grey-green leaves is that they are both evergreen, as well as being tiny, visually expand the space, giving a permanent screen, right where I most want to improve the view year round.
My front garden has no fence, so my expanding informal hedgerow is way cheaper and greener, than contsructing a "built fence".
All of the above plants will be underplanted with an understory of smaller plants to bring in those beneficial insects and birds. I am planning a low inner hedge of blue berries, and lots of edible succulents close to the concrete footpath, which will retain heat.
I do not apologise for not using exclusively edible plants in my design.
I want my garden to meld into those of the existing homes of my neighbours. I want to include favourite plant species. I want flowers to cut and bring in to my home, as well as perfume to scent the air as neighbours pass and visitors arrive at my home.
I am not bothered by garden fashions or "resale value". I garden to please my own heart and sense of aesthetics. I get to eat produce I use for edges, like lettuce, silverbeet and edible flowers. My garden here in Wendouree, will be one of bounty. My current labours will prove fruitful over the next few years.
As for the concept of a "low maintainence garden", I am yet to be convinced that such a thing exists, unless you roll out that artificial grass, or concrete the entire yard. I can think of nothing worse, on many levels!
The Ballarat City Council has given me permission to turn my nature strip into a haven for indigenous species; bird, insect and lizard habitat. But that will happen in the full course of time.
I imagine my front garden ten years hence: one that will have created a view, where none previously existed, one where I regularly harvest food, one that fills my senses and home with fragrance colour, beauty and bounty.
It is possible to pay thousands of dollars for a "quick fix" designer garden, but such gardens more often than not, lack the soul, that is usually evident, within the gardens of those who work more slowly with their site and follow their heart with their favourite plants and aspects of gardening!