A new year makeover: Reimagining my edible landscape

My garden and I took a break from each other. You know when you spend a lot of time with someone, it helps to give each other some space. So I hung up my shovel, set the garden on self-maintenance mode, and gave us a month long sabbath.

I have enough experience gardening in the tropics to know what to expect when I return. Made Wijaya, the late landscape architect and designer who had created famous and fabulous tropical gardens for resorts in Bali and around the world noted:

For tropical gardens, be they in the Philippines, the Caribbean, Florida or Northern Queensland, all have one thing in common: the tendency to get out of control….Keeping a tropical garden on that edge of fecundity (before it turns into an unsightly mess) is hard work. Taking on the care of a tropical garden is taking on maintenance.

I am impressed by the word “fecundity” because it has a fierce and forceful sound to it. I look up its meaning. Fecundity is “the ability to produce an abundance of offspring and new growth; fertility”.

Now I have a new and perfect word to describe the fierce overgrowth of grass, weeds and snails that have obviously taken over my garden in my absence.

Overgrown grass has snaked into veggie beds through the cracks.
My fruit trees have also had a fecund spurt. I see now that the avocado and coconut trees, though of dwarf varieties, can no longer co-exist without impeding each other’s growth. I feel dumb having planted two big trees within such a small space, but it is one of the many lessons that I have to learn.
After 1.5 years on the ground, the avocado and coconut are already rubbing shoulders. Two large trees so close together also create a sense of imbalance in the landscape. I think one of them has to move out.
Rosalind Creasy, a pioneer edible landscape designer whose work I admire, says:
The single biggest mistake all garden designers make – professional and amateur alike – is underestimating the eventual size of plants….Therefore, it is important to consider the probable growth habits of plants – both height and width – before making your final selection.

I wade through my weedy lawn; pick up a dozen snails, some as large as my palm; frown at the clumps of Phillippine grass that have emerged in all corners of my veggie beds; and puzzle at how I had failed to notice before that the pandan bushes had colonised a sizeable patch of my garden.

A jumble of pandan, kau kei and daun kadok – more than I can eat. These versatile herbs should be in every cook’s garden, but they grow rapidly in the rainy season and can take over a landscape before you know it.

I contemplate the mess, and decide that this is an opportunity for a makeover.

For inspiration, I look at gardens that Wade Wijaya and Rosalind Creasy have created. Some of the featured gardens in their books, Tropical Garden Design and Edible Landscaping respectively, are so beautiful that they make me weep with wondrous joy. I am but an amateur sitting at the feet of these masters, soaring with their imaginations, learning and dreaming to create gardens that awaken the senses, feed the body and soul, and bond people to the land. If you want to make over your garden and have trouble reimagining it, I recommend these books (see top photo).

Having been uplifted by their art, I now turn back to the ground beneath my feet. Time to take down the shovel, roll up my sleeves and dig in. Here are some things that we are doing.

Laying out tarps and newspapers to kill off the grass around the beds.
Cleared the pandan patch and opened it up for new possibilities. This patch is about 3 square metres. I am not sure what to plant here yet, but reimagining it is a fun and energising exercise.

In upcoming posts, I will share my progress of working this patch into a hopefully productive and beautiful space, including the all-important step of preparing the soil.

It was good to take the break. It has given me new eyes to see and new vigour to create. I hope that you too have had a restful year-end, and have discovered a new vision and energy to dig into the new year. Happy 2018!


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