Heather and Joe sitting on one of the straw beds in the kitchen garden with the first of the Hugelkultur beds in the background. | Caroline Fuller

Arriving at the home of Joe and Kris it was clear this was going to be an exciting garden visit. I was unable to meet Kris until I was leaving but was met by their friend Heather who also lives on the property, and who has joined them in this gardening project. Together the three have undertaken what Joe admits to being a huge project but one which they are excited about.

Future plans aside, the current plan is for part of the garden to sustain the families with home grown fruits and vegetables. Joe told me that he has not grown vegetables himself before but feels an affinity with the land having being brought up by Colombian/Italian parents and spending a lot of time in Italy with extended families who worked the land. Heather does have experience and though the kitchen garden is in its infancy started just three months ago, it’s clear to see that with Joe’s learning from a recent course in permaculture, his fascination with the different methods of gardening which reduce the amount of water that is used and Heather’s experience the garden is going to be a success.

The pink pepper tree

Showing me the different methods they are using we first looked at a raised bed made from hay bales with are filled using the Hugelkultur method. Joe explained that the bed is filled with tree logs, twigs, leaves, straw, carob, compost and other materials gathered from the garden which will rot down in time along with the hay surround providing a rich compost filled with healthy bacteria and nutrients to feed the plants. The bed is currently watered on a daily basis and algae, wormcasings and manure are added to start the composting process. The second bed we looked at, again using the Hugalkutur method has a wooden surround and looks like a traditional raised bed. The difference I understand is that the logs within the planting frames will act like a sponge and hold water. As the plants grow down, their roots will access the rotting brown materials and wood which holds water and thus reduce the need for irrigation, even in hot weather. I hope I will get an opportunity to return and see their success with this method.

One of the ponds

Impressed by what I was seeing and hearing I was delighted when given the opportunity to walk through the rest of the garden. It truly is a special place where any gardener or non gardener could lose themselves for hours. It’s a space where there is always going to be something new to see, where wildlife has a place of safety and the sounds of the world disappear to be replaced by the rustling of trees, croaks and plop plops of frogs as they dive into the water for cover when we pass their ponds, bees buzzing and birds singing. There are pathways which meander through the garden, passing by a rich tapestry of different plants and trees. We stopped to look at a pink pepper plant and Joe explained that the garden has been a bit neglected whilst the house has changed hands to them and he is still learning about it. Heather is clearly in her element and completely undaunted about the huge task ahead to bring the garden back to its best. Sections of the garden are reminiscent of cottage gardens, there are tropical elements, Mediterranean elements, a cotoneaster which reminded me of England (my mums garden), fruit trees and an amazing lemon and lime tree. A product of cross pollination? It was certainly interesting.

Create a Hugelkultur bed

The beds are layered like a lasagne starting with logs. The method above is using a raised planting bed made from wood and one from hay, another method is to dig a pit and create a mound. A basic variation is:

Dig a pit, add manure, and fill it with logs, wood chips, branches, twigs. In the next layer add a layer of soil, then a layer of carbon such as cardboard, twigs and leaves, then a layer of green nitrogen rich materials like grass clippings/hay or sod from a lawn. Kitchen waste can also be used. A layer of manure A layer of compost mixed with the garden soil can be added next and topped with a layer of the existing garden soil. There are many variations of Hugelkultur layers but all of them start with the logs at the bottom. It takes about three years for the beds to reach their water/fertility peak.

Now is a great Time For...

Planting Lavender. Planted now it gives the plant a chance to strenthn its roots and be more resiliant to the height summer temperatures we have in this part of the world. Lavender is a great plant to have if your garden is infested by mosquitoes and fleas. The dried lavender flowers are also great to have in the cupboard to make clothes smell nice and keep the moths from destroying materials...