Ever since we bought our first house, and I started my own garden in January 2010, people have been asking “So, what do you have growing at the moment?”
As a grower of just about anything I can get my hands on, my first reaction was one of complete dumbfoundness (if that’s a word) tinged with a little annoyance – did they really expect me to list everything growing in my yard?? But after the initial shock, I realised that they didn’t actually want a full list, so I would just answer with a list of the most recent vegies that I’d planted and leave it at that, which seemed to satisfy them.
A few years ago, after we’d moved into our current place and I’d set up the vegie patch, and to satisfy my own curiosity, I decided to actually walk around my backyard and write a list of all the different species that I had growing.
I stopped when I got over the 120 mark.
And that was ONLY the backyard, and did NOT including multiples or anything in the vegie patch (which includes a stack of herbs and flowers that I use to attract pollinators and other useful insects).
Diversity is one of the key aspects of permaculture, but it is also a fascination for me, and probably stems from a number of sources. Firstly, on a selfish level, I love having a variety of things to eat, and I love the challenge of learning how to grow all those different types of food plants and how to best process and store any excess harvest, which is then shared with friends and family, or sold through our farm stall. I also have the life goal of being as self-sufficient as possible in food, energy, everything. So the more, the better as far as I’m concerned*. Secondly, on an altruistic level, I’ve always had a great respect for nature and all the creatures that we share our planet with, so I love being able to provide them with food and habitat too. Thirdly, I am adamant that any animals in my care should get the best care possible, and this includes a varied diet, so I grow food specifically for my chooks and bees as well.
By bringing as much diversity as I can into my garden, I’m also providing food and homes for a lot of useful creatures, such as bees and other beneficial insects and lizards. I’m always quite chuffed when I spot a ladybeetle (the useful species, not the 28-spot one; 28-spot ladybeetles get squished), an assassin bug or our resident water dragon – I must be doing something right if I can create a habitat that can support a top-level predator like that, and I’m sure she likes all the pesticide-free snails and grasshoppers :)
Then, of course, there is the mental therapy benefits that are gained by just sitting quietly in a diverse garden like this, taking time out and watching a honey bee visit the nasturtiums, or a blue-banded bee (my favourite!) visit the borage (they love blue flowers).
Some of this ‘diversity’ is very easy to achieve: simply have a section of the garden set aside – it doesn’t have to be very large, but for best effect, have it close to the vegie patch or fruit trees to attract beneficial insects and pollinators – and plant some herbs and/or flowers, or scatter a packet of Good Bug Mix, available from Green Harvest. Good Bug Mix contains a mix of seeds for red clover, lucerne, sweet alice (alyssum), dill, caraway, coriander, buckwheat, baby’s breath, Queen Anne’s lace, marigolds, phacelia and cosmos, and is said to attract beneficial insects such as ladybirds, hoverfly, lacewings and tiny wasps to your garden. I’ve recently tried a packet of Wildflower Companions, from Digger’s, but with ‘only’ baby blue flax, cornflower, buckwheat, coriander and dill, it doesn’t have the variety of different flowers/herbs that the Bug Mix does, so I’ve also purchased a packet of Bug Mix to top up what’s already there.
* a word of warning, however: although very rewarding, maintaining a garden with 100+ species/cultivars in it is very high maintenance and quite taxing on the memory (how frequently each plant likes to be watered, how often to fertilise, etc). So if you’re just starting out, start small, and start with just a few things that you know you’ll use, such as herbs, tomatoes, beans, carrots and/or strawberries. You can always expand later, as you have a few successes and gain more confidence.