George Street in central Dunedin is lined with stately turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture. Here live Rory Harding, Bell Murphy and their one-year-old daughter Finja in a two-story house that wasn’t that big when Harding’s parents first bought it as a rental in the early 1990s. 2000.
The rear boundary wall had been used for throwing bottles (Harding still digs up the strange grain of glass) and dirt was embedded in the interior carpets, but this was unlikely to be the result of the tenants’ love for gardening.
Visitors walking through the front door today are greeted by a feijoa hedge, and the two surrounding walls of the street are home to a ‘Merton Russet’ espaliered apple and a crop of blackberries that could potentially satisfy the people of Dunedin. A vine and fig tree cover the front of the house, and behind is an oasis of photosynthetic productivity and a space where the urban environment is harnessed as a model of sustainability.
How to prune a fruit tree into a modified center guide form.
Living here permanently since 2008, Harding has developed his intensively produced George Street Orchard, which now features over 30 different fruits (including 15 varieties of apple) and over 40 different perennials and vegetables.
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The garden is loosely described as a forest edge garden, a garden that mimics the edge of a thick forest where the ecology can access greater amounts of penetrating light and respond with productivity in all seasons.
Before moving in, Harding had just returned from overseas where he had been inspired by home gardens in Europe and Morocco linked to ideas of radical self-sufficiency and food systems. His vision was ambitious, and he threw himself into that goal in his self-proclaimed random and experimental approach.
He started by experimenting tomatoes, pumpkins and Beans, and within two years the garden bug had bitten hard and the apple trees were gently placed in the ground. For Harding, it was about working with and nurturing the delicate, interconnected ecosystem that includes both natural and downtown urban environments.
To achieve maximum light reflection, the surrounding garden walls were painted white. “The built environment of the city is so interesting, as light enters the garden both from direct sunlight and from higher levels of reflection in the urban environment,” he says. “It’s been a headache, watching the sunlight for a few years and getting all the elements in the right place, including moving things around.”
The key factor is healthy soil. Harding is an evangelist of no-till method, and at most slightly loosen the soil with a pitchfork. The compost is simply deposited on the surface. The contiguous structure of soil is self-supporting through an interconnected network of fungi and microorganisms that move moisture, minerals and nutrients.
“There’s a perception that plants use soil, but they create it and make it better and better every year,” says Harding. “By getting as much photosynthesis as possible, roots suck in carbon and pump liquid carbon for microorganisms, and all of this helps create and maintain healthy soils.”
The benefit of this approach is a larger healthy ecosystem that eliminates the need for individual plant treatment.
There’s no shortage of unique species represented in the 300 square meters, but it’s visitors’ reaction to the abundance of feijoa and kiwi fruit that reminds Harding how special it is to grow them in Dunedin.
And they’re not just “nice to have” as Harding puts it, because they produce substantial harvests. Estimates for feijoas are between 150 and 200 kg per year, and kiwis between 30 and 40 kg.
Harding was quite happy earlier this year to see the golden kiwi bear fruit for the first time as well. “Having a feijoa to hang at the end of the fruit season is so special and for me represents quality of life,” he says. “Before, the fruit supply ended with late pears and apples, but the feijoas created another three months of produce during the winter and we can eat kiwifruit until spring if they are well stored.”
Kilograms of produce from the rest of the garden add up quickly (Harding doesn’t have time to keep detailed records but the peach tree alone yielded 48 kg of fruit) and ends up in preserves, chutneys and jams.
But just as important to Harding is donating any excess fruits and vegetables to family and friends in need. He also runs a small nursery for cultivation and experimentation, and lately he also sells haskaps (Lonicera caerulea) and goumi (Elaeagnus multiflora).
Harding and Murphy acknowledge that the garden was invaluable to them as a young family, but also as a nurturing space where Finja spent the first year of her life in 2020.
The nationwide lockdown coincidentally coincided with the fall harvest season, which was the ideal home activity. “It’s really nice to take refuge in the garden and pick berries, and Finja can tell when a berry is ripe and ready to be picked,” says Murphy. “Learning these things so young is great, and for us the garden is a garden on the edge of a forest, but for her it’s a whole big forest.”
These complementary ways of interacting with the garden are also beneficial, such as when Murphy sees Finja making her way through the lemon balm, she knows it’s time to clear the overgrown path. For Harding, the garden makes city life feasible and he enjoys being enveloped by the world of plants. “To be surrounded by all these plants is incredible. I love their abundance, but also their wildness, and living here is like living among a collection of special plants for humanity.
Over the past few years, the garden has become what Harding originally imagined it could be – the result of a great deal of dedication and determination.
He encourages people not to worry about the quality of a garden when they inherit it, but to try to take a fresh look. He suggests eliminating clutter such as unnecessary raised beds, borders, bricks, and poorly constructed hard landscaping, as these items can act as mental barriers to change and often detract from the beauty of an area. garden.
“The microorganisms that create a healthy ecosystem don’t care if your vegetable garden has uniform widths and lengths, but having such things will save you a lot of time and energy, whether your goals are commercial or not. “, says Harding. “What I do here, I want to be relevant to agriculture and the future of agriculture. Thinking of this garden as a “garden farm” is also a concept that resonates, and what I want to do is connect what is happening here to a larger agricultural scale and a larger global food story.