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Monday, 15 June 2009

What does 'sustainability' really mean?

I wrote this story for my daughter and son-in-law who have a garden centre, feel passionately about the environment, and have a policy of encouraging clients to think wisely when planning their gardens. They'll use it in marketing and I thought my bloggy mates would enjoy it too ...

Life seems to go through cycles, but whatever age we may be we all have similar desires for our gardens: we want them to be beautiful, productive and cost effective while taking up little of our precious spare time.

Planning and forethought, and a helping hand from an expert can set us on the way to life long happiness in the garden stakes (!).

So far as gardens are concerned we can divide those life cycles into the years of young families, working professionals and the baby boomers who’ve recently retired, and then people living alone or as couples in their later lives.

If you think about it, at every stage we wish to use our money wisely while getting the greatest bang for our buck – and gardens have to pay for themselves as much as everything else in our lives.

Sustainability is the buzz word right now. But what does it really mean?

Trees and shrubs must pull their weight in conserving energy, creating shade in the summer while letting through warmth in colder times. They can do that and be beautiful too.

There should be a plentiful number of fruit trees and other food bearing crops. A veggie garden is paramount for nutrition and money saving strategies.

We’re all learning to cook again, and all good chefs know that there’s nothing but nothing nicer than fresh salads and greens to provide a solid basis in the kitchen.

Sustainability is investing now to help the future take care of itself. That’s what governments do in tough times, and we should do the same.

And so we set up pervious paths that let the rain soak into the earth while not costing heaps, and get ourselves good compost bins to make the most of every veggie scrap.

Perhaps we don’t need huge swathes of lawn that tie us down to mowing chores at the week-end and take up precious ground that could be ever so much more productive in other ways.

Every one of our decisions will stand the sustainable test: will it do the right thing by energy and water supplies? Will there be long term waste involved? Are we doing our bit to connect with our community? Properly designed gardens can do that.

Will our family be happy in this garden? Are we contributing to the health of our family? Are we in the fight against obesity and fast food? Are we protecting our bodies by establishing high rise veggie garden beds?

Sustainability means making decisions that will bring benefits in the long term, as well as for the now.

When we look at sustainability in this way we can see it’s important to everyone at whatever age. We can work within our own little patch of earth to make a contribution.

Down times are an opportunity!

(Lynne and John celebrate high rise veggie gardens at their garden centre - see the top picture. It's made from corrugated iron - bottomless. John fills them with top quality soil, cow manure and compost, adds general purpose fertiliser and a few water crystals and plants young seedlings. In our Australian spring such seedlings grow as large as those in the picture in just two or three weeks. Great for the grocery bills, for bad backs and they also help with the weeds.)

What are you doing at your place to make family life 'sustainable'?


  1. I like your article on sustainability. It would be good if everyone had a nice organic garden.

    We are killing ourselves with the food we eat.
    We need to wake up --

    Collin Towers, author
    Stop Growing Older, Grow Younger

  2. Hi Collin
    People with just a sunny balcony in a block of units can have an organic garden. Veggies can be grown nicely in tubs and troughs.
    We could even have a fruit tree, kept small with judicious pruning.

  3. Hi June, I did put out some tomato plants in pots this year and I am saving my scraps and making compost! We eat at home a lot more than we have for years and I enjoy cooking. Try to buy organic, too. A trip to Amish country is coming up soon to buy their fruit and veggies.
    Maybe, I can increase what I grow a little each year. I remember loving the idea in the picture when you posted it before. There is certainly a lot we can all do.

  4. Hi June, I had to think about your question before coming back again to comment.
    I try to buy foods grown in my area and I reuse more than recycle, trying to find other uses for things that I would normally throw away... But I would very much like to grow my own food. I use to grow tomatoes in a container and I had a few herbs growing too. But ever since I moved (4 years ago) I have totally given up. Now you've got me thinking... thank you for this post!

  5. Your story comes in time for me to decide on what all i want in my garden. I am in the process of setting up a new place ( an old old residence) with a great place for greenery.

  6. I agree with you, hard times bring opportunity. Part of this whole process is sharing with each other as well.

  7. Fascinating piece of writing! I love the metaphor of garden for life sustainability. Of course, I think there also needs to be a few absolutely pieces of serendipity flowers which you can't eat but add zest.

  8. June for the first time I have planted this year. I only have a deck but I have pots of flowers, herbs and tomatoes. I am like a little girl going outside to play each day. I am enjoying it so very much. This was a great post my friend......:-) Hugs

  9. Well, I guess I'm on the right track. I have at least planted and herb garden and a tomato plant this summer!

  10. A very interesting post. I'm saving some of your tips so that I can use it when and if I do have a garden of my own.

  11. Very interesting post. LOved the photos. Those vegetables look stunning.

  12. Hi JUDY
    I would have been surprised if you didn't have a veggie or two in your garden.

    I'd love to come with you to Amish country - I'll pop into your pocket ok?

    I've found I don't need many plants in my little patch to make quite a difference. It's lovely to wander out there to see what I can add to my plate each evening.

  13. june--I replaced the grass in my front yard with shrubs and perennials three years ago. It is a show of color that begins in the spring and lasts through the fall. It is requires minimal maintenance and water. A veggie container garden is next--great post-thanks! c

  14. G'day Tulsa
    It's nice that my post got you thinking. I have ups and downs with my garden, depending on how I feel.
    It's like everything - we need a break so that we don't get into ruts, don't you think?

  15. Mampi
    Such a shame that you are not nearby. Lynne would love to work with you as you set up your new home.
    Of course the local climate and environment are so important in individual cases ...

  16. BRENDA
    In a way I think this world wide economic crisis has come just at the right time. I think it will encourage us to really look at our environment and how we can live within it (and within our means).

    It will force us to stop and look at ourselves, and slow down on our former crazy, too confident and selfish willy nilly ride towards destruction.

    Now I'll hop off my hobby horse!

  17. There you are BERNIE - a first class example for us all.
    It's great to make the morning garden discovery isn't it?

  18. Hi Dogwalk
    Enjoy the fresh flavours eh?

    Did you put in basil? I have a huge basil plant which I cut regularly for pesto - heaps of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper into a food processor. Grind finely, drizzle with a little more oil. Great with crackers.

    No time like the present. You could start your little garden with a pot of peppermint. You say in your current post that you like tea. I know it's not your traditional Indian, but peppermint for a change really tastes good, and settles the tummy.

  20. Butler (and Bagman)
    I agree that flowers are imperative in every garden. Without them (and bees) where would the garden be?

    This little article was one of a series I do for my daughter and son-in-law's garden centre. Flowers and bees were the subject of the companion story.

    By the way, you can eat many flowers as well - nasturtiums you may know. Great on fresh bread and butter - leaves too. Lots of zest!

  21. Hi C.M. JACKSON
    When I moved into my duplex (still with a reasonable size garden), it was the best thing I ever did when I decided against grass. I asked Lynne to design me something without it.

    Mostly my garden is also flowering shrubs and trees and bowls of perennials, plus fruit and veggies.

    But there's also an area laid with blue metal - fine little stones which John put down mixed with a little dry cement that seems to keep it in place ok. He's dotted it with stepping stones.

    This means that the earth can breathe and take in water and that I never have to mow again.

  22. Great post, as always, June! And your photos are marvelous! I don't have a garden, but I'm keeping a copy of this in case we're able to have one someday. Thanks for all the information.

    Have a great week!

  23. That hip high veggie patch is a beauty SYLVIA.
    Even without a garden there is always a pot or two with herbs ...

  24. Our new camp location is going to be permanant for three years. We have tribal who has very nicely set the front garden and equally big kitchen garden at the back. The problem is with the ants which eat away the seeds and the organic manures.

  25. Pradip Biswas
    We have problems with insects here too - especially in the summer; rarely in the winter even though it is still warm. And so spring to the end of autumn is the best time for us to grow veggies.

    You are lucky to have tribal people to do the garden for your camp in West Bengal.

  26. I go so far as herbs; love wandering out to cut some first thing on a morning for a casserole or whatever. And the smell, mmmmmmmm.

    Otherwise we tend to go for the cottage garden look and stick with plants that encourage butterflies and bees.

    Many species of these are declining in the UK so every little helps. To watch the bees collecting from our beutifully blue geraniums is divine.

    We also avoid plants that we'd be tempted to use chemicals on; if they don't do well we let them wither. If they thrive then the garden is right for them.

    A sort of gardening going with the flow.

    Otherwise, all I ask of my garden is that it contributes towards a healthy mind.

  27. A worthy purpose I reckon WRITE BLOG. Sounds good to me.

    However where there is a shortage of quality soil and/or water (and I think the reality is that that's almost everywhere) I think we do have a responsibility to think about productivity in our gardens.

    I think that the economic crisis has us thinking about conserving, and not wasting. That should happen with the environment too.

    It's very easy to plant a fruit tree in most gardens.

    I applaud your love of bees and butterflies - me too!

  28. June; we have a cherry tree and some strawberries.

    Do they count? :)

    We'll award you some brownie points for them! Every bit counts.
    Cherries! Yum!!
    Strawberries! Yum Yum!!!

  30. Nice post. Alas, we live in an apartment and can only have a few pots with a couple of plants for some greenery. When I was younger, I did have a kitchen garden. Of late, I have noticed that those who do have a garden, have ornamental plants. I guess that is better than nothing at all.

  31. RADHA
    I agree that any plant is better than no plant.
    Although it's a shame that the people around you don't experience the benefits of truly fresh food - even a little of it.

    I'm pleased you enjoyed my post - thanks.

  32. I am so glad I "bumped " into you and your wonderful place. Funny I should find you today!!! I will be 65 and just Started a journal for my boys to let them know about my stuff that is important to me and ideas where they can send or donate other stuff that really is to special to "dump". I am also telling them that if I turn "cranky" later on, to ignore it and hug me any way. I wish I would have know that when dealing with my little mom!
    Hope you find time to drop by!!!
    thanks for the inspiration!!!

  33. PEGGY
    I'm very pleased you find 70 Plus 'wonderful'.
    I hope you had a happy birthday. But please don't get thinking you have to be organised for a big trip for many years yet. There's more to life ...

    And if we get too cranky we probably won't know it!

  34. Great post. We are vegetarians which helps towards making the world more sustainable.

  35. Hi.

    Just stumbled across your blog. Love it.

    Have you had a look at yet?

    Lots of people there who would appreciate what you have to say. Over 1000 food gardeners and locavores networking together.

    Ooooby is an acronym for Out of our own back yards.

    Hope you like it.


  36. Nice business and good ideas.Good fortune to them and good wishes to all the people out there who are taking water and enegy conservaton seriously, where ever they live.
    In my part of the world we take it seriously, have to as many of use are not on mains water or sewerage or a power supply.Many provide for their own needs where they can and we have enthusiastic organic growers, permies and biodynamic experts and growers.We have the best Farmers' Market in Australia, it's now official with an award and no shortage of good people doing good things for the environment and their own consumption.Next job is to save the dying Murray River.

  37. Good luck with your efforts eag. The River Murray is a huge issue.
    And well done on your community ...
    LETS and farmers markets - well organised - can be a great contribution to community living.

  38. End of semester brings relief and time to finally enjoy my Ma's blog.Whether we know it or not all our roots are firmly planted in the earth and this is a great place to be!

  39. Welcome my lovely daughter ...

    I think more and more people are hearing the message of sustainability. Next is the need for easily and widely available education to enable us to know how we can make our individual contribution.

    I know that you and John have been doing your bit in this direction for years now. Onyer you two!!

  40. PO is wonderful - thanks for introducing me. Love the fact that the Queen also has a veggie garden. I wonder how the strawberries went?

    Have sent the link to my daughter Lynne - she'd love it too.


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