Is it a contradiction to have a garden that provides both food and habitat?

espaliered citrus trees

espaliered citrus trees

I am very excited this week because I have just had the wires and poles put in so that I can espalier citrus trees. I have never espaliered anything in my life so it will be a challenge to make sure I don’t cut the wrong branches off. I have planted an orange tree, a lemonade tree and a lemon tree between four poles with strawberries beneath and verbenas behind. It is a way of maximising the fruit and minimising the space which is an issue for me as I have a small block. I have no idea whether oranges will ripen in southern Tasmania but I have had success with a Tahitian lime (in a pot next to a brick wall) so you never know.

Tahitian limes

Eureka lemon

I embarked on this experiment as part of my plan to have an edible garden on a relatively small block in the suburbs. But I wanted a lovely restful garden, as well as one which provides food and habitat for native birds and animals and has fragrance as well. So the challenge is to have a garden that looks like a lovely space to be enjoyed whilst being very productive.

I am fully aware that edible and habitat are actually contradictory, made more so when the resident brush possum got to my apricots before I did but nevertheless it is worth a try. I really want chooks as well but I am away too much to look after them.

tall grass for seed eating birds

tall grass for seed eating birds

All these ideas about designing a garden with edible plants and creating habitat are a work in progress and a collaboration between a wonderful  Cygnet based garden designer Catherine Shields and myself. I didn’t want you to think that I am a gardening guru… far from it! I know what I want and Catherine helps me achieve it. For example  she worked out what is needed for seed eaters as opposed to nectar feeders as well as what attracts butterflies or provides habitat for lizards and importantly what  would grow on my block amongst the food plants. I would have just gone on planting bits and pieces, here and there on a trial and error basis.

I also rely on advice from people who have grown vegetables all their lives. I ran into Tasmanian gardening legend David Stephens at the Hobart farmers’ market and was delighted when he explained that the reason my broccoli was bolting to seed was that I had planted it at the wrong time of the year. I needed to plant it now for the spring, not in the late spring for the summer when the warm weather sends it straight to seed. That’s one of the wonderful things about gardening, you meet great people who love nature and food and who are generous with advice. I’m hoping for a great crop of broccoli as a result.

3 thoughts on “Is it a contradiction to have a garden that provides both food and habitat?

  1. Hi Christine,

    Last year I transformed my sterile swimming pool into a biological experiment, in which native fish and wetland plants now thrive. The pond water is collected from the roof and then cycled into the vege patch and so I enjoyed a highly productive nutrient cycle. However some months later, a noisy motorbike frog found his princess and transformed my pond into a tadpole hotspot. So now I am unable to cycle the water into my vege garden or even enter it as hundreds of frogs the sizes from a 10c coin have moved in, they are everywhere, hanging out on the cucumbers and pumpkins and within the spinach, and now my backyard can now only be defined as all habitat and no food production!

  2. The possums and wallabies that abound around here (not to mention those pesky blackbirds) take such a toll that we’ve netted our vege garden. However, we came home from a couple of weeks away to find that a rampant pumpkin vine is presently trying to undo our efforts at protection by climbing the net – we’ll have to cut it back today, before the fruit get too heavy.

    We’re later than you with the winter vegetables, Christine, but plan to start planting this week. We have the Waterworks Valley Harvest Festival this coming Sunday (28th), and I’m hoping some more industrious local gardeners have managed to grow seedlings to sell. One benefit of having been away is a no-effort seriously oversized entry for the Biggest Zucchini Competition!

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