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Start at Your Doorstep – John and Laura’s Shade-Garden Makeover, Inner Urban Sydney

by Cecilia Macaulay

"If you want to change the world, start at your back doorstep" said Permaculture’s Bill Mollison.

John and his big sister Cecilia

Here is the story of how John and Laura turned a shady dirt-patch into a little jewel-box organic garden.

1. Start by Subtraction

Take out anything that’s not lovely, that doesn’t contribute.

Seven different kinds of floor materials, none of them looking like friends or relatives to each other. Loneliness in a crowd is the worst kind.

We took out the yellow tiles, and searched for stepping stones to go in their place — for us to land on sturdily as we bounce out the door.

2. Get a vision, take cuttings, go shopping

Helen’s garden, where I’m staying this year, is the inspiration. The longer I live, the more I realize the power of copying, of catching things from the people you admire. It’s not action that we dislike, its decisions, and the chance of making a wrong choice when we do something pioneering.

With this picture in mind, we did the big trek out to Plantmark, to get wholesale plants. If you are a designer, you should register here. Half price means you can buy twice as many plants. Since this spot has heavy shade for much of the winter, I must prepare myself psychologically for half of them not to make it through. The problem is, I don’t know which half.

Helen’s begonia cuttings will go in when they get more roots.

3. Announce a Gardening Party

If you invite people you like and prepare good food, then hard hauling of rocks is a party.
Since this isn’t sitting around chatting, you can go for diversity, and very different people can still enjoy each other.

I’ve never really liked opinion-sharing and story-trading as a form of socializing. Doing stuff, having an outcome, is more fun.

Our Politically diverse blend of gardeners included:

  • Little brother – John, good at logistics, problem-solving initiative — getting out of hidden obstacles, etc. His job is shipping.
  • MBA student and former US soldier — Jason, who is good at following orders, even better at giving orders, veiled as delicate suggestions. Good at lifting massive stones, and at stoically working in the rain when all my Aussie workers are having their 5th tea break.
  • Architect — Sidney, who put all the stones into exciting and happy relationships.
  • Occupational therapist — Jessica the treasure of a house mate.

  • Economist — Laura, who played tuck shop lady, all day long.


  • Permaculture girlie. That’s me.

4. Get good soil, make it 3D

Since he has only had his eco-bride for four months, John’s kitchen-scrap compost isn’t ready yet. We brought some commercial stuff in bags, then realized that the massive back garden jungle is one massive potting-mix factory. Under the leaf litter is last year’s leaves, now broken down to crumbly, microbe-rich soil. We did a big harvest, to add to our little garden, give it the hills and valleys it needs to feel that it’s a world of its own.

John’s vast back garden. Paul Bongiorno roasts lamb Dec 2010

A garden to harvest from needs stepping stones, so you don’t squash the air out of the soil, and suffocate all the microbes that keep things lively.

5. Choose plants that want to be there, and you want to see there

The edible plants that may survive the shade include mint and chives. The thyme groundcover probably won’t cover much till the summer sun reaches in and gives it the energy. The dill is to attract preying mantii. When she is done with the dill pollen, she will graduate on to cleaning up caterpillars. We put the tomatillo seedlings in against the sunny wall, hoping for the best. Magnificent salda verde is heading our way.

6. Train someone brave in manual pest management

The predator insects may not appear till summer to control the baddies. I trained Laura in how to spot and manage the green caterpillars and snails, or by summer she would have no garden. She was horrified at first, but soon got the hang of sending them to heaven, recycling them back into flowers. Eating is never an innocent activity.

7. Thank the cooks

I had battled with John all day, as he tempted my workers away with:

  • 10.30 Second breakfast
  • 11.00 Morning tea – macaroons
  • 12.00 Lemonade break
  • 12. 45 Lunch – Mexican soup
  • 3.00 Afternoon tea by the fire – buns
  • 4.00 Coffee break
  • 6.00 Lasagne for dinner.

Will this garden ever produce the amount of calories it took to get it planted?

I’m going to say that it doesn’t matter.

The main harvest is of non-tangibles anyway — connection, being a life-giving problem solver, expanding the world of the things you love. And after feeling effort in our bodies, and the failures and triumphs that are inevitable, never, ever complaining that organic is expensive.


  1. I’ll give you an excerpt of Besim S. Hakim’s review of Alexander’s The Nature of Order, as I think you practice Alexander’s theories instinctively:

    “CA emphasizes that centers should not be viewed statically or as frozen objects in space, but should be viewed dynamically. So wholeness can only be understood as a dynamic phenomenon. Thus living structure, if viewed dynamically, can be comprehended as the result of structure-preserving transformations, i.e. every change tends to respect what came before it and preserves the qualities of what was there already and also enhances it, which is discussed in detail in Book 2. This is associated with the process of “unfolding” as CA uses the term. Therefore centers are fundamental building blocks of the phenomenon of wholeness. To pin down what a center is and further elaborate on the nature of wholeness, CA provides four propositions on pages 139-142 of Book 4:

    “Proposition 1: Each center is a focused zone of space which may be characterized by saying that, to some degree, space in that zone itself comes to life.
    Proposition 2: To the degree a center is a living center, it is also a picture of the true self, and – very startling – has this character for all people, not just for any individual.
    Proposition 3: The structure-preserving transformations which continually modify one wholeness in space and replace it by another that preserves the structure of the first, slowly cause space to be filled with unfolded I-like centers.
    Proposition 4: Only a deliberate process of creating being-like (or self-like) centers in built structure throughout the world, encourages the world to become more alive.”

    In the conclusion to the four books titled: “A modified picture of the universe”, Book 4, pp. 317-338, CA discusses the following topics: the nature of space and matter, wholeness as a physical structure in the universe, and consciousness as a physical feature of the universe. Then he proposes a “Modified physics”, as understood by 20th century physics, in which the following attributes of matter-space are added:

    1 – The existence of centers and wholeness.
    2 – Value and life as part of space itself.
    3 – Structure-preserving transformations as the origin of the laws of physics and biology.
    4 – The personal quality of space, and
    5 – The Ultimate “I”.

    Thus the matter-space continuum, as understood by present day physics, is modified in its behavior so that:

    “1- We recognize the relative existence of value in different regions of space,
    2- The value is personal and space is conceived as having some connection to our personal lives,
    3- Space itself is viewed as having connections, or windows, to some undifferentiated plenum of light, or unity, or mind which lies beyond the space and is possibly even in another dimension, but is nevertheless connected to it at every point in the continuum.”

    In the concluding chapter of Book 4, CA also puts forward eleven new assumptions that present a new picture of a universe in which life and wholeness appear as the central features, Book 4, pp.330-331. They are:

    “1) Matter-space is an unbroken continuum which includes everything, both matter and the so-called space around it, all at the same time.
    2) In varying degrees, any given portion of space may be more whole or less whole, more alive or less alive, more healed or less healed, connected or broken, separated or not separate.
    3) Whenever we undertake an act of construction we have the ability to make the world more alive or less alive, more harmonious or less harmonious.
    4) Everything matters.
    5) Value is a definite and fundamental part of the universe, and of the scheme of things.
    6) Ornament and function are indistinguishable.
    7) Matter itself is not a mechanism: It is a potentially soul-like materiality which is essentially what we call self.
    8) If self or I is woken up whenever living structure appears in matter, what we think of as value may then be described as the protection, preservation, nourishment, of the precious self of the universe.
    9) The nature of space-matter, being soul-like, is such that the more whole it becomes, the more transparent, the more it seems to melt, the more it realizes itself, releases its own inner reality, the more transparent it becomes, the more transcendent.
    10) Thus art is not merely pleasant or interesting. It has an importance that goes to the very core of the cosmology.
    11) The unfolding of the field of centers, and the unfolding of the self, is the most fundamental awakening of matter.”

    CA ties together a number of disciplines to buttress his theory, chief among them is biology and physics, and he also links their foundations, as they are understood today, to the essence of being that he refers to as the “I” and self and its linkages to God. He does that also to provide a thorough insight on the:

    “Reasons for the good quality of traditional buildings and towns come into view simply and directly as a result of this dynamic analysis”, Book 4, p. 137.

    I am therefore personally grateful to CA for this most important work that sheds light on numerous aspects of my own studies of the processes followed in traditional societies to create built environments of high quality.5 I began to sense the contrast in the quality of traditional towns compared to modern constructions since I was a fourth year student of architecture in 1961. My thirst, since then, for finding out how traditional societies created built environments endowed with feeling which touches the human heart, continued until I had the opportunity to launch my life long research and love for this quest since 1975. CA’s work, primarily argued from the findings and insights of science now meshes nicely with my own empirical findings based on the knowledge available in the ancient literature and the built environments which traditional societies left for us.

    Once the diffusion of CA’s theories become more understood, it will enhance the interest in traditional architecture and urbanism, and ultimately begin to induce changes in the way architecture and urbanism are taught and practiced.” – Besim S. Hakim

    Read the whole book review here:

  2. Your story is fluff,and organic is expensive.No point in having a high consumption lifestyle and thinking that your doing the planet a favour by eating organic.I would laugh but it’s just to hard to stop crying.Better luck next time.

  3. Wonderful Cecilia you have always been able to fill a niche in the permaculture world that is so important to fill.

    Keep up the good work you are a unique shining permaculture star.

  4. Hi Celia
    I am unfortunately going to have to be negative here,it’s not often on this site that I see something so out of place.I am not sure which niche is being filled here Geoff???
    I was fairly sure that energy in compared to energy out was one of Permacultures mainstays.I do appreciate that Celia was attempting to share the joy of friendship,this however has to be tempered with reality
    This looks to me to be a totally ornamental garden, purchased from a company who apart from having trade prices is completely devoid of any redeeming factors.
    Something more functional and lasting,less ornamental would have placed this in the permaculture category,rather than the better homes and gardens style.
    It is interesting to note the down pipe and also the large slew of dirt obviously caused by “washout” on the back doorstep.Perhaps water storage would have been a more fee-sable long lasting solution and would have achieved the same result?
    Sydney after all is a water starved city.
    As it stands the project seems to fail to deliver on so many of the important Permaculture principals.Perhaps I am missing something?

  5. Man, harsh comments for a nice little story. Let’s not let the “perfect be the enemy of the good”! There’s nothing wrong with putting too much effort into a small garden if it brings peace and pleasure to oneself. Just don’t expect to make a living off such a garden; and it’s better than a lawn.

  6. Instead of criticising, people should be happy that somebody is doing the “dirty” job of trying to change some “high consumption way of life” people to something closer to nature. Is important for all of us, the ones who really want to save the world, to be indulgent and understanding with all this people who don’t know as much as us about environment. If we just criticise them all the time (with good arguments, it’s true), they will never hear us, thinking of us like these “hippy greenys extremists, who are never happy anyway and just says that everything being done around them is wrong”.
    I don’t ask you to go and share “happy planting time” with a bunch of mother nature illiterates, but don’t mess with the ones who are doing the dirty job of changing the mass way of thinking.
    I use to be very critical about people living, thinking that humankind was the worse parasite of the planet, it turns to be that humankind could be the only to change that back, so let’s do it, let’s get to work! And, looking for diversity, concentrate on what you do without needing to criticise the work of other people who is not like yours…
    And I don’t really think as bad about these people, they just make a living, without asking the same questions that us, and I trust Cecilia to bring little by little these people to the “right path” whatever that means to them.

  7. Bravo Cecilia! I love your work, bringing beauty in the garden is so important, and universal. Permaculture teaches us how to adapt ourselves to any situation and people… You’re a master at it. Small space, shade, modern lifestyle, it was a real challenge. Thank you for sharing it; I’m waiting for some more!

  8. Hello Cecilia

    It seems to me that Lisa has a point or a number of them here. I am not quite sure as to what the whole purpose of this is on a permaculture site. It looks like you had lots of “friendly” fun but at the expense of the permaculture ethic of earth care.

    peace love and permaculture

  9. Yes Lisa, you’ve missed pattern 172, GARDEN GROWING WILD **.

    A garden which grows true to its own laws is not a wilderness, yet not entirely artificial either.

    Grow grasses, mosses, bushes, flowers, and trees in a way which comes close to the way that they occur in nature: intermingled, without barriers between them, without bare earth, without formal flower beds, and with all the boundaries and edges made in rough stone and brick and wood which become a part of the natural growth.


    What Cecilia has made here is intermingled, without barriers between them, soon without bare earth, and surely with the boundaries and edges made from rough stone to become part of the natural growth.

    Also I can repetitively see the 15 properties of life come alive in Cecilia’s designs:

    Levels of Scale
    Strong Centers
    Thick Boundaries
    Alternating Repetition
    Positive Space
    Good Shape
    Local Symmetries
    Deep Interlock and Ambiguity
    The Void
    Simplicity and Inner Calm
    Not Separateness


    “As Alexander correctly notes, we are still captivated by the power of Cartesian reductionism, the metaphor of the machine. It utterly dominates our conception of the natural world and of the design problem. It gives us great reductive power over nature, the power to take apart and reassemble at vast scales for our own purposes. And yet we pay a terrible price: like Humpty Dumpty, we sometimes find ourselves unable to get all the pieces to go back together again. Or rather, we find it impossible, since we don’t really understand, in the current world view, what it means for “things to go together” in the first place.” See:

    I think Cecilia is one of very few nowadays who really understands how “things go together”, and that she has already entered the post-Cartesian world-view which we all need to enter to make our world whole!

    In Cecilia’s work we can see a glimpse of God in matter:

    A house without beauty (A Form Language) is not sustainable, no matter how much water harvesting, how many solar cell panels or how effective a compost toilet we make. The same thing goes for a garden. This is because beauty nourishes our minds just like organic food nourishes our bodies, and it becomes more and more clear that body and mind is intermingled. Cecilia is a leading expert with a true talent for how to nourish our world and our minds with true beauty. Thanks a lot Cecilia!

  10. HI
    In order for this post not to descend further into debacle,perhaps Geoff(if that was Geoff) could come back and explain what niche exactly is being filled with stories and projects such as this.
    Oyvind it’s sad to see the slavish way you worship Cecilia and also Alexander for that matter it is not healthy.
    I think that any reasonable designer could put together something far more functional that accomplished all the main tenets of permaculture design,as well as creating beauty and bringing people together.
    This type of vapid make over and “backyard blitz” is a far cry from the highly functional P>E>T days and Permablitz days that I have attended.
    This is right up there with the Bunny stories Craig,a little more editorial rigour is called for I think.Shame on you all,for this indulgence.
    Pasquali Bonito

  11. What’s with all the negatively here? Fault finding seems to be the latest craze of late.

    Please – it’s a little post on someone beautifying a shady part of their urban section, where you’d struggle to get much edible happening. There are not a few people who, when you try to introduce permaculture to them, say “no, no, I want my garden to look nice”, as they assume permaculture about having one big overgrown mess of plants. What’s wrong with these people making a good impression by having a little aesthetic doorstep diversity?

    I’m sure we’ll see a post on their back garden and its developing potential in due course.

    Nurture, don’t divide….

  12. Gday Craig
    I will answer that one for you Craig,it’s rubbish,it’s not people care to give them what’s bad for them just so you don’t hurt their feelings,it’s not earth care to drive all over the place shopping at what amounts to a battery farm for plants to buy living trinkets,that will suck resources as long as they live and return nothing to the soil,and there was a great big greedy feast had by all,all day long certainly not return the surplus or fair share in a world where a billion are starving.
    It is just not supportable,it’s this exact style of consumerism that has bought us to this point,if you are serious about this current situation there is no room for spoiled western indulgence any-more that times gone.You have had some great stories up and you can’t please everyone all the time,however this is not even close to the mark.It was like “plant porn” with a really dodgy story line.
    Best wishes Fernando

  13. But Fernando – the approach….

    Sure, you’re right, there are better places to get plants. Sure, many of us eat too much.

    Again, the approach….

    Basic psychology, and lessons learned from interpersonal relationship experiences (family, friends, colleagues) tells us all (or tells me, at least) that if you want a person to head in a certain direction, you won’t get there by attacking them and beating them into a defensive corner.

    I see a similar trend lately, as I’ve seen in some of the world’s religions. Permaculture calls one to a higher standard, but then rather than applying that standard to oneself, you start to measure everyone around you against that standard and judging those who don’t measure up. In the bid for ‘perfection’, you become a judgmental perfectionist. It’s not becoming, and it’s definitely not constructive. The only person left feeling ‘better’ and perhaps ‘superior’ is yourself. Nobody else benefits.

    True ‘perfection’ in the permaculture realm, I think, means doing your best to head in the right direction yourself, whilst exercising patience, kindness and wisdom in encouraging, not coercing, those around you to follow your example.

    A recent post from your own group springs to my mind:

    At bottom of that post, in the closing credits, the event’s sponsors get a big ‘thank you’, including that wonderful people- and planet-destroying corporation, McDonalds, and others who many permaculturists would take exception to (like Bunnings and Budget Rent-a-Car). Should I have left that post off the site because it is a plug for these corps? I’m pretty confident McDonalds has caused and is causing far more damage to people and place than the ‘battery farm for plants’ you’re railing against ever could in a thousand years.

    You can beat clay into a pottery mould of your own making, but you can’t do it with that wonderful free-thinking entity that is called a human being.

    I’m just asking you to play nice. Everyone is dealing with different circumstances, and dealing with people at different levels of understanding.

  14. @ Pasquali, first of all I must say I’m utterly sad that you don’t share Alexander’s vision for a new kind of world:

    A New Kind of World

    A world in which we experience, daily, our unity with the universe

    A world which is made like nature – and in which we are daily making nature

    A world in which the daily process of making, adapting, and deepening is a vital part of our lives

    A world in which there is something to believe in – not a religious thing – but a believable vision of God as the unity behind all things which guides us and impels us to act in certain ways. God not conceived of as a construct of any organized religion, but as a fact of nature and its wholeness

    A social and political world which contains (and explicitly provides) the freedom for us to act in this way – something we rarely have today

    A world in which we feel the cultural trace of human beings before us who made and loved every part

    A world in which we value ourselves according to the beauty of the places we have carved out, and modified, and taken care of, and in which we have woven our lives together with that of other people, animals, and plants

    A world in which buildings are shaped according to these principles, and laws governing the shaping of buildings in this way, are the laws most precious to us, and those to which we give most weight

    A world in which we have an entirely new understanding of what it means for the world to be sustainable: not a technical matter, but a matter in which respect for the whole governs

    Above all, there is a world in which meaning exists. The deadly and frightening state in which we do not know why we are here, is replaced by a world in which there is a natural and accurate and truthful picture — an answer to the question ‘why am I here’ – one that is not made up, but that stems from and accords with the true nature of things

    – Christopher Alexander


    I don’t worship Alexander (maybe Cecilia a bit because she’s quite beautiful (maybe this is the underlying reason for the stupid comments to this post?)), but I surely share Alexander’s vision, just like I share his post-Cartesian world-view.

    Secondly, without Alexander permaculture could not exist! The organization of life through patterns and pattern languages as system design was first defined by Alexander, and later adopted by the software and the permaculture movements. So if you look upon yourself as a permaculturist Alexander is one of your founding fathers, just like Bill Mollison.

    Third, if you are one of those who have rejected A Pattern Language, you are carrying a heavy responsibility upon your shoulders:

    “One of the great books of the century”.

    “Alexander tried to show that architecture connects people to their surroundings in an infinite number of ways, most of which are subconscious. For this reason, it was important to discover what works; what feels pleasant; what is psychologically nourishing; what attracts rather than repels. These solutions, found in much of vernacular architecture, were abstracted and synthesized into the “Pattern Language” about 20 years ago.

    Unfortunately, although he did not say it then, it was obvious that contemporary architecture was pursuing design goals that are almost the opposite of what was discovered in the pattern language. For this reason, anyone could immediately see that Alexander’s findings invalidated most of what practicing architects were doing at that time. The Pattern Language was identified as a serious threat to the architectural community. It was consequently suppressed. Attacking it in public would only give it more publicity, so it was carefully and off-handedly dismissed as irrelevant in architecture schools, professional conferences and publications.

    Now, 20 years later, computer scientists have discovered that the connections underlying the Pattern Language are indeed universal, as Alexander had originally claimed. His work has achieved the highest esteem in computer science. Alexander himself has spent the last twenty years in providing scientific support for his findings, in a way that silences all criticism. He will publish this in the forthcoming four-volume work entitled “The Nature of Order”. His new results draw support from complexity theory, fractals, neural networks, and many other disciplines on the cutting edge of science.

    After the publication of this new work, our civilization has to seriously question why it has ignored the Pattern Language for so long, and to face the blame for the damage that it has done to our cities, neighborhoods, buildings, and psyche by doing so.” – Nikos A. Salingaros


    If you, Pasquali, is one of those ignoring the Pattern Language, then you have to face the blame for the damage that it has done to our cities, neighborhoods, buildings, and psyche by doing so.

  15. I think the difference between McDonalds giving to Gold Coast Permaculture as opposed to a “highly regarded permaculturist” dropping in for the equivalent of a Big Mac at Plantmark” is fairly big actually. Whilst some of the comment has certainly not been particularly positive, it appears that it was the comment from Geoff Lawton lauding Cecilia for what she was doing in this story is what has hit home with some people. Geoff does have a responsibility to now explain how Cecilia is being such “a unique shining permaculture star” by engaging in what is essentially rampant consumerism and some very dodgy gardening and calling it permaculture. I am not sure how getting a 50% discount on plants when 50% of them are planned to die is such a good deal either.
    Love the “plant porn”!

  16. Hey Cecilia,

    I enjoyed your article, it was fun as all good learning experiences should be.

    What a lot of the negative people here don’t understand is that:

    a) you’ve increased the fertility and diversity of that patch of soil; and
    b) you’ve introduced some people to organic gardening and permaculture.

    The reality is that no one knows where either point a or b could lead and what the outcomes may be. Flowers today, vegetables and fruit trees tomorrow. They may even get a desire to grow a food forest. You simply just don’t know, but we have to start somewhere.

    Shame on you negative commenters. I hope that you are walking the talk, because my house is in order, is yours?



  17. Well said Chris, and Craig, you are expressing all I wanted to say, but in a much more civilised way…
    I really wonder if half of the people saying that this is wrong are really living the “principles”, as you say, sounds like crazy religious people preaching peace with a gun in their hands, if you are such a purist, what do you do in front of the computer, go grow the wheat for your every morning little toast!
    Go hide in a cave and be “nature”.
    But if you REALLY want to change things, that means you will have to help other people to change their way of thinking (Permaculture Day paid by Mc Donald is also a way, I’m not judging).

    Please, help us change the image of the basic greenies always unhappy about everything, to a voluntary capable group of people, really open to others making everyone else willing to be part of that.

    Diversity, one of the most basic concepts of Permaculture, is also related to humans, we need all kind of people related to PC spread out in the world. Imagine a politician initiated to Permaculture principles, a oil drilling company owner finding what Permaculture is and starting to asking himself questions… Maybe these people can really help us to change things in a much bigger way, in fact without these people I don’t think we will be able to pass the stage of “marginals” (by the way, this examples are real).
    I’m not saying that buying everything to make a garden is the good way to make a garden, but if it is the price to pay to bring more people in, so be it! After a PDC these guys will know better, and they could become a much “hardier” permie than a lot of the ones who use to criticise them.
    So don’t put yourselves in the “marginal” role, because you’ll be the only ones not doing much to make a real change.
    Respect for the people who spread the word, in a positive way!

    I hope that one day we’ll be able to all join forces to finally go further, and I’ll be really respectful of the ones who thought like you and in one point change their mind, because I’m one.

  18. Dear Craig,
    I have never belonged to any group,I do sponsor many events and organisations as I see fit.If a group does decide to take money from Mc donalds,and turn that bad money good then the kudos goes to them.This type of engagement and economic Aikido shows a real wisdom.I can clarify that point for you though.GCP did receive a number of free coupons from Mc Donalds along with a letter expressing Mcdonald’s desire to support local groups and events.
    After hearty laughs from the crew at GCP it was decided that it just did not sit well enough into the ethics for them to accept such an offer and they were promptly passed on to a local children’s sporting group who’s ethical framework did permit this type of gift.
    Although not consulted about this I did offer the opinion to the group that if you can take it and turn it good that’s not so bad.It’s a little bit like taking shit and turning it into a garden.As opposed to the story we are commenting on here which took a garden and turned it into shit.
    As far as Budget rent a car is concerned the donation came in the form of a franchisee who is a personal long standing friend of mine.I had a conversation with him on the incredible work GCP has done on the Gold Coast.He lives in Mackay but as an avid environmentalist and philanthropist he felt that he could add to the event.The donation from myself and from my friend was given on the proviso that it was not mentioned as true acts of altruism deserve anonymity.Unfortunately in the zeal of the author this was forgotten.
    It was I guess also forgotten to remove the Mcdonald’s endorsement,this happens in a busy organisation.From what I understand the article was passed back and forth a number of times before it was published.That’s another kettle of fish altogether though.I am enjoying this robust debate …over to you.
    Best wishes

  19. Agreed Fede, thanks for your thoughts.

    Thanks Fernando. Please don’t take my mentioning McDonalds, etc., as any kind of criticism. I was just trying to make a point that we all think differently from different perspectives. As some have taken exception to the post above, in like manner, others might take exception to the one I mentioned. The point is that we are all in difference circumstances dealing with different types of people – and that we cannot afford to be judgmental and negative when people are doing what they believe is right. In the end, that’s the main thing – that people are doing what they believe is right. With positive encouragement such gardens like the above, which are presently in their infancy, can become so much more.

    The point is to nurture.

    Thanks again.

  20. We are are all in different positions on a learning journey and we are all making a move in a positive direction from a position that was once a comfort zone to a new exciting positive horizon.
    Cecilia fills a niche in the permaculture movement that is quite empty in many places, because most of us do not have her skill of charming and exciting people with seeing the joy of making many small space beneficial connections and beauty at the same time while having lots of fun. This also usually begins their permaculture learning journey.
    All good permaculture teachers tell their students “when trying to find work find an empty niche and fill it” the human community is an unusual ecosystem with quite rare endangered diversity.
    Shine on Cecilia shine on.

  21. It seems to me that between Øyvind and Geoff Lawton the debate has lost something somewhere. This is not about being a “judgmental perfectionist” it is about a critical examination of what appears to be conspicuous consumption coupled with dubious gardening practice. The comments from Geoff on Cecilia’s apparent “good model on the ground” appear to differ markedly with his highly critical comments on the IPC site directed at others in the Permaculture movement who are actually out there doing good models on the ground.

  22. Hi Randolf – “highly critical comments”?? I have access to the IPC listserv archives, and try as I might I cannot find any critical comments, let alone any “highly critical comments” from Geoff.

    Re the article above, I think Geoff made his thoughts clear, that he sees Cecilia filling a niche role of introducing permaculture concepts in a very pleasant way to new groups of people.

  23. Great work Cecilia. I read your post this morning and also read all the comments. Its been bugging me all day and didn’t want to get sucked into the vortex of negative Permaculture.
    I love what you have done for this couple. We all need that patch in the garden for art, design & beauty.
    What really gets me mad is that I know these Nay sayers personally and they have always given me praise and credit in the past for Permaculture Projects I have undertaken.

    I used to go to the football at the MCG in Melbourne when I was a kid with my Dad. What used to get me was the abuse these football players got from people that never played a professional game or amateur game in there life and feel free to let fly with taunts and abuse for choices made in a split second BY the player, while the armchair sportsman (or for our situation ARMCHAIR PERMACULTURALIST’S) would have done things much differently had they been there!

    I, like you Cecilia, prefer to get involved and get our hands dirty rather then spend every waking minute of the day on the computer, where the ARMCHAIR Permaculturalist prefer to do there work.

    Its amazing, you never see posts on work the Nay sayers are doing. Funny about that!

  24. Nick, do you not have most of your work done by sub-contractors (hands dirty etc) and did you not recently post an article on a project that even you said was totally uneconomical and I would add, also altogether impractical as a design project that presumably, you were providing to us as one we should all look to for guidance? Cecilia’s project appears to be a very small scale version of that. It should not be regarded as naysayers being critical. More that a debate is being held about what actually is permaculture. This project does not seem to fit but is certainly, a “patch in the garden for art, design & beauty”, no matter how unsustainable.

  25. Joni,

    The word unsustainable gets thrown around a lot and I personally copped it in the neck for my own usage of that word. It did however, give me pause to have a think about what that word meant.

    I acknowledge now that there is nothing that is sustainable over the long term. The word should be avoided. Over the short term however, there are plenty of activities that are sustainable.

    However, if you look at the bigger picture, when a patch of soil is improved, whether it is for flower, succulents, vegetables or fruit etc. then it becomes the beginning of a journey. My point above still stands because you don’t know where this journey will lead. Even putting in an ornamental garden can provide outcomes you may never have considered such as housing for predator insects, frogs etc. You just don’t know and these things are in such short supply now especially in urban areas where grass is king.

    A good example is that my neighbour runs bee hives and I have a food forest, so I get the benefit of his work as he does mine. I certainly don’t give my neighbour grief because they may decide to plant flowers rather than edible species.

    Again, as I pointed out above, this activity may inspire people to get their hands dirty.

    We’re all on a continuum of experience and attitudes so we should try to be tolerant of each other.



  26. Hey folks, can we put an end to all the negativity?
    Wherever and however we begin, it’s a start. I began in the mid-70s, without having heard of Permaculture. I started work in an old farm garden with stone-fruit trees that hadn’t seen a pruning in 30 years. My only print resources were an old wartime edition of a US book called 5 Acres & Independence, & a remaindered copy of a book by Prince Charles’ head gardener that had me doing the French dig method and triple-box composting. From there on it was all observation, recording, & experiment.
    I needed some way to keep down snails & slugs so I dug a pond & led water into it from runoff above & set duck eggs under a bantam hen. To keep the ducklings out of the garden except when I needed them in there, I used bust-up old metal irrigation pipes in a 2-layer timber peg frame: easily shifted & replaced.
    As I am also (among many things) a sculptor, I used other junk, like cow skulls, car parts, etc on poles & tree boles throughout the veggie garden. I called them spirit-traps (no religious intent), but found small insect-eating birds took to them, first as shelter, then even nesting there.
    Another move, & the experience of building a garden over 5 years, literally from the stones up, on a backyard stripped of soil by a bulldozer before house construction, I finally discovered Permaculture & took courses with Lea Harrison & Max Lindegger which pushed me in the right direction. But I still maintain that where one begins does not matter! Learn from wherever and whoever is available; observe, record, and experiment are the keys. Not everything will work. Location, climate & all the other variables do matter. But the important thing is to make a start, and keep going.
    Sure, we can see faults in what others do. No doubt others will be able to see the faults in our work too. But let’s put the negativity aside & encourage & inspire each other. Otherwise we’ll turn people off even the attempt. Negativity leads eventually to elitism. We end up in little in-group enclaves instead of an all-embracing movement.

  27. Ah, somehow this all reminds me of this story – maybe by Gandhi, does anyone know its actual origins?

    Once a man and the devil were walking down a lonely street on a moonless night. As they went along, they saw another figure in front of them.

    “Who is that?” asked the man.
    “Well, he is a man, like you”, answered the devil.

    They then saw him pick up something from the ground.
    “What has he picked up?” asked the man.
    “He has picked up the Truth”, was the answer.
    “What will he do with it?”
    “Oh, he will share it with his friends.”
    “Will they understand it?”
    “Well …” smiled the devil, and paused. “They will build temples out of it and throw the Truth out!”

    The devil paused again and smiled to let the point sink into the man’s head.

    “And then my role begins”, continued the devil.

    The man was stupefied.
    “So”, said the devil, “I am happy man has picked up the Truth!”

  28. I find Cecilia’s approach fun and inspiring. She has a sound grasp of permaculture principles and applies them in unusual and creative ways. The world NEEDS a diverse abundance of permaculture practitioners to unleash our creativity! And this may not happen if we spend our time arguing about what is and isn’t PC permaculture. There’s plenty of room for all of us. If Cecilia’s work is not your cup of tea, brew a pot of coffee.

  29. Hi Cecilia, please remember,’Criticism says more about the critic than those they presume to ridicule!’
    I’m sure you have left many Japanese and others with much to appreciate in your efforts and permaculture – just bask in the good times.

  30. A quick quiz

    (Q) Pick the genuine permaculturalist

    1/ Michelle Obama
    2/ Cecilia Macaulay
    3/ George Monbiot

    (A) ʎɐႨnɐɔɐɯ ɐ!Ⴈ!ɔәɔ


  31. I found this article to be fun and engaging and the garden to be a great use of a shaded side yard. Where their neighbors probably have nothing, these folks came together in fun and friendship to create beauty.

    And Cecilia – I’m a HUGE fan of your artwork, your whimsy and the way you have of bringing people together.

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