Last year I had the pleasure of working with Students on my Forest Garden Design course to develop a design for the Bungendore Community Forest Garden in Bungendore, NSW. The site is on the edge of town in Bungendore near the Commons and has an area of about 0.1 Ha or just over a quarter acre. This will be a great project to watch over the coming years.
The course, a two day advanced exploration and application of Forest Garden theory was taught in conjunction with Caroola Farm who have been doing some amazing work in the region with their polyculture farming and also their social permaculture work. Part of this work has been the very important Network Building, which was how the students on the course came to be designing a community forest garden in Bungendore. I hope that this post can help other community groups to start developing designs for their own community forest gardens and we’ll see more popping up in our cities and towns around the country.
A community garden was established in Bungendore a number of years ago by members of Bungendore Landcare who where hoping to develop a productive community space in some available council land near the Bungendore Commons. However, given that many people in Bungendore commute to Canberra and have homestead blocks, there was a lack of participation from the community and with a new cycle of design and an evaluation of the projects previous limitations and successes we were hoping to revitalise the space. A number of students in attendance were from the Lyneham Commons project which I had done some collaborative design work for in February. They were hoping to hone their design skills to move their project forward and it was a really pleasure to have them in attendance.
On the morning of the course we met David Watson at the garden and he showed us around the space. David Watson and his wife Judith Turley have been community organisers around regenerative agriculture in Canberra and the Bungendore area for about 40 yrs. I saw David speak earlier this year about his experiences developing a working Permaculture farm with a design that was developed with David Holmgren. The quote that really stuck with me was “By having a design and a plan I always knew what the next step would be when I had the time or money, to move the farm towards my goals”. David had been talking with the active members of the community gardens and defining their goals and projects.
The student’s interviewed and questioned David about the goals of the project, limitations and other considerations and also gathered information about the projects budget and timelines. The morning was lovely as the site is surround by large oak trees which where planted by early permaculturists in the Bungendore area in the late 1970’s. After David left we worked as a group to collate the information that David had brought us into an easily communicable format. We did this using a series of Mind Maps.
Well defined goals for a project are always important and even more so when it is a community project as all participants need to agree on what they are working towards and this needs to be easily communicated to newcomers so that they know what the project is about. As a group we identified 4 primary goals for the project. These are shown below. The garden had suffered in the past as the garden was attempting to grow vegetables and didn’t have enough time or labour resources to maintain the work required for production. The community is hoping that with a new design that is more focused on perennial production new life will be breathed into the garden. Another main goal of the project is to provide a “Variety Bank” for many of the different varieties of pome and stone fruit that are present in the region.
Following our definition of the Goals for the design we analysed what were some of the constraints or things to be considered which had limited the first iteration of the community garden. By defining and analysing these we can learn from the lessons of the past and also easily check design ideas against the constraints of the project.
The aesthetics of the site needed to be re-developed so that it appealed more to the closest neighbours who felt the site looked neglected. A concept design also needed to factor in the ebb and flow of volunteer labour in maintaining the site and also factor in limited water access and the perrenial problem of running grasses like Cooch and Kikuyu present on site.
Lastly we defined the Budget and Resources that the Community Garden Group had available. There are a large number of interested people in the community but they are not enthusiastic enough to attend the garden weekly. This makes it ideal to implement the design on single days that are infrequent. More people will come given the infrequency and the large labour force can help to accomplish the goals of the working bee. “Many Hands Make Light Work”
Given that the primary infrastructure of the garden is in place (fences, water, paths) and the garden has a tool shed and tools, two of the primary resources required for a garden are taken care off. Additionally, the garden has neighbours who are keen to donate soil and manure for compost which will go along way towards helping establish the garden. Further, many people in the area have heritage fruit trees that have been grown in the region for around 150yrs. They are keen to donate these to the garden so that the garden can preserve and propagate these varieties.
With a clear and communicable picture of the garden, as a group we started to assess the environmental aspects of the garden. We analysed and discussed the climate of the site, the geology, water availability and lots more. The key environmental considerations we identified were collected for presentation to the community group. These environmental constraints and benefits will be used to develop the concept design for the garden and help to provide the justification for design decisions. The summarized list did not capture all of the analysis that we performed for the site but after we developed a concept design, we felt that these aspects best communicated to the community the design decisions that were made.
We headed back to Caroola for some food and a break and then the students set about designing for the site. With a clear picture of the site and the context it was time to start using design skills. We drew up base maps for the site on butchers paper so that we could design freely and change things as we needed. As a group we also reviewed Dave Jacke’s Forest Garden Pattern Language to inspire design ideas and decisions.
The groups all produced some great designs. We reviewed and critiqued each group design and then looked for common elements amongst the designs that could be brought together to generate a concept design that we could present to the community garden. The final concept design is shown below. Some of the design themes included looping paths that allow visitors to meander, walking links to the commons and the neighbouring bowlo (which has a toilet, which the community garden currently lacks), wicking beds for vegetables that will exclude the grass from the vegetables, a Heritiage fruit tree food forest and a combination bush garden, edible hedge, windbreak for the southern and western sides which will also help to enclose the space and please the neighbours who don’t like the view of the shed.
Concept designs a great for communicating your design themes for a space, but they are not always that practical. I like to think of concept designs as the inspiration or the artists impression. They are great for showing how and why you have made design choices but not that practical as a tool for getting the design implemented.
To ensure the Bungendore community had something they could move forward with we started developing an implementation design that broke the project and desired elements into stages that the community group could implement as funds and labour became available. We also identified what were the more pressing needs that should be implemented first and what could wait.
For each of these stages the student drew up overlays that showed how the space would develop over time. Designing the development of a space over time and designing succession is one of the key aspects of Forest Gardening as a garden is never static and still like on the page.
By developing a design through time the community has a clearer idea of how the garden will progress and also has the opportunity to evaluate the space and undertake re-design with new information and their experiences implementing the primary stages. With this work done, a group of local students who were participating developed a detailed design for the first stage. They selected species for the windbreak and developed designs for the wicking beds while other students applied their design process skills to the lyneham commons or their own projects. Later on we presented this design to the community. They were ecstatic and ready to discuss the design at their next meeting and hopefully get under way.
Stay tuned for updates about the Bundgendore Community Forest Garden. A big thanks to Penny and Paul at Caroola for their help organising the course and also to Duncan, Michelle, Alex and Michael who worked to develop the detailed design for the first stage. I hope that this post has inspired you to work with your community developing Community Forest Gardens and bringing perennial food production and wildlife suppourt to your suburb, city or town. If you are interested in help facilitating a design workshop. Please get it touch. Would love questions or comments below.