Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Book Review: Smart Permaculture Design

Jenny Allen's book is a beguiling exploration of permaculture for the novice. Filled with fascinating ideas, it emphasises the creative side of permaculture while still explaining the basic concepts that define it.

The photographs are beautiful and I enjoyed the quotations that wander through the pages, as well as the sly humour that peeps out from time to time. It is endearing to find a gardener who admits her mistakes. Her bush food garden, she points out, is very hardy, yet she has it in Zone 1 (ie, adjoining the house). Plants that really do require care are thus further away, meaning that they are less under her eye and require a little more effort to look after. She has a comfrey saga as well...

The Aspirational Trees impressed me; I hadn't seen them before. These are a more focussed alternative to brainstorming. You start with a bubble. Inside it, write something that is important to you, such as "fresh food". Draw lines out from the bubble (branches) and write what you might do in the garden to achieve it: "herbs" or "vegie patch" or "strawberries", for example.

The list of possible garden features provides intriguing options. I've never considered an aphrodisiac garden, though no doubt The Geek would be impressed. More amusing was the zoo garden, planted with such animals as tiger lilies, dragon fruit and snake beans!

There is a comprehensive list of categories of beneficial insects and how to attract them. Regular gardening books spend almost no time on this. As permaculturists might point out, a predatory wasp is very successful at removing caterpillars, requires no work of the gardener, kills no beneficial insects by mistake, and is fascinating to watch. Perhaps as the Western world becomes a bit more Green, we might see the regular gardening books change their emphases.

Now for the quibbles. The book opens with a poetic description of life in permie paradise, as do most permie books. I know why they all do it but gosh, it gets annoying after a while, particularly at a time when I am finding organic methods of kikuyu control to be pretty useless. But perhaps this battle is telling on my temper.

The main strength and weakness of the book, in my view, is due to the writer's location. Maleny, in Queensland, is a hub of permaculture, having some of the most fertile soil in Australia and a tropical climate. The list of unusual edible plants for the tropics is fascinating -- but only useful if one is in the tropics, on acreage. Suburban permaculture in the temperate zone is, I can't help thinking, a touch more difficult. Gardeners in the tropics and subtropics will gain most from the practical chapters, but the creative ideas are adaptable to any climate.

I would class this in the 'nice ideas' category rather than in 'essential reference', even for tropical gardeners. Borrow a copy through your local library before purchase.

Allen, Jenny
Smart Permaculture Design
Frenchs Forest : New Holland, c. 2002
ISBN: 187706917-5

1 comment:

han_ysic said...

Have you read Lawns into Lunch by Jill Finnane. it's all in Sydney, mostly small urban yards and very entertaining. Lots of practical stuff and recipes, each chapter is a different house, a case study on growing food in an urban environment. Highly reccomend.