Whirlwind Melbourne Trip

We’d been tossing the idea around of a trip to Melbourne and on our list was a visit to CERES. A few months beforehand we’d discovered Angelo’s Deep Green Permaculture site via the permaculture research insititute. We’d heard about CERES before and figured that was worth a visit. Angelo announced an Open Garden and we booked air tickets. Seeing Nan was also on the list.


The tram trip from the CBD was easy – stay on the #96 tram to the end of the line and then a short walk following the large brown signs. A grey morning in Melbourne did not stop a busy market and looooong wait for coffee at the little coffee and pastry stall. It gave ample time for absorbing the atmosphere. The produce was all clearly labelled as to provenance and degrees of localness/ organic-ness.

We toured ourselves around the site using the map provided.

  • Stormwater capture options were everywhere.
  • Places to sit in the garden were scattered everywhere. We need more at home.
  • The flowering plants blended into productive garden space adding colour and insect/ bird attracting habitat as well as companion planting in all likelihood.
  • We are lucky with how much space we have. The community garden plots here are tiny.
  • The highlight of the CERES visit for us was seeing the eco-house which was an older house retrofitted with a bunch of energy smart and energy saving devices. The to-do list we came away with was:
  • Seal the gaps around windows
  • Get a curtain rod to hang the curtain we bought to go on the front door.
  • Look into hydronic radiators combined with gas as the hot water source.
  • Double glazing – short term Clear Comfort, long term Eco Glaze or similar. This was the first time we’d seen the magnetic double glazing approach done with timber rather than plastic which would mean it wouldn’t look awful. No child of the 70’s I know likes brown plastic.
  • Heat Return Vent was an interesting concept. Basically when the roof cavity is warmer than the house the air is returned to the house.
  • A draught excluder of some sort for the fireplace when not in use.


It wasn’t quite the visit and outcomes we were expecting yet very useful!


An inspired leap off a tram took us to Birdie Num Nums on Nicholson St for lunch.

Recipe drawing for Robin’s lunch:


Angelo’s Backyard Food Forest

Despite the combined effort of thousands of car-driving football fans heading to the MCG causing traffic jams we got to this Open Garden in Preston. Unfortunately we missed the start of Angelo’s talk.

He has 30 fruit tree which are mainly dwarf size and closely planted to further restrict growth. The structure of the garden is formed around the trees, with each of the raised beds having at least one perennial fruit producing tree, and the bed around the tiny square of lawn having many, many more.

Now that the system is established (Potted history of the site LINK ) Angelo spends about 2 hours a week working in it. The garden is tiny – just 63 sqm of garden space.

Angelo uses star pickets as the basis for trellis and espalier plantings. One feature of this garden is a lot of vertical growth – both on frames and in using trees and fences. Where the fruit trees were not espaliered there was much more vertical than horizontal growth.

Pots (many 50cm wide) lined the fences, and the sides of the house. Some of the potted plants were espaliered and trained to the fence. Each time I see a thriving lime tree I think “I must plant one of those” and haven’t yet. I wonder if the 2 or 3 I killed through poor care make me wary? I have got a lot better these days at actually watering things in pots. Strangely enough it makes a difference.

Hydroponics are set up around the house to make use of the house walls as additional growing space. No space was wasted. Water features attract different insects and bird life and contribute to the microclimate.

Annuals growing in the garden beds are mainly self seeding but the heavy mulch sometimes over powers self starters. So Angelo does plant some purposefully.

One visitor asked about crop rotation and whether pests and diseases were  an issue with the self seeding approach. Angelo explained he sees the self seeding as a flexible rotation and random growth confuses pests. It also confuses him sometimes when he wants to pick something in particular.

Discussion in the group about brassicas brought some interesting information – apparently they don’t like superb soil, and it may be to do with the dominant soil life. Where soils are highly favourable to fungi (such as soils in which trees do well), brassicas don’t do so well. If the soils are dominated by bacteria, or are poorer, brassicas will do much better. Apparently brassicas haven’t developed beneficial relationships (ala legumes and microbes for nitrogen) so they don’t get the boost other vegies and plants do. This might explain why some of my plantings this year that were mulched with mushroom compost are looking pathetic, while the “let’s see if they survive with some compost” ones on the side of the driveway are roaring away.

In a number of the garden beds were large piles of sheep manure direct on the beds. Not an approach I’ve used before but one that must be working in this garden. A no-animal system requires different inputs. We bring in hay and animal feed; Angelo brings in sheep manure. Composting/ mulching is done directly on the beds, and if needed, one of the six compost bins or three worm farms can be called into action. He regards the weeds such as dandelion and fumitory growing in the paths as nutrient accumulators and signs of compaction; volunteers in garden beds are removed when he wants something else to grow there.

Walking around this space reinforced for me the need to get some flowering stuff happening across all seasons in our garden, plants to attract bees, birds and insects, and flower admiring humans. Nasturtiums apparently attract the right sort of wasps to combat codlin moth, so I will transplant some of our volunteers rather than feeding the plants to the rabbits as I normally do. Perhaps the rabbits will still get the flowers. Got to keep the workers happy and healthy.

It was also interesting to hear about how the Diploma of Permaculture runs as a project basis. Hmmm.

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