Left: Avocados in suburbia. Right: Asian tatsoi for winter salads.
|Dee Pignéguy's prolific persimmon. |
Visiting her plot is like entering a veritable oasis, even during the winter months. Piles of persimmon await her attention in the living room while avocados drip from a well-behaved tree thriving on a fence line. Its remarkable inclusion proves avocado trees can be productively contained in limited space on an urban property.
Dee’s garden is no overnight success story. Forty years ago she moved to the property with her husband Mike and the grounds continue to be a work in progress, with trials of new plants and ideas always on the go. Her knowledge and skill has grown over a lifetime.
“I was brought up on the coast of British Columbia and we were far removed from shops,” says Dee. “We had goats and chickens and raised pigs. We had orchards and vegetable gardens, we fished and gathered oysters and clams.”
She came to New Zealand in the days when students were paid to train at teachers college. Here she met her seafaring husband, Mike and was lured to stay in Godzone. Even in her youthful days she continued the family tradition of growing vegetables and herbs. She became a member of the Auckland Herb Society where she gave many talks. Much time was devoted to raising her children and tending the garden.
This changed when Dee and Mike spent many years on the briny running their own island delivery and eco-tour business, and working on private yachts until the late-1990s. Dee turned her hand to writing and once again found time to reconnect with the earth. To share her knowledge with children Dee and her daughter, Tamarin wrote a children’s book Feed Me Right and later a teachers’ resource book for classroom learning. More recently Dee wrote Growing Gardeners: The fun and science of organic gardening.
Her garden has become a teaching platform for people of all ages interested in growing their own food. She says the number of participants has increased dramatically in the past year.
Because people can’t grow all of their own food, Dee teaches them how to grow seasonally and, in particular, things that are expensive to buy but easy to grow, such as lettuce varieties that can be picked fresh as required.
This is no run-of-the-mill veggie patch, harbouring a diverse range of fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. Some may even say “weeds” but everything has a purpose. Chickweed is an ideal substitute for parsley in vegetable fritters and it increases people’s daily intake of greens.
In her “wild area” lots of herbs attract beneficial insects or trap the nasties. There is also a beehive for honey and improved pollination rates.
Other prolific green leafy vegetables include Asian tatsoi, Russian kale and Kiwis’ favourite standby – silverbeet.
Fruit trees supply a succession of food for most of the year and they don’t require chemical sprays. Rather than buying out-of-season fruit for her morning bowl of porridge, Dee has something on hand in her garden or in the freezer with zero carbon miles for her breakfast toppings. Precious sub-tropical lady finger bananas are protected from birds and frost with blue plastic bags. They may not look pretty but it means Dee can enjoy tree-ripened dessert bananas.
Buddha’s hand is an unusual citrus tree included for its character and the value of the zest. Unlike other citrus the pith is not bitter and the fingers can be thinly sliced and added to salads or candied.
“Kids love strawberries but they are one of the most sprayed fruits kids can consume. Washing them is a fallacy. Whatever you put into the soil goes into the plant and into the food.”
Dee grows the red gems all-year round in containers and when they send out runners, she plants them in the spring and delivers some to local schools.
“When you look at the recession and the lack of money, we have a culture of scarcity. When you start gardening and look at what nature provides you suddenly realise you have abundance. There’s more food than you can eat.”
No modern diverse garden is complete without some chooks and Dee has a brood happily pecking away at the back of her garden. They recycle scraps, and produce fertiliser and eggs.
As a teaching garden Dee doesn’t just have diversity for eating, she also has numerous examples to inspire and educate.