Don't Forget Amenity - A Different Kind of Productive

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When planning out our garden area, I don’t know about you, but my idea was for our yard to be as productive as possible. The thing is, my understanding of the term “productive” has changed over time.

Initially my understanding of productive was that it should produce fruit, vegetables and herbs which I and my family could use directly. So that my emphasis on planning and construction was things like the veggie beds, chook tractor, herb spiral, the fruit tree circle, banana circle and so on. Such was my level of knowledge. I was mercenary and wanted to be directly compensated for my efforts in the form of food or medicinal herbs or even cotton which we grew but that was it.

Home grown onions

As I enquired more into how things worked, and understood the permaculture approach more I came to understand that for a space to be productive did not necessarily mean that the payback was direct. If I installed spaces which were designed to increase biodiversity – support the introduction and maintenance of beneficial insects, birds, bats, reptiles etc. by providing food, water and nesting/living spaces, these would be productive too, but in a different way.

If I included ways to improve biodiversity in my plan and in my garden then this would reduce the amount of work I had to do and, ironically, also make my garden even more productive. By increasing the numbers of beneficial insects and birds etc. they would assist me by consuming and parasitizing pest insects, thereby reducing their numbers and the damage they did, without work from me! Not only that but pollinator insects and birds would ensure the productivity of my fruit and fruit producing vegetables.

Bug hotel and bar

The next round of planning and building focussed on a whole stack of different stuff, like self-watering bird and insect waterers, a bug hotel, insectary garden beds, native bushes and trees which attract birds and insects, and a microbat roost. All of these things were not directly productive as I originally understood it, but they reduced the amount of work I had to do, which was fine with me!

When I put the garden together to be “productive” there was also another form of productivity I had not taken into account – after all the work I had done on it, the sheer pleasure of being out in the outdoor garden areas to relax. I had not specifically put together areas which could be used to harvest the productivity of the pleasure we get from just being in the garden. So this became the third type of productivity and I started putting these areas into place.

Grassed Area

One area which I had been looking at re-doing was the grassed area under and around the clothesline, to make it more productive. Certainly, during our open days, a number of people over the years had expressed surprise that we actually have grass in the back yard. I have been required to keep some areas free so that we can transport the chook tractor over them, between vegetable growing areas. This was due to the fact that the aforementioned vegetable growing areas were not part of an overall plan but developed over time where they would best fit. So it was sheer luck that I had not come up with anything that made sense to make some of these grassed areas more productive.

The thing was though, we were in that quiet period between the kids moving out to make lives for themselves and grandkids appearing. That period is now over and we have two grandkids (at the moment). While meditating on things I realised that we needed to maintain the back lawn area, for kids/grandkids to play on, so I shelved any plans for those areas. In other words, they were already productive.

Back Deck

The back deck was put in to provide summer shade for the back of the house, but it is also a great area to sit with a coffee or breakfast on a summer morning or to relax and read on a winter’s afternoon. Details on how we added the deck are here.

The Front Park Area

This is the area under the mulberry tree in the front yard. It has always been nicely shady, but that meant the grass did not grow very well so the area tended to look a bit tacky, but was a nice place to sit and read in the shade. I developed a plan to improve the look of the area and make it productive, form the amenity point of view.

To define the edge, I used the hose to mark out a curvy border to my satisfaction. Then along that line I place a series of bricks (saved from the old fireplace plinth) end to end so that I marked out the edge of our parkland. For the sheer fun of it I used more bricks to run down towards the front yard water tank, leaving a path distinct from the rest of the park area.

Inside my border it was time for the fun stuff! There may not have been much grass and weeds to look at, but there was a surprising amount there when I came to dig them out with the mattock! With the grass and weeds gone, I got in a couple of cubic metres of wood chip and spread it out over entire area. To mark out the path to the water tank as different, I got hold of a couple of bags of red dyed wood chip and used it to fill up the path area.

To make the park area more fun we installed a one piece picnic table sort of thing with benches on each side, as well as a swing for the grand kids. The area also has a couple of bath wicking beds and the (currently disused) strawberry tower.

Other Places

You amenity area does not need to be this ambitious, we also have a bench outside our living room window which has been there for years. It is a nice place to sit on a summer’s morning with a book or a coffee and now that the fruit tree circle has grown up, it is a bit more private, but you still get to see the birds, trees and flowers.

So when you ask yourself (and your family) what you want from your garden, make sure part of the answer includes a nice place to sit and enjoy it!

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