Sarah Smuts-Kennedy | Artist + Biodynamic gardener/Permaculture gardener

Mahurangi Peninsula, North-East Auckland | November 2015

"I'm designing my garden for the 80 year old I will become.“... more text below images

Sarah Smuts-Kennedy Artist + Biodynamic gardener/Permaculture gardener | Mahurangi Peninsula, North-East Auckland | November 2015

Our garden is located on Mahurangi West Peninsula, 45 minutes from the Auckland CBD - the closest remote rural address that I could find. Hamish commutes so this was important.

It faces directly north-east over looking the Mahurangi Inlet. We get to witness the sunrise and we see 3 sacred mountains from our living room. We get all day sun everywhere on the site, all year. I have to grow shade. We get the tough north-east wind but are protected from the southerlies and the easterly. We don’t get frosts. 

I choose to place our garden between the house and the eastern boundary. This is directly next to the kitchen. I designed the property doing a permaculture design workshop before we were able to move onto the land. We have pretty much stuck to the original design.

Despite having 10 acres we have kept the edible garden very contained - I am designing it for the 80 year old I will become. It is built on the side of a man- made engineered compacted clay hill that is part of a driveway we built to get access to our property. We had to move the most incredible soil to do this. Once it is moved it is never the same again. I think of what we are doing now as reparations for the damage we did to live here. But it is also useful as there is so much land in the world that needs to be rehabilitated. We are learning how to do this as we build our garden - every bit of good earth we have is soil we have built ourselves from weeds, seaweed, cow manure, and hay. It’s hard on the back but good for the mind.

I think the edible garden area is approx 1/5 of an acre. Only 2/3 of it is finished the other is about to have more infrastructure done. (We’re planning to terrace some more garden beds and edge them all with basalt rock.)  I have a number of garden systems I am using. We have wild sections that are more like a fruit forest feel. We have wooden raised garden beds and we have hillsides that we grow on.

Our soil base is engineered compacted clay. Not a great start for a garden! So we develop our gardens with compost we've made ourselves which we build on top of the clay. This is an environment that slugs and snails love. When you put the compost out onto the garden the birds go crazy for it and can unpick months of growing seedlings in one afternoon. I have lost loads of seedlings this season to both slug, snails and bird attacks. I am testing a new system where I place plastic containers around the seedling until I think they are safe. This seems to be helping a bit. The birds give you a good indication of where the soil is really alive.

Biodynamics and permaculture offer brilliant ways to focus on the relationship between biology and energy. As an artist I am interested in energy systems and how everything is connected and how things work. I am also interested in how humans might be useful to this planet. The garden functions as a place to think through these ideas and questions and test them in an evidence based way. 

We also have large native areas we are developing that produce food for insects and birds. We now support families of wild quail and pheasants. We are seeing more native butterflies each year. 

We have two beehives and two cows. We hope to get chickens soon. Chickens require more attention than bees and cows and we are building up to the commitment of being here every morning and evening.

I try to lie to myself about how long I spend in the garden. I share my day and night dreams between my artwork and the garden. I know I am in trouble when the garden dreams take over. The truth is probably 2-3 hours a day. I have a morning shift and sometimes an afternoon shift. But I grow 90 percent of our vegetables and 40 percent of our fruit (we freeze, dry and preserve over the summer and autumn months which sees us through winter and early spring) so I think of it as a part time job. In the weekends we can spend all day in it if we want to.

There are so many garden heroes in the world.  I come across one almost every month, historical and contemporary. The first garden I fell in love with was Monet’s garden. I visited it when I was 22 and it made a great impression on me. First and foremost I think of this garden as an artist’s garden for our time. It’s my political and social earth work. I asked myself what would be the most useful artists garden now? My garden is a research response to equipping oneself for resilience. I hope to inspire others to turn their back on chemically generated agriculture and return once again to collaborating with biology and rhythm. Ancient Modernism.

Our biggest gardening chore is the ongoing building of compost and watering in summer.

Occasionally we have wwoofers. Hamish’s area is the natives and mine is the edible area. We help each other when we need it but most of the work in each of our spaces is done by Hamish and myself.

It’s wonderful to create shapes and watch them unfold. We produce about 90 percent of the vegetables we eat and we know they are nutrient dense and chemical free. 

The best time in our garden? Morning for seeing what they have been up to at night and evening to make sure everyones ok for the night to come.

Favourite season? Hmmmn, Spring is hard core there is so much to be done. Summer you have to make sure everyone survives and it’s our most productive time. Autumn you are actually preparing the ground for next spring. Winter lets us off the hook a bit.  This is when we can go on holiday.

My favourite gardening tool? My mind, my hands and my back in that order.

We are growing soil and biology not food. Food is a by-product of this process.

I teach in this garden. When we have wwoofers I give them at least 1 hour solid teaching a day. I always intended it to be a teaching space, a place to re inspire non-chemical agriculture. We do lots of lunches in summer as a way to invite people into the space and to taste the food which is the result of biological relationships and energy.

Growing good Cabbages and Broccoli has been my gardening high. Good Brassicas are indicators of good soil. This winter we had a continued supply of awesome cauliflowers, cabbages and broccoli.

My number one gardening tip is to use biodynamic preparations 500 and 501, CPP and the compost preparations to support your garden. Overtime they will make your food sweeter and your environment more robust. They are the icing on the cake. Save your own seed and support seed savers everywhere. One day their efforts will save our arse.

You can see more of Sarah's garden and permaculture and bio-dynamic gardening techniques at Maunga Kereru.

POD thanks photographer Lottie Hedley.