Lore for Gardeners


tending day 24 sept 2010

Last Friday was a big day for me at Tending. It had lots of parts to it. The Boss was still down in Bundanon surrounded by all the nettles he could brew up into his special soup, so I was left to my own devices at the urban college cloister garden.

But what good fortune to be visited by such great folks!

Here above is Vanessa, who arrived with her special book “Old Wives Lore for Gardeners”. She was particularly impressed with one particular piece of advice:

tending day 24 sept 2010

We haven’t gotten nude yet at Tending – but it is warming up! – to the point where I spent all day on Friday in bare feet. The ancient tough scratchy grass feels wonderful on the foot-skin, and even some of the squishy bits in the compost didn’t bother me, it was all so balmy and comfortable.

Speaking of compost, when we were turning it this week, we discovered some wondrous little fungus growing towards the bottom of the heap:

tending day 24 sept 2010

Back to Vanessa: she brought a plant to add to the “rockery” plot – a wormwood! She said, “I thought the art students could do some research and work out how to make it into Absinthe!”

Here she is, having just installed the newest member of our herbal family:

tending day 24 sept 2010

Friday also involved a visit from guest-gardener Mikey, one of the world’s foremost artichoke enthusiasts. He keeps this blog on the subject.

I’ve been hoping that Mikey would visit for some time, to establish a dedicated artichoke patch at Tending. Artichokes take a few years to bear fruit, but we must think long term!

As it turns out, artichoke seeds are a bit hard to find in Sydney – but Mikey had smuggled some back from Italy. He had them wrapped up in this bandage and sticky tape package:

tending day 24 sept 2010

In the end, Mikey decided to take his seeds away and plant them at his father’s house. One of the problems we’ve been having with Tending of late is that our seedlings suffer from a lack of daily attention (as we are only on-site once a week). Once Mikey’s seedlings establish themselves, we can bring them back and put some into our garden.

We also had a visit from Alana and Ingrid – who had already set themselves up for luncheon on the grass when Mikey and I arrived. Ingrid is just finishing her Masters here at SCA, and Alana finished studying here a few years ago.

I love the idea that the garden begins to attract lunchers and loungers – but in order to faciliate this, we need to sort out a better access system – at the moment to get into the garden depends on summoning the (friendly) security staff – something of a barrier to participation…

So we joined the ladies on the lawn – at the right is Mikey, and behind him, hiding from the lens, is Heather:

tending day 24 sept 2010

…and we ourselves lunched on bread and cheese, and from the garden: freshly picked lettuce and wasabi greens!

tending day 24 sept 2010

Lisa brought more sugarcane from her own patch at home. Our existing cane, courtesy of Betty, has been struggling somewhat – we’re not sure why… We’re just watching it, watering it, hoping it comes good…

tending day 24 sept 2010

And Lisa also brought some more arcane knowledge: seed dowsing. Here she is, practising this dark art:

tending day 24 sept 2010

Apparently, when you hold the shell on the thread over the seed, it rotates in a particular direction depending on whether the seed has ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ energy – which helps identify its potential for germination.

I’m hoping Lisa might chime in here to remind me exactly which direction is “good”…

The final news in this week’s episode is that the potatoes (all three systems) are growing at an alarmingly rapid rate. It’s all we can do to keep up with them, heaping more mulch and soil on top to suppress the leaves and encourage the tubers:

tending day 24 sept 2010
Here are the taties in the chickenwire-mulch system.

tending day 24 sept 2010
Here they are, thriving in the (possibly filled with poisonous heavy-metals) car-tyre system…

tending day 24 sept 2010
And – a bit slower than the rest, because planted later – here are the gourmet small potatoes which we put directly into the rather poor SCA soil…

To let plants identify me…



Grant, the facilities manager at Sydney College of the Arts, dug up this historical image of the very site of Tending. It’s amazing to think that it once was a thriving lush garden!

And so it will be again!

Along similar, inspirational lines – Lisa, one of Tending’s regulars and my Petersham gardening comrade, sent through the following message:

hey Lucas I was reading these beautiful gathas – kind of short buddhist-y mindfulness prayers – by Robert Aitken this morning, and they put me in mind of your jumble of passions right now…

Preparing the garden for seeds
I vow with all beings
to nurture the soil to be fertile
each spring for the next thousand years


With tropical forests in danger
I vow with all beings
to raise hell with the people responsible
and slash my consumption of trees


Watching gardeners label their plants
I vow with all beings
to practice the old horticulture
and let plants identify me

on growing a garden


There are lots of special things that enrich your day when gardening.
They mostly relate to the relationship between time and change.
Things grow, change through time, and to witness the slow unfolding of change demystify stiff solutions, defined resolutions.
When things change they do so by transporting whatever they are into new things, new being, new paradigms.
Resilience, validity, transformation, are all part of time+change.


Tending is growing, the plants in it are growing, the people around it are growing, in number and interest.
I love the little bushes of fireweed (Senecio spp), a plant no one planted, but because we are here ‘managing’ the grounds, they had the chance to grow: they would have been mowed otherwise.
So this little clusters of bright yellow flowers found a sanctuary. They are declared noxious weeds in many parts of the east coast, illegal being, not even refugees, outcasts rather.

diego's tending photos, 4 august 2010

I’m writing this from a place where fireweed is heavily legislated upon, on a property 3 hours south of Sydney, see here, and yesterday we had a presentation from Maarteen Stapper, a Biological agronomist, who amongst other things said that the current shortsighted legislation around ‘weeds’ miss the point. Plants grow to heal the soil, and if you rather have more complex plant structures growing in your fields then you should take a hint from what is growing, because it tells you the deficiency in the soil, no point to poison the plant, actually you shouldn’t at all, but rather leave them, the pioneer flora will slowly remediate the soil structure. If you don’t want to wait, he said, then look at the telling signs the weed is providing: Fleabane (conyza) say the soil needs aeration, Nettle (urtica) says the soil is too rich in calcium, Thistles too much potassium ( i seem to remember..) and so forth. Fix the deficiency, facilitate a healthy ecosystem of bacteria and microorganism below the ground. That is not done with chemical fertilizers.

So the garden grows, and so the interest and we slowly witnessing an overgrowing participation.
Betty is spearheading her own patch, she already enlisted the help of a number of students, soon to come.
come down, watch it grow, by slow interaction of living organisms.

manure galore!


Indeed, for our Tending Day on Sunday we hauled a hefty load of manure to the garden.
This is how it went:
Lucas organised the pick up of goodies from the Mounted Police stables, in Crown St, Surry Hills, and luckily we enlisted the eager help from Kyla, whose parent’s ute acted as the cart for the strongly scented booty.

So here we are shoveling the shit:

It's poo day at Tending

This was great manure, as horse poo is (together with cows poo) one of the best fertilisers, not too harsh (as chicken droppings can be) and easy to compost.
It is important not to apply such nitrogen rich material directly against plants, as the fermentation process might upset the growth, this is also very important when dealing with chicken manure, which together with the heat produced during the fermentation process also has a very high quantity of phosphorous and nitrogen, a bit too much for the plants if applied too handsomely.
Read more about manure in cultivation here, and below is the steaming pile at the stables (note also the flytrap just behind it).

It's poo day at Tending

So here it is, a nice sizeable pile of manure to rest for a couple of weeks to then enrich Tending’s garden beds

It's poo day at Tending

Believe it or not, that took most of the morning, but the rewarding task was happily celebrated with green tea and pies and dates, as more guest joined us, noticeably Kirsten, 1/3 of Milkwood, who came along to visit Tendings, and Heather, our most constant supporter, and Nick Keys, another researcher from SCA, which planted a pot of red seeds in collaboration with Heather.
What else. We turned the compost bin, to aerate and speed up the process, we pruned the sick branches of the Kaffir lime, and we even managed to go to the Writer Centre to meet with a number of local activists, the Friends of Callan Park, which had organized an ‘open park’ event with posters , guided tours and tea stalls.
Over all we drank lots of tea, and achieved some great stuff, while the plants slowly but surely show themselves, like this potatoes from our chicken wire and tyre experiments below:

It's poo day at Tending

It's poo day at Tending

More images from the day here.

One last thing:
me and Lucas are really enthusiastic about Heather’s enthusiasm, who keeps sending us emails with amazing links to all sorts of related material, so much -valuable- material that we decided to make a new page up there, and call it Heather’s corner, and it will be a sort of depository of links, and connections possibilities, de facto ‘rooting’ Tending within a wider gardening/activist/artistic context.
We hope you readers might find as interesting as us.

Green Cheers!

back log


So, here it is, Tending day September 2.
But first a few more things about August 28..
The Open day was a nice rumbling day of teas and chats (as Lucas wrote below) with all sorts of individuals, most of whom were looking for the Ceramic Department of the campus (one courtyard along from Tending).
Many found it amusing and interesting that with Tending there is de facto the possibility of having gardening as an art subject (well, kind of, nothing official as a subject there), and support was eagerly collected 🙂
On the day we also met with the Friends of Callan Park group, a local advocacy group set-up as far back as 1998, when the then government unveiled the plans to redevelop the extensive grounds.
Sydney College of the Arts is within Callan Park, so it is very important to start communication with this group about the fate of the environment around the campus.
I myself had already participated at a couple of meetings of the groups in the past years, and therefore I’m marginally familiar with the issues.
There is going to be a number of activities organized by the lobbing group this coming Sunday, 12 September, in conjunction with History Week, you can look at the flier here. So come along to learn about Callan Park in the past, present and auspicable future.

But lets take it in steps, and go back to Thursday the 2nd of September, which was marked by the very welcome rain, indeed it rained for 4 days!
The garden beds are doing quite well, with the potatoes already sprouting in Baruchello’s, Marty Jay’s, Cesare and Anthony’s beds..
you see, me n Lucas jokingly decided to give names to the various elements, and being art-inclined kind-of-people we gave ‘arty’ names to them, so the 4 existing potatoes experiments (two in wire, two in tyre) are Baruchello, after Gianfranco Baruchello, Italian artist, wire; Marty jay, Sydney artist, wire; Cesare, after Cesare Pietroiusti, another Italian artist, tyre; and Anthony, after Anthony Gormley, English artist (which we don’t really like that much).
Plenty of elements still to be named, we’re very open for suggestions, so come down, have a look at it and tell us what makes you think of 🙂

Anyway, for the day we wanted to set up a second compost bin, so that we can turn the left-overs from Betty’s cafe’ and aerate them, speeding up the process of composting.

fillig up the second compost bin

Above we can see Lucas adding cardboard (carbon reach material) to the compost bin, already filled with food scraps (nitrogen rich material).
We also fitted the tap with a split, so that we could water the gardens without unplugging Liz Day’s watering system for the grass farm, and got a bunch of more mulch, so that we wouldn’t need to water that much anyway.

One last addition to the day , and the garden, was a donation from Jack, a refugee agave, a beautiful plant that we all agreed looked very much at home in its new.. home.

jack's agave arrives

So, that takes us to next Tending day, which as I mentioned before, will be on this coming Sunday 12, rather than Thursday, as we will be meeting more locals during History Week’s events.