Small Trees


Tending 22 March 2011

These are the days gardens were made for! Glorious sunshine following more rain than Sydney has seen for years.

We were joined this morning by Lisa, who rode with us to Tending, carrying in her bike basket two small trees: a mulberry and a cherry guava. Both these elegant woody creatures had emerged unsolicited from Lisa’s compost bin. Lisa’s backyard is rather small – but she has a thing for creche-ing young trees, so she decided to bring them along to join the gang at Tending.

Although our future tenancy at Sydney College of the Arts is by no means guaranteed, I love it when people bring along plants that will take a LONG time to bear fruit, or to grow to their full potential. There’s something joyfully and recklessly optimistic about it.

* * *
Corinne and Lucas

When we arrived, we were greeted by Corinne, who was already hard at work digging a hole. We first met Corinne a few weeks back and had a good chat about theory and philosophy of “connected-ness to land”. This week she was more into the practice of it, getting stuck in with her gorgeous hi-tech spade (you can see it on the right in the photo above). Corinne’s not sure yet what she will plant in her modest plot. She mentioned something about bringing along some cow poo… and she donated to us two bottles of very rich looking worm juice – lovely stuff…

worm tea

* * *

Whenever we arrive at TENDING, we noodle around for a while, seeing what might have changed since last week. We call this “greeting the garden”. This week we were keen to see whether our “pumpkin cages” had worked to thwart the nibbling rats which have recently been visiting. (Our few small and juicy looking watermelons, some of the cucumbers and pumpkins have been nabbed by our rodent pals before we could enjoy them.) So, using chicken wire, we crafted these (not very attractive) suits of armour for the pumpkins which remain:

Tending 22 March 2011

…so far so good… And the hanging pumpkins seem to be out of harm’s way, for now…

Speaking of animal-vegetable interactions… there were a lot of insects in the garden this week. Wasps buzzing around the banana trees; dozens of ladybugs on the pumpkins, and unidentified crawlers like this one:

Tending 22 March 2011

Evidently somebody else had seen the wasps, and worried about them – a shrill note was scrawled on our blackboard: “WASPS IN THE BANANAS”. Diego (our resident, self-appointed wasp expert) declared the wasps to not be a problem (yet). He responded: “GREAT! BIODIVERSITY”. (I imagine he’d revise his benevolent wasp-stance if he got stung by one of them, but there’s no use speculating on future unknowns…)

i love wasps!

* * *

It took a while before we got around to planting Lisa’s small trees. I think she was keen to inhabit the garden for a while, sussing out what might be a good spot – after all, if everything goes according to plan, these guys will stay where they are for decades! She decided to nestle the cherry guava inside Betty’s Jungle. We found a space for it, where it will hopefully be nurtured by the surrounding plants, and eventually grow up to shelter them:


It blended in pretty well…

The mulberry, on the other hand, we decided to plump right in the middle of the lawn – not far from Gilbert’s lemongrass patch. So we cut a nice circle…

digging it

…scalped the lawn…

digging it

…discovered remnant sandstone pieces not far down (and had a chat about whether the roots of the mulberry would be able to work their way through)…

digging it

…dug in some compost and planted the tree…

planting a mulberry

Relaxing after this feat, lying on my back watching the clouds, I had a small moment of marvel, at how an organism can manage to synthesise elements from the air and the soil to produce something as wonderful as wood!

* * *

We had heaps of other visits this week, from students popping in to check whether it’d be ok for them to start their biological artworks in TENDING.

For the record, we say “Yes!” to just about everything, and we don’t even have to be there when you set it up. Just leave us a note on the blackboard. We’re looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

Tending towards Art Month

Tending, alongside a bunch of other events at Sydney College of the Arts, is going to be featured in this year’s Art Month Sydney.

art month sydney logo

We’re curious: who will we encounter on Wednesday night?

Here are all the details
(NB: don’t pay any attention to the Art Month map of how to get to SCA, it’s wrong. Follow these instructions instead.)

And here’s a lovely flyer which Nerida the Public Relations and Marketing Manager made for us (pdf).

We like this spiel about the project which Nerida used for the flyer – simple and clear:

An experimental garden project at Sydney College of the Arts. Since July 2010, artists (and keen amateur gardeners) Lucas Ihlein and Diego Bonetto have been tending the garden. Over time, others have become involved in the project which intervenes lightly in the social and biological fabric of the college.

Sweet Potato Adventures


Tending, Feb 28, 2011
[Betty harvesting some banana leaf]

Yes, it’s certainly fun to have the students back at uni. Although it’s true we’ve enjoyed the quiet of the summer, pottering around on our own with a few trusty gardening buddies, the return of the youthful artists of the college also means the return of a Tending VIP: Betty, our mentor, champion and great providor of cuttings and propagations!

Betty is fresh back from a trip to Laos where she reports having eaten riverweed (“a bit like seaweed but less salty”) and many other herbaceous weeds, and marvelled at the local folks’ ability to cultivate anything, anywhere – “so opportunistic“, she said. (These folks, who have a permaculture garden near Wollongong, seem to have had a similar adventure to Betty this summer. Check out their photo of the “dry season riverbank vegie garden”)…

Anyway, having returned to Rozelle, Betty was keen to rummage around and see what had been growing in her absence. She was very impressed with the rapid expansion of the bananas (and took a few “pups” home for her own garden, as well as harvesting a stack of banana leaves for use as “disposable dinner plates”).

Betty also pointed out that our sweet potatoes seem to be thriving, and why don’t we try to dig some up?

And so we did.

Here’s Diego bandicooting around for some spuds.

Tending, Feb 28, 2011

And LO ! Our first sweet potato of the season emerged, proudly white on the outside (purple on the inside):

Tending, Feb 28, 2011

And before long, another one, this time purple on the outside, white on the inside:

Tending, Feb 28, 2011

Betty decided this was a good sign: the time was right for us to get serious about sweet potato farming. And so this is what she told us to do (we duly followed her instructions):

-make a long thin pile of soil, about 50cm wide, and about 40cm high, with a peaked middle:

Tending, Feb 28, 2011

-Take cuttings from your sweet potato plants (the leafy bits not the spuds) and tie them in a circle:

Tending, Feb 28, 2011

-semi-bury these in the elongated soil mound. Repeat all the way along:

Tending, Feb 28, 2011

Et donc, voila!

Tending, Feb 28, 2011

That, folks, was the easiest bit of gardening we’d ever done!

The secret here, according to Betty, is to give the sweet potatoes their own bed, so that when you dig around to harvest them you’re not disturbing all their neighbours. She also said the green leaves of the sweet potatoes are good cooked, alongside amaranth (which we also have a lot of).


Later on, we were having an energetic chat with Carolyn and her friend Corinne. Corinne has just begun her PhD at Sydney College – her research is about people’s relationships to land – so of course we had a lot to talk about. While we were talking, this student emerged from the ceramic workshop, which backs onto the Tending garden. She walked around with her nose to the ground, as if trying to find something she had lost. We paused our conversation, and looked on, curious. Eventually she came upon the table in the middle of the garden where we’d left the just-harvested sweet potatoes. She picked up the smaller, purple one. Holding it up, she called to us, tentatively: “May I take this tuber?”

Tending, Feb 28, 2011

It turns out that she had forgotten her homework assignment – to bring a small object to make a ceramic slipcast – and that our potato was going to save her educational butt.

We gave her our blessing – with the return request, of course, for some of the clay-potato-replicas, if and when they emerge from the kiln.

Permanent 1:1 scale spud sculptures! Can’t wait to see ’em.


Diego took home the other sweet potato. I look forward to hearing how it tasted.

the new year starts in autumn


The new calendar year started for the university, and we busied ourselves talking to the new students at the Orientation Day, Student Union’s gathering and proposing garden possibilities to the various departments.
Next week there will be also a presentation of Tending at the Graduate School Forum for 2011, held on Wednesday 9 March
at 4pm in the SCA Auditorium, coinciding with Art Month, a city-wide celebration of galleries, artists, and the arty spirit out there, see the link here

In the mean time the garden is inspiration for keen draughtspeople..