Potting a pathway to abundance

milkwood courtyard1

When we moved in to the tiny house last August, our design plans for our edible courtyard were vast, and immediate. It would be a riot of color and flavor in no time – citrus trees ripening in the microclimate of the east-facing gabion wall, feasts of greens, herbs everywhere, scenting the air as pollinators buzzed, and my child laughing and playing, surrounded by an oversupply of butterflies attracted by the many small flowers that would be springing from every crack we could see.

I expected all this to take shape by mid spring, or early Summer at the latest. Hey, we’d lived through the build and we had moved in. What more was there to do but garden?

Well, there was life and a farm and permaculture education to run, and egg-cup dinosaurs to make, as it turned out. We hope to realise the design next winter in our quieter months. But in the meantime, bring on the glory of potted interim gardening! Never have I lived in such a happy space.

Breakfast greens and herbs

Breakfast greens and herbs

The courtyard in November, 3 months after moving in. Slowly going potty.

The courtyard in November, 3 months after moving in. Slowly going potty.

When Nick in his eternal optimism started dragging home large terracotta pots soon after we moved into our beautiful small house with its rather (ok completely) barren courtyard, I thought they would look silly. Pots are for patios and balconies, aren’t they? Not for people with a farm. Surely the potted plants would look dwarfed by all that space. Like a very small hat on a large clown.

Given that our courtyard currently boasts a thin layer of sand (from the mud rendering process) over subsoil and rock, blooming gardens will clearly take a little work. And so, until we have that spare week where we can go hard at garden construction, pots it is. And I love them.

Pot gardening means we have fresh spinach for breakfast whenever we want it. Pots mean I have an endless supply of mint for the late-night teapot. Pots mean we have a slow but steady supply of strawberries, and garlic chives, and edible flowers.

Pots mean we have flushes of cumquats. And the delicate patterning of japanese maple leaves, right outside our very own door.

Pot gardening outside the tiny house is also providing opportunities in a crazy dry season. We’ve stowed the various bamboos the crew has collected in recent months in pots near to the house, which we can then easily water regularly.

We have high hopes for some of these cold-climate bamboos and their future roles throughout the farm as fodder, windbreak and construction materials, but at the moment they need coddling. And immediacy to the back door is the best way to give that to them. If it’s in your face, you’re more likely to water it every other day. That’s how life goes.

Once the bamboos are bursting from their antique concrete sink pots, it will be a relatively easy task to divide them up for future planting. It’s an impromptu bamboo nursery, where we benefit from their beauty daily in return for taking care of them till they are established and throwing lots of shoots for division.

All the small trees currently in pots seem to be loving their under storeys of herbs… parsley, chocolate mint, moroccan mint, oregano, marjoram, salvia, marigold.

The herbs shade the trees’ root systems, provide living mulch and just get better and bushier the more you pick them for your daily garnish or tea… a common permaculture approach to stacking space and functions, even in the one pot.

Happy cumquat and the household chocolate mint supply

Happy cumquat and the household chocolate mint supply

Slow but steady strawberries...

Slow but steady strawberries…

Nutrients for potted plants are even more crucial that for plants in garden beds, as the plant has only got whatever is in that pot to work with… there’s no opportunity to send out a root to garner nutrients from afar.

Therefore I should mention the small but significant daily nutrient inputs available to our emerging garden. Yes, our small family is 2/3 male, and therefore there is a daily morning nutrient component that needs somewhere useful to go. I usually opt for our lovable loo (delayed gratification, on a nutrient cycling scale), but Ashar proudly visits one pot or another each morning in solemn rotation.

The bamboos seem to get the most of his morning wees, because apparently they are ‘the nicest plants.’ Everything grows lushly, and yes, everything gets washed before it gets to the kitchen, just in case.

Nutrient-rich greens, with bamboo in antique concrete sinks beyond

Nutrient-rich greens, with bamboo in antique concrete sinks beyond

milkwood courtyard7

So despite my over-enthused expectations of immediate and total landscaping being incorrect, there are flowers, there are pollinators, there is a mix of textures and colours, there is beauty, and there is lushness. It’s like the typical courtyard of any hard working family… it’s still in progress.

The important thing to remember with this sort of gardening, i think, is that happiness is the mode of travel, not the destination. Pots can rock a space. No small hats or large clowns involved. Any journey full of flowers and herbs and breakfast spinach is fine by me.

>> More adventures of building a hand-made small home here

9 Comments

  1. Posted January 30, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink | Reply

    Just beautiful… especially the “solemn rotation” ;)

  2. Posted January 30, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Combining fertilisation with entertainment. Little boys seem to just love weeing outside and to be honest, I think the big boys do too. ;)

  3. Uncle B
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink | Reply

    Yes!

  4. Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink | Reply

    Wow – your choc mint looks great! I always thought direct wee application would be too much for potted plants, so good to hear we can tip our nightly wee bucket (essential in a tiny sleeping loft) onto our small collection of pot plants.

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink | Reply

      Hey Annie I’d still dilute it 10:1, we water all these every other day so i figure the dilution works itself out… but diluted, wee is an awesome daily application, as long as your potplants are hungry feeders, otherwise they might get a bit overwhelmed with nutrient. Which is just an excuse to plant more hungry feeders – potted corn and cumquats for everyone! Huzzah.

  5. Posted February 12, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Ahahaahahaa, Asha makes me laugh, what a thoughtful boy! Looking forward to watching William do the same. Your house is just a little slice of heaven and it makes me feel so happy everytime I read your updates… can’t wait for the book to come out, can we be first on the waiting list???

  6. gbell12
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 6:56 am | Permalink | Reply

    What’s the giant gabion wall for?
    And where does Nick get all the pots from? They’re always so expensive!

  7. tati
    Posted April 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Kirsten I loved reading this post! Loke also seems to favour a particular plant from our pots, the frangipani. By the way, which herb would you recommend as an undercover foliage for frangipani?
    big hug
    Tati

  8. Becs Addison
    Posted May 31, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi there, I’m new to your site – there’s lots of great information here! We’re in the planning stages of building and I’m really keen to hear about your blackwater (kitchen) system. We’re planning to use dry compost toilets and a greywater system but when it comes to kitchen water I’m coming unstuck. NSW Health seems to have different opinions on it depending on which of their publications you’re reading. If you have any advice, tips, or links to other posts about blackwater I’d love to hear them. Thank you! Becs

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