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Monday, May 1, 2017

Robert Guyton: why visitors are great for the garden

There have been a lot of guests in my forest garden lately.  I've enjoyed them all – young and old, nimble and creaky of limb.

The garden has thrived as a result of their visits. The paths are clear without any signs of a mower having been through; the daylilies are devoid of spent blooms, having been regularly picked by people wanting to taste the fragrant petals; and likewise the evening primroses. There aren't any dehydrated fruit left on the trees either, our younger visitors having gleaned anything not picked for our own pantry.

Anything thorny was cut or bent back as I led the more adventurous groups through wilder parts of the garden, and the native fish in the spring have never had it so good, as a result of my tossing tiny cubes of ox kidney to them in order to prove their existence and showcase their vigour to our visitors.

Everything's looking good. And as far as I can tell, everyone's been happy with the experience of being in the wilder-than-usual space my garden provides, with its tangled understory of herbs and flowers, its canopy of grape and kiwifruit vines, and it's midriff of fruit trees and flowering shrubs.

Bringing joy to visitors and residents of the forest garden alike has resulted in a feeling of riotous peacefulness.

As my tours progress and one complex space after another is described and experienced, both them and I find ourselves walking more and more slowly and talking less and less, as the bellbirds chime around us and the thrum of bees and hoverflies grows more insistent.

I find myself pointing out the fruiting plants more often than those that don't produce something for our larder. Among them: 'Purple King' plums; 'Whiteheart' hazelnuts; 'Moorpark' apricots; all sorts of grapes; currants and gooseberries; raspberries and cranberries; loquats and feijoas; nashis and medlars.

I don't really favour the edibles over the others, it just seems as if my visitors want to hear about the edibles and how to grow them, rather than learn about the supportive tribes of plants that keep the showy fruiters healthy. It's tricky to explain that I love plants like plantain and dock simply because they are what they are, perfect examples of plants that fill their niche modestly and without fanfare, and would be missed were they not there, by me and the high-performance plants that benefit from them.

Medicinal plants, though, serve as a bridge between the plants that can and can't be served on a plate. Leaves, roots and flowers that promote health are increasingly interesting to gardeners who recognise the effects of working with soil and seed on their general wellbeing and are drawn to plants that boost resistance to infection, aid digestion, cure coughs and heal hurts.

Comfrey, elecampane, horehound and kawakawa all attract comments and questions as guests spot them growing underfoot and alongside of the paths.

A garden like mine that has medicinal"weeds" growing as the understory, along with purpose-grown herbs and

perennial shrubs and trees from which medicines can be extracted by simplemethods is seen, quite rightly, as an always fresh medicine chest where whatever ails you has a treatmentwaiting to be harvested, prepared and applied on site.

The benefits of gardening the wild way affect my visitors positively, judging by the ease they feel in a garden that isn't manicured, maintained or manipulated.

The paths don't get mowed, the edges are left to themselves and any fruit that doesn't get eaten by visitors or my family is vacuumed up by the birds.

It's difficult to quantify the value of the peacefulness, but I can see signs of it in the eyes of those who come here and hear it in their voices. I recognise it as a good thing, a worthwhile "crop" that can't be collected in baskets like the plums, apples, peaches and apricots but nevertheless brings a bloom to my guests' cheeks and a gleam to their eyes, much as it does daily to mine.

NZ Gardener

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