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Garden Transformation With Permaculture Design

La Perousse edible garden design elements.

Samuel Ralph and Emily McMullen first became aware of permaculture design six years after moving into their suburban Hobart home. With renovations to their home finished, they turned their attentions to the garden on their 700 sqm block.

‘What we had was a weed scape and bare lawn that turned into dirt and dust in summer, and was impossible to get a spade into,’ explains Sam.

They were growing a few herbs, a lemon tree, some raspberries and greens, but they wanted to do more. Their introduction to permaculture came from an interest into reducing their waste. They watched the film ‘A Plastic Ocean’ and, as Sam puts it: ‘It was like having the blindfold ripped off’. They knew they wanted to change their habits.

Sam and Emily joined the Zero Waste Tasmania group and started their journey to reduce waste, which led to growing their own food. During this journey, the word permaculture kept popping up and when they heard Sam’s sister was doing an introduction-to-permaculture course, they decided to join her.

‘Initially we both thought it was just going to be how to grow food,’ explains Emily, ‘but of course it wasn’t! The idea of having everything working together in a natural order and that each part of the system relies on another, really hit home. Now we understood why you would want compost and chickens and a variety of plants! They all help to keep each other healthy. And, of course, it also involves us and the role we play in our community system. It’s not just the plants we want to keep healthy.’

After trying to implement some of the concepts they learned on their course, Sam and Emily felt overwhelmed from their lack of experience.

‘We kept second-guessing ourselves and were indecisive,’ says Emily.

The couple tried drawing a plan for what they wanted to do, but felt they were too inexperienced and didn’t feel confident about making decisions that were so long-lasting on their property. So they decided to employ the skills of professional permaculture designer, Hannah Moloney, from Good Life Permaculture.

‘Hannah’s amazing,’ says Emily. ‘It was really good to have someone experienced in landscape design who understood everything about permaculture to come along and tell us what to do and we could just follow that plan. Hannah really focuses on understanding what the client wants from their property, rather than imposing her ideas for what she thinks they should have.

She gave us time to think about what we really wanted. She helped us to come up with a vision statement, which was: “Our home is a green, thriving sanctuary amongst suburbia. We’re surrounded by productivity, beauty and a sense of privacy which creates a welcoming space for us and our loved ones to enjoy all year round”.’

The vision statement encompasses everything that Emily and Sam want out of their property.

‘We wanted to have a productive garden, but also for it to be beautiful and to feel like home and be comfortable,’ Emily explains.

‘We definitely wanted to be that different house on the street too,’ Sam laughs. ‘On a street of lawn-scapes, we wanted to have a productive area that people see when they drive past.’

‘It was just so exciting,’ explains Emily, ‘The ideas that Hannah put across had just never crossed our minds. For instance, I had never considered putting the food forest and orchard on the front lawn. So, when she said it, my eyes just went wide and I’m like: “Yes! That sounds great.”

‘I guess I just fell into the typical idea that you have the trees at the back of your property. It’s also a great way to involve community so they can see what we are growing and we can share our produce.’


Clockwise from top left: The herb spiral; Broken-up concrete paths to make steps through the future front garden food forest; Patio and fireplace; Emily and Sam beside their herb garden. Photos by Samuel Ralph


‘The pergola on the shed was something I had never really considered either. It will hold grapevines and aesthetically make the shed look nicer,’ shares Sam. ‘And with the greenhouse on the front of the house, I was really keen to try and experiment with active solar and see how it goes using it to heat the house in winter.’

Along with the design, Hannah gave them a booklet of information about how to implement the design. Then it was up to Sam and Emily to do the work.

‘We started everywhere. We sort of had to. To make room for natives at the back, we had to build the herb bed to move the herbs into; because where they already were we wanted to put in native plants. We didn’t want to plant a lot until the cats were confined and we couldn’t confine the cats until we installed the water tanks.’ explains Sam. Only six months after receiving their plan, their vision is starting to take shape.

‘We started on the hard landscaping, building the retaining wall, the cat enclosure and then putting in the water tanks. The food forest is one of the main things we want to get done so we can get the fruit trees in so they can start establishing themselves. We have mulched the area and dug the swales and built the fence. We want to get the trees in over winter and get the annual beds going ready for spring.’

It’s a long-term process to get it all implemented and there is a necessary order in which to do things. Many elements rely on another element to be in place before you start. This is the beauty of having a plan. The couple have found that when you have an overall plan, you can see all the elements that are needed and how they will support each other. For Emily, the design is important because she wants it to be a pleasure.

‘I want to enjoy it. I don’t want it to be a chore. I want it be a calming thing of enjoyment.’

For Sam, rehabilitating the degraded land and seeing nature return is very satisfying.

‘I’ve noticed with putting in the herb bed, now we are seeing all these bees come through. We’ve never had so many bees. It’s awesome to be doing something in tune with nature and watch it respond.’

‘When we were renovating the house we had the mindset to buy this house, fix it up, sell it on, move on, that sort of ratrace. But that’s very different to how we feel now,’ explains Emily. ‘Our mindset has completely changed. When we were thinking about moving on, we kept looking at larger houses with bigger mortgages but then we thought, why would we do that when we are very comfortable here? We’re hoping to have no mortgage in the not-too-distant future. It’s easy to get caught up in always wanting more and more and be stuck in that debt trap.’

Having a design for their property that is going to help them be more self-reliant and able to grow some of their own food makes Sam and Emily feel a lot more secure in the current global climate. As Sam says, ‘Just having the knowledge to grow food yourself and be a bit more resilient, you definitely feel like you can make things work and you have knowledge you can share.’

Cross-section of food forest showing mulch paths to passively irrigate the landscape.


1. The food forest in the front garden features eight deciduous, mixed, fruit and nut trees. Understory plants are (a) globe artichokes, (b) mixed currants x 10 (shown in green), (c) wallflowers (Erysimum) x 13 (shown in mixed colours), (d) comfrey planted around the base of each fruit tree and downhill of each mulch path, (e) rhubarb and a white clover ground cover (shown as dots throughout the garden), which are stunning, flower all winter and attract pollinators.

2. Remove existing concrete path and turn the concrete into stepping stones that can guide people throughout the front garden. Optional: To paint or mosaic the stepping stones to create a different aesthetic.

3. Six evergreen olive trees planted two metres  apart to create a windbreak for this garden. The fence along this section can also be rebuilt to help soften the winds.

4. Five mulch paths (approx. 500 mm wide x 300 m deep) dug roughly on the contour to slow and sink water into the soil. This will help passively irrigate the landscape. See Figure 1, where you can see water sinking into the ground.

5. Lawn area for play and relaxation.

6. Proposed glasshouse built onto the house. Hot air from passive solar heating can be released into the house as needed, or let out through vents built into the northeast and southwest walls of the glasshouse. Raised wicking beds can grow heat-loving vines, small trees and vegetables. See indicative profile in Figure 1. Two permanent small trees are shown – citrus, bananas with vines on the east and western walls, chokos (Sechium edule) and passionfruit on the western wall, and seasonal vegetables growing at their base.

7. Cat run with the cat castle located here – they access this run through a strategic hole in the house. The clothesline and a 5000 litre tank are also located in this space. Two hardy native shrubs (Correa alba) can be planted here.

8. Chook house with an external egg hatch for easy harvesting.

9. Chook yard is extended into a ‘chook passage or tunnel’ that can extend the length of the west and south boundary lines. This provides the chooks with more run space and integrates them into the garden, spreading their manure and lovely company around.

10. Proposed deck with a ramp located at the back door. I’ve made the deck a curved shape for more visual interest and to ‘reach’ out into the garden space. The southwest edge of the deck will most likely be high enough to need to have a rail on it, as it’ll be above one metre; but the rest of the deck could have no rail, again integrating it into the landscape.

11. Native shrubs x 17 transplanted from the front garden along the western boundary (shown in purple and red). These can all be planted approximately one metre apart.

12. Lemon tree has been transplanted from the front garden to this more protected location. Beneath the tree is prostrate geranium flowers, sweet Alice and mints. This is also where the ceramic pond is located.

13. This whole garden bed can be planted out with herbaceous shrubs, i.e., rosemary, lemon verbena, curry bush, purple and white sage, two wallflowers and a ground cover of nasturtiums. All these are edible and beautiful to admire across the seasons.

14. A herb spiral is integrated into the southern end of the garden bed – this is where smaller herbs can be planted; i.e. oregano, thyme, parsley, mints and chives.

15. Your worm farm seat can be nestled into the middle of this garden, forming a nice gathering space between the deck (which you can sit on the edge of) and this herb garden. An optional fire drum could be placed in the centre of the lawn as desired for little social gatherings.

16. A cold frame (3 m x 1 m) for growing and protecting heat-loving crops. This frame can be built from a timber frame and covered in polycarbonate. See below for a sample image and report.

17. Evergreen border planting of hardy native Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa) x 10, planted 2 m apart.

18. Existing ornamental pear tree to remain as is. Directly beneath is a grassy ‘nook’ where you can lie in the shade and read a book.

19. Main vegetable beds x 3, placed on contour. These can be edged in hardwood timber and are shown at approximately 800–900 mm wide.

20. Compacted path with gravel suitable for a wheelchair to move through up to the patio – this can be the same surface as the areas out the front of the shed.

21. Two woodchip paths on contour (swales) to help hold water high in the landscape. These are the same as the ones in the front forest garden.

22. Tazzie Berry hedge (Myrtus ugni) x six, which can handle the partial shade that the shed will create.

23. Existing patio with fireplace and a proposed pergola over the top, with a vine growing on it for seasonal shade and to create more privacy (see report for options). This has potential to become a meditation or quiet space, as well as a social space.

24. Proposed pergola off the shed with grapevines growing on it. This will aesthetically soften the shed’s face, and make this space more comfortable to be in. A half-moon gate is placed on the western edge of this pergola, creating a stunning entry into the back garden. This is made from reo-mesh and has grapes growing over it.

25. Existing bamboo shrubs to remain.

26. A 2000-litre rain tank.

27. Asparagus bed.

28. Rodent-proof bin for chook food.

29. Espalier citrus trees x three. These can be trained along cables mounted just off the house (to ensure air flow).


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