A visit to Maude Farrugia and Neil Erenstrom’s garden


Greta Gillies and Stevie Chy visit the garden of Maude Farrugia and Neil Erenstrom, from Heidelberg Heights. Maude works part-time for Pip Permaculture magazine.

The ‘Farrugia-Erenstroms’ are a little family that live in a little house on top of a big hill in Heidelberg Heights. Maude works part-time from home for Pip Permaculture magazine, so gardening feels like ‘real’ work a lot of the time. She also runs her tiny design label Cheerio Paper Co. The rest of her time is spent gardening, looking after 3-year-old Alfie, and being an active member of the local transition towns community. Neil works a lot more (though he’s working on making it a lot less) in solar power research and development. He facilitates Maude’s garden designs through sheer brawn (and general fear of Maude?!). Alfie helps out in the garden by eating much of the produce (before it’s even made it inside), sowing seeds and harvesting. You’ll be surprised to find out that this garden has built up its thriving harvest in just under a year!

When did this space become a food garden?

The space became a food garden about a year ago, when we moved in to Heidelberg Heights. Before that, it was just a big lawn full of dandelion and kikuyu grass and a few sparse ornamental bushes.

What’s your vision for this garden?

We love lush, rambling gardens with lots of nooks to play in and spaces to hide away and read a good book or magazine. The front yard (north facing) is going to be the main food production area (market garden style), while the backyard (on a modest south facing slope) will be a stacked orchard and rambling glade space.

Do you have a gardening philosophy?

We are a permaculture-centric gardening family when it comes to gardening philosophy … Maude and Neil did a life-changing permaculture design certificate together while Alfie was in utero, so it’s a pretty strong part of their family story.

What prompted you to start food gardening?

We did lots of activist stuff back in the day, helping set up the Friends of the Earth campaign group Quit Coal and chaining themselves to many different inanimate objects as protesters. To counter-balance the negative vibes of being angry protesters, we got into productive gardening via their local community garden (in Clifton Hill) and the Compost Mates program set up by the legendary Hannah Maloney of Good Life Permaculture. We then set about dreaming of living in the country as subsistence farmers (which they actually did for nearly 2 years!) before realising, on the arrival of little Alfie, that it was truly the suburbs which were calling us.

Did you have any interactions with gardens growing up?

Maude’s family are Maltese, so being a subsistence farming peasant is written in her genetic make-up.

How has gardening and your garden benefited you and your community?

Food – along with shelter and water – is a pretty fundamental thing for humans. Because our main annual food garden is in the front yard (and a bit on the nature-strip), it gets a lot of attention from people walking by and is a great conversation starter. The family have gotten to know many people in the community just by growing vegetables! Perhaps because the garden is a bit out there (literally, in the public realm), people feel it’s a kind of invitation to come and knock on the door.

What’s your most unusual food plant?

Babaco. It produces a tangy fruit said to taste like pineapple, strawberries or lemon sherbert depending on how and where it grows.

Do you have a gardening tip to share with readers?

Plan ahead using a succession planner so there’s always something to harvest from your garden. Michael Hewins (Milkwood Permaculture) has a great simple planner that was profiled in issue 6 of Pip Permaculture magazine.

Seedlings are a constant, so there is always something to harvest

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