Stuart and Kelli Lewien’s permaculture garden


Stuart Lewien, from Heathmont, talks about his garden, in both words and in videos.

We have lived in this house with our family since 1997. It is a small suburban (650m2) block with a westerly orientation. The soil has a clay base. In mid 2015, we had two trees removed in the backyard (a rotting hakea and a pittosporum), which left us with a very bare garden. In early 2016, John Ferris from Edible Forest Gardens designed a backyard food forest for us. Then, in late 2016 through early 2017, he designed and built the front garden. The whole design, front and back, is permaculture-inspired.

Working with natural forces

There are numerous design elements in our garden that are working with natural forces (such as wind, sun and water) to provide for the plants’ needs (such as food, shelter and water) in a holistic way. For example, our backyard is a heat trap which suits warmer climate plants, including sub-tropical varieties such as ladyfinger banana, babaco and strawberry guava. The front yard gets more sun so there are more fruit trees and veggies there. We have nitrogen-fixing plants, such as the Albizia julibrissin (persian silk tree) and kowhai to provide nutrients for other plants.


Our garden is designed for productivity. Picking food to eat straight away means that we get fresh food with maximum nutrients, so it is very healthy. It’s also satisfying to experience the growth of a plant from planting right through to picking and eating its produce. We don’t have the time, and probably not enough land space, to be self-sufficient for food although the thought is appealing.

We’d like everything in our garden to have a purpose – more than just being aesthetic or neat. However, as permaculture gardens go, we’d be more on the orderly end with a desire for things to look good as well as be productive.

Efficient use of space

We have limited space, so we have to make efficient use of it. We have espaliered fruit trees, claimed the nature strip, and planted an edible forest garden to use vertical space in the small backyard.

Low maintenance

We have no lawn anywhere. Growing vegetables is now the most labour-intensive part of our garden since the crops are mostly annuals. By having small veggie beds we reduce the chance of being overwhelmed. Sheet mulching of beds and gravel paths reduce weeds. A quick manual weed once in a while also reduces weeds, as well as being an opportunity to see how everything is going.


Our mains drip irrigation system obviously substantially reduces watering time. We also have a small tank and we divert some downpipe water and some of the driveway run off to the garden.


The design extends to the kerb so that people walking by feel they are actually in our garden. We encourage people to help themselves to strawberries that we intentionally planted along the top of the retaining wall. Time spent working the veggie circles brings opportunities to interact with people passing by. Sometimes they come up for a look and/or we give away some produce.


Being able to grow our own food helps us be personally more resilient by not being so dependent on the mass production food chain. In the bigger picture, an appropriate response to climate change is to live more simply so that we can thrive on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Growing our own food is an important way to live more simply. We are also growing heirloom varieties thereby helping these plant species survive despite the monocultures of commercial agriculture.

Longer versions of some of the videos, detailing the plants, are also available: veggie circles plants, front yard plants, nature strip plants and back yard plants.

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