Monday, September 13, 2010

David Holmgren in Daylesford

Melliodora Tour - September

The tour lead by David Holmgren of his property in Daylesford demonstrated to me that Permaculture is a system of care, attention and connection to the place and the people that inhabit it. Unlike other approaches that I have witnessed where the 'low maintenance' and 'minimum care' approach to a self-sustaining system has been made, David Holmgren demonstrated that the relationship with the property is one born out of a passion and immaculate attention to detail - while at the same time down to earth and practical in every sense.

Emphasis was placed on the importance of soil condition, and David offered various approaches for re-balancing soil structure for optimal mineral balance. At the end of the day - if the soil contains the correct balance of elements for the plant - produce such as pumpkin should keep through to mid Summer. I find this particularly interesting given the finding that are being made into the cause of Alzheimer's being that of mineral inbalance, whereby the brain is becoming "rusty" from toxins.

David spoke about allowing a design to develop organically. I have experience this myself where - the garden will slowly reveal to me what will work and what will not work. It is not a matter of logic or careful planning (although these or course are recommended) so much as observation over time, trial and error. Again it returns to creating a relationship - spending time with the space and its "quirks".

Having cultivated some artichokes recently I was thrilled to see that David has used this plant as the under-story for fruit trees. As the artichoke is active in Winter - and is busy working away while the fruit tree above is dormant and free of leaves to allow plenty of sunlight through.

The importance of tree selection for fodder (mostly for the goats who put on a real show) and also to support sun catchment was discussed. No pines or gum trees were planted on the property - but were restricted to the very outer border and are likely to be cut for fire wood. With the exception of the Bunya Bunya pine which is harvested (well it drops huge pine cones) for the pine nuts. Deciduous trees, while not native were selected as "settlement friendly". Trees recommended included oak, willow, blackwood and black walnut. Perriwinkles along the boundaries were chosen as they are shade tolerant, soil improvers and most important fire retardants. These were planted along the river bank along with the cricket bat willow which had been cut and sent off to make ... cricket bats!

The willow, which has been persecuted as a non-native, is used to create a sound rootmat along the river edge and similar to the Mellaluka in the Northern Territory is used for re-building hydrology (catching sediment and improving soil structure).
Closer to home (Zone 2-3) always the preference is towards food and fodder trees. Walnut and Hazelnuts were inter-planted with oak and tall, well-pruned Casuarina. David discussed that you shouldn't over do bio-mass and it was clear that between the goats and his constant pruning that every tree on the property was contributing, rather than detracting from the system. Also once they reached maturity and if they were taking too much sunlight, space or water they would be cut for their wood. Walnut trees for example pull a lot of nutrients from the system and can grow as fast as gum trees if the mineral balance of the soil is right. The dam at the bottom of the property acted as a sun catcher for the main orchid, reflecting the late afternoon rays up the slope all towards the home. Even the slope was considered in the design - as to where the choockies would dig in order to bring, for example, the oak leafs down of the slope and pile up for creating humus.

It was a lovely design - not overwhelming, but intrincsic with its detail. Most importantly it worked.

Highlight of the property would have to the Pear Tree. I would never have identified it as a Pear - it was huge. Planted some time during the gold rush and nearby the remains of an old homestead. The ley lines of the property meet at a conjuction just infront of the tree and is said to be a wonderful place for healing! Well the entire property resonated with a healing vibration. But this point was certainly a lovely place to stand and take it all in!


  1. Sounds interesting, although the Bunya will only fruit once every 4-5 years at earliest. I'm not too sure about the environmental ethos of the willow, okay if it is a pond or enclosed drainage, but on a river bank their limbs and break off and get re-established further downstream where they can lead to the choking of waterways and destruction of habitat for native freshwater organisms. I am jealous of the goats though! :)

  2. You've touched on one of the most discussed topics of the day. The Willow debate!

    Historically willows have served the purpose of erosion control given the amount of damage done to river systems as a result of over grazing and mining. A particular concern in the Hepburn Springs region.

    The essence of the discussion boiled down to the fact that the landscape, being one which has been highly grazed in post-colonial agriculture and stripped during the gold rush is a transformed environment. To simply assess the willow now as non-native and therefor a weed is an under-researched, short sighted and view which gives tax payers the impression that their millions of dollars spent on Landcare is achieving something meaning. When in reality the amount of green house gases emmited from first destroying the Willow population and the further carbon released from the decaying root systems has been conveniently overlooked.

    As for fresh water, the Willow acts as more effective filter of nutrients that our native Eucalypts:
    "Because willows evolved in high nutrient northern hemisphere ecosystems, they can take up more total nutrients than eucalypts and other native trees. These nutrients show up as highly palatable foliage. The massive capture of sediment in willow root mats (40 times greater than eucalypts) is particularly important at stabilising sediment which is the main carrier of phosphorus in streams which in turn feeds algal blooms including toxic blue green algae".

    What is essential to the debate is the care and management of the Willows planted. "Pollarding" (regular hard loping) of willows for fodder, to avoid, as you mentioned, high-nutrient break offs chocking the system down stream is recommended:

    "Regular pollarding maintains a stable water edge tree not susceptible to uprooting in extreme winds and floods. Consequently risk of blocking of the stream course and flood breakout risk is much reduced. Willow lined stream banks provide practical insurance against the expected (and already experienced) increase in flood event intensity from climate change".

    On the day of the visit the flood had arrived the night before and it provided the perfect opportunity to witness how the 'leaky weir', built next to a Bat Willow, was working to slow the flow of the river and avoid soil sediment from being washed away. This not only restores the river banks immediately beside the weir but also decreases the amount of damage caused down-stream.

    The concept of 'swales' is fundamental to permaculture - whereby the water storage is re-directed and slowed down to allow for the water table to recover and store rather than wash away this valuable resource.

    Although not officially a swale, the weir and the willows were acting in much the same way - to re-establish the river beds structure and to avoid the kind of erosion which we are seeing now with the flooding of Central Victoria.

    Ultimately what distinguished itself from other properties I have visited was the amount of lopping which was done. Clearly - if you are going to plant it - you have to then be a custodian to it. Which in our society of "all care" (or at least the appearance of it) and no responsibility - is a rare and vitally lacking element.

    Quotations from Willow Management for Agricultural Landscapes
    By David Holmgren 2008 (

  3. Okay, I understand they play a role in stream bank stabalisation, but can I put forward a few comments in the interest of a fair and balanced debate, seeing as though your one reference comes from the person whose property you visited. :)

    1. Stream banks are dynamic environments which evolve over time, migrate, there is erosion and depositon in different parts of the stream at all times.

    2. Stream bank stability is a misnomer, but as you state in the post, why not put Melalueca's, they have been very successful at stabilisingand/or terrestrialising a multitude of aquatic and seasonally inunndated ecosystems from Tassie to Florida. (Willows maybe used because they are prettier? but what about native fauna that will be attracted to the native flowers?

    3. Aquatic native plants such as sedges and reeds are the most commonly used plants for bio remdiation of water with excess nutrients, they slow water flow, increase the deposition of suspended sediments and are an en effective 'native' water quality measure, why not set up a wetland environment to encourage frogs and the like?

    Anyhow, just a few points to consider.....I may be a little native biased, ha ha

  4. I have not read it all yet, but here is an interesting thing I found

    be back when I have read it

  5. Within a permaculture system - tree selection is based essentially on what the tree can give the occupants of the land.

    The Willow (apart from its extraordinary beauty) offers not only first class wood furniture and building use but also tannin, fibre, paper, rope and string, can be produced from the wood. Willows are also popular for wicker (often from osiers), which is used in basket weaving, fish traps, wattle fences and wattle and daub. Willow bark contains auxins (plant growth hormones) - a wonderful substitute for artifical rooting hormone. Willow bark also contains salicylic acid (better known now days as Asprin) which has become a vital anti-inflamatory on every one's shelf!

    Simply - its disadvantages do not justify the amount of money, time and energy spent on its recent destruction, nor to they out weigh its advantages.

  6. " the lack of literature describing the effects of willow removal coupled with large knowledge gaps and opposing views in current literature specific to the effects of willows on Australian aquatic environments makes accurate predictions difficult"

    Very clearly stated by your article - there has not been enough deep discussion - for such dramatic action.

  7. "Mature willows produce dense canopies, that significantly reduce the availability of incident illumination to banks and watercourses " (

    Look at this characteristic creatively ....
    Willows also acts as an alternative to poisoning blackberries....Permaculture teaches us to take a seeming "pest" and use it to our advantage! In this way ..."Permaculture is a much deeper framework for what today is called sustainability"

  8. ha ha, this is getting fun

    I appreciate that about the permaculture system, but with the whole perma thing, does the state of the land and the health of the whole ecosystem not come into account or is it just what looks pretty and what you can obtain from it.

    Leptospernum grows in semi aquatic envts, otherwise known as tea tree, why, the Tannins it produces

    in regards to nutrient removal, willows add as many nutrients as they remove.

    last comments, your quote provided from the article is from the introduction and it is stating why they are doing this literature review.

    I'm sure our indigenous forebearers were making baskets, fish traps, fibre, and rope from the many plants available before willows were introduced 200 years ago.

    finally there are many willow species listed as noxious weeds in the north central region of Victoria, so I would be rather hesitant about promoting it's planting unless it is in a closed waterbody.

    Ok, I am over Willows now :)))))

    New topic

    ha ha

    the general jist of the review is willow removal is beneficial in most circumstances, given that revegetation with appropriate natives is taking place.

  9. Permaculture in Suburbia - a blog to promote Permaculture ! Its all about getting smart and thinking local. You can't control what happens to the entire planet - but you can create the best for you and the land you have control over.

    $200- $500 for each tree removed. Millions of tax payers money that could be spent on health and renewable energies.

    And one last thing - Peak Oil - I know where I'll head when we can't drive to the Pharmacy anymore! To the Willow to the willow!

  10. And to satisfy the scientist within you ....
    (viewed as word document only)

    [DOC] Willows - Natural Sequence Farming
    File Format: Microsoft Word - View as HTML
    by M Wilson - Related articles
    ... recently suspended willow removal work in Spring Cr due to destruction of these .... An analysis of litterfall literature in Australia shows that the ... - Similar