For years, I struggled to grow anything in one particularly tricky spot in our garden. This area, along a section of our back fence line, has very shallow soil and is bordered by a hedge of native lilly pillies on our neighbour's side. The roots of these trees had spread far and wide and were competing for any water and nutrients my plants were seeking. And the lilly pillies were winning!
After so many frustrating failures, trying to get anything established in the ground, I had an epiphany of sorts (goodness knows why it took me so long)! I needed to find a way to bypass those lilly pilly roots and provide my plants with deep, nutrient-rich soil and adequate water. The answer was in another area of my garden!
Around in the front garden, sited in a hot south-westerly position, were three big half wine-barrels that Lucas, the amazing gardener who taught me so much as he helped me improve our veggie patch, had set up. They had been modified to become self-watering, using the wicking technique, and the previous Summer had been planted with tomatoes, sweet potato and herbs. While they worked really well, they were in such a hot area of the garden and far from my kitchen so I didn't visit them often enough. I guess, in Permaculture terms, they were in the wrong zone! (Farmer Liz, of the blog Eight Acres, has a great explanation of these zones here.) So, I decided to move them.
After much discussion, and with the promise of a delicious roast dinner at the end of the day, my husband moved all three of these very heavy wooden barrels and repositioned them in that tricky spot under those lilly pillies. With the addition of refreshed soil, and a full reservoir of water, I planted them out with lettuce, flowers and herbs which are growing happily there now. At last, success!
Lettuce, herbs and flowers in two of our wonderful wicking barrels.
Now, instead of struggling plants, desperately in need of water and nutrients, I have happy, healthy plants. All it took was to look at that tricky area in our garden with fresh eyes and to think outside the square a little bit to find a way to get the plants what they need in order to thrive.
Have you got any problem areas in your garden? What solutions have you tried?
p.s. This link, to John Ditchburn's Urban Food Garden, has a brief and clear explanation of how a wicking bed works.