Worried about your unpopularity? Lying awake at night wondering why you have so few friends? If you are a gardener, then you can take heart. You may already have millions more friends than you knew in the companionable forms of earthworms and fungi.
In his talk on permaculture at Monday's Floriade (the talk, in a marquee, punctuated by the crowing of chooks in the nearby urban agriculture display) soil microbiologist Walter Jehne spoke about worms and fungi as our ''friends''. He did it with such warmth that it would not surprise if he has given each of the worms in his garden a pet name.
Back to Mr Jehne and his talk in a moment, but first the reflection that while Floriade is first and foremost a display of beautiful and colourful flowers (on Monday, to get to the urban agriculture display, we had to run the gauntlet of beds of thousands of tulips, so colourful they must be visible from outer space), there is discussion of the actual art and craft and science going on in Floriade's nooks, crannies and outskirts.
And without some of the skills of composting and gardening assisted by what Mr Jehne kept calling ''our friends the worms and the fungi''), no Canberra gardener could ever grow successfully anything, let alone flowers that guzzle as much food and drink as tulips do. Canberra's soils, unimproved, are as grim and callous as the major parties' policies on asylum seekers. Everyone who begins a new garden from scratch in a new part of Canberra has that experience of the malevolent land around the house actually scoffing at them, defying them to grow as much as a lank cabbage.
We asked Mr Jehne if Canberra gardeners in particular have a need to befriend the worms and fungi and get composting?
''Look, absolutely, it's very important. Our soils [he is a Canberran] are clay soils but they're effectively only subsoils. We lost all our topsoils from this region. We know how, when Canberra was begun, after federation, this place was just a clapped-out sheep paddock. Canberra was a degraded place. It's a whole compliment 100 years on, the amount of green regeneration that's gone on.
''Canberra's got soil challenges and it's got climatic challenges as well. Canberra is more or less on the front line of some of the extremes … we are at risk of a reality we can't escape any longer of things aridifying [growing drier].
''So how do we conserve what water we do have in our whole biosystem to keep it in for longer? The only way we can save water is to make sure that every single one of every 100 raindrops that falls here filters into our soils and is retained in our soils, and that is what organic soil health [with us composting madly, working alongside our friends the worms and the fungi] is all about.''
With the nearby chooks still serenading from the adjoining urban agriculture display (very well attended, by the way, in part by people needing a respite from tulip fatigue but in part by novice gardeners from the pioneer suburbs looking for advice in the war with the callous clay), Mr Jehne sang to his audience praises of the wonders of composting.
''To take a case in point: In the Netherlands they take marine mud, from under the ocean. They build a dyke and they pump out the saltwater and they're left with just marine sludges and muds. But within 10 years they'll turn those marine muds into some of the most productive potato and wheat and dairy farms on the planet.
''So we can do it, too [on our small backyard scales and by composting all our kitchen waste], using our friends, the tools, the compost, the worms and the fungi.''
Mr Jehne is director of Healthy Soils Australia, which has lots of advice and videos on its website for those who want to begin befriending their worms and fungi.
A recent scintillating column mentioned the olden days in Canberra, before the meadows beside the Molonglo were swarmed over by Lake Burley Griffin, when one would see haystacks in those meadows.
Canberra artist Annie Trevillian has made (and wore for us for an interview and a photograph) a startlingly original dress covered with pictures of iconic Canberra places and objects past and present. The objects include a haystack being built by farmhands because they, haystacks, are so beautiful and interesting (the artist Monet couldn't leave them alone as subjects) and because Trevillian had found an evocative old photograph of haystacks in a Canberra field near Blundells Cottage in pre-lake days.
A reader from a long-established Canberra family saw our reference to haystacks in olden Canberra and has sent us this golden photograph taken by a member of the family in the olden days, in what we might call, if ever we stooped to bad puns, Canberra's hayday. The items in its foreground (the little white wedding cake in its background is the first Parliament House) are not haystacks but stooks (stacked arrangements of stalks of cut grain) but of course they once were, like haystacks, strangely lovely features of the meadows in bucolic places.
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