We first me Dr Cally Brennan in the family's garden in Holt seven years ago (Kitchen Garden, August 14, 2013) when her daughter Sophie was eight months old. Three weeks ago, a keen gardener in Cook suggested I see her neighbour, Cally.
The front garden in Cook piqued my interest and out came Cally Brennan to take me on a well-distanced look at her nine wicking beds, six of which are located on an old semi-circular driveway.
Cally and her partner Jeremy Smith and daughter Sophie, now 8, moved to Cook in 2013.
Cally has been interested in food growing since she was a child in Scotland when she had her first vegie patch. Her PhD is about music and anthropology for which she did field work in Malaysia and Singapore but she has found that her anthropological training is relevant to permaculture. By presenting lower impact, sustainable and more nature-based ways of living, permaculture challenges a lot of the values and cultural norms of large-scale industrial consumerist society. So as she potters in the garden, there is plenty to reflect on in terms of cultural values and what makes a resilient life, especially in these challenging times.
For the past two years Cally has been a director on the board of Permaculture Australia, she founded Canberra Permaculture Design and Education in 2013 and does garden consultations, workshops and garden tours. She has been experimenting with making wicking pots and beds for more than a decade withe the aim of making it possible to grow vegetables even in the most inhospitable parts of a garden. There is a reservoir at the base of each wicking bed that keeps plants happier in hot, dry weather, particularly this past summer.
The wicking beds are made our of recycled IBCs (intermediate bulk containers) which are used to transport liquids around the world. With metal cages surrounding a white plastic insert they look quite industrial but they are durable and practical. At one square metre of easy-access raised bed growing space they keep out rats and possums. Since they featured on an episode of ABC Gardening Australia (Wicking Ways, 2017) they have generated a lot of interest. Cally has put up a series of freely available videos on her website, canberrapermaculturedesign.com.au. for people to make their own.
If you are not handy with an angle grinder, Cally and Jeremy make the wicking beds. They have sold lots to people in the inner north, a few in the Belconnen area, a number in Weston Creek and Tuggeranong.
In Cook, six of the wicking beds are connected so they can all be watered from the one inlet. They are planted with snowpeas, broad beans, Chinese cabbage, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, swede and mangelwurzel (a member of the beetroot family). They are filled with compost, coarse river sand, old potting mix plus horse manure from the paddocks around the corner. They add organic fertiliser and blood and bone and grow green manure crops.
Around the front and back gardens they have planted 35 fruit and nut trees including walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cherries, plums, 14 apple trees, figs, peaches, quince, lemon, lime, apricot bay tree and mulberries. In the back garden they harvest water from hard surfaces, the laundry and the shower.
Both Jeremy and Cally share the cooking although Sophie would say she prefers Dad's cooking because he is a whizz at roast dinners.
The recipe, a Cally invention, is super simple but makes use of two plants growing well at the moment (raised from seed), radish and curled cress which is often used as a microgreen but as it grows bigger it makes a good, slightly peppery edible that copes with frost.
Cally's cress salad
Large bunch of curled cress
Five large red radishes
Finely slice the radishes and then coarsely chop the cress. Mix together in a bowl. Drizzle over your favourite French dressing, or, even simpler, just sprinkle with salt and squeeze over about a quarter of a lemon Serve as a starter before dinner, or as a side dish with a Cornish pastie, home made quiche, frittata or with a hearty ploughman's lunch if pate, hard cheese, crusty bread and pickles.