Alexandra says one of her biggest influences has been Masanobu Fukuoka, the late, legendary Japanese farmer and philosopher whose ‘natural farming’ methods relied as much as possible on natural processes rather than human intervention.
The ethics of permaculture have also been an influence but Alexandra places less emphasis on design and control than most permaculturalists. “I plant everything everywhere and the plants will thrive where they are happy. I think there is a big misconception that gardening is complicated. It can be easy. If you just observe plants they will be your teachers”
That said, it takes a lot of knowledge to garden like this and Alexandra is no beginner. The daughter of organic farmers and keen gardeners, Alexandra has been tending plants since she was a child. She has a degree in environmental science, was a founding member of both Farmer Incubator and Growing Farmers and is currently working as a projects and events facilitator at Sustain: The Australian Food Network.
She has also started a website (barefootfoodgardens.org) offering edible gardening consultations and help for those getting started on food growing.
What she encourages is for people to really engage with their garden, to watch how it evolves season by season.
“I think the trouble people have especially when they start gardening is they forget about it,” she says. “But it’s like housework, just like you try to do the dishes every day or they pile up, you try to walk around the garden.”
Alexandra is using carpet to smother grass on the front nature stripCredit:Simon Schluter
Keeping close tabs also allows for timely interventions, such as the way Alexandra leaves weeds until they are as big as possible without setting seed before cutting them down, thereby maximising the amount of organic material that can decompose – in situ – and improve her heavy clay soil.
As for her kitchen waste, she mixes it with woodchips in small wire cages assembled wherever she wants compost to end up.
While her garden will feel too free-form for some, Alexandra says one of her “a-ha moments” was “reconceptualising aesthetics”. “We live in this world where we try to control everything, we want straight lines, we have concrete. But those things never occur in nature.”
They can also take up the time we might devote to growing good food.
Leila Alexandra will take a free tour of her garden from 2pm to 3.30pm on Saturday November 12. Go to events.humanitix.com/barefoot-food-gardens-tour to register to attend. Go to urbanagriculturemonth.org.au for more information about other events for Urban Agriculture Month, which runs until November 30.
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