From half a hectare of lawn to a multifunctional educational landscape incorporating outdoor classrooms with living willow walls, hundreds of native plants, dozens of fruiting trees and shrubs, herb and vegetable gardens, a "forest garden", wildflowers, hedges and eight different types of composts and worm farms; the transformation of Nelson Environment Centre's Braemar Place premises has been significant.
I guess it was a case of being the right person in the right place at the right time when in August 2009 my contract with the centre developing the Code Red programme ended. It was just as the centre's governance committee was negotiating a lease on a site on the grounds of the Braemar Eco Village development for their new premises and they were going to need someone to develop the landscape. My background in organic gardening, permaculture, arboriculture and environmental science had me well-placed to step in.
From an initial design brief to create "an educational landscape", I used my community connections to rustle up donations, discounts and support from a wide range of local organisations. Securing two years worth of funding from the Dick Roberts Community Trust was a major achievement and made it so much easier to buy all the trees, shrubs and other resources which would have otherwise remained on the "want to have" list.
Keeping it local has been very important. Having access to the Nelson Reuse and Recycle Centre is fabulous – it never ceases to amaze me what useful resources people throw away. Most of our tools came from here and with the odd exception are in use two years later.
Cardboard and shredded tree prunings have been used extensively as mulch; both local renewable resources. On-site "wastes" such as excavated turf, tree prunings and unwanted weeds have all been put to use creating new gardens, building banks and making compost.
Interestingly, one key feature in my original design has turned out to be the "empty spaces" where we didn't do anything; these have now sprung up with a biodome greenhouse, a hybrid deck and even a methane-producing biodigester, thanks to other people seeing opportunities and contributing their skills, expertise and resources.
It can be easy to get carried away at the start of a project and not leave any empty space, but in time it can prove invaluable.
One aspect of this job which I have loved is the people I have worked with. From a succession of Dutch and then German interns (who undergo a rigorous selection process in their home countries to spend up to a year working for the Nelson Environment Centre), to the volunteers who helped me with everything from building retaining walls, to digging holes, to shovelling endless piles of mulch, they have been enthusiastic, good-humoured and supportive.
Although I am moving on to other projects (family and study predominantly), I know that the landscape will continue to develop and that to a certain extent I have to let go of what has become quite an attachment.
I will always return, if only to scrimp fruit and pester the staff, but now it is time for the landscape to grow guided by someone else's hand, to accommodate more eager learners, young and old, and hopefully to inspire others to take ideas home and put them to use.
It has been a privilege to undertake this work for NEC and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I hope that all Nelsonians will have a chance to visit the environment centre to enjoy and learn from the beautiful surroundings, the developing landscape and the wonderful, knowledgeable people who work there.
- Going Green is a fortnightly column by members of the Nelson Environment Centre.