Recently our Mother and Son team of “BagLady and Son” (Shirley & Nick) got a chance to ask for the wise council of an old friend, and excellent permaculturalist – “Rob Lawrence”.  We needed to get advice on a few things regarding the direction of the garden, and what could be planted in certain spots.

Below is a Q&A dialogue between Rob and Nick, including pictures. As a bonus, Rob was kind enough to include some things that he’s doing in his own new-ish garden, along with some great pictures!

(Nick’s questions are in BOLD WHITE, and Rob’s answers are in YELLOW)

Hope you enjoy it! 🙂

1. Space in front of kitchen – what to ideally grow?

The issue here is of course limited light, as the house next door blocks a large amount of the sun. Also the soil quality is questionable?
(not as good as the soil quality out the back) – So far we’ve been trying to grow some herbs, with weak results, apart from some rosemary that’s doing quite well.


Nick, thanks for asking that. One of the big worries that people have about plants is whether they will get enough sunlight to grow.

We want to look at light intensity as well as length of time. A lot of leafy greens do quite well in dappled shade. 

Yes, the house next door presents quite a challenge. At the moment, I would be looking at hardy leafy greens and herbs such as kale, parsley, nettle and rocket. 

However, if you can maximise the light opportunity, you will find a greater variety of plants. One solution I have seen in Katoomba before, is a series of great big mirrors on the southern wall! 

I wonder what would be the effect of painting your water tank a really light colour? A nicely dispersed reflected light and a longer growing season?

Another thing you can do is look at thinning some of the tree canopy shading the tank in the afternoon sun.

As for the soil quality, I would look at bringing in some better quality soil and maybe even making it a raised bed to make the microclimate there a little bit warmer.

2. Spaces above and below retaining wall – what to ideally grow?

? How Toxic Is Our Retaining Wall ?

Now we have to bear in mind here that the wood used for the replacement retaining wall just recently is treated pine. So that rules out anything edible being grown near it (and below I believe mum said?) but maybe anywhere close at all, so please advise on that Rob.

So again, what would be good to grow here? it’s again pretty poor sunlight. Again, soil quality is not great..

Hi Nick, the first question is whether those planks are treated with CCA or ACQ. There is a growing number of studies about ACQ Being much safer.

The questions are not just on what the chemicals are, but whether you get a direct dose of chemicals, what are their long-term effects, are they transmitted through the soil (most probably) and are they systemic in the plant (highly likely).

This blog is a quick synopsis of CSIRO’s position on CCA, the older treatment. Reasonably supportive as you would imagine however one of the comments  is that CCA is being banned in Europe. So theirs is not the only view…

And here is another bit of info from the EPA in the USA, with better information…
The short answer on growing food near the retaining wall is, it depends – on how hungry you are, how close you plant to the wood, how much different plants absorb arsenic and whether you peel any vegetables grown there. Interesting that the article said that beetroot only absorbs Arsenic) into its skin but silver beet (Virtually the same plant) absorbs it into the leaves.
Personally, I prefer not to go there unless I want to grow a crop of foods to give to people I don’t like.
In terms of microclimate, The upper terrace has better sun and drainage, so it  may be suitable for a wide range of herbs and flowers such as pansy, marigold, yarrow and more… The lower Terrace would benefit from a light coloured wall on the house, but in any case plants which can handle more moisture may do well there such as mint or nasturtium. Even ferns, Spring bulbs or shade-tolerant ornamentals.
3. What to grow next to the fence upper back left of the property?
Again issues with sunlight, I’d like to suggest some kind of vine that’s going to create privacy from the neighbours. When we are both in the backyard, we’re able to see each other, and really I don’t want to have to see those bastards (joking), but yeah privacy would be nice.

That fence is a tricky one. It already shades 80% of the northern light in that area. I’m thinking mirrors and paint again, this time on the inground compost bin! Or maybe a white knitted scarf around the cherry…?!

When I think vines, kiwifruit, grape and passionfruit all spring to mind.

One thing to think about is timing. If you get a deciduous vine, it may add to privacy more in the summer, when your neighbours are more likely to be out.

Personally, I would view a vine on that fence as a backup option. What would be really great, is if the neighbour thought it would be a great idea to put some low, deciduous privacy trees on their side of the fence! Especially ones you picked out yourself! 😉

Of course, if you do a bit of nude sunbathing out there you may find some Lilypillys planted along the fence the next day! That would not be ideal as they are Evergreen…

Sorry I can’t be of more help with this one. Privacy is a perennial issue with suburban living and it really comes down to how well you get on with your neighbours and finding win-win solutions.
4. What to do with all this Asian green veg that’s now going to seed?
I think it’s Mizuna? Anyway, there’s heaps of it going to seed all over the backyard. Should we rip most of it out, and leave one section of the garden to let it self seed and hopefully it grows itself from this point forward?
Yes, sounds like a pretty good option, as we are now entering a season where you want to start putting a greater variety of seeds and plants in the garden. Yes, keeping one is a good idea for seed saving. I do that with mustard and actually harvest mustard seeds as well – for curries.
Unless you need the space all at once, one thing you can do is strip the leaves from entire plants for your evening meal and if they are a little too peppery, cook them for a few seconds in hot water. (Obviously, mulch and plant in the space as soon as you can.)
I’m not sure about the flowers. You’d have to do a taste test. Broccoli and kale flowers are sweet and delicate but their other cousin, rocket, has flowers that knock your socks off.

Rob’s Garden Share Bonus

Here’s a couple of things Rob’s doing in his own garden located on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia – including his pictures and comments:

Hi Shirley and Nick, 
I thought I would share what’s happening in my garden. It’s still has a long way to go, but we get about half of our greens from it, and it is slowly developing resilience.. We have about 10 pumpkins sitting up on the shelf.
A selection of herbs and flowers growing in our garden at the moment.
Plants in the pic that would do okay and your area include: Queen Anne’s lace, chrysanthemum, pansy, parsley, chives, lettuce, Yarrow, marigold, snapdragon, comfrey, Chicory, fennel, thyme, sage, calendula, plantain and mother of herb.
The Chicory and plantain below the bath were sown direct into lawn and then the grass was just kept in check until they established.
Water from the bath drops into a ditch and the lower mound is planted with Chicory, sorrel, violet, Basil and a few of the plants mentioned earlier.