The Garden of Eden Project is one way to help your community take local action towards local and global environmental improvement. One tangible way to address climate change is to plant trees. Not only this, it is an opportunity to bring a community together to design and create a common project that is eco-friendly, sustainable and will give back to the community in years to come.
Picture by mmwm, Creative Commons
The Garden of Eden Project originated as a two-fold approach to tackle climate change. Firstly, by growing trees with edible fruit, nuts and berries we contribute to locally grown food thus cutting down our food miles, helping to reduce our carbon footprint. Secondly, the extra trees act as a carbon sink, soaking up atmospheric carbon and assisting with the stabilisation of global climatic conditions.
What better place to start than in our own communities. In the green areas of our neighbourhoods, the gardens of our churches, meeting houses and schools or in quiet forgotten corners of parks and other (underused) community spaces. Imagine trees of fruit, nuts and berries filled with food each year, soaking up carbon for growth and providing a bountiful community-centred focus year after year.
Agriculture, food security and climate change pose key challenges for the world. The 2007-2008 world food crisis was a stark reminder that all countries need to build more resilient food systems in the light of expected (and unexpected) changes ahead. Moreover, growing social issues like poverty, unemployment and social exclusion endanger communities and their livelihood. The Garden of Eden Project can therefore impact beneficially on a number of different areas:
• Tackling climate change by minimising our carbon footprint in terms of food miles, and also planting trees to soak up additional atmospheric carbon.
• Planning for Peak Oil is another benefit of the project. By introducing food trees and bushes right into the heart of our communities, we make the produce available independent of the availability of oil-dependant imports. Food security is a major issue for European countries in the coming decades. Even globally, much of our current food production is heavily reliant on oil for machinery, biocides, fertilisers and transportation.
• Maximising local sustainability by providing local food sources for otherwise imported products such as nuts and fruit.
• Educating children and adults in organic food tree cultivation, and providing the community a focus for gathering the produce each year. Local, human-scale growing is a new experience for many people. As Peak Oil approaches, it is more important than ever for us to know how to grow our own food to meet at least some of our own needs.
• Waste minimisation is a by-product of the project; food from the garden doesn’t come in plastic!
• Community building is enhanced and facilitated by the regular meeting times to discuss plans, dig the earth together and pick the fruits of collective labour.
• Social inclusion is another by-product of the project. By introducing beauty in the form of trees and wildlife to our urban centres, and by introducing food-crops in the form of fruit and nut bearing trees we can encourage every member of our community to enjoy the benefits that these bring.
• Protection of agricultural biodiversity, particularly focusing on fruit and nut trees that grow well in the soil and climatic conditions of our own country.
• Enhancing local wildlife habitats by providing habitat cover, flowers for nectar, and fruit and nuts for food (birds tend to be more efficient at harvesting cherries than people, for example).
How do we set up our own Project?
So, how do you go about starting a Garden of Eden Project? There is a straightforward step-by-step approach that can get you from lawn to forest in a jiffy.
1. First, share the idea with others in your community that are enthusiastic about it. Be aware that the best time to start planting bare rooted stock is the dormant season, which ends around the springtime. Potted plants can be planted year round, but require more summer watering in the first year if planted when in leaf.
2. Come up with a proposal together to clarify your thoughts. Identify the areas that are suitable for planting but for whatever reason are currently unused (or underused) spaces. Get in contact with local authorities to inform them of your plans and to avoid problems that might otherwise arise in the future. When choosing a space for the Project, consider borders along pathways and roads as well as open lawn areas. Make a sketch of the area that you are thinking of planting and indicate the main features: South point, buildings, walls, existing planting and proposed planting. If you need guidance, any good Permaculture designer would be ideally qualified for the task, or check the contacts list on the Garden of Eden website as well as other permaculture-related websites.
3. Then decide on the scale of planting you want to do. A mini Garden of Eden could be as small as two or three hazelnut trees inter-planted with current bushes. If you have more space add in pear trees, walnuts, cherries, plumbs, sweet chestnuts or even a native apple variety from the Irish Seed Savers Association. Decide upon the number of trees and bushes that you want to plant. How many mature fruit and nut trees and fruit bushes will comfortably fit in the area identified? What are your likely financial resources?
4. Discuss your Garden of Eden Project with the people involved in deciding about voluntary grounds maintenance and management. Make sure that they are happy with all of the proposals before you forge ahead. A couple of drafts of the sketch and proposal may be needed before everybody is comfortable with the plan. This stage is crucial to the process. Without the full participation and enthusiasm of everybody involved in maintenance and long term site planning, your Garden of Eden may be mown out or built on within a few years.
5. Pooling of resources, i.e. funds. Fund raising for the Project could be a good opportunity to invite all of the community to contribute to the Garden of Eden, including schools, elderly persons, young people, etc. Raising funds could involve the organising of cake sales (in someone’s house, in the local school, etc.), car boot sales, auctions – be creative. Whatever the activity the main idea is to involve the community, explain what the project is about and build enthusiasm around it.
6. Next step is to buy your trees and bushes. The fruit and nut trees can be selected and sourced from suppliers in your country, or perhaps someone in the community is in this line of work or knows of someone who can help. Make sure to do some research first in order to get not only the best deal but also to be assured that what you are ordering is high quality and suited to the growing conditions of your country, without the need for chemical fertilisers or biocides. Bushes can often be grown from cuttings, or purchased from garden centres or specialist suppliers – ask for advice if needed or look online where there is a wealth of accessible information! Gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, boysenberries, white currants, raspberries and others make good inter-planting bushes between the fruit and nut trees.
7. Publicise the planting and invite everyone to come along; make it into a community event. Children particularly love tree planting and have a great sense of achievement afterwards.
8. In the summer following planting, care is needed to keep the trees and bushes weeded, and to water them if the weather is dry. This is why it is extremely important to have formed a management group previously who will make the decisions on the management and maintenance of the Project.
9. The final step isn’t a final step at all – it goes on year after year. This is the annual gathering for picking, picnicking, pickling, jamming, tarting, stewing and baking. A celebration of the sacred bounty of your own community’s Garden of Eden could take place in the form of an annual food fair. Don’t worry about the length of time taken to fruiting and maturing. The trees will be acting as carbon sinks from the word go. Having chosen the trees you want, set about buying them and planting them. Both of these events can have an awareness raising element for the community.
Links and other sources
- If you need help or advice on any aspect of planning, planting or maintaining your Garden of Eden Project contact a good Permaculture Designer or Féidhlim Harty at 065-6797355 or reeds à wetlandsystems.ie
- On how to create Garden of Eden Projects as well as find potential suppliers for plants (Ireland only), please refer to its website here