Ben Shaw left the big smoke behind around 10 years ago. He was living in Melbourne with his wife, and while they loved the city, ‘it was time to get out,’ he says. The pair headed to Geelong, south-west of Melbourne, and soon after, Ben completed his permaculture design certificate. ‘It changed my journey in a really good way,’ he says.
Living in the city, but having grown up in a country town and spending much of childhood in the garden with his parents, Ben was becoming increasingly aware of the disconnect many urban dwellers like himself had with the natural world. ‘I lost my connection’, he says. ‘I’ve always thought about our environment and climate change. Those things were brewing inside me, but it was studying permaculture that made me realise there was something I could actually do about it.’
And so, Ben began making a garden based on permaculture principles. The concept of permaculture was developed by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in 1978. At its essence, permaculture is an ecologically-based design system for sustainable human living centred around three core tenets: care of the earth, care of people, and return of surplus. David Holmgren describes it as ‘consciously designed landscapes that mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs.’ Permaculture is most obviously connected to gardening, but its impact reaches far beyond backyards. For Ben and his family, it’s influenced all aspects of the way they live: their home design, energy use, waste and more.
Ben has truly been bitten by the permaculture bug. Not only does he tend to his own garden, he offers workshops in his backyard and consults with people wanting to integrate permaculture principles into their own gardens. ‘To put it simply, I want to teach people how good it is to grow your own food. Gardening is a great way for people to come to permaculture.’
While Ben’s backyard might be a standard suburban size, his ideas are big. His workshops are focused on making food growing as accessible as possible – giving people the tools to realise it’s not as scary as it sounds. ‘Changing the way we eat can make such a huge difference. Food is a beautiful way to encourage change,’ Ben says.
It helps Ben’s cause that his garden is gorgeous. ‘People often think that veggie gardens are ugly, I want to reframe that.’ His garden is full of edibles, espaliered fruit trees and pollinator-attracting plants. The lawn is a useful space for his two kids, but he’s already envisioning transforming it into more growing space when they grow up. ‘I’m amazed by how it thrives. It gives me hope. That’s the power of nature, I guess. You can create – even in your own tiny space – an ecosystem teeming with life.’ His commitment is contagious too – he tells me of his friends down the street who have recently planted a bunch of fruit trees in their front garden. ‘Things like that are wins for me. I feel like a shift is happening’, he says.
Ben’s garden means everything to him. He says, ‘This garden has changed our relationship with food, our kids, our community. It’s all grown from this one patch of earth. I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to achieve.’