photos by Nadine Loraine
Life really gets fun when we convert a patch of grass into a thriving ecosystem. My vegan corner of the world is about 30 by 35 feet; a garden to nurture all the senses; to feed both body and soul. Barefoot, I stroll through paths in this place where peace resides. Birds’ wings in flight overhead, bees buzzing, cicadas, and a flowing river are the sounds I hear within this planted patch of flowers and food. (Once I heard the song of a bird that sounded just like it was from a Disney movie!)
This peaceful oasis is a hop, skip and a jump from the meeting house in Shangri-La, our New Zealand vegan educational center, and is inspired by the teachings of Gentle World and our shared creating of a world based on “life as it should be”.
My little corner of the world is a memorial garden to my best doggie friend; Kisses. In the safety of Shangri-La, she lived as a free dog, without a leash or collar, as she had learned not to kill animals. Ever since our love-at-first-sight moment when she came to me from the surrounding woods where she had been abandoned, she wanted to stay close, and she lived with us, eating vegan, for 13.5 of her 14.5+ years.
As you step into the garden, there are walking paths through rows of flowers, rows of corn, and a row of sprawling crunchy Kirby cucumbers that have been plentiful enough to both eat them raw and make some into dill pickles (a fantastic addition to our evening meals!) There is a healthy row of zucchini (courgettes), and a row of cherry tomatoes.
I intentionally mixed in flowers throughout the Kisses garden, both to attract pollinators, and because they lift my thoughts with a brightness that brings color to our world even when the sun is not shining.
One outside border is a mass bedding of zinnias with vivid color; a favorite of both bumble bees and butterflies. The back border includes tall Cosmos which sway in the wind, offering incredible beauty and scent as they grow bushier through the season, mixed in with Milkweed to feed the Monarchs, and a ‘pollinator mix’ of flowers for the bees. There are fuzzy lavender flowers that the honey bees particularly like, while the bumble bees nuzzle into the purple-blue bells of Echium flowers. The bees also enjoy the blue Borage, and can be seen in a euphoric state in the Zinnia flowers; where they sometimes sleep through the night. In the mornings, sometimes I also see bees sleeping in the sunflowers, their black color contrasted with the bright gold.
My philosophy with bees is to leave them be, and not steal the food they make for their own survival, and to feed their community. In a world where bees are reportedly diminishing, there is no hint of that in my vegan corner of the world where the bees are abundant. They are not even interested in stinging me, as they are so happy and focused on the flowers. Some of them did repay me for planting their favorites by pollinating the gold zucchini flowers. I purposefully planted watermelons and butternut squash next to this row, and I spent many hours, fascinated, as I watched the bees pollinating these plants according to plan.
During these summer days, my garden and I receive frequent visits from my friends Eden and Soul, who are vegan-since-birth children. Eden and Soul helped me plant the sunflowers, and when they saw the results of their efforts, I overheard Eden (age 3) say to herself, “I can’t believe it!”
On one of our visits, the two of them joined me for a pea-eating fest. I had planted the peas on both sides of the corn, and when they were finished, I pulled them out and used the plants to mulch and feed the corn, which was looking like it needed more nourishment. It was beautifully symbiotic the way the peas and corn grew alongside each other; the corn holding up the peas while the peas nourished the corn in return. In the vegan-organic method, nitrogen-fixing ‘green manures’ such as lupines, broad beans, peas, and string beans are one of many ways we feed the soil, rather than using products sourced from animal exploitation such as blood and bone.
I planted Milkweed for the Monarch butterflies, another beautiful pollinator whose population is threatened. Starting in mid February, one female and one male Monarch took up residency in the Kisses garden, and were soon joined by a third one. My mornings then became enchanted, as I had the opportunity to watch butterflies sleeping, gliding, soaring, and two of them even putting on a synchronized flying show as they spiraled upward; something I have never before witnessed.
When a butterfly is ready, she curves her tail into the Milkweed plant and lays her eggs. In late summer, tiny caterpillars on the Milkweed plant grow and grow, preparing for their awe-inspiring metamorphosis. But when Monarchs first emerge from their chrysalis, they drip dry their wings for two hours before they can fly, and during that time, they are very susceptible to wasp stings, which disable and eventually kill them. In the past, I have brought newly-emerged butterflies inside so that I could watch over them during those crucial two hours, then release them when I knew they could fend for themselves. This year, Soul, Eden and I are looking forward to setting many a Monarch free from our hands for their first flight.
Flowing around my vegan corner of the world is the cold and clean headwaters of a river. I drink from its white bubbly oxygenated spots, which provide natural filtration as the water flows over rocks. I swim laps in one of the river’s many invigorating pools that was only discovered recently, a full decade after we moved onto this land. I named it ‘Serendipity’ until I realized one day that it was the “seren-dip-in-me” pool. The river flows by a large native Puriri tree with berries that attract the vegetarian wood pigeons. When there isn’t enough rain, we pump the water from this river to the Kisses garden.
Surrounded by 9,000 acres of New Zealand forest reserve, it is virtually impossible to garden without being fenced in from possums. Possums were introduced to this country to be trapped for their beautiful fur coats, and they are now known for destroying fruit trees and plants. Throughout New Zealand, the possum is almost universally looked upon as a pest – not a sentient being who is a victim of humanity’s madness – and they are persecuted beyond belief.
Since my garden was brand new, I was hoping we would be lucky enough to eat the food I had planted this year before the possums discovered it. Green leafy plants are the most inviting crops to possums, so the only one I grew was rocket (arugula) – as it is my favorite but not theirs. I nibble on these spicy greens daily for vitality. I did have a little competition from the pheasants when it was young and tender.
As for the possums though, it was all good until mid February when I unknowingly drew a possum to the garden. He or she began sampling the butternuts, zucchini, tomatoes, and young watermelons, but amazingly, did not damage the plants or demolish the garden. One might even say he was being respectful. I went out with my flashlight one night and met this possum face to face; and what a cute face it was staring back at me! I tried to deter this young person from the garden, but it didn’t work. However, I found other ways of protecting our food, and we have managed to live together. He or she has been here since the beginning of the season, and has as much right to be here in the natural environment as I do. This setting I live in is their world too, very literally.
My vegan-organic garden was almost free of cost. To create the Kisses garden, I traded work in exchange for the initial plowing of the patch. This work-trade also covered some of the seeds, but some I had already saved from gardens in previous years. I used wood ash from our fireplace, spread generously to promote flowering. I put hay on top of the walking rows to stop weeds from coming through, as well as to stop me from compacting the earth. This layer of composting plant material also mulches and feeds the plants, as do the peas I planted, which provide nitrogen to the soil. Since the garden patch was brand new, I tried to choose plants that like virgin soil such as potatoes, watermelons and tomatoes.
The final garden border is a wall of annual flowers:
Sunflowers (including Teddy Bear Sunflowers), miniature wine colored Cosmos, golden Calendula and Marigolds mixed in with Poppies (a bright red gift each morning). The front row is a wall of corn and tall sunflowers. At the feet of the sunflowers are more bee-loving wildflowers that will remain when the sunflowers and corn are finished and pruned away.
One evening, as the sun began to go down, I stood with the sunflower faces that were just starting to bloom. They literally turned their heads to face the setting sun and we watched the sunset together.