Rachel Eckermann, home gardener at Enfield, Adelaide
Based in Enfield, on Adelaide’s northside, Rachel Eckermann tends to her suburban garden, producing a myriad of fruit and vegetables, and also a sense of serenity. Here we chat with Rachel to learn about her gardening journey and how to beat that dreaded water bill!
THE KEY STATS
- ✅ Year established: 2000
- 📍 Location: Enfield, around 20 minutes from Adelaide’s CBD.
- 🏡 Land size: 900m2 in total, with 600m2 dedicated to the garden.
- 🌱 Soil type: Alkaline silty loam.
- 🚜 Main energy sources: Mains power with 25kw solar system installed in 2008.
- 🌧️Average rainfall: 536mm per year.
- 💧 Main water sources: 20,000 litres of rainwater storage plus mains water, which costs about $500 per quarter.
- 🥕 Main production: Fruit, vegetables, herbs and eggs.
- ⚡️ Capital: Rachel purchased her block for $147,000 in 2000. The cost to maintain the garden is ongoing, but Rachel isn’t sure of the overall cost.
WHAT’S THE PROJECT, IN A NUTSHELL?
Rachel’s home garden is a dedication to self-sufficiency and sustainability. She mostly looks after the garden herself in attempts to grow as much organic food as possible.
The garden provides more than just food, but also a place of peace and greenery to relax and reflect.
When she’s not in her own garden, Rachel works at Trees for Life, a community organisation that restores and protects South Australian landscapes, raises awareness about nature and empowers people to take action. You might have heard about these guys and all their massive efforts to help landowners in bushfire recovery.
You might guess that with this kind of professional experience Rachel’s garden would be full of natives and budding with life. Well, you’re totally right.
“I have a large verge at the front of the place and have planted a number of local native trees and shrubs – these attract insectivorous birds that keep the bugs at bay,” she says.
“And there are two ponds, full of native water plants and various native pond creatures.”
Probably the most unusual plant she has growing is Sandalwood Santalum spictatum, which Rachel grew from a seed gifted to her by a fellow who specialises in growing, harvesting and selling bush food.
“Sandalwood doesn’t require any special attention and is in fact incredibly hardy. The seeds have healing qualities and are good to eat,” she says.
“I also have a number of Acacia victoriae plants which provide ‘wattle seed’ for bread, scones, ice cream flavouring and chook food.”
Rachel also keeps chickens: eight hens and one rooster.
“There is also a family of blue tongue lizards that live in the garden and a semi-feral cat who thinks it’s a chicken, who has been desexed and now controls mice and rats.”
HOW DID THIS ALL GET STARTED?
Rachel attributes much of her success and passion to her German heritage.
“My forebears were peasants from Prussia who brought their farming knowledge to the Barossa Valley. I grew up in a chook pen, in a vineyard, eating homegrown, locally produced food. It has stuck,” Rachel says.
This culture instilled the importance of self-sufficiency for her.
Gardening and considering the environment comes easy to Rachel, but she’s also worked incredibly hard to build her knowledge.
Rachel completed a two year Certificate in Agriculture at Urrbrae College, before undertaking a Permaculture Design Certificate with permaculture co-founder, Bill Mollison, in 1985.
She was just 16 years old when she completed her PDC and says it changed her perspective, setting her on the course she remains faithful to today.
During this time, Rachel was living on a semi self-sufficient property in the Mid North owned by the Mylius family (founders of the non-profit Sustainable Communities SA)
“They were using permaculture principles before permaculture was a word!” Rachel recalls.
After completing her permaculture course, Rachel remembers a small goal beginning to unfold.
“I didn’t really have a plan except to have access to a property on which I could grow food.
“It took 20 years before I owned a piece of land, but I’ve left a trail of rental properties with food gardens.”
Thinking back to how permaculture has influenced her garden, she remembers the teachings of Bill Mollison.
“Bill told us he was the ultimate lazy gardener… that stuck with me. Also to observe, to teach others, to share.
“There was never really a design, the space is constantly evolving, I have worked within my means as a single parent for most of the time, and have not had the money to retrofit in any significant way.”
The one thing Rachel did spend time considering was the position of the house. She bought the house because it sits north facing and this meant prime positioning for her solar panels, which bring her one step closer to her ultimate goal of going totally off grid one day.
ANY TIPS FOR THOSE WANTING TO START SOMETHING SIMILAR?
With the wealth of information and resources freely available at our fingertips, Rachel recommends just diving into whatever topic interests you most.
“Just start and learn from others as you go, read, experiment, have fun and play!” she says.
Looking back, Rachel believes knowing more about soil, in particular, would have been helpful.
Rachel offers a few key readings that were especially helpful in guiding her journey:
- One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka
- The Yates Garden Guide
- Permaculture 1 and 2 by Bill Mollison
- Fruit Growing in Australia by Louis Glowinski
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE SO FAR?
“The water bill,” says Rachel. Living in the Mediterranean climate of Adelaide, we suffer from long, dry summers. This means water is crucial to growing a healthy and prosperous garden.
When thinking about climate change, Rachel says, “I’m very concerned for the future of my garden but I’m working hard to mitigate the impacts.”
Rachel incorporates native species in her home garden that are best suited to the harsh Adelaide summer. In some areas, Rachel has planted locally native Malley species, Eucalyptus porosa and Eucalyptus socialis, to provide shade and attract local bird species, which in turn help with insect control.
Rachel uses garden beds raised off the ground – on rainwater tank stands, with old corrugated iron as a bottom – to lower the risk of roots competing, meaning one species is not taking water or nutrients from another.
“No water leaves the property,” she says. “I have installed rainwater tanks at all downpipes and the runoff from those are sent to the citrus, which needs the winter rains, or to a central point in the vegetable garden.”
Using 50 per cent white shade cloth over growing areas also helps curb the water bill. The shade cloth helps keep the soil cool and retain moisture, meaning plants are less likely to wilt and need more water.
“I have also planted my verge with local native plants to provide habitat for insectivorous birds and bats. Two ponds have been built recently and I’m waiting for frogs to find them,” Rachel says.
Bringing diversity into her garden helps the resilience of the ecosystem.
WHAT’S THE BEST PART?
Walking into the garden to pick breakfast is one of the biggest highlights, says Rachel.
Having a productive garden means she can access fresh food every day and become less dependent on buying food elsewhere.
Besides the garden’s productive perks, Rachel says having a piece of land that provides serenity is another great part of gardening.
“The garden is seasonally visited by many forest and woodland birds, some that I never expected I would see in the suburbs,” she says.
Maybe the birds find serenity and happiness in this garden too.
TELL US ABOUT THE FUTURE – WHAT’S NEXT?
Climate change is a huge challenge and a big consideration for the future of Rachel’s Enfield garden.
Already, she’s feeling the effects of climate change in her patch, and wants to help others move towards a more resilient path.
“I want to be part of helping people to be productive, hopeful, and resilient.”
Rachel hopes she can one day use her garden as a space for teaching, to help people learn to grow their own food and support their food security.
“Supporting farmers who practice regenerative farming is the way forward,” says Rachel.
In spite of persistent issues in our global food systems, Rachel demonstrates that we can address these problems locally, starting right in our backyards.
WAYS TO GET IN TOUCH