a and s’s beautiful permaculture garden

One of my favourite things to do is to visit other people’s vegetable gardens and have a good nose around…I always learn so much and get inspired to go home and get into my own.

(See photographs from an organic garden tour I did in 2013 here.)

Here are some photographs from a beautiful, well-established permaculture garden I visited in late spring last year. (It belongs to friends of a friend. They were kind enough to let me photograph the garden but wanted to be otherwise anonymous. I think it doesn’t give too much away to say the garden is in the lower North Island.)

Here is their garden photographed from just beyond their porch, you can see this from the house:


I loved the way they had their main crops (potatoes, corn) in large clear beds, their salad crops growing more ‘wildly’ in the shadey edges, and they had planted an orchard at the foot of the garden which doubles as the chicken run…the chickens keep the grass from around the base of the trees (most fruiting trees don’t like grass growing around their bases), and the chickens fertilize the trees with their poo…meanwhile, the trees offer shade to the chooks, and food, too. (Unfortunately for my chickens, the two huge trees in their run are feijoa trees, and it seems chooks don’t like feijoas, so no happy harvest for my lot!)



Everywhere I turned there were different crops – here you can see salad vegetables, calendula, dark leafy greens and garlic…


Near the house was an absolutely beautiful peach tree sorrounded by fennel, with flawless fruit dripping off it. I sat under it for a while – it sure was a special tree – and took a bazillion photographs…but I’ll just share a couple with you here as you may not find photographs of peaches so mesmerising as I do.



Beautiful hand-woven baskets and seedling pots made from newspaper…



I noticed they had a ground cover of red clover, too. Red Clover is a wonder-herb – read all about it here.  It’s also just pretty, as ground covers go, don’t you think?


I have another vegetable garden visit to share with you, soon. I hope you enjoyed this one!


Summer solstice brings intentions for the coming year…

On Sunday, I celebrated the Summer solstice at a dear friend’s house in the country with about twenty other people. We shared a feast and then lit a big bonfire, drummed and danced, burned things in the fire we wanted to let go of, and set intentions for the year ahead…

This week I am feeling very much like the new year has begun. I have taken some steps towards launching my new business – Helen Lehndorf: Mindfulness & Creativity (I’m on facebook HERE) …

This year I am employing myself to teach yoga, meditiation, creative writing classes, day retreats and more! I have great trepidation about the financial side of things, but otherwise am feeling happy, excited and very much like I am doing the right thing.

& I’ve already done a few things this week towards my goals for the year:

Here they are…


(I’ve gotten into making vegetable juices this year – with some trial and error. I’ll write a post with some juicing tips soon.)

I’ve had some ongoing health issues (I won’t bore/overshare about them but they can be summed up in two words: ‘women’s troubles’) which I am determined to sort out this year. I also want to feel better generally. I am so clean-living (relatively) I feel like I should have more energy and vitality than I do. This week I have been to an osteopath for a crunchy neck that was giving me headaches, and a herbalist. The herbalist said the majority of her clients are ‘exhausted mothers who want more energy’. YUP! This is going to be the year of prioritising my health!


I love to grow vegetables (this is a photograph which accompanied a personal essay about my vegetable garden published in the Dominion-Post a few years back – the cabbage-boob pose still cracks me up) but despite years of it, I still have a lot to learn….so over the next two years I am doing a Permaculture course through RECAP. The course covers soil health, water systems, animals…all kinds of things I know little about. I’m excited to learn, and to improve my garden.


I bought my bike in 2007 with proceeds from a stall at a craft fair. I remember I told everyone who bought something from me that day that their money was going towards a bicycle, and how excited I was to buy it (especially choosing the bell and the basket to go on the front) … I used to cycle around our old neighbourhood all the time….then…we moved to our new house, so close to the centre of town it’s a ten minute stroll to the square and for whatever reason, I got out of the habit of cycling and subsequently lost my road confidence a bit. So this year is going to be the year I get back on my bike! I have lots of great cycling role models in Palmerston North – women who are much older than me who get around on their bikes, some towing their groceries on bike-trailers…one friend tows her dog around on a little platform!

I think they are all fairly achieveable goals. WISH ME LUCK!

Do you have any plans/hopes/dreams for the coming year?

recent reading, ongoing thinking


I haven’t been writing about my writing much lately because a) I’m not sure it’s that interesting to anyone but me and b) I try to save all my energy for the actual writing project but anyhoo…a small update…

This year for me feels like a year of withdrawal, processing and deep thought.  I decided to focus inward on the current writing project. It’s a bit scary because I am writing prose rather than poetry, so I’m kind of in unchartered territory for me. (I am also feeling sad that poetry has left me for while, but I have been doing this for long enough to know that it will return. Lately when I try to write a poem, I feel like I keep writing versions of poems I’ve written before. When you are boring yourself, chances are no one else is going to be that excited either!) I have no idea of the ‘market’ for this meandering, tangential stuff I’m writing but I try to flush out those kind of concerns and focus on getting on with it! Over the winter, I had the Massey Residency and that was a wonderfully immersive and productive few months. Things have been a bit more hotch-potch since then as freelance work and Life have to be negotiated, but I plod on!

I noticed a theme in my reading recently – lots of books with ‘Wild’ in the title! I am reading and writing about nature/bioregionalism/ecology/contemporary spirituality….so I guess ‘wildness’ is a thread through all of these things.

The Wild Places, by Robert McFarlane

Wild, by Jay Griffiths (This book remains my favourite book IN THE WORLD EVER.) 

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg

Coincidence? Or maybe it’s just that I would read anything with WILD in the title? Ha ha.

Robert McFarlane’s book led me to…

Waterlog, by Roger Deakin – a remarkable account of Deakin’s desire to swim in as many wild waterways as he could across the UK. (Roger Deakin was an incredible person who seemed to live almost in an alternate universe where he was part-tree himself. What an amazing man.)

In fact, this is the trajectory so much of contemporary nature writing takes – a person leaves the urban environment and takes off to the waterways or the wilds, the forests, the mountains and then experiences the edges of their pathetic humanity and learns a pile of stuff about themselves. It’s compelling stuff! Escape, edge-dwelling, deep nature….


As inspiring and firing as these books are, though, I cannot write this kind of book. I am a mother of two children, tethered by family to a small suburban piece of land in a medium-sized, unsensational city. So my challenge is how to extrapolate a compelling narrative from my own situation.

To my rescue (to some extent) comes bioregionalism, Urban Resilience movements and Transition Towns giving me a steadfast political framework to staying put in the urban environment and making the best of it, or making it better more to the point.

I am on the hunt for any books which address the URBAN ‘wilds’, or ‘domestic’ nature narratives, so please do suggest some if you know of any.

One I read and thoroughly loved recently was ‘Feeding Orchids to The Slugs’, a book about a woman becoming a Zen Retreat cook.

I’d love to know if there are more New Zealand books in this vein. I read THIS ONE by Harvey McQueen recently, it was charming, but a little too restrained for my taste.

How do you write a compelling nature-based narrative when you live in suburbia and can’t stray very far? This question is at the heart of my project.

So far, I’m finding it’s all about ATTENTION, rather than literal travel. That the ‘wild’ is as much within as without. I cringe a bit writing that, but what the hell, it’s what I’m experiencing as true.

‘To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.’ -Mary Oliver


I would gratefully receive any book suggestions around any of the above stuff. I feel like I need to devour another few hundred books to get to the bottom of my thinking around this stuff, and it all feeds the creative fire!

(If you got to the bottom of this, you are a trooper and I thank you over a million times for your attention.)


picking up what the wind drops

I took a walk to a nearby section where an old house had recently been demolished. They are building shops there. I dug up a wormwood plant and rescued an iron gate from a skip which I’ll use as a frame for beans in the vegetable garden. 

When I walk I am looking for stray plants and clues of what other humans are doing, their leavings, their signs.

So many gardens are neglected and full of mistakes – odd plantings, strange schemes gone wrong. It’s a lexicon of thwarted plans, migration, human error. But I love all the gardens, all of them. I love where weeds come in and grow where no one thought there was any dirt. I love the twee tidy gardens around the brick units where the widows live – all pansies and polyanthus and tight little roses. I love the student flat gardens with the crushed comfrey and the gnarled old lemon trees. There is a place deep in my heart for the gardens inside the gates of kindergartens – old tractor tyres full of marigolds and strawberry plants, glitter and matchbox cars.

These dahlias were planted behind a tin-shed, hard up against a damp bank…..in entirely the wrong place and where no one can see them (except me, because I creep and snoop) so I pick them and drop them at a friend’s door.


I pick up windfall apples from the house across from the supermarket. They are a bit bruised but will do for pie. At another house someone has left ice-cream containers of passionfruit for $2 each on their fence. I take one and leave a coin in the letterbox.

I don’t fully understand my own instinct for gleaning. It’s more than acquisition. It’s something to do with control, and side-stepping capitalism and burrowing into a universe where people trade in fruit and the urban environment is one big shared playground. I like my own company but I spend too much time in it and then I read the street and try to draw meaning from the random and the incidental.

Occasionally a garden is stunning and special and makes perfect sense, but these gardens are rare:


Right now, there is an American oil company doing exploratory drilling in the hills near Dannevirke. If they find enough, they have plans to frack for oil. Local farmers and  Iwi have been protesting there this week and it is getting almost no media coverage. There are similar exploratory tests going on near Whangarei, but for gold.

I have been following the effects of fracking in Pennsylvania, USA where fracking for natural gas has been happening for some years now. None of the news is good. Profound pollution, deformities and stillbirths in animal stock, rising cancer rates and the tap water is flammable.

Hold a lighter to your running tap and it lights up. Imagine.

Parts of the Manawatu River are so polluted from intensive dairy farming and factory run-off IT SPONTANEOUSLY CATCHES FIRE.

Water on fire. Water on fire.

On the way to pick the youngest up from school I pass a house with a big walnut tree. There are walnuts all over the path, so I pick them up. I always carry a cloth bag in my hand bag for spontaneous foraging. It’s like maybe if I notice the trees enough, maybe if I honour the fruit enough, maybe if I pick up enough windfalls and rescue enough plants….maybe then…? Maybe then.

moving back into the sleepout

We have a sleepout, which I use as a studio/making space and is also our guest room. The previous owners, when they converted the old garage into a sleepout, laid carpet directly onto the concrete garage floor – so by the time we bought the house, the carpet was mouldy and damp and the room smelled bad.

Late last year we hired a friend who is a ‘wood whisperer’ and building artisan, who has built his own house with only his innate skills and imagination (in other words, he is not a trained builder) to source some second-hand wooden floorboards and build us an elevated floor in the sleep out, to fix the damp problem and also make the space more attractive.

We could have gone the cheap route and used a composite product like mdf for the floor, but I felt strongly that I wanted to recycle and I wanted a floor that would be beautiful by itself and not need another product (paint or carpet or lino) to cover it up. This strong opinion lead to much more work and money, but I think it was worth it!

When Dave first showed up with a pile of rather unpromising looking wood from the building recyclers, I had a doubtful moment – but I needn’t have. He did an incredible job with what was initially some pretty poor-looking boards, full of staples and nails and holes. He is amazing at bringing old wood back to life! He did a wonderful job.

Then, Fraser patiently and lovingly puttied holes and sanded and sanded and sanded (this took many weekends), then together we varnished it with a combination of linseed, wax and varnish.

Now we have a beautiful floor and because I know the history of the floor and the work involved, I love it all the more.

I’ve just moved back in over the last couple of weeks. It’s been wonderful getting re-aquainted with my stuff, which has been in boxes in our hallway for nearly six months.

And the first thing I did, was to make up the guest bed in the room:

How Green Are My Wellies?

Back between 2004-2008 when I was first blogging – I had a notion to take some of my blog posts which were about sustainability, gardening, thrifty living and put them together, expand on them and write a book. I didn’t, of course, and in retrospect am kind of glad because there has been a positive deluge of such books onto the market in recent years – many of which are far superior to anything I would have done!

This book, ‘How Green Are My Wellies?’ by Anna Shepard came out in 2008 – and my friend Sarah emailed me a link saying ‘Someone’s written the book you should have written!’ – when I saw the lovely cover of this book, I could see what she meant.

It took my four years to get around to reading this book – because I had this irrational association between it and my unfulfilled plans and thwarted intentions – I’m neurotic like that….but I got over it, got it out of the library, just finished it and it’s great.

What sets it out from the manifold other ‘how to live greener’ books, is that Anna Shepard has a very engaging, funny voice in her writing. The book is not a finger-wagging ‘do this now’ kind of book. Her tone throughout is one of light-heartedness and adventure. The best ‘green’ books get people inspired by showing what an adventure green-living can be, how it isn’t about guilt and suffering but enrichment and engagement. This book achieves that with Shepards wonderful witty anecdotes and humour.

The book is divided up into months of the year, and she goes through the relevant seasonal ideas and hints. There are all kinds of interesting tips and asides and resources. Also funny throughout the book are her stories about her long-suffering, not-especially-green partner and her slightly dotty but very green mother. I also like the way she admits her failing and flailings and doesn’t pretend to be perfect – she calls herself ‘the eco worrier’ rather than ‘eco-warrior’.

By the time I finished the book, I had learned a lot, resolved to do better, laughed a lot and also, felt like I’d read a warm-hearted memoir, rather than just another green ‘how-to’ manual.

I never did write the green book of my imaginings, but luckily Anna Shepard did! This is a stand-out specimen of the very full ‘green-living’ book market.

(I read a lot of these eco/green/sustainability/frugal living books. If you are interested in hearing about them, I will continue to review them. Let me know in the comments.)



replacing one cat with four chickens

(Vegan friends – you may want to skip this entry…)

In autumn we lost our beloved family pet, Rocket-Cat, to throat cancer. Here he is in his favourite sleeping spot – my knitting bag:

Instead of replacing him with another cat, we have decided to get some chickens. Since going gluten-free because of the dietary needs of our youngest son, we are powering through the eggs. We eat eggs for breakfast everyday, plus using them in baking, cooking etc. So it makes sense to us to have a go at getting chickens for their eggs, as well as their general chickeny charm. We’re also trying to adopt more permaculture practices in our garden all the time, and chickens are a valuable asset to permaculture gardening.

I like chickens a lot. Whenever I visit friends who have chickens I always have to go and hang out with the chicken for a bit. A couple of weekends ago I got to walk around my friend’s farm with a cooing chicken tucked under my arm and it made me pretty happy.

Of course, I am at the romantic stage of my chicken experience. My friend Kimberley also recently got chickens and, although she still likes them, blogs here on ‘the truth about chickens’.

My other friend, Helen Heath, has told me some fairly horrific stories about her chicken owning experiences. She does a priceless imitation of a sick chicken. (She has an hilarious/dark essay about her pet killing experiences in the forthcoming 4th Floor Journal. I’ll let you know when it’s out.) 

I have also been watching various youtube horror flicks on chicken-care, like Green Urban Living’s ‘Almost a Snuff Movie’ here. Yeek! (I love the way she is demonstrating how to kill the chicken and keeps saying ‘just relax, darling’ to the chicken. SINISTER! lol)

We’re at the ‘building materials all over the back lawn’ stage of chicken-getting – but I’ll be sure to introduce our flock to you when they arrive. (This is a photo of me chasing a friend’s chickens, like the chicken groupie I am.)