Tag Archives: The Patch

Home & Away Part 1

Is it me, or are the desire to travel and the desire to garden at odds?

The reason I ask is that I find myself faced with the quandary of wanting to travel and wanting to settle (literally cultivate a home and garden).

Inside me, the hunter/gather and farmer/settler archetypes coexist in uneasy, sometimes antagonistic relation.

Me: the muddy boots of a permie (permaculture gardener) and the worn backpack of a bona-fide traveller. Eeck. A walking contradiction?

Me: the muddy boots of a permie (permaculture gardener) and the worn backpack of a bona-fide traveller. Eeck. A walking contradiction?

Not an ideal scenario, right?

Over the past few years I’ve attempted (with varying degrees of success) to harmonise my desire to travel with my desire to garden: I’ve gardened whilst dreaming of travel, and have even gardened whilst travelling, albeit in other peoples’ gardens (if the latter appeals to you I suggest you look into becoming a WWOOFer – a Willing Worker on Organic Farms).

Me WWOOFing in Central Italy - labors spent in service of anthers' garden

Me WWOOFing in Central Italy – labours spent in service of anothers’ garden

Although my heady months of WWOOFing during my overland odyssey from England to Australia in 2012-2013 were extraordinary and deeply rewarding, there was something that dissatisfied me, generally, about my experience:

I never stuck ’round long enough to reap what I had sewn.

The nature and manner of the type of travel in which I was engaged (long-term, multiple-country, terrestrial, low budget, low carbon) was such that no sooner had I settled down and begun to develop feelings for a place, than it was time to move on.

And on…

And on…

And on.

By threading one WWOOF to the next I finally made my way overland from England to Australia, via twenty-one countries. The entire journey took seventeen months to complete and is remembered as a series of falling in love with places, and then having to leave – learning gradually, and with distance, to let them go.

The good news, I discovered, is that as a species we’re admirably well-adapted to love broadly and widely, deeply and long. The understanding that I have cultivated over the course of my hybrid travel-gardening adventures is that humans are polyamorous in terms of their relationship to place: that they can belong to many places (and cultures) at once.

Mine and Richie’s beloved first-ever kitchen garden at The Patch, England

As I write, it occurs to me that one of the reasons I regard travelling and gardening as incongruous (and I admit, I haven’t decided outright that this is truly the case) is that gardening is something you do at home. Traveling, on the other hand is a practice you practice ‘away’ from home. Insofar as practices go, gardening and travelling share the characteristic of being place-specific. It just so happens that the places in which they occur are thoroughly incompatible, even opposite: home & away respectively. Continue reading


Filed under Culture, Doctoral Research, Earth Care, Food, Literature, Permaculture, Philosophy, Travel, Writing

never miss your water

Now, I-I know that you never miss your water ’til you’re dry…


April in Koh Phangan and my body is a mobile irrigation system. Perspiration seeps unceasingly from pores that never close their eyes on the world. At the slightest sign of exertion – picking up a towel from the floor of the bathroom or tearing a square of paper from the toilet roll – a new response is triggered. I’m wet: perma-wet.

Cotton clothing works overtime in the heat, wicking moisture away from hard-to-reach places. Fresh sarongs, singlets and trousers become sodden in minutes, drooping un-flatteringly from my arms and legs in flaccid pockets that resemble a pelican’s throat pouch. My clothes have a permanent case of tuckshop lady’s arms, or is that just me?

The capacity of my body’s inbuilt sprinkler-system is astounding, if not slightly embarrassing. I’m dishing up salty water all over the place and meanwhile, more than half the island’s households, not to mention their gardens, are screaming out for water. Continue reading


Filed under Culture, Earth Care, Permaculture, Travel

Georgia on my mind…

In the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, you can still find homes arrayed around large central courtyards set-back from the road. As many as six or seven families share these communal courtyards: coming and going at all hours of day or night… washing hanging, children playing, and the scent of cooking wafting through windows. Everyone’s business is everyone else’s business because everything here is open and transparent. A lot of yelling goes on, and a lot of retaliation.

Three generations of women reside in the house where we’re staying. One of them speaks English. There’s a dog too. His name is Pushkin. We’ve become used to nosing through the womens’ quarters on our way to and from the bathroom. We’ve grottied the courtyard table more than once with watermelon juice. It’s nice to know that when we tire of the cramped conditions inside the house we can step outside for a breather, airing our stained towels on the outside line and waiting under the poplar tree for our Russian and Kazahk visas to mature. We wish Sam would put his shoes out once in awhile!

A Tbilisi courtyard – homestay.

Tbilisi is a pleasant place to be waylaid. It’s the bottle-neck through which we hope to pass into the wilds of Russia, Kazahkstan and, eventually, China.  It’s not a simple or a speedy process but as our Syrian roommate pointed out to us, we’re extremely lucky that if we follow procedure by filling out the relevant forms and providing the stipulated amount of money, we can travel more or less unimpeded through any territory on the planet. The apple forests of the Tien Shan Mountains still feel a long way off, but the breeze is blowing from that direction.  Continue reading


Filed under Architecture & Design, Culture, Food, History, Social Justice, Travel

Rooftop Ruminations

Rooftops are magical places. It’s little wonder that travellers are drawn to countries like Morocco and India, where builders have the good sense to design buildings with flat roofs – ample spaces for relaxing, socialising, hanging wet washing, affixing satellite dishes and accommodating extra guests.

In Chefchaouen I’ve been rediscovering the pleasures of the roof and remembering the many roofs that have given me shelter over the years and provided me with a loftier view of life… 

Rooftops have always been important to me. In Australia, where I grew up, the roof of our family home was steeply pitched, clad with corrugated galvanised iron – a vernacular style of architecture known as a ‘Queenslander’. Before each major storm, when the wind blew up and the first droplets of rain flooded the veranda, Dad would duck into the shed to fetch his ladder and we’d be on the roof in no time – brushing leaves from  gutters, sending debris overboard… keeping our footing safe by restricting our footfalls to the seams of screws connecting the metal sheeting to the timber beams below.

When the opportunity presented itself for me and my partner to build a living roof in our garden in Norfolk (England), I was thrilled. Within days I was up on the roof in bare feet, treading in turfs we’d cut by hand, thinking of a time when the roof would be in bloom and bees would come to visit our lawn in the sky. One cup of tea was all we managed in the way of rooftop picnics before it was time to come away, to Morocco, the first staging point of our ‘overland to Oz’ adventure.

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Which brings me to Chefchaouen, the blue city nestled at the doorway to the Middle Atlas – 3 hours by bus from Tangier and roughly the same distance from Fez.

Like Jodhpur is to India, Chefchaouen is Morocco’s blue city. If you look out from the vantage point of the Spanish Mosque you can see perhaps one thousand blue roofs – each one jutting up like a chimney from the cobbled together hillside – each one home to its own collection of satellite dishes and drying washing. Photovoltaics are yet to catch on here. If they did, Chefchaouen would be a true blue sun trap: supplied with its own power as well as its own clean supply of water from the mountain – a transition town in the making.

In terms of rooftops, Chefchaouen leaves little to be desired. Our rooftop – the rooftop of our pension – is a case in point. It is a generous square, roughly 14 metres by 14 metres. The outer perimeter is shaded by an awning, while the central area is exposed to the sun. The undercover/open-sided design makes it perfect for escaping the heat during the middle of the day, and enjoying the sunshine during the cooler hours. A clothesline is strung diagonally between two far points – ideal for airing foisty sleeping bags. In the centre is a canopy and a grate to prevent pigeons from flying down and befouling the tiles in the central courtyard. It’s a genius way of stacking functions, harnessing the elements and making peoples’ lives more enjoyable. It’s what good design is all about.

Since arriving in Chefchaouen, I have made the roof my second home. The view of the mountains is a real drawcard, but it’s the sense of space and seclusion that draws me back again and again.

In the morning I come to the rooftop to meditate. During the day, if I’m not out walking or taking coffee in the market square, I return to wile away a few hours with a book or pen. Afternoons are for yoga, and in the evening it’s time to take the washing down and set the sleeping bags back on the bed. If I’m lucky, I’m up on the roof in time for the 6pm adhan (call to prayer); a sound that loads my heart with joy.

In the evening there’s only one place it’s better to be than on the roof – in the square: watching children jostle one another for popcorn; swapping banter with waiters whose only desire it is to seat you in their cafe; or watching couples as they cross the square, hands surreptitious brushing.

In a few days we will askew the rooftops of Chefchaouen and make for Fez or Meknes. There will be other rooftops and other cities. Other medinas and other squares. But I do like a good rooftop. Even when there’s no grass, no gutters, and no corrugated iron.

There’s the first phrases of the call to prayer: “Allah is great… hurry to the prayer…” that’s my queue to exit. I have a date in the square. Richie is waiting, and Mohammed is cooking harrira and fried fish!


Filed under Architecture & Design, Culture, Travel