How do you make a solo getaway even better for an optimistic gardener? Pack more books than clothes and lodge in the middle of a permaculture garden.
Back in July a like-minded friend told me about Daylesford’s Artist As Family; self-proclaimed neo-peasants whose art is to demonstrate an alternative economy by eschewing the trappings of modern life.
I was curious to learn more about this young family who, having decided to sell their car four years ago, rode their bikes 6000km from Daylesford to Cape York and back with a toddler in a bike seat and a Jack Russell in a basket.
And when I picked up the latest copy of permaculture magazine Pip, there they were again in a feature detailing their bounteous quarter-acre plot.
Wanting to show my husband what was possible in terms of small-scale self-sufficiency, I left the mag out for him to read.
And next thing I know, he has booked me in for a few days R&R at Artist As Family’s on-site bed and breakfast, the Permie Love Shack. Joy!
As much as I was looking forward to the time away in this perfect setting, I found myself feeling self-conscious about the amount of luggage I’d brought for three nights. While I didn’t pack many clothes, the mountain of books and notepads I toted made me feel a bit high maintenance.
So, leaving the bulk of it hidden in the car to retrieve under cover of darkness, I slung a single, carefree daypack on my shoulder and went in to meet my hosts.
With no car the family has no need for a driveway. So I wandered from the lane down a garden path bordered by compost bays, blossom-laden fruit trees and a winter-bare food forest to the deck of the main house to be greeted by 5-year-old Woody and his dad, Patrick Jones.
The pair gave me a quick tour of the love shack; a simple but very cosy single-room dwelling built by Patrick. The tour included guidelines for use of the two composting toilets: a sit-down one inside for wees and a squat toilet outside for poos.
A simple reclaimed wooden bench housed a selection of loose-leaf teas, homemade fruit leathers and local honey, while a sprinkle of whole cloves along the nearby windowsills successfully kept ants away from the sweet offerings.
But I was not here to review the fixtures and furnishings. Flicking though the selection of books on the dresser I grabbed the memoir of Artist As Family’s epic bike trip, The Art of Free Travel, and sank into a brown leather armchair with a view over Woody’s little garden to read for the next two hours.
I love the idea of living simply. But as I read about Meg Ulman and Patrick Jones’ next-level commitment to it I quickly saw myself for the amateur I was.
And in that moment I was torn. With the need for dinner looming I knew I should walk the 1km up the hill to town. But I didn’t want to walk on my own in the dark in an unfamiliar town.
There was no way I was getting in my car under the eyes of Meg and Patrick.
So I walked to dinner at 4:45pm to eat with the town’s oldies.
On the upside, it was still dusk as I took the 10-minute stroll back down to the love shack, but dark enough for me to smuggle in the extra baggage from my car.
And so I settled back into my chair with a cup of rosehip tea, surrounded by books and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
As well as coasting through cafes, op shops and book stores and taking the car down to Hepburn to luxuriate in the mineral springs, I managed to find a break in the rain to wander through Meg and Patrick’s garden.
Coming out of winter there was not a lot yet growing, but the rows in front of my shack included a newly planted bed of potatoes and a thriving crop of garlic irrigated by the natural slope of the land and a swale carrying bath water from the main house.
The property has almost 150 fruit and nut trees in addition to its perennial and annual vegie gardens, a mind-blowing quantity that got me thinking about the possibilities back home.
Capping off my garden-themed getaway, I stopped in at Blackwood on my way home to visit the Garden of St Erth.
Nestled beside the Wombat State Forest, St Erth reminded me of how plantings could be grouped to create a series of garden rooms that invite you to wander and explore.
With all the time in the world I ambled in the drizzle, weaving through the rows of espaliered apple and pear trees and stopping to see what was growing beneath the netted cloche tunnels covering the kitchen gardens.
While the permaculture food forest was relatively bare, the border gardens of perennial, drought tolerant plants provided much inspiration with their array of colours, textures and layers.
Across a bridge I walked into the bush gardens, again gaining ideas for more indigenous plantings at home, looping past the meadow of daffodils and under an archway into the cool, dripping green space that surrounded the natural spring-fed pool.
I, too, was filled to the brim. Re-energised by my time away and bubbling with ideas for my own patch of earth.
Women need solitude in order to find the true essence of themselves.
-Gift From The Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh