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Nick and Anita Bagnall

Nick and Anitas organic garden

This text was written in 2011. Subsequently, in 2014, Nick & Anita returned to the UK where, sadly, Nick developed motor neurone disease with front-lobe dementia, and died on 17 August 2016. His green credentials were among the many qualities recalled at his funeral meeting.

Nick Bagnall lives with his wife Anita in Tauranga. They emigrated to New Zealand three years ago from the UK where Nick had been a member of the Ecology Party (now the Green Party UK) since 1978, the same year that he put a solar panel on his roof. He had already embraced the movement for organic gardening several years earlier. So I was interested to visit the couple and see what progress they had made in a little over two years since they bought their average-sized section on the side of a hill on the outskirts of Tauranga.
 
What I found amazed me. How could so much have been achieved in such a short time? A few weeks after the sale the builders had started on the house and Nick and Anita were able to move in a few months later, to set about building, mainly with their own hands, retaining walls at both front and back of the house, and laying the drive, part of which is grass growing through concrete blocks, partly to allow more rain to soak in rather than run off, and partly to give more grass cuttings for compost.
 
Built on a hillside with a view across a wide valley to a range of low mountains the house is designed for maximum solar gain; standing on a concrete pad which absorbs and stores heat, it has a solar heated hot-water system, a heat pump for space heating, insulation in walls and ceiling, and double glazing. And of course low energy light bulbs throughout. It is a very comfortable and pleasing dwelling.
 
I spent a comfortable night in one of the two guest bedrooms and was woken by the sun shining through the ranch sliders which give on to a lawn at the back of the house.
 
What I saw made me impatient to be out there exploring the back garden. It was a terraced bank with three levels of vegetation, cleverly utilising the flat areas for low growing edibles accessible from narrow paths, and the warm walls against which to grow a huge range of climbing plants and espaliered fruit trees.
 
All I had heard of progress over those two years was that a war was being fought against the kikuyu grass which had smothered the whole section when the Bagnalls bought it. Topsoil had been removed before the building was started and piled into two vast heaps filled with kikuyu several feet deep. That all had to be gradually cleared of weeds and then spread, by hand. Now the only sign of kikuyu was a huge pile of composting grass that had been cut into one inch pieces so that they would not sprout. Miraculously the kikuyu problem had been turned into an advantage, as the resulting compost was responsible for the incredible growth which I witnessed on all sides.
 
Nick, the keen gardener, had wasted no time. He had planted the first six citrus trees the very day they took over the land! Now they have five grape vines, three apple trees, two each of grapefuit, peach, almond, feijoa and mandarin, and one each of fig, orange, lemon, lime, nectarine, olive, macadamia, mulberry and avocado. They also have seven different soft fruits, two healthy passionfruit, several vegetable patches and a herb garden. This garden is a great example of the core ecological gardening principle of variety.
 
But food for the birds has not been overlooked; there are kowhai, kakabeak, kanuka, jacaranda and the deciduous tabebuia, spectacular for its blossoms, all planted where they will not block out the sun or annoy the neighbours, as well as areas for flowering shrubs to attract the bees, and an open area of mown lawn which contributes to the compost which Nick claims is the very heart of his garden.
 
The whole project is already spectacular after hardly more than two years, an inspiration to those of us struggling with the basics of permaculture, a lesson on what can be achieved with hard work and know-how.
 
This text was written in 2011. Subsequently, in 2014, Nick & Anita returned to the UK where, sadly, Nick developed motor neurone disease with front-lobe dementia, and died on 17 August 2016. His green credentials were among the many qualities recalled at his funeral meeting.