Gardening Podcast – Morag Gamble

In this episode of Byther Farm Gardening Podcast I talk with Morag Gamble, a permaculturist, gardener, teacher and most importantly, friend.

Website Permaculture Education Institute

YouTube Channel Morag Gamble Our Permaculture Life

Instagram Morag Gamble

Full transcription of this episode of Byther Farm Gardening Podcast with Morag Gamble

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This is rather nice sitting around having breakfast and having a chat that’s much better than sitting in a proper studio or standing out on the street or something.

Morag – And it’s more delicious too.

Liz – So I’m joined this morning for breakfast by Morag Gamble. And if you’re not familiar with Morag, would you like to introduce yourself and let everybody know what it is that you do?

Thanks Liz. It’s really nice to be here. A nice delicious bowl of berries straight out from your garden. I am from Australia, I’m from a permaculture village, just on the east coast of Australia halfway up and I run something called the Permaculture Education Institute and basically I teach permaculture teachers. But I also like you do a YouTube sharing what’s going on in the garden and a podcast of what’s going on with her thinking and ideas and who’s writing books, what great books are out and and also work a lot with with youth and particularly in refugee settlements in East Africa so just connecting up this global learning community to find out how we can live better, live better, live simpler.

Liz – I think you’re kind of underselling some of what you do but that’s a fairly common trait for lots of people I speak with. So Morag is inspirational in what she does. I think you inspire lots and lots of people right across the globe and she’s also like a really good egg.

Morag – Thank you.

Liz – We’ve been staying with us for a couple of days and Mr J said to me, it’s just like having a member of the family here isn’t it? Oh that’s so nice. It feels so comfortable to have you here. So you obviously give off these really chilled out, really positive vibes. I also have berries, so you are going to hear us eating, but I think that’s quite a nice way to to have a bit of a chat.

Yeah and the bowl I have to tell you, those listening, it is the most rich vibrant collection of berries and reds and what are the berries in here?

There are strawberries, raspberries, some loganberries and then a whole load of currants, so red currants, white currants and black currants and we talked quite a lot about currants yesterday didn’t we? And then I’ve just chopped up an apple into it as well. So the apple isn’t from our garden because our garden’s too new to have apples yet.

Morag – I was raiding your strawberry patches and your raspberry hedges and learning about currants because it’s something that I haven’t grown in my garden.

Currants grown on a bush are quite quite tangy, quite sharp, quite acid. They definitely need something to sweeten them if you’re eating them en masse. I mean I will pick them off, I’ll pick them off the shrub and just the bushes and just eat them as they are but you don’t want or something like that because they hit the acid, sour, sharp, whatever bit that is on your tongue and makes it zing quite a lot.

Morag – We have quite a few berries of different sorts in our garden because I can’t really grow those but I grow things like acerola cherries and Brazilian cherries and all sort of subtropical berries that are just all around and I’m on my pathway. So I left my car at the top of my block I have a very long one acre that sort of faces down the west it was the last block in the eco village I didn’t want a western facing block but there you go I got it so all the way down this block I’ve left the cars at the top and as you meander your way down to the house there’s this berry path. So there’s jaboticabas and acerolas and Brazilian cherries and all these things.

I put them there because it’s the most used path in my house and I need to check when they’re coming on. So I can get them before the birds do and have a little bit of a harvest on the way down. It’s kind of nice, there’s a few berries and then the chickens are on the side, then the garden and as I go down, before I’ve even reached the house I’ve got the meal. But they’re the sorts of berries I’ve got and they’re also, what I mentioned, because they’re also very tart and tangy. They’re not, unless they’re super ripe, they’re not great to eat raw. So I also make lots of stewed fruits or sauces and yeah, it’s wonderful.

Liz – It’s interesting because you were saying you didn’t want a west facing garden, which for
us would be the equivalent of an east facing garden in the northern hemisphere.

Morag – Well, see in Australia, it’s it’s facing towards the hot afternoon sun. And the hot afternoon sun in Australian summers sucks the life out of things. So the first thing I had to do you talked about you know putting lots of wind breaks in to stop the wind mine was lots of sunbreak. And all the way through is is just these small little wind breaks. Well, they’re wind breaks as well as sun breaks.

Liz – So things to create a bit of shade.

Morag –
Just to tuck things in behind.

Do you want to talk a little bit about the refugee stuff?

Yeah, it’s a big part of what I do actually. I find every day I’m in conversation with young, mostly women, in refugee settlements across East Africa. So Kenya, Tanzania and mostly Uganda. I connected with them through the PermaYouth movement, which my daughter helped to get going.

And basically, because my course is online, I’ve invited anyone from those refugee settlements who has the capacity and the interest to join the Permaculture Educators Program to come on and be part of that. And as they’re going through and becoming permaculture teachers, they think this is so important to share with our community. So they’re localizing and adapting it and putting it into their language with the kind of resources they have available. And setting up learning, living hubs, demonstration gardens, nutrition hubs in the camps.

And so what we do is have conversations between say Rolanda or Brenda who’s over in Uganda with our global learning community and they say, oh this is what we’re doing. Basically people from our community donate into our charity and then 100% of that I send across to the community, to Rolanda

Liz – and the others in the refugee settlements and the way it kind of feeds back. Fantastic.

Yeah, and so they just then tell the story the next time they’re there about what’s happening or send photos into our system and I share those out through Instagram. So we have a series of Instagram accounts too. So this is the Permaculture Education Institute and the Ethos Foundation and the PermaYouth and all of those news just goes out through that. And what it means is that over the last year or so, 1,500 young people have been through permaculture courses. There’s a series of hubs all up and down the refugee settlements.

Liz – That’s amazing.

Morag – Yeah and just setting up demonstrations, going around to house to house helping them set up kitchen gardens because what I discovered in the camps was that some of them, the newer people who arrive, get three dollars a month to buy food. They don’t give out food aid anymore. The World Food Programme is running out of food to give out and it’s become quite corrupt, the whole process of getting food aid to people. So people get really rubbish food by the time they get there and no money really to buy it. So growing food is absolutely essential.

And is $3 a month sufficient to buy the very basics?

They can get some maize meal and some beans. No fresh vegetables. So that’s why the permaculture programs are absolutely essential because they’re actually growing the nutrient, you know, the vitamins that they need to keep them healthy and strong. And you’re in a refugee camp, you’re suffering from trauma of being displaced, you really need to keep that going. And so, these permaculture hubs that are there are also places that are where people can come and just breathe out as well. They can relax, they’re in community, they’re doing something positive together, they’re cooking together, they’re talking and sharing together.

And also building relationships across the cultures because there’s so many different people from so many different tribes and countries living there and it can be quite fractious. Whereas in the garden that kind of starts to fall away.

Liz – That falls away and then there’s not only the garden thing, there then is the communal food, you know, just as you and I are doing, you know, chatting over food, there is something really bonding about sharing a meal, or sharing, you know, food with people.

Morag – And the other thing that’s really important about these gardens is that most of Africa cooks on wood, and a lot of wood, and so all around the camps is getting massively deforested. So looking at, like, actually, what are they cooking food on? And then growing some bits that you can coppice so that you can use, you know, really efficient wood heaters, wood cookers, using the timber that you grow in your gardens as well or looking at simple things like solar cookers or even cook bags.

Liz – Like the sun oven type things?

Morag – Well yeah, but also, have you seen the ones that are cloth? You just shove your pot, you get it to boiling and then shove it into an insulated bag and then it keeps cooking like a slow cooker. So there’s no fuel required. So we’ve helped to support a group of young women to start making those and so 1) it’s a livelihood for them, 2) they give it to new arrivals who’ve just landed so we sponsor that bit and then they’re not having to go out and chop the wood.

And you know, it’s normally the women’s work to go and chop the wood and gather the water and all of that sort of thing and as soon as they start to go off the camp and out into the into wild spaces they’re also in danger. And that’s really important to help to keep the young women safe.

All of this is so much entwined in this and just being in conversation every day with these young women and finding ways to connect them with the global learning community.

And what’s also happened is because they’ve built relationships, someone say, well I’m a teacher at a nutrition college and so one of them’s got a degree in nutrition now. Someone else is doing a degree in business and someone else is doing another degree. And so they’re all actually being able to finish their education and go further.

One of the things just as a final thing. They’ve said it’s given them hope where they never had hope before. They just felt like they were stuck in this middle place couldn’t go back, had no idea where they’re going to. All of a sudden they have this connection with a global community and they felt like, oh there’s a possibility of me having a future, of me having a life. That’s amazing.

I hope, it’s so important. It’s a really good thing to do, Morag.

Morag –
Thank you.

Here in West Wales, you’ve discovered how very wet and windy it is. And seen what I’m doing to mitigate those, but it’s really, I think it’s quite hard for us to imagine and understand how hot or cold it is and how wet or dry.

Morag –
Yeah, well I describe where we are in three summers actually. So at the moment we’re in the dry summer. It’s where there’s no rainfall, much happening and you can still plant things but it’s really hot and dry. And then we go into the the sort of subtropical summer which is the wet summer. Then we go into the cool summer in our next in our winter. On summertime we get 30-35 degrees and humid as anything it’s kind of quite oppressive. But in wintertime it’s beautiful it’s like 20-25 degrees and just bright blue skies, light.

Liz – It’s one of the things I really noticed when I visited Australia 15, maybe 20 years ago. It was just the quality of the light is so much clearer and so much more intense.

It is. I grew up in Melbourne, right down in the southern parts of Australia. And it’s a little bit more like England I think. My mum’s from England and that’s where they landed when she was about four or five and it was similar-ish. I’ve moved up for love, for many different reasons, up further north. And the first thing I did when I landed in the subtropics, I had to go and buy a pair of sunglasses. I just literally, my eyes felt like it was too much, so much light. So I really love it, it’s absolutely beautiful. There’s so few people really who live up in that area that the air is really clean, the water’s clean. The river just next to me, I can swim in it, I can drink from it.

Oh, nice.

It’s really nice, and so much wildlife around us as well. So I’m about two hours out of the city, which means I can go there if I need to for a show or something with the kids. But I can retreat to this beautiful space. And at night time the stars go from horizon to horizon because it’s just so crisp and clear.

Liz – That’s one of the things that we’ve talked about over this weekend is having a space to retreat to and how it’s great to go out meet people and it really is great to go out and meet people and to do stuff but to have that sanctuary to return to that is your private space, respectively each of our private spaces and how important those are and increasingly they’re becoming more and more important to us.

Morag – I can’t even imagine how, I can’t begin to describe how important that is because it’s where I fill my cup again. I go out to the garden and you were saying yesterday that you just go out to the garden sometimes and just go and wander and look and it’s not going out to go do, do, do. As much as we need to do that at different times. But I just spend a lot of time out you know plucking the little flowers seeing what’s going on, talking to the kangaroos in the garden, chatting with kids about what’s happening at the moment. And I just feel nourished enough to be able to step back out again and it’s that quiet topping out.

I grew up in the suburbs in Melbourne. But mum and dad created this house. Where they designed it so it looked out towards the north which for us is the sunny side. Which meant that was very odd because the front of that the street facing part was the back, was the laundry. And so it didn’t represent the street. It represented the landscape. And the path to get down was this windy little path down the side of the house. And mum had planted these mint bushes. It’s Prostanthra, different varieties and so it’s a native mint and as you went down you brush the mint.

Liz – Oh lovely.

Morag – And then there’s these beautiful purple flowers that are just coming out now and I’ve been at university studying in the center of town I come home after day of just head full and pollution and I as soon as I hit that path and I just brush that and the scent released I was in this sanctuary of this this piece and so I guess I’ve tried to recreate that since wherever I go and because that option just to breathe out, because you’re so busy all the time interacting and and then just to be able to go this is just home and I really think that sense of home is something so beautiful and it’s hard to describe in the English language. When you say home, other people think oh it’s the house.

Li z- No it’s the feeling. I think Norway has a word for it.

Morag – Do they? Do you know what it is? It’s something like hug but it’s a maybe I’m gonna spell it. HYGGE. And I think that means that kind of that cozy warmth security love feeling you have at home that you don’t necessarily get elsewhere.

Morag –  yeah and for me that extends from the house to the garden to being in relationship with you know the migratory birds that come in and the ones that come every day and land on our door and poke their head in the house and say good morning. King parrots are just extraordinary. They’re so beautiful large parrots with a breast as bright as this bowl of berries. And they just poke their heads around the corner and have a chat. My 10 year old son just gets drawn out and just just sits and chats and they land on his head..

Liz – Oh wow.

Morag – So nice. Yeah. So I love it, absolutely love it.

Yeah. Amazing. When we were walking around the garden yesterday, one of the things that we were, not that I was trying to focus on it or something or anything, well I was. One of the things we were looking at was the different smells of things as we went around. And so I’d also talked to you about this year I’m focusing on the sounds in the garden. The sounds that the wind makes as it goes through leaves or leaves fall to the ground or the crunchiness underneath.

We spent quite a lot of time padding our feet up and down where it was so wet and muddy. I was making muddy puddles in them. So I am concentrating on sound. But the thing of aromas and scents and smell in the garden is so important to me. So important to have in almost every bed, something that smells. So that as I’m brushing past it I get the smells being released.

Morag –
And there’s something deeply evocative but it’s also somewhere deep inside it switches on certain intelligences. I did a garden in Hong Kong, it was on the fourth floor balcony and it was at a home for people with dementia and this garden outside, the people in they chose these plants because they’re their favorite plants and it was something about the smell of them that they would just hold them and crush them. And what the nurses were saying was they became more lucid when they had the contact with the plants because there was some of the smell or the taste as well but mostly was the smell that took them to places where they remembered, where they hadn’t remembered things for a long time.
And I just thought that was incredibly powerful and I’m glad that you mentioned about the sounds because when I went back out to do some filming you know of different parts of it all I could notice mostly was what was making different sounds. All the corn was rustling and there was like a beautiful seed pod that was rustling. And I just was in your soundscape. You really alerted me to that, thank you.

You’re welcome. So I’m going to ask some really basic questions if you don’t mind. When did you start gardening? What brought you into gardening? And then, can you tell me a little bit about your journey into permaculture?

Morag – I grew up in Melbourne as I said and my mum loved her garden but she didn’t do vegetable gardening so much she loved planting natives, native trees for cramming habitat for wildlife and so she would walk around with me and she’d be telling me all the Latin names. I think she thought she was really quite clever that she’d learnt them and so she really wanted to share them and the fact that it was little me, two or three year old, walking around with her learning all the Latin names of Acacia ambriata and you know, and she’d tell me why she’d planted them and particularly for the different birds.

One of my first memories is of seeing a kookaburra that had come and landed in this garden that my mum had planted and I was so excited because I think one of the storybooks that she used to read to me was not actually a storybook but a bird book and I recognized this bird from the book so I beettled off inside.

And kookaburras do that almost, sounds like a laugh.

Morag –
Yeah, it’s a laughing kookaburra. And so this love of being in the garden, the love of being connected to the garden in a way that thinking it wasn’t just for us, it wasn’t just a functional thing, it was actually we’re part of this habitat. And I think that, just from that early age, really switched me on.

I don’t actually remember precisely the moment, there wasn’t one moment where I switched switched on to edible gardens. But I think one of the most powerful ones was when I went and stayed with a village in Ladakh up in the Himalayas and where everything came from the earth and went back to the earth. And I was out in the gardens, I was helping them in the fields and helping you know milk the yaks and and there was something about that.

I’d been to university and I knew how to design landscape architecture. And then I realized, I never had any connection with food. And here I am going from seed to field to the water-powered grinder, to the vegetables, and just sitting in the field, eating this and being part of that thought, I have no idea how to nourish myself, how to grow food for myself.


And so the first thing I did when I got back home was enroll in a permaculture course and just learn how to reconnect with that, reconnect the food system with the design system because I had the design part but I really wanted to understand more about that and then as soon as I finished that course, actually it was at that course that I met Evan, my husband, and then I moved up to Brisbane.

And in the local paper I saw this little note that said, is anyone interested in starting a city farm come along to this public meeting and so that was within the week that I arrived in Brisbane I joined that and just played in a city farm trying to create and learn how to garden side by siding with other people and that was that.

Liz – Fantastic. So that was about 30 odd years ago. So have you got there yet? Do you know how to feed yourself? Well I know the answer to this really.

Morag – I know how to feed myself in a community rather than all by myself and I think that’s a really important thing. And also know my limitations, like for example I’m not going to try and force things to grow in my area that I can’t grow. I can’t grow wheat for example, it just doesn’t grow in the subtropical area.

So I make relationships with farmers around or I just choose to eat different stuff. I don’t have to eat wheat, I can eat potatoes from the garden or yacon or things like your beautiful beans. We have Madagascar beans in our place that can fill the role of the starches and the carbohydrates and the proteins and just really look differently. But I’m not 100% self-sufficient and I’m not aiming for that in my garden. I’m aiming to find a set of relationships with my local area.
What I can’t get I still go to the shops.

And we talk about being self-efficient. So you know we’re growing what we can in our environment and using it in the best ways that we can. But we’re never going to grow sufficient tea for me to drink. We’re never going to grow coffee. not where we could, you know, we probably could if we got all the gear and the heaters and the right number of glass houses and things to grow all these things. But there’s an awful lot of food that actually we just like, I like pineapple maybe twice a year. Yeah. But I’m not going to go to the expense of setting up some sort of heating system with a greenhouse so that it’s warm enough to grow those two pineapples.

Morag – It’s totally inefficient, you’re right!

Liz – So we want to be as efficient as we can, not in a clinical way, but just say this is what we can grow, this is what we can eat and accept that there are things we’re always going to buy, like those wheat products, like the grain products really, and then yes and do exactly as you do and we change what we eat according to what’s in season and what’s available and we know this year for example which has been a dreadful growing year here because it’s just rained so much, we’re going to buy in an awful lot more this winter than we would other years but we’re not going to beat ourselves up about it, it’s just that’s the way it is and we hope next year will be better.

Yeah, and I think too is just when you are in your own garden, you can eat more of the different parts. I’ve just noticed in my garden, for example, there’s things that would normally… You don’t get in the shops, because say for example, you’re growing broccoli, where you just see the broccoli. All the broccoli is edible.

And also, if you’re growing mustard greens, for example, they come up in my garden. I can’t stop them coming up. They’re just everywhere. But from the moment they sprout to the moment that they’ve seeded I can use all the different parts of the plant and so it’s really shifting the perception about I’m growing this, I’ve harvested it this time and that’s it and I’ll weigh it and measure it and I’ve done.

I don’t know how much produce I’m constantly harvesting every day a couple of leaves of this and a snip of that, the broccoli, snap the top off then more comes and it just keeps coming. I can’t actually eat as much as what’s grown in there in terms of the volume of greens in particular. So there’s a lot there for other species, a lot to hand out. I take, I don’t know, maybe there’s a name for it, but a bouquet that has edible flowers and edible greens and all herbs and so when I go somewhere I’ll take that and pop it in there and one of my friends she said, oh I was having

Liz – That’s really inspiring.

Morag – It must be a name for it.

Do you know a name?

No, let’s make a name.

Let’s make a name.

We’ll think of a name. We’ll think of a name.


Yeah. Food. So Morag, I know that we need to get going, get doing stuff today, so it has been really lovely to chat. Thank you so much for joining me. Oh, thank you for having me.

You are just like the kindest, nicest person.

Thank you. Thank you.

Morag – You look after me so well.

Well, I hope that when people come here they feel loved.

Morag – Absolutely. I feel totally loved. I was like, we noticed when I first got here, you know, I’d come down the motorway and I’d arrive, sorry Liz, I’m really late. Then within a couple of hours it’s like ah well not even a couple hours I think almost as soon as I walked in here it was just like right I’ve landed in a calm peaceful place.

Liz – So how do people find you online? How do they get in touch?
How do they find your courses?

Morag – Well my main place where I’ve put everything now is Permaculture Education Institute. So that’s just, it’s a very long URL, it’s and in the menu there, there’s my podcast, there’s the permies program, there’s the program that we support refugees and all of our courses as well.

Liz – Brilliant, so I’ll leave those in the show notes. courses as well.

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