What is a herb spiral?

Herb Spiral Northey St

I have been lucky to come across two herb spirals in the last month. Herbs that need good drainage are planted at the top of the raised garden bed. Plants which need good sunlight are planted on the side that receives the most sunlight and shade loving plants are planted on the other side.


Northey Street City Farm herb spiral

The first herb spiral was at Northey Street City Farm. It is approximately 1 metre high by 3 metres wide with three different levels for herbs. The top level is well drained and drier, while the bottom level is moister and cool. Different plants are planted on different levels depending on their needs.

Raised spiral gardens offer a range of micro-climates to meet the habitat needs of different plants. Raised spiral gardens are also very space efficient, and conserve water. A herb spiral can add detail to an otherwise flat or boring landscape.

Herb Spiral Qld Plant Expo

Queensland Plant Expo herb spiral

The herb spiral at the Queensland Plant Expo was smaller and probably a better size for most suburban backyards. It had only two levels and the spiral was made with stones to define the different areas. You can see they have used straw mulching to keep the weeds away.

Herbs for a herb spiral

Herbs that prefer moist conditions (plant these near the bottom of the spiral facing the morning sun):

  • Bergamot
  • Borage
  • Coriander
  • Cress
  • French tarragon
  • Ginger
  • Lebanese Cress (in a pot)
  • Lemon balm
  • Mint (in a pot)
  • Mushroom plant
  • Parsley
  • Rocket
  • Vietnamese mint (in a pot)
  • Watercress

Herbs that prefer / handle drier conditions (plant facing the summer sun and on top of the spiral):

  • Garlic chives
  • Lavender
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Society garlic
  • Thyme
  • Yarrow

Smart Permaculture Design by Jenny Allen

Northey Street City Farm tour

Northey Farm Tours sign

Northey Street City Farm is a permaculture garden in the centre of Brisbane. It is located on 2 hectares of flood-prone area, which is leased from the Brisbane City Council.


In Zone One is the cafe, kitchen gardens and building. The building has been positioned on poles so that it is at the highest point of a 1 in 100 years flood, so that it will not be flooded. The kitchen gardens are for demonstration purposes and are in the shape of keyholes to maximise the output.

There are at least three large meeting places which can be used by visiting groups, but in particular school groups.

Bob gave us an eye-opening demonstration of earth art.

Across the road, there is a regeneration area, which is maintained by the local Bush Care group. There are also groves of native fruit trees in outer zones.


There is a dedicated green waste recycling centre, which includes a large worm farm and compost tunnels. They use the worm liquid to fertilise their plants, rather than as castings. Northey St uses a three bay compost system to rotate the waste matter.


There are three chicken tractors and these are moved every fortnight.

Also across the road are the productive gardens for the markets and lunches. The new vegetable beds are made up of cardboard, compost and straw. Northey St use the no-dig technique and the beds are raised to make the most of mini floods. They plant open-pollinated seeds and collect them again for saving.


Nearby are the allotments which are available for hire. Some people are using nets to keep the bush turkeys away.


There is also a citrus orchard and this area includes sub-tropical fruit trees. As an investment in the future, there is a grove of hardwood trees which will be harvested in 20 years time.

Northey Street Farm sign

There is a nursery on site called Edible Landscapes Organic Nursery. The organic markets are held in the car park on every Sunday.

Thank you to Northey Street City Farm for the free tour. Tours are held every Tuesday at 9:30pm and highly recommended. 

Top food gardening books

Here are some of my favourite food gardening books written for an Australian audience.

Discovering Fruit and Nuts – Susanna Lyle

Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture – Rosemary Morrow

How Can I use Herbs in my Daily Life? – Isabell Shipard

Organic Fruit Growing  – Annette McFarlane

Organic Vegetable Gardening – Annette McFarlane

Smart Permaculture Design – Jenny Allen

The Permaculture Home Garden – Linda Woodrow

The Seed Savers Handbook – Jeremy Cherfas, Michel and Jude Fanton

What are your favourite food gardening books?

List of gardeners practicing Permaculture in Australia


Image Copyright 2016 Emma Crameri

Here’s a list of some of the gardeners in Australia practicing permaculture:

New South Wales




Western Australia

New Zealand


Permablitz in Australia


“Changing the world, one garden at a time”
– Kim Glasgow

Permablitz started in April 2006 with a collaboration between permaculture students and a South American community group in Melbourne, Australia. Since then, many more permablitzs have been held and it has gained an international reputation as a successful tool for fast-tracking the suburbs towards sustainability.

A permablitz is an informal gathering involving a day on which a group of people come together to transform backyards into productive, edible gardens at someone’s home. Permablitzs require you to help out at three or more other blitzes before having one at your own home.

The network runs on reciprocity and each blitz always includes a permaculture design.

“Permablitz is a social enterprise committed to improving the sustainability of our cities and suburbs. We use a sustainable design system called permaculture to help communities move away from denial and dependent consumerism to engagement and responsible production. Our core focus is helping people sustainably grow food where they live, building healthy communities in the process. Rather than depressing people with the bad news, we empower them with the good news – that solutions are at hand – and get on with having fun rolling them out” – Dan Palmer.

“Our ultimate aim is to make the suburbs edible enough such that should food become unaffordable, we don’t even notice.”

It’s great to see a simple idea such as Permablitz is gaining momentum and growing throughout Australia.

Capital cities:


Book review: Share – The Northey Street City Farm Cookbook

Another one of our recipes is featured in “Share – The Northey Street City Farm Cookbook”.

It’s a well-designed cookbook with full colour pages. There is a distinct Australian influence and the recipes feature unusual fruit and vegetables typically found in a permaculture garden. The majority of the recipes are vegetarian and I’m looking forward to trying the stir-fried bush greens with lemon myrtle dressing, macadamia plum cookies and wattleseed scones.

Share retails for $20 plus $3 per copy postage and handling. You can also buy your books  at the Northey Street City Farm (NSCF) Nursery to save postage costs. Or pick one up at the weekly Sunday organic markets. Alternatively, download an order form and send or fax it to Kym at NSCF, or email: cookbook@nscf.org.au.

Documentary films for foodies

Here’s a round up of some of the better documentary films which deal with food and diet that I’ve seen in the last couple of years:

Future of Food– A scary film about the dominance of certain companies trying to monopolise food supply and the dangers of genetic modification. See also the Future of Food website. Sadly the GM ban was recently lifted in Australia – so please be wary of any products containing canola, cotton, cotton seed oil, corn and soybeans.
King Corn – A documentary about two friends who grew an acre of corn over a year. They then follow its path into the food chain and into their hair! Corn feed cattle feedlots are disgusting.
Simply Raw – Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days: An amazing story of a handful of courageous diabetics who go raw for 30 days. Some of them reduce their insulin dependence and lose weight, and others drop out from the sheer difficulty in sticking to the diet. But it’s pretty inspiring, nevertheless. There is an accompanying website called Raw for 30 Days.
Super Size Me – A popular film featuring Morgan Spurluck, who documents his health while eating McDonald’s for 30 days. Maccas was forced to change their menus after it’s release, and withdraw its super-sized fries and drinks.
Food Matters – A panel of experts talk about the important role that diet does play in the prevention and reversal of many diseases.

Powers of observation

To complete my permaculture homework, I had to create a list of 40 observations I could make about my garden. I struggled a little, but once I got going I made it. Most of the remarks were about insects or pest attacks on my plants. Organics is certainly not about perfection or looking good.

The first lot of cabbage seedlings I planted were all eaten in a night. So I moved the second batch to the middle vegetable bed and I’ve been spraying them religiously with pyrethrum and pest oil. They’re looking pretty healthy now.

I also found out that bulbs like shallots and garlic may take a year to grow to maturity. Ah, dang. That’s not a good use of space. As it’s hard to find Australian grown garlic in the supermarket, I bought some from the markets when I got the chance. It was the wrong time of year to plant them out, so I froze the bulbs for a few months. We planted them a fortnight ago, but I’m a little doubtful they will come up.

Later when I was watering, I discovered the beets have already started sprouting.

Tree planting and mulching

When planting out a native or a fruit tree into the garden it is helpful to mulch around the root zone to ensure it gets off to a good start. In the initial stages a seedling will have to compete with the weeds and grass for water and nutrients. As the tree matures the roots will be much deeper into the soil and have a better chance of survival. Mulch also helps reduce moisture evaporation from the soil.

Ten years ago it was the fashion to use thick black plastic sheets to keep weeds out. It was very effective, but did not allow good water, air and nutrient penetration so it’s less popular these days. A better alternative is a biodegradable ground cover or weed mat. These are sold as sheets of recycled fabric or paper. You can also buy squares for trees that have pre-cut holes in them. They retain moisture well and keep the weeds out. Add mulch on top to cover and disguise.

Using layers of newspaper and cardboard as weed prevention is a popular permaculture technique. You can also use black plastic or old carpet as a way to kill grass and weeds. (Do not use synthetic carpet or coloured magazine paper as they can leach nasty chemicals into the soil). Cover the area for several weeks, move to a new area and then replace the bare patch with a thick layer of mulch.

You may like to plant a living mulch around the base of your tree. Typically a living mulch is a dense ground cover. Suitable Australian natives include Banksia Roller Coaster, Banksia Pygmy Possum, Creeping Banksia, Creeping Boobialla, Grevillea Poorinda Royal Mantle, Grevillea gaudichauidii, Guinea Flower, Matted Bush Pea and Prostrate Red Grevillea.

Any other suggestions?