To mark the end of the Alchemy Garden project at the National Art School, a group of invited guests participated in a walk & talk event, supported with a tasting of food & drink made from plants grown in the garden.
Plant species grown in the garden: https://www.theconceptualcookbook.com/
Alchemy Garden was created for NIRIN the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, 2020. The project was a long-term interactive community collaboration and community garden developed over 1 year at the National Art School.
The project aim is to enliven ecological awareness via interactive performance/ workshops on ethnobotanicals and related practices of soil, water and food sustainability in an urban environment. A local Darlinghurst community group, the Darlo Darlings, assisted with planting and maintaining the garden as a community food garden, highlighting limited access to land and challenges for people to grow fresh food in inner city environs.
The National Art School, at the site of the former Darlinghurst Gaol, has a dense and layered history from pre-colonial Indigenous land use to the present. Alchemy Garden engaged with the histories of the site through the creation of the community garden that explores interconnected pathways of plants and human migrations. The garden is a platform to examine historical food-plant-people relationships and address our impact on local and broader interlinked ecosystems. Using a variety of native and non-native edible plants, connected to different communities and histories, the project examines how ethnobotanicals connect people and their actions to place.
For example, Portulaca oleracea (Purslane/Pigweed) is an important food and medicine plant with sub-species distributed globally, it is at the same time a native species and introduced species through human migration, its place of origin lost in time. Another feature plant is Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion), called Löwenzahn in my ancestral Germanic tongue. Dandelion arrived in Sydney Cove with the First Fleet and was naturalised throughout Australia with migrant communities, as an agricultural/garden weed, or, depending on your perspective, an ancient highly prized food and medicine plant native to Eurasia.
Alchemy Garden was designed with repurposed heritage building materials carefully integrated into existing architecture. The project reused compostable disposable coffee cups for onsite seed propagation. Waste water from the onsite cafe and the ceramic department were filtered through charcoal in the central yellow urn into a subterranean wicking-bed reservoir. Such design practices, linked to the site, contribute to how the project examines and connects with cultural and ecological wounds as well as offers opportunities for healing. In the lead up to, and during, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (14 March – 8 June 2020), a series of events and workshops were programmed as ‘recipes’ for transformation, interconnectedness and sustainability (Due to the Covid-19 restrictions you can experience a version of this program on the Biennale of Sydney website).
A key workshop of alternative agriculture practices – soil creation – water saving – carbon sequestration strategies was based on Indigenous agriculture land management practices, presented with Indigenous horticulturalist Clarence Slockee of Jiwah and formerly Yerrabingin from where many of the native edible plants were donated and, Stephen Joseph –University of New South Wales materials scientist and biochar specialist. A final event presented onsite by myself was a foragers walk and talk, introducing key plants and their story along with food prepared from the garden harvest day with the Darlo Darlings.