Growing vertically — with fish a new installation in the permaculture INTERPRETIVE garden provides take-home ideas for home food production

A garden of ideas for those with little space to garden…

IF PUBLIC INTEREST is any indication, the new balcony gardening installation in Randwick's Permaculture Interpretive Garden is adready a success.

The garden was installed to provide ideas to those living in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs who have only small courtyard-size gardens or only balconies to grow on. More than fifty percent of Eastern Suburbs residents live in medium density dwellings, most in apartments.

Completion of the instalation and its planting was done as a short community course in balcony gardening…
The balcony garden installation, still incomplete in this photo, occupies the end of the Permaculture Interpretive Garden's kitchen garden area.
Buy the Autumn of 2015 the infrastructure for the installation was almost complete. Some vertical garden arrays and paving were yet to be installed..

The system

The balcony garden demonstration installation is an aquaponic system combining vegetable and fish production.

Water is pumped from the fish tanks, which contain table fish, and drip irrigated through the vertical garden arrays where waste materials break down into organic matter used for plant growth.

Aquaponics, whether arranged as a vertical gardening system as here or whether arranged horizontally, provides a solution to small-space urban food production…

Plants are grown in the vertical garden arrays, of which several are demonstrated — one DIY model made of roof guttering and two commercial models. Providing both DIY and commercial solutions is designed to appeal to people with building skills and to those without the free time but with the budget to buy and have commercial systems installed.

Water is slowly pumped through the system, delivered through drip irrigation, and the plants are established in a bed of crushed roof tile. Other types of growing medium are also suitable.

Aquaponics, whether arranged as a vertical gardening system as here or whether arranged horizontally, provides a solution to small-space urban food production.


A design element was to create a 'doorway' through which people could glimpse and enter the kitchen garden area. Interpretive signage, explaining the system, will be installed on the blank panel.

Nearing completion

Nearing completion, council sustainability educator, Fiona Campbell, inspects the work. Still to come when this image was made in Autumn 2015 are the vertical garden arrays. The vertical array making use of roof rainwater guttering is angled to facilitate drainage between where water enters the array at the top and where it drains into the fish tank. The two timber seats conceal tanks where freshwater table fish will be introduced when ready.
(left)… a view into the fish tanks reveals taro growing in a pot. (right)… a wall of timber offcuts that forms the southern wall has been drilled with different size holes where insects can find shelter. Yet to be added are wooden blocks drilled to a depth of 15cm for solitary, native Australian bees. This is known as an 'insect motel'.
Leading into the kitchen garden area are the stacked planter boxes and trellis wires, two types of vertical gardens for places where space is limited.
Under construction…

Vertical growing arrays

Two types of commercially available vertical garden arrays are demonstrated, one of durable plastic mini-planters — shown during installation here — the other of tough aluminium trays.

The arrays after installation of the drip irrigation system and planting out.
At the rear of the growing array on the right is a vertical reservoir full of soil. This provides a nutrient and moisture reserve for the plants and also provides space for their root systems to grow into, making for improved plant development. The box housing the pump and controls is visible lower left.

The DIY approach…

The DIY vertical garden array demonstrates the use of rainwater roof guttering.

If soil is used as the growing medium rather than the soilless hydroponic systems used here, care needs be taken to keep water and nutrients up to the plants. The guttering has less depth than the commercial arrays demonstrated in the installation and can dry out quickly.

Ready to grow

By late Autumn the vertical planter boxes had been planted out and flowers (to attract bees and other pollinators) and peas established in the self-watering, also called a 'wicking' garden, from where they started climbing the wire trellis.
Seen through the fine fronds of asparagus, planting out had started when this photo was made. The large planter box below the trellis is a self-watering garden in which water from a reservoir in the base wicks into the soil above, where it becomes available to plant roots. Self-watering or wicking beds made using this principle are useful where gardeners cannot irrigate plantings regularly.


Completion of the installation and its planting was done as a short community course in balcony gardening.

Landscape architect, Steve Batley from Sydney Organic Gardens, who designed the installation, and council sustainability educator, Fiona Campbell, have made use of construction in the Permaculture Interpretive Garden to offer courses that are part of Randwick Council's community resiliency education program.

Fiona stands on tippy-toes to adjust the drip irrigation emitters.
By the start of winter 2015, the balcony garden demonstration installation was complete.

Attracting attention

Perhaps is is the novelty of the design that catches the eye of people walking past the Permaculture Interpretive Garden and compels them to walk over to take a closer look.

For both visitors and participants in council's community education courses and workshops, the aquaponic system demonstrates a design solution to urban food production for those of us who have only a few square metres in which to grow.

Story and photos by Russ Grayson

The aquaponic system is an initiative of Randwick City Council's sustainability unit.

The installation was envisioned by council's sustainability educator, Fiona Campbell, as a public education facility. It was designed by landscape architect, Steve Batley, from Sydney Organic Gardens.

The Installation is found in the Permaculture Interpretive Garden, a combined public park/council education facility at 27 Munda Street, Randwick, in Sydney's Eastern Sububs.

Created By
Russ Grayson
Photos & text © Russ Grayson —

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