BACKYARD BLISS | Turning steep banks into stable, productive, beautiful bee paradise

Groundwork begins to turn a steep bank into a stable, productive and beautiful flowering garden for the bees and beneficial insects. Picture: Hannah Moloney.
Groundwork begins to turn a steep bank into a stable, productive and beautiful flowering garden for the bees and beneficial insects. Picture: Hannah Moloney.

A few years ago we set about converting our somewhat bedraggled-looking, steep, front bank into a beautiful bee paradise garden.

For the mission we called upon some good mates for a mini-working-bee (i.e three hours of power followed by lunch and beers).

This was our second attempt at this bank - the first one was going really well, until we accidentally set it on fire with a spark from the angle grinder - whoops.

The vision for this bank was to be a perennial bee fodder and beneficial insect garden.

The idea was that we never have to access this bank as it's actually capping off a significant pile of rubbish which the previous owners buried there when they gutted the house.

Parts of the bank are full of old couches, bed springs, lino and lots of random wire and sharp things.

Basically we don't want to touch it as it's a world of pain and ugly surprises.

So we converted it into a bee paradise instead.

As a weed mat we used old bike boxes from the local bike shop, which will eventually break down - but not before they've helped suppress the grass while more desirable plants establish themselves.

We pinned them down with landscaping pins we bought from the local hardware - but you could also make your own out of high tensile wire.

Next up we used heat treated pallets (chemical free) to create rows of shelves roughly on contour to 'lock in' the cardboard even more and to provide a pocket to place some compost directly into.

The pallets are free - salvaged from the side of the road around town. We're a big fan of free, cheap and DIY, especially when you're capturing a "waste product" and converting it into a highly functional resource.

True, it doesn't look super flash, but it's semi-temporary in that it'll be visible for two to three years and then will be swamped by beautiful and productive plants.

The plants will effectively replace the pallet shelves and hold the bank together with their roots.

We then made sure the cardboard received a solid soaking, which helps bed it down and prevents it from repelling water.

We want it to integrate with the existing soil as quickly as possible to ensure the seeds and plants we pop in thrive.

We'll plant directly into the shelves of compost, ensuring that we can get plants established all over the bank, and not just at the very bottom.

So, what did we plant the bank out with straight away? Tough stuff, that's what - enter white clover!

For the record, clover will get weedy, hence we never put it near our annual beds or in areas where we don't want to be constantly controlling it.

The only places we've put it on our place is the steep banks which need quick growing, soil improving (it's a nitrogen fixer) and flowering plants - clover does it all.

We also put in stacks of sunflower and calendula seeds, followed by perennial herbs, hardy native flowering shrubs to create a low shrub and ground creeper layer.

We didn't bother mulching the bottom section of the bank due to it being so steep, instead simply covered it with a combination of cardboard and jute mate to suppress the vigorous grass from taking over.

And of course, all good working bees end on a high and tasty note - a hearty and colourful lunch was topped off with cake and beer to express our enormous gratitude to some of our mates for making it happen.

  • Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, a permaculture landscape design and education enterprise that creates resilient and regenerative lives and landscapes.