What can happen when crazy things are allowed to happen???!

Many of us have already spoken to our time with Oliver Kellhammer… and alas I am going to, too. We can’t help it. We were all inspired! Thank you, Oliver.

tennis forest
Nature re-establishing itself on top of an abandoned tennis court

“What can happen when crazy things are allowed to happen?” Oliver asked us. He meant this about people—what can we create, how can we explore and learn, when we are given a space to experiment? An example he gave was Tempelhofer Feld, the abandoned airport, where some German men who like the sun built a reflective box to sit in. Also the commons in Vancouver that function as a park but also an art project, where people are welcome to be creative and do what they want. Oliver showed us a picture of a funky sculpture. “What the heck is that?” he said. He didn’t know, but it wouldn’t have existed if there hadn’t been a space like that for it to exist, and that was enough for him. He mentioned that we need to create autonomous zones within capitalism, places where people can be left to do their own thing.

This makes me think of nature too! What can happen when crazy things are allowed to happen? Oliver took us out to see an example: the 30-year-abandoned tennis court on the property neighbouring his. Over time, nature moved in. Dirt covered the asphalt and trees began to grow.

oliver scraping
Oliver scraping away dirt to reveal the asphalt beneath. After 30+ years, it’s now begun to crumble and break down. “There’s always something that’s going to come eat up the shit you do,” he says.

In the face of climate change, it’s easy to be discouraged by the loss of how things used to be, a big one being the loss of native ecosystems. But I hear these words again, What can happen when crazy things are allowed to happen? Oliver told us about pheasants living in urban environments, and how they’ve become more hearty and resilient than pheasants in rural settings. Or the fisher, the “weasel from hell,” and how it has reappeared and is thriving in abandoned industrial sites. “Invasive” species moving in and proving to be better suited for the climate trajectory of the future than the native species currently being valorized and prized above them. Nature cropping up in places we thought it couldn’t anymore, where it’s able to experiment and do its own thing.

Animals don’t stay the same; everything in nature is adapting. What can happen when crazy things are allowed to happen? This! This world! It’s allowing crazy things to happen! Who would have thunk that an abandoned airport could become a bird sanctuary? That a forest could begin to grow on top of an asphalt tennis court? The anthropocene is a crazy thing that we’ve (unfortunately) allowed to happen, but in a way, it is giving nature a space to experiment and get creative. But nature has always been creative; and it’s where we humans get our own creativity.

Though climate change is distressing, it’s keeping us on our toes. And all the best people, and all the best parts of nature (which is all of it, really) are turning it around and using it as a way to make crazy things happen.

tennis edges
Ferns lining the edge of the tennis court

And I think about permaculture in all of this, how it’s all about mimicking relationships found in natural ecologies and using patterns in nature when problem solving and designing. And I have hope that the craziest thing of all will happen—we will find a way to remediate what we’ve done to the earth, even if not in the way we might expect. Nature is getting super crazy and creative as it looks to adapt to the changing world, and maybe we need to look more closely at these patterns, ones that perhaps we used to view as unfortunate fingers pointing out all we’ve done to harm the earth. Instead, we can learn from them… the problem is the solution after all.


Ruminations on Invasives …

As a student in Environmental Studies I feel like it has been drilled into me that invasive species are “bad”. Evil species hell bent on taking over the planet! I’ve been taught to shudder a little bit when I came face to face with English Ivy or Scotch Broom … At least I was. That all changed when I met Oliver Kellhammer. Oliver talked about how while it is important to value native species, it is not always realistic in the long run, or even moralistic. Humans have a tendency to idealize certain periods in history and Oliver suggested that this is the case with certain pre-colonial ecosystems on the West Coast. In fact, he argued that by idealizing these native plant-dominated ecosystems we are actively fighting against the natural push of evolution and change that occurs across every ecosystem over time. Moreover, we should keep in mind that not all so-called invasive species are so much invasive as they are “tropical” species that can bring new and different things to the ecosystem they now find themselves in. The term “tropical” was first used by Oliver during his talk and it is something that made me really start to re-think how I think about “invasives”.


Upon returning home from Linnaea I saw the English Ivy crawling up the rock face by my house and continued to puzzle over how we should think about these introduced species. I decided to do some research to see what other people had to say. As I looked, I found that there were many cases where, indeed, researchersare saying that these invasives, while not necessarily part of a native ecosystem, can be highly beneficial to the soil and native species in a region. Take, for instance, this article about the beneficial relationship that the local bird population forms with the honeysuckle plant in the Pennsylvania region (https://www.livescience.com/30119-invasive-species-plants-good.html) or this article that provides a variety of other beneficial effects of invasives (https://www.wired.com/2011/02/good-invasives/).

While I am certainly not saying that we should let Scotch Broom further proliferate across Vancouver Island and the west coast, there are certainly some positive impacts that invasives can have to an ecosystem. For instance, invasives can provide additional ecosystem services that native species cannot (as in the case with the honeysuckle plant in the previous paragraph), replenish regions that have been previously thought irrevocably damaged by humans (ruderal ecology), and even sustaining and adapting ecosystems that are struggling as a result of climate change. It is also important for us to remember that many plants and species that we know and enjoy are non-native in variety as well.

To be honest, I still don’t know how to feel on the issue. I am passionate about encouraging the return of native species around where I live and making sure that invasive species are not going to, as aforementioned, take over the world. However, I’ve found that my perspective on what “invasive species” are has been changed and I’m opening my mind to include the possible positive impacts that non-native species can have on our ecosystem.

Good King Henry


Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Illustration_Chenopodium_bonus_henricus0.jpg


When it comes to the botanical name of the plant commonly known as Good King Henry there is some confusion as to what it really is. The plant was originally classified in 1753 by German botanist Carl Linnaeus as Chenopodium bonus-henricus in his seminal work Species Planetarium, which was, for lack of a better term an encyclopedia of plants (Linnaeus, 1753). However since 2012 genetic testing has revealed that the plant is, at a molecular level, more similarly related to the spinach family and thus its name is properly recorded as Blitum bonus-henricus (Susy Fuentes-Bazan, Pertti Uotila, Thomas Borsch, 2012). Good King Henry also has a slew of other colloquial names including Lincolnshire Asparagus, Lincolnshire Spinach, and Poor-Man’s Asparagus (Temperate Climate Permaculture). Despite its rather regal sounding name the plant has absolutely no connection with any of England’s many King Henrys nor does it have any connection to any of France’s King Henry’s for that matter. Rather the plant was originally named Guter Heinrich (Good Henry) by the Germans, the English simply appropriated the plant name and added in the regal heading to make the plant their own (Temperate Climate Permaculture).

Good King Henry 03
Temperate Climate Permaculture, http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.ca/2012/02/permaculture-plants-good-king-henry.html

Good King Henry is a self pollinating, perennial herb, native, as its name suggests, to Europe, but it can be found growing wild in North America, most predominantly in North Eastern Canada and the United States; it was originally brought to the European colonies as a potherb (Mother Earth Living). Good King Henry, in a permaculture sense makes for good ground cover it grows to be anywhere from 40-80 cm tall and is one of the few herbs around that prefers partial shade (Mother Earth Living). Good King Henry is ideally planted in well drained garden soil but many people have had success using it as a cover crop in food forests where it can create a rather dense herbal blanket. The Plant is also relatively hardy which makes it well suited to many different environments, it carries a USDA hardiness classification of 3-9 (Temperate Climate Permaculture). Given its ability to live in a variety of climates the plant can flower any time between May and October depending on the USDA zone in which it is located. The plant has many, almost triangular leaves, extending from the main shoot, upon the top of the shoot one can find the seeds which are clustered and look very much like a grain. The Diagram produced by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé (Located at the top of this article) is an ideal representation of the plant (Temperate Climate Permaculture).

Good King Henry has been used for hundreds of years. Alys Fowler, a gardening columnist for the Guardian claims that the plant has been cultivated for human production since the peak of the Roman Empire. This would make some sense because just about every part of the plant is edible. The leaves can be eaten cooked or raw; however, most sources warn about eating the leaves raw in great quantities due to the presence of Oxalic acid which is not good for human consumption in great quantities. The good news is that Oxalic acid can be neutralized with heat so cooking the leaves makes them very edible. The shoots, as the colloquial name ‘Poor Man’s Asparagus’ may suggest, can be picked and eaten just like asparagus. The flower buds can also be eaten like small broccoli and the seeds of the plant are very similar to Quinoa. Other than being a hardy low maintenance crop Good King Henry also has several unique medicinal qualities. Most agree that the plant, if enough is eaten, can be used as a gentle laxative one which would be most effective, and safe to use, on children. Some have also stated that the planet can be beneficial in treating parasitic worm infections (Temperate Climate Permaculture). Good King Henry is also rich in Iron and Vitamin C both of which are essential to humans (Mother Earth Living).


Fowler, A. (2011, March 11). The renaissance of Good King Henry. Retrieved June 05, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/mar/12/alys-fowler-good-king-henry-poppies

Fuentes-Bazan, S.  Pertti Uotila, Thomas Borsch: A novel phylogeny-based generic classification for Chenopodium sensu lato, and a tribal rearrangement of Chenopodioideae   (Chenopodiaceae). In: Willdenowia. Vol. 42, No. 1, 2012, p. 18.

Kitsteiner, J. (n.d.). Permaculture Plants: Good King Henry. Retrieved June 05, 2017, from http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.ca/2012/02/permaculture-plants-good-king-henry.html Linnaeus, C. Species Plantarum. Vol. 1, Impensis Laurentii Salvii, Holmiae, 1753, p.218.

Ogden Publications. (1994, February 01). Herb To Know: Good-King-Henry. Retrieved June 05, 2017, from http://www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/an-herb-to-know-9

Animal Systems

One of my favourite lessons on the farm had to be Animal Systems with Tamara. I grew up around animals my parents have always had horses, sheep, and chickens and my best friend’s family owns one of the largest dairy farms on the Vancouver island. The use of animals for labour and production has been a part of human history since modern humans began to abandon the traditional nomadic way of life and settle, domesticating animals as an alternative to the energy intensive process of hunting them. Agriculture is possibly one of the most intensive and most revolutionary revelations in human history and it is a practice that continues to evolve. One of the most interesting concepts that Tamara spoke of was the idea of rotational grazing. I first came across the concept in my first year of university at Dalhousie University where it was being studied as a possible solution for stopping desertification from occurring. It was fascinating to see the practical application of this process and that it really did seem to work. It makes me ponder why this practice isn’t used more! It is clearly a far cheaper and less labour-intensive way of fertilizing than running a tractor to spread manure which most industrial farms do. I was also kissed on the face by a cow that day which was pretty neat; its not the first time this has happened to me, but its always nice to be loved. I don’t have any photos of that so if anyone does, send them my way!Rebellious Herd

Permaculture Ponderings


Now that the field school has concluded and life is beginning to slip back into its natural rhythm (consisting mostly of work and sleep), I find myself thinking about permaculture far more than I did before. I’ll see or do something at work and think to myself “Hey, that’s permaculture!” These little moments of epiphany have got me thinking about what permaculture really is, but more so, what permaculture is to me. I think it’s fair to say that everyone approaches the concept of permaculture in a very different way it’s one of the things I like about it, a permaculture design can be as imaginative and unique as the individual whom has crafted it. I believe that I likely look at permaculture in a different way than most but in many ways, I think I view it in a very similar way as well. Permaculture to me is a way of thinking, it’s a way of reconciling (in the Canadian big C kind of way) my fiscal Conservative values, Libertarian Social Values and my environmental values which are way out in left field so too speak. I have always been surrounded by nature. I don’t like living in the city; it’s simply an unavoidable evil I must deal with if I want to go to school and as such I have always felt that we need to protect the things that make British Columbia and Canada some of the most beautiful places on earth. I have long subscribed to the idea that it is not possible to have economic prosperity without environmental sustainability and it is something that I think Kevin and the Klahoose First Nation not only subscribe to, but highlight rather effectively. The First Nation has been able to generate prosperity through industrial means yet in a sustainable way, through small selective forestry endeavours to hydro electric projects and non-invasive low intensity aquaculture. I also have a lot of respect for the fact that the First Nation has been able to create economic stability while simultaneously maintaining and promoting the history of their people. I also admire Kevin’s determination to work with the members of the First Nation through consultation and his desire to bring people back home. Permaculture is a lot of things to a lot of people But I would argue first and foremost that it is a way of thinking, that it is a way of challenging the status quo, and in most cases, makes our world a little more sustainable and a little less scary.

thanks earth muffins

Because sharing is caring. Here are some extra thoughts and bits from the week.DSC_7882The lake that became our daily refresher, seen here from hummingbird bluff

Now still, now moving,
now reflecting our thoughts.
Holding all of us.

DSC_7883Trees planted in time
to burn hot when I am old.
Locust keep me warm

DSC_7884Such simple lives yet,
so complex, and so much love
for dust and compost.


DSC_7886some quotes from Adam , when we were sitting in a circle in the basement.

Feet are silly but
useful and we’ve all got them;
Like feelings and fears.


Wiggle Room

The hope in cities for me lies in spontaneous and passionate creation. The kind of creation that Oliver spoke to, and demonstrated in his public art works and community gardens in Vancouver and Toronto. I really started listening the morning of our conversation with Oliver Kelhammer when I realized that he was the person that had instigated the creation of one of my favourite roosts in Vancouver, the Cottonwood Gardens. I had never really thought to investigate the story behind those little plots and winding paths; figured that they were part of a municipally-funded project to brighten up a rather dreary part of the city, I guess. I was overjoyed to see pictures of the collaborative and subversive beginning of the place, with community members taking advantage of a new space to exercise their autonomy in the city and share their knowledge. It’s a radical idea: open space, in the city, for people to do what they do. Whatever that might be. And it may be that no one even knows what that might be.

Ever tried to put on some pants but there was a plant??! I know I HAVE!!

Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin is another great example of this creativity that Oliver brought up. It is my understanding that this space was hard-won, wrenched from the grasp of a gaggle of salivating developers by the PEOPLE. That’s what I imagine, anyways.

Tempelhofer was a parade ground initially, then used as an airport, and today it is a zone for recreation and experimentation. There are community gardens, pop-up markets, naked sunbathers, walking and cycling trails, windsurfers, concerts, and to top ‘er all off, a 2.5-hectare BBQ area. It strikes me as admirable of the city planners to open a space for all that and more amidst the bustle of the capital of Germany. City planners are all about place-making, it’s kind of like water in permaculture: the idea isn’t to facilitate a landscape conducive to people rushing about without interaction or engagement, they want people to slow, s p r e a d, sink. However, the importance of pointless space can’t be overstated. Redundancy is resilience! Urban engagement comes from the freedom to express and experiment, people are going to do this no matter what because we are beautiful and creative little bugs, but it’s even better if it’s city-sanctioned! After speaking with Oliver it wasn’t at all surprising to me that he left Cortes for NYC. He clearly thrives on the energy of the city, and sees hope for the future in subversive ways of living in all kinds of environments. Or maybe he just does whatever the slime mould tells him to do.

Japanese Mountain Yam


The Japanese Mountain Yam (Dioscorea Japonica) or Jinenjo Yam, is also known as “Yamaimo” in Japan, as well as the “East Asian Mountain Yam” elsewhere. The yam can often be mistaken and mislabeled as the Chinese Yam as they are very similar visually. It is native to Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, and Northern India. Due to its sparse and wide spread nativity throughout southern Asia, there have been 4 accepted forms of subspecies of Dioscorea Japonica which include:

  • Dioscorea japonica var. japonica
  • Dioscorea japonica var. nagarum
  • Dioscorea japonica var. oldhamii
  • Dioscorea japonica var. pilifera 

Jinenjo is a hearty and productive perennial root crop that can be grown in full sun to partial shade and between heartiness zones 4-10. Because of this wide range of heartiness, the yam can be grown in a vast amount of climates, making very accessible to farmers all around the world. Historically, people have thought that yams were only able to be grown in tropical climates, but the Japanese Mountain Yam due to its heartiness can be grown all over North America and even in the Cascadia regions close to home.


The tubers of the plant grow at the base of the vines like a cluster of sweet potatoes. The vines will grow upwards of 4m tall. It also grows small tubers on the vines that look similar to air potatoes. These are often suitably used for seeding the plant. If the plant is desired to be maintained as a perennial, at least one tuber must be left in the ground, or cut the top third off one or two tubers and replant them.


The plant is comparable in visuals to that of a taro root, making it easy to describe to those who may not be familiar to the appearance of the plant. The plant itself has edible roots which are the plant tubers which are most commonly consumed. The air potato-like shoots are also edible but not consumed nearly as much due to the inferior size of the fruits.


Interestingly enough, the Japanese Mountain Yam is the only known yam to be consumed raw. Traditionally in Japan, it is often served cut or shaven julienne-style raw and either served with an egg on top, or with various other sauces including soy sauce or wasabi and eaten as a light salad/appetizer. Also has been eaten with steamed eel and diced cucumber.

In terms of its medicinal uses, many studies have shown that it could be a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, and may also be beneficial for intestinal health and oxidation prevention.


Jacke, D., & Toensmeier, E. (2005). Edible Forest Gardens (Vol. 1&2). White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publ.

Toensmeier, E. (2007). Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Planetary CPR

Everything Oliver spoke about came back to an unrelenting respect and appreciation for the dynamism of the world. I found our conversation with him encouraging and inspiring, and reflected on how his view on ecological restoration stimulated and challenged my own. One thing we seemed to be in agreement about: the ecological and social systems in which we are embedded are perpetually in motion, so why do we idealize one configuration of an ecosystem over another? Critics of traditional environmental restoration argue that the very idea of a historical baseline is arbitrary and unscientific. To a certain extent, I agree. What was so ideal about the specific arrangement of biomass somewhere post-ice-age, pre-colonization? It seems that a certain degree of human fragility makes its way into the science of restoration; a little raw piece of our collective and historical consciousness that says, “how it was before us, that was pure.” Unpacking this further, it seems to assume that humanity is apart from nature; something that imposes itself upon the helpless landscape as a parasitic other. The point in making this distinction is not to minimize the destruction caused by human systems in the world. It is only to question the assumption of a practice that is becoming more and more relevant every day. It’s as important to understand the underpinnings and context of your restoration as much as it is important to think about the effects in the future!

Hey! This guy’s native! Right?

Oliver’s work in the urban landscape was, in his words, “giving a voice to nature”, but I also took it to be a statement about the role of nature in our cities and in our cultural imagination. The very beginnings of conservation lie entrenched in the idea of pure and pristine nature. But realistically, if that ever did exist (debatable), it certainly doesn’t anymore. How can we retrofit our conservation ethic, still reaching back to antiquity and calling up images of worth-protecting landscapes like cascading waterfalls and stunning mountain peaks, and start caring just as hard about the second- and third-growth that surround us? 

Emma Maris, in her book Rambunctious Garden, has some hopeful words about the future of restoration and the value of taking the idea of nature to the streets and incorporating (and thus giving value or a “voice” to) the natural world that perforates our urban landscapes. We are within the natural world, and it pokes through our concrete and shades our sidewalks and buzzes down our streets.

So…maybe we have a saviour complex. Maybe we need to do some reevaluating of what “nature” means to us. But restoration can still be good, I think! And the conversation we had with Oliver really drove home some aspects of the practice that really make sense to me. I can see a hopeful future through his eyes, especially when he throws around happy little terms like “planetary CPR”. I love that one.

O. K.

Cottonwood Gardens: in the beginning
years later the plants have taken over

OliverK.org. Artist. Activist. Inspiration. Fast talker and fast walker. Friend of the slime mould. Radical gardener.

Oliver had so much to share, but I think the most important lesson he sent us all home with was to not give up on the city. That everything is going to be O.K.

Oh, and also that we should always take action before asking, and that most rules don’t apply.

Over the years Oliver has worked in various cities, asking the plants “what can I do to help,” or rather, “what can I not do,” allowing them to take over and reinstate their own natural systems. What a revolutionary idea! Let them be. Create a weed sanctuary. Observe the plants’ processes; interact in ways that benefit you and those around you without messing up the systems; observe others interacting. Utilize these processes to solve problems like eroding banks or dirt slip-sliding onto the road from a newly deposited berm (dropped before any asking was done of course).

It all seems so simple. Too simple. But the thing is, the earth is trying hard to keep itself intact, to regenerate organic matter to feed itself. This was not simply understood (as you understand something you’ve been told or something you’ve read), but felt, as we all stood in a young grand fir forest that had established itself on an old concrete tennis court in the Whaletown Commons. With the help of mycelia and bacteria, plants can do anything! Or as Oliver would say, “don’t lose hope, there’s always something in the world that will eat all the shit you do.” The earth has enlisted mycelia, bacteria, and plants to ‘do the dirty work’, you might say, so lets join forces, rather than fighting against something so powerful.

How can we help? Catching and storing the energy and interest of his community members helped Oliver to give an empty lot in Toronto back to the earth, allowing a green oasis to take over. This in turn helped the community, provided a yield, and brought biodiversity and life back to the area all in one fell swoop. I guess the point that I’m getting at is that we can help by reuniting the separated entities of “nature” and “people,” and that we can do this in a city! I have often felt that the only hope for “being part of nature” is to escape the city, but like so many situations, it may be more beneficial not to turn our backs — to try to make the city a better place, not only by integrating more “nature” into it, but also by recognizing the “nature” that is already here, like the weeds pushing up through the concrete, and offering them the same respect that we offer to old growth forests.

Another thought provoking conversation with Oliver questioned the seemingly black and white dichotomy of native and non-native species. Putting the short life span of humans up against the unthinkably long history of the earth turns clean lines of black and white to a textured and moveable wash of grey. Similar to the concept of shifting baselines, this generational amnesia can also be applied to which species are “supposed” to be around. Movement of species from coast to coast or continent to continent can increase productivity, biodiversity, and resiliency in both the species and the ecosystem. Think of Oliver’s sequoia tree, a species thought to be extinct that survived in a pocket of Chinese countryside. If this non-native tree had never made it’s way to China, or if it had been torn out, we may have lost the species forever.

Photos from Oliver’s website