Daniel Harris-Pascal at home in Yarralumla with some of his Indian Runner and Pekin Ducks.
Daniel Harris-Pascal at home in Yarralumla with some of his Indian Runner and Pekin Ducks. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

It wasn't only the mottled Indian runner ducks and two white Pekins who were happy in the wet conditions when Dan Harris-Pascal and I met in Yarralumla. All local kitchen gardeners, like us, were rejoicing at the rainfall after such a dry autumn.

Canberra-born Harris-Pascal, then aged three, moved with his parents Janet Harris and Rich Pascal and brother Chris to a house in Yarralumla. When he was 12, a new family moved in next door. They'd been living at Burra, practicing permaculture.

The young Dan helped tend their vegetable garden, make compost, chase the chooks and plant fruit trees. On his side of the fence he started experimenting with different vegie gardens, eventually moving towards more perennial vegetables that could tolerate growing in the shade.

Daniel Harris-Pascal at home in Yarralumla with one of his Pekin Ducks.
Daniel Harris-Pascal at home in Yarralumla with one of his Pekin Ducks. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

His time spent in the garden cultivated an interest in plants that led him to study botany and ecology at the Australian National University. He then moved on to study horticulture and ethnobotany at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hawaii and, upon returning to Canberra, he gained qualifications in permaculture.

Through his business, called Seed Head Design, Harris-Pascal has been consulting and designing gardens and food forests ever since. This included developing the kitchen garden at Yarralumla Primary School and designing and implementing forest gardens for Milkwood Permaculture farm and an education site at Orange and Brogo Permaculture Gardens on the south coast.

Last winter, he worked at El Manzano eco-school in Chile with his Chilean partner Veronica Briceno Rodriguez. He has developed a number of short courses teaching food forest garden design and he will be running one in Canberra with Permaculture Exchange on August 10-11 at Yarralumla Primary School.

In his home forest garden, mature trees planted by the previous owners form a canopy and give frost protection. In sunny spots he is growing lemon, orange, lime, peach and fig trees. Other plantings include Chilean guava, feijoa, red currants, rhubarb and a potted tamarillo tree with its large leaves and satiny red fruit, which he poaches. During our visit, a yacon (Polymnia sonchifolia), native to South America, was dug up for its edible tuber.

Native shrubs provide a screen from the road in the front garden and they attract birds and insects that keep the ecosystem functioning in the forest garden.

The loveable ducks don't scratch up tree roots, eat snails and slugs and provide eggs for the kitchen. Harris-Pascal brought the ducks back to Canberra when he returned from Milkwood in December. They jump into the bath pond and splash around as soon as we turn to look at the edible forest.

Harris-Pascal and his neighbours maintain a walkway between their houses in Yarralumla for easy access when the families dine together and because they pool resources. The neighbours, Mathew Long and Teffany Thiedeman, provide sunny garden space in winter.

Twice a year they have a working bee and overhaul the garden. For this year's autumn revamp, they took out remaining tomatoes and pumpkins and fed spent veggies to their four chooks.

Then winter crops were planted, including broccoli, lettuce, beetroot, garlic and onions. Harris-Pascal maintains a Warre beehive in the neighbours' garden to help pollinate the plants and to produce honey.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.