Permie spotlight: Sandra Wilson

Sandra talk about her plants

Sandra Wilson, Permaculture Central Coast’s very own Vice President, is this month’s Permie Spotlight. It’s impossible not to know and like Sandra – an infectious ball of energy, she has held a wide range of roles on the committee – from speaker coordinator, to kitchen organiser and raffle ticket sales.

Sandra and her husband Steven will soon be leaving the Central Coast to embark on a new adventure in Tasmania. I’m sure you will agree that her knowledge, humour and friendship will be sorely missed.

1.    When and how did you find Permaculture?

Finding Permaculture happened for me, initially, in the late 70’s – early 1980’s. I saw Bill Mollison on TV – a big, brash, bold guy talking about all the food people could and should be growing and discussing Permaculture, and I was mesmerized by the whole thing. At the time I was just about to leave school and I said to my parents “Permaculture looks great. I might do something with that!”  To say they were unimpressed would be an understatement! 

In 1984, I began studying Horticulture at the Ryde Horticulture School. I didn’t think too much about permaculture during that time, but I found myself drawn to the environmental subjects and to the people who were thinking that way. I gravitated towards the greenies in my group. I really liked talking to people about the importance of soil – that the better your soil, the better you were going to be able to grow things.  I ended up feeling that soil was my ‘thing’ – that I had to look after the soil for the planet. 

I went on to study Tree Surgery and then did a Landscaping Diploma. I went to work in nurseries, still with the mindset to look after the soil and look after the planet. The word Permaculture didn’t come up again until about four years ago when Kerrie Anderson called me to ask if I would do a talk at Permaculture Central Coast on Native Bees (my husband and I were into Native bees and I had sold some previously to Kerrie). I said yes and I remember turning up to Tuggerah Hall and there were over 100 people there for the talk. Jean Werk suggested I stay for the meeting and that was it. At PCC I found my tribe, my people. I wanted to talk to everyone and find out their interests and how and why they had come to Permaculture. 

Looking back, I realised that, throughout my 25 years working in nurseries I was always guiding people towards permaculture thinking, without even knowing that was what it was. I’d do consults and designs for people using sector and site analysis first. My designs were organically based and about having the right plant in the right position.  I think I was a Permie without know there was a name for it. Once I got to PCC I went – hey, this is me!

2.    What Permaculture training / studies have you undertaken?

Very soon after joining Permaculture Central Coast I decided I needed to do a PDC.  Alexia Martinez had a flyer for an affordable PDC course on the bench, so that was it!

Last year I did an Advanced PDC with David Holmgren at his site in Hepburn. It was a five-day live-in course at Melliodora. I had my jaw on the ground the whole time. It was run by David and Dan Palmer. David is very practical, and horticulture based, so I found that I aligned very much with him and found his teachings very familiar and logical.

I now work for Sustainable Education and do a Monday night tele-class for people who have signed up to do the Sustainable Living Certificate Course – an online course that covers a range of modules including composting, worm farming, native bees, wicking beds, and chickens. It’s great fun and I  get to answer questions and generally chat with students on their closed Facebook site.

3.    How has Permaculture changed you / your life?

It’s given me such purpose! I grew up in a  middle-class household  and went to a private school. I just didn’t fit in. I was the black sheep of the family. My family felt I was rebelling but I wasn’t. I just didn’t agree with way they lived their lives. I wanted to be in the garden growing things. I wanted to think about the food I was eating and where it came from, instead of eating out at McDonalds. That’s not me. 

 I feel like I’ve gone full circle.  Doing a PDC in my early 50’s, I realized that everything I was doing before wasn’t rebelling or wrong. Permaculture defined what I was doing and gave it a name and gave me confidence that I was on the right track. Now I know I’m a Permie (and always have been) and my aim is to broaden that – how can I do better? Being part of the PCC committee (in many roles over the years) has helped me with that. 

4.    What has been your biggest ‘aha’ Permaculture moment?

A couple of years ago, I was in my garden and I saw aphids on my roses. Initially, I thought ‘bugger’ but as I observed them from my sitting room I saw ladybird larva and then ladybirds chewing on aphids.  In about three days every aphid on that rose was gone. I went “That is it – that is Permaculture in action and I know it works!”. I’ll tell you what else works… solitary bee hotels. We need more of them. Everyone should have one in their garden!

5.    Is there any Permaculture principle or aspect of Permaculture that resonates most with you?

That’s easy – “Apply self regulation and accept feedback”. It’s been huge for me. I’m not a shy person and I’m quick to get in there and do something first if I think people aren’t acting quickly enough. Sometimes I just need to shut up and listen to people. When I do, I realise that other people can be just as right as me 😊

To be honest, I love all the principles because I think that’s the way we should be living. Permaculture doesn’t offend anyone. You can apply it to all aspects of life. It’s like a blanket over everything. Permaculture is the answer. That, and If you have to choose, just be kind! 

Sandra Wilson is a Sustainable Education teacher.
She has held various roles in the PCC Committee in the past four years. At the moment, Sandra is the Vice President.