The Mulberry as Placemaker + Community Resource

| Community, Food & Fermentation, Foraging, Forest Gardening, Permaculture, Urban Permaculture | comments | Author :

minnamurra mulberry

Next to my primary school, down by the railway track, there is a mulberry tree. It’s been there since before I started kindergarten.

I think it was self-seeded, but it’s difficult to say – the street verge just there has since been planted with all manner of trees by the nearby residents – grevillas, loquats, lilies, succulents.

A community-scale jumble of cuttings, spares + favourites.

In the Spring afternoon sometimes I used to go and eat my fill of those mulberries with the other kids – purple hands, purple mouths, purple school uniforms. Sorry mum.

It’s an amazing plant, the mulberry – every part of the tree is useful, from leaves to bark to wood. Back then, however, I only had eyes for the purple berries.

I grew, and so did the mulberry tree. I kept visiting it each spring through my teenage years. There were always mulberries on it, despite the birds and each generation of Minnamurra school students who discovered the mulberry tree and thought of it as their special secret, as I had.

I grew up. Moved away. Went to uni, and then where life took me. Each spring my Mum would let me know that ‘the mulberries were on’ – she would often walk down to that same tree, and pick and freeze some mulberries, for the next time I came home.

Mulberry pie. The taste of home, and Spring.

I took cuttings from that mulberry tree and planted them wherever I rented, during my university years. Across Sydney in Penrith, Stanmore, and Newtown.

Some did well, and some did not. I like to think that the Newtown one on St Johns Street might have made it. The house is still there, which is saying something for Newtown. Maybe the new owners kept that small mulberry tree out by the back outdoor toilet.

I don’t know why I planted those cuttings, really. I never thought I would be in either rental long enough to see them bear fruit. I wasn’t even an avid gardener, back then.

But the mulberry seemed to be a sign of abundance, and of solace, and of generosity. It was a way of starting something good. Even if we moved in 6 months.

My path took me through cities across the world, and then out to a farm near Mudgee. Nick and I moved onto a remote little hillside, with hopes of growing a bountiful farm, and maybe a community.

We visited my parents soon after we settled on the farm in our pop-top caravan, and took cuttings from my mulberry tree.

This Minnamurra mulberry was, despite going from a mild maritime climate to a dry and frosty place, surprisingly fine with this idea. The cuttings thrived, and we planted them in our forest garden, and in our gravity-fed chicken run.

We started working in the city during this time, running + teaching permaculture courses. We planted gardens as part of permablitzes with other community members.

Another cutting from the Minnamurra mulberry made its way to the forest garden installation at the Alexandria Park School community garden.

Again, the cuttings of the Minnamurra mulberry thrived. We planted the Alexandria one when our son was just a wee babe – and by the time he was five, I took him back to the park to check out the garden, and to eat mulberries from that tree.

Life moved on, and we packed the farm at Mudgee up small, into our hearts, and moved back to the coast. Undecided of our final destination, we came to stay and live awhile back in Kiama, where my family still live.

My son ended up beginning kindergarten at Minnamurra primary school. It was a fluke, really. The rental house we found happened to be nearby.

Now it is Spring again. And we’re back where I started, picking mulberries from that very same childhood tree. Even though it’s not mine. It’s not anybody’s, really.

This mulberry’s cuttings live on across the landscape – in Mudgee and across Sydney. Possibly further – I gave away a lot of cuttings over the years, in black pots, ready to go.

I’m looking down at this bowl of mulberries that Nick just went and picked from my tree.

These mulberries are making me think about what constitutes belonging. I didn’t expect to come back to my hometown. Yet here I am.

The mulberries are also making me think about abundance, and community. And fear, and certainty.

When I lived on the farm, I felt I knew what lay ahead. I would raise children and grow old in one place. I liked the certainty of that – we had food, power, water and animals.

Whatever happened, we’d be okay. And yet, that permanence wasn’t to be.

But these mulberries speak of another type of certainty. The type of certainty for a future which is only created by choosing to cultivate abundance, no matter where you live, or how long you plan to live there for.

So this is the type of certainty  and community I’m looking forward to being a part of in the years ahead. The everywhere and anywhere type of community. The pay-it-forward type of community.

The wreaking of abundance, as an attitude. For life.

In an uncertain world, maybe it’s best if we all make our community where you are today. Look into the eyes of those around us, and be thankful for what is, and what could one day be.

Mulberry pie for everyone.

See the comments

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15 responses to “The Mulberry as Placemaker + Community Resource

  1. One of your finest, methinks. I have wistful, hopeful, grateful tears – and a sudden desire to take cuttings from the great old mulberry across the railway line 🙂

  2. A simply beautiful piece of writing Kirsten. Inspiring story. You almost had me in happy tears. Hear hear to cultivating abundance. x

  3. I was greatly moved by this – thank you! I shared the link on my FB page with the following comments:

    It’s autumn here [NE Georgia, USA]. The Mullberry trees are losing their leaves, long past limbs heavy with fruit. But in Australia it’s spring, and thousands of miles across the globe a woman wrote today of her mulberries…of belonging anf community, abindance and scarcity, tradition and planting trees you know you’ll never sit under.

    I am moved by her sharing.

    I will go out in the morning and touch tenderly the mulberry next to my house, connecting through its bark to the spirit of mulberry that is connected to those trees in Australia and the woman who wrote this story. Between us we will embrace the world of people and trees, stories and life with mulberry flavored love. Sounds good to me.

    I will no doubt laugh thinking of how after I had lived with this tree for 9 years, my neighbor Freda taught that those were edible (indeed, delicious!) mulberries, not just some random tree that dropped purple staining berries on my walkway.

    And I will smile as I remember the day my friends Jane and Joe joined me on a mulberry picking adventure down the road that netted more hilarity than fruit – but enough at least for a good pie!

    I will thank the tree and those around her, wish her a good winter’s rest….and look forward to June’s harvest next year….

  4. Oh yes, if you only plant one tree in your life – make it a mulberry! I’ve seen them survive flood in the Lockyer Valley in 2011. They also survive the caking hot summers. The kangaroos love to eat and sit under the shade of the mulberry tree too.

    We planted one mulberry, then a second. I’m propagating more this season. You’ve got to respect a tree that can live on virtually nothing, yet be so generous in shade, berries and a big nutrient drop at the end of the season, when all the leaves drop in winter.

    Your story reminded me of how giving these trees can be. 🙂

  5. I love how writing about a mulberry tree allowed you to touch upon so many different (and challenging) things – childhood, ageing, homes, resilience, food, abundance, impermanence, loss, place and community making.

    One of the things that keeps on drawing me back to the Milkwood blog is the quality of the writing and this is my favourite piece so far. It is deeply personal, but also speaks to the bigger motivations of why we hope and try and plant and do.

    It’s not mulberry season here – but I still have a half-box load of gifted apples that I shall turn into pie and share onwards. Thank you for this Kirsten.

  6. This is my first visit to this blog. My friend shared it with me, likely prompted by my recent ramblings about similar concepts, and I’m so glad he did! I also recently finished the book “Hannah Coulter” by Wendell Berry, which conjured up many of the same things in me that this post did. If you haven’t read it, it’s all about honoring your physical place and your place in things- in your community, in simple good work, just living as best you can each day, etc. These simple concepts are so counter to the culture that I’m finding myself kind of de-schooling, searching for nuggets of truth (like this post here) to add to my collection so I can move forward feeling a little more sure of things, a little less scared about how my instincts and ambition in this life amount to some of the least valued things in our culture. It doesn’t hurt that I have similar childhood memories of purple hands and feet and pie and feeling just right basking in the abundance of the natural world. Thank you for sharing this! I’m looking forward to exploring more of what you’ve written.

  7. Memories of my Nanna harvesting the mulberries from her neighbours tree in Ariah Park (not far from Wagga or Temora) and making mulberry pie for my brother, the only dessert outside of ice-cream he would eat. She’s gone now, as is the tree but mulberries always remind me of her. 🙂

  8. Such a nice reflection… Mulberries really are adaptable, aren’t they? I guess we need to be too. Community really is where it’s at though. Rugged individualism will only get one so far. Being part of a loving community is a more noble, fulfilling thing. And the start of that may be the kind of generosity that springs from sharing goodness, like mulberry trees, and persimmons…

  9. I have several pots of Mulberry cuttings finding roots as we speak. They’re to be the next generation of what was once a cutting for someone else once upon a time. I’m looking forward to them being a land of purple magic for our children and for all the other happy homes they go to (I got a bit excited and have quite a few). I introduced our little man to Mulberries for the first time a few weeks ago at our local community garden. His clothes are now inevitably stained and the seed is planted for another generation of magical mulberry adventures wherever they may lead. They really are a place maker. Thanks Kirsten!

  10. Beautiful beautiful! We’ve had to resort to a different mulberry tree but we’ve taken the love of the tree to New Zealand, where it’s much harder to grow but still holds fond memories of South Australia for us. A tree can be so much more than just a plant.

  11. Hi there, I just love your tale of the mulberry trail. I also grew up with a local mulberry tree in the yard of a friend’s house. I envied that tree as a kid and only wished my parents would plant one (they didn’t ). And so I never planted one of my own. Unfortunately I am only renting and cannot plant my own tree still. My top goal is to have a place of my own so I can plant the holy grail of trees, the might Mulberry. At age 57 things are not looking hopeful but you never know your luck. Not everyone wants to be a millionaire, some of us just want to have a mulberry tree and a piece of ground to plant it in.. Thanks so much for that fantastic story 🙂

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