Wollongong's backyard blitzers win award

A garden group run by volunteers who "blitz" backyards into living, breathing supermarkets has been awarded Wollongong's highest environmental award honour.

Permablitz the Gong is the brainchild of four Illawarra women who have been quietly transforming the region, one backyard at a time.

Their "permablitzes" are day-long working bees using the volunteer labour of people who come along to further their knowledge of chicken-coop building, fencing, no-dig garden beds and permaculture principles.

The women, Kristy Newton, Rebecca Mayhew, Sheryl Wiffen and Jacqui Besgrove, will visit a site multiple times in the lead-up to its transformation, and devote hours to consulting and designing with the yard owners.

Designs take into account where and when the sun hits, the influence of wind and how the owner is likely to use the garden. The most used elements - like herbs - are placed closest to the house.

"The idea is to minimise effort and maximise beneficial relationships," Ms Besgrove said.

"A really good example of that is having fruit trees with a whole bunch of chickens running underneath. The chickens are fertilising the trees, cleaning up any waste and fallen fruit, providing them with a source of food - then they give you eggs. It's a whole system."

Permablitz was started in Melbourne in 2006.

The Wollongong version began in 2012 after Ms Besgrove and Ms Newton gained permaculture qualifications.

Ms Besgrove's Mangerton backyard was the site of the group's first blitz, which drew 50 volunteers.

"I think it probably saved me about two years' work," Ms Besgrove said.

Blitzes now occur every quarter, with volunteers signed up via the group's Facebook page.

There have been seven completed so far. Volunteers who take part three times become eligible to have their own backyard blitzed.

The Basil Ryan Award, presented to the Permablitz team earlier this month, is the highest honour of Wollongong City Council's Rise and Shine environment awards.

Mr Besgrove said the award was to be shared.

"We couldn't have done it without the volunteers who come along so it's as much an award for them as for us."

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