My garden is something of a chaotic mess this year. Luckily, at this time of year, I am deluged with gardening advice — most of which I should have heard and applied in late spring. Of course, the key to a ‘perfect’ garden is always intent. What kind of garden do you want? Flowers? Vegetables? Herbs? Predictably, I always want all of it, so that may lead to some of my problems.
It’s important to me to have results early in the season. One year, nothing in my garden was ready to pick or eat before mid-August and I lost interest before then, leading to many weeds and not enough thinning. So, now I work to plant things that provide continuous interest — lettuce, chard, Early Girl tomatoes, peas, etc. — to satisfy the desire for something early.
Summer squash is usually starting to produce by late July along with the pole beans. By August the early-season production is over, but the cukes, tomatoes, squash and beans are starting to roll out and when they are gone, I can pull up the early-season plants to make room for the beets and carrots to stretch out. By then, the lettuce will be starting to turn bitter, so can also be added to the compost pile.
Things rock along in September — beets and chard are in full swing, and the carrots are starting to get big enough to pull. Since we normally get our first frost in mid-month, it’s time to capture the last of the warm-season production.
That’s also when I start thinking about what went wrong this year and peruse the advice for next year’s efforts. Sami Grover reports on the thinking that goes into a garden designed for food. He summarizes the advice as follows:
Don’t be too restrictive – Take inspiration wherever you find it and grow what you want, not what the experts advise.
Layering is central to everything — The most basic premise behind any food forest is the idea that we can maximize our yield if we learn to use all layers of the garden.
Symbiosis doesn’t necessarily mean self-sustaining — Growing in a small urban yard means you need to manage your space accordingly.
Understanding sunlight is crucial — First understanding how sun falls on your property, and then designing your garden with spacing in mind, is critical to success.
Reporter Melissa Breyer wants us to think more broadly than just about our garden, to embrace what she calls “ungardening”: “… early manicured gardens kind of made sense – they were a way of taming nature, of creating controlled beauty out of the chaos of wilderness … At this point, the least we can do is allow our lawns and tidy gardens to return to a more natural state. We often talk about this as ‘rewilding,’ but I’ve been seeing the term ‘ungardening’ as well.”
Here’s her “ungardening” advice:
1. Know your local heroes — Look for plants that will be generous to pollinators; avoid non-native species.
2. Swap the grass; embrace clover — Time is up for the manicured lawn. Their voracious appetite for water and chemicals are simply unsustainable; meanwhile, they deprive all kinds of organisms the space to thrive.
3. Grow things that you (and wildlife) can eat — Plant things that are lovely to look at and lovely for humans and other creatures to eat.
4. Refrain from using toxic pesticides — Duh!
5. Use natural herbicides — Of course!
6. Ponder a pond — Water is essential to all life, and is necessary for all the creatures that cohabit ‘your’ yard with you.
7. Tear down the fence, create a wildlife hedge — For a wildlife hedge, think of a mix of taller and shorter species, filled with fruit for eating, and nooks and crannies for cover and nesting. Not only will a wildlife hedge provide habitat for birds, pollinators and others, but it also assumes the services that a regular fence would, like creating privacy, noise reduction, and defining the edge of a property. And for the lazy gardeners out there, it doesn’t take much work once it’s up and running.
8. Stop raking — Let the litter flourish in your beds, it helps control weeds and dryness, and provides a great habitat for those small crawly things. As a compromise, I often mulch mow my yard when the leaves fall, and collect garden litter in the compost pile to be reapplied at the end of the season.
I guess next year I’ll have to stop thinking of myself as a gardener, and ponder in terms of “ungardening”. It seems that’s what I do best.
Melissa Breyer, 8 Steps Toward Ungardening, August 6, 2019, TreeHugger Daily News
Melissa Breyer, Plant A Wildlife Hedge Instead of Building A Fence, August 29, 2018, TreeHugger Daily News
Sami Grover, 4 Principles Behind Designing a Backyard Food Forest, June 5, 2019, TreeHugger Daily News