Monday, June 30, 2014

Designing for the Future

Edythe Falconer, Ottawa

Some things are meant to be. Our Saskatchewan Farm was “organic” before “organic” achieved a higher profile. Since then I’ve continued to be comfortable with the desirability of food independence, conservation of biological resources, and avoidance of chemical sprays and synthetic amendments.

Upon retiring we relocated to a property previously owned by organic growers. We carried on in their tradition from 1995 to 2009. Now back in urban Ottawa, we occupy property with similar heritage. We seem destined to practice conservation in one way or another.

In the past I had come across an article on permaculture that greatly inspired me and continues to influence everything I do in gardens. I don’t pretend to understand the entire science of permaculture. I have cherry-picked parts I feel capable of implementing with reasonable success. My garden design reflects the intents that I want to implement on a year to year basis.

I will:
  • Grow plants that have more than one use.
  • Support garden needs in more than one way.
  • Develop biodiversity to include beneficial insects, birds and plants.
  • Incorporate as many native plants as possible.
  • Recycle biological resources produced on site.
  • Install plant guilds such as beans, squash and corn.
  • Glean new ideas from research on pre-Columbian agriculture and horticulture in the Americas.

A favourite example of a multi-use plant is elderberry. Attractive for the entire growing season, it is relatively problem free, attracts birds and produces berries that are edible for humans and offers privacy along property lines. Multiple use plants such as fruit trees, perennial vegetables and berry bushes dot our property.

Our barrel system catches rainwater and our pond helps during dry spells. Four barrels are connected to eave troughs and two more receive syphoned water. We have recourse to city water but for gardening we can usually rely on barrel water. The water supply is further supported through improving soil with regular additions of organic material. Well-fed soil can retain up to 75% of the moisture needed for sustaining plants and for a longer periods.

As for biodiversity, a wide variety of plants have been installed hopefully with the capacity to attract pollinators all season long – mastering continuous bloom. This principle serves both aesthetic and practical purposes. Garden performance is improved greatly with the presence of a multitude of pollinators.

Native plants are regularly combined with cultivars and coexist quite successfully. Currently fifty or more native plants flourish in their “multicultural” setting. Almost all are low-maintenance once established. My favorite multiuse native is Boneset – for its lovely structure and for its ability to attract a slews of pollinators. We may have destroyed much of native natural habitat. We can prevent extinction by introducing them into urban gardens.

We have created five new beds since coming back to town all of which have been built via a modified version of the lasagna method. In the first year they aren’t all that attractive but once the permanent plantings settle in and some proper edging is done they look great. All five beds boast layers of material harvested on site. Currently we have four composters on the go. Two more are just getting started in the form of hugels framed by squares of surplus building materials. I can thank Sally Jean Cunningham for this idea. Eventually the hugels will morph into planters for combinations of edibles and/or ornamentals.

For me a garden is an ongoing process toward an imagined state of perfection. Our mega garden is composed of smaller gardens each with its own label – front, central east, southeast, composter/shed area, vegetable enclosure and external surrounds, apple tree central, apple tree west, and west side. These smaller gardens provide a multitude of edges and each has its own design needs – needs that still need to relate to each other in some form of coherence.

They should relate on two levels one pertaining to the principles outlined above and the other in terms of what each contributes to the garden as a whole. Therefore in each garden I endeavour to apply as many of the features of permaculture as possible while at the same time paying attention to the principles and elements of good garden design.

As I have previously noted I define “garden” as an ongoing process toward an imagined state of perfection. Amen!

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