Sustainable gardening

I've been thinking more about what it means to be a sustainable gardener.

A request to sponsor a permaculture workshop, at the botanical garden where I work, finds me scrutinizing posted permaculture curricula online, descriptions of principles, book renditions of permaculture on a home scale (Gaia's Garden; Food not Lawns), or community scale guides (The Transition Handbook).

Of course, I've been familiar in general with permaculture for quite a while, and I had one of our SC extension horticulture agents talk about his home permaculture system last year for Winter Lecture Series. But I find myself reluctant to 'sponsor' a permaculture workshop that espouses a permaculture system as an achievable garden design. Hmm.

To me, gardening is an act of stewardship and restoration. We create gardens that support wildlife, mimic nature, and support our spirit. The trajectory that we've had of converting our roughly 1 1/2 acres lawn to woodland, meadow (borders), shrub borders and understory along with two intensively maintained vegetable garden areas has been deeply satisfying to us.

In our small mountain house, the mulched areas, with minimal planting, have quickly yielded to adding more native trees and shrubs below the house, ripping out invasives (English ivy, honeysuckle, etc.) in the ravine below, and add shrubs, bog, sedums, and meadow garden in front, with part of the driveway scheduled for raised bed vegetables this spring.

A post on Blogger Action Day in 2007 isn't too different from my thinking now.

But I know as an ecologist that we need to create sustainable systems on a community and regional scale, not a home owner scale. These sustainable gardens include not only home gardens, but neighborhoods, and city landscapes, and include watershed and foodshed in the overall picture. Ecological systems aren't balanced on an acre or 1/2 acres, but multiple acres.

As a vegetable gardener, I know about the work it takes to grow even a part of one's own food, not to mention the calorie-dense grains or tubers that provide the sustenance for most diets world-wide. And I'm in awe of folks who are growing all of their vegetables.

Permaculture systems are problematic for a plant ecologist with the suggestions of creating food forests, plant guilds, and mimicking nature's layers, but thinking that we can do it better, and even on a small scale.

I'm all for incorporating edibles into home landscapes (and city landscapes, for that matter), trying to keep all organic matter produced on site, and capturing rainwater (and greywater, too).

So I'm willing to keep an open mind, and include mentioning a permaculture approach (and 'principles') into my own ecological gardening and sustainable gardening perspectives. It's always helpful to think in terms of balancing ecological systems, and renewing and sustaining them.


  1. I think this is a very sane way to look at it. I look forward to hearing more about how you put those principles into action in your garden.

    I'm way behind you, and in SC, too. :)


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