Sustainable Gardening

I've been thinking quite a bit about 'sustainable gardening' lately.  I promote (what I consider) are sustainable gardening practices in the classes I teach -- minimal inputs of water, fuel, pesticides, herbicides, and inorganic fertilizers, don't let leaves leave your property, don't kill things, promote diversity, plant mostly natives, think naturalistic planting design, minimize areas devoted to lawn, etc. 

We've been happy with our 'natural garden' created with this approach in our own home landscape in the Piedmont of South Carolina.  And we're continuing this in our second home in the mountains (where we'll probably 'retire'), where we're populating the slope around our small mountain house with native understory shrubs along with native trees.

Vegetable gardening is a bit more problematic;  vegetables, by their domesticated nature, are nutrient and water hogs, so the gardener is ALWAYS grubbing around for more sources of organic matter and nutrients. 

Homemade compost is excellent, but it's hard to produce enough that's high nitrogen, unless you have chickens, rabbits, cows, or horses.  Chickens and rabbits are feasible in an urban environment if you're at home most all of the time, but not so practical if you're away for weekends or holidays.

But what exactly is sustainable gardening? 

I'll assert that it is creating an ecologically-balanced landscape on the property that you inhabit, and that restores most of the ecology that once was on that site, along with making sure that no extra inputs of fertilizer or pesticides get washed into the stormwater drains. 

That's what we've tried to do, in our attempt to create natural woodland and forest habitat and meadow on what once was almost 2 acres of lawn in the Piedmont, and incorporated organic vegetable gardens into the mix as well.

In the mountains, trying to restore an invasive-rich ravine into a rich cove forest of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers is an amazing effort;  my gardening companion has made remarkable progress already. 

And converting part of the driveway and bare area below the house to vegetable garden beds is productive, too.

So, my first 'take-home' message, is let's get planting natives instead of 'ornamentals' in our gardens and landscapes.


  1. Honestly, that's why I started following this blog. I love hearing tips about planting local species; though our regions are pretty different. I'm in New Orleans and work outdoors quite a bit, so I tend to carry cheap plastic pots with me for taking home sprouts and cuttings.

    Loved the bog garden. That's on my project list next year.

  2. I have been trying to increase the number of natives I am planting in my new garden. Right now am looking for a variety of Kalmia latifolia that will do well in my garden. Saw a 'Raspberry Glow' at the JMU Arboretum last spring. Any recommendations? Also looking for some native azaleas. Love their fragrance!

  3. I'm thinking more and more that we need to focus on regional natives (and selections of them) for the bulk of our backbone garden plants, both in terms of sustainability and ease of maintenance.

    Jody, kudos for you for looking at what does well in your area -- that's the key, whether we plant natives or non-natives that do well in our climate.

    Janet, look for Kalmia cultivars that have been selected from ecotypes in the Piedmont (check out Woodlanders in Aiken, for example). Kalmia latifolia is such a widespread species that we have genotypes from the Piedmont to the mountains, to far north. Chatooga Gardens up in Cashiers has a good selection of Kalmia cultivars, too.

    We've had varied success with them in the Piedmont, so I'd definitely start with Woodlander's mid-state selections!

  4. Oh, I forgot to mention that there are LOTS of great native deciduous azalea selections that will do well in your garden -- check out pinxterbloom and flame azalea, for starts. I'll need to look up species to be more thorough...

  5. Have been wanting to check out Woodlanders, will see what they have, thanks!


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