Complementary Gardening – Gardening Without Borders

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“Tulip Behind Borders” – The Garden Table – Wilkinsburg, PA – This garden is a vacant lot that happens to be located in a rather high traffic location… I am actually planning on installing a fence and gate this summer… Something I said I would never do…

It is a long-standing practice in gardening to use a border to define the edges of our gardens. My preferred border material is bricks, they are plentiful in my neighborhood, have historical value, and help me keep my personal gardens neat and orderly. Borders are basically a line used to define where the lawn maintenance ends, and where the meticulous garden maintenance begins. Without borders, the neighborhood children would not know where my garden started… They also wouldn’t know the point at which I start yelling… Though… The kids are very good about not stepping in my garden…

As a garden installer, I spend a great deal of time thinking about garden borders… But as an artist/environmentalist… I also spend a great deal of time thinking outside my garden borders… To start this article off, I want to answer a simple question… What is a garden? A garden is typically defined as a collection of plants… In most cultures… To dream of paradise… Equates to dreaming of a garden… Or a lush landscape at the very least… This collection is typically contained within the confines of ones own yard… It just makes sense… Plants cost money… Why would you put them someplace you don’t own?

As my journey through the gardening world has progressed… I have found myself constantly looking to nature for inspiration… Over the last few years, I have left the borders of my garden… And gone in search of other gardens… My search has taken me into the forest in search of spring ephemerals… Into the fields to look for Echinacea… And up into the mountains to look for ginseng…

I have spent a great deal of time seeking out, and observing plants in their natural settings. Over time, my hobby has blossomed into an obsession. Now that I have been doing this for a few years, I have developed a bond with many of the plant patches I find… I have actually developed an emotional attachment to them… Oddly… I recently realized that I feel the same way about the woodland wildflowers I regularly seek out, as I feel about the plants in my garden…

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“300 Acre Garden” – Keystone State Park – Westmoreland County, PA – Can an entire state park be considered a garden… I believe it can be… A sunset photo of my newest garden…

Walking through trillium along the side of a mountain… I stopped to pick up some litter… It was at this exact moment that I realized my garden no longer had a border… Standing on the side of this mountain… I realized I was the only person who would ever pick up these plastic bottles… The Trillium certainly couldn’t do it… Not the jack-in-the-pulpit’s… Not the tasty Morels… Without me stopping to pick up those bottles… They would have been there for a really long time…

In order to garden, an individual must have an affection for plants… In my own experience, this rarely dies, in most cases it blossoms into an addiction and before you know it… You have more plants than you know what to do with… Some see this as a bad thing… But I personally see it as a good thing… It is at this point most people start looking outside of their own garden to scratch the gardening itch… When a gardeners mind finally steps outside of their own property… Only then does nature truly see a benefit… This is when the journey really begins…

Our gardens are a direct connection between ourselves, and the environment that surrounds us. Bees for example, collect pollen from the flowers blooming in your garden, although this pollen is then transferred among the other plants in your own garden, it is also spread to the plants surrounding your garden. This everyday transfer of genetic material is just one way plants communicate… The plants you plant in your own garden, affect the next generation of plants that will grow in your surroundings…

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“Trout Lily” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Frick Park is a place I have been spending a lot of time in… I consider it an urban garden… And I will care for it as such…

Although we will go to great lengths to keep animals and birds out of our gardens, nature always wins. Many seeds have evolved to survive digestion, after consumption, these seeds are then spread through “natural processes”. I have followed plant-covered deer trails through the woods, these trails can be hotspots for finding early spring wildflowers… I have followed trillium trails for miles… Likewise… The old ginseng hunters used to follow deer trails when foraging for medicine…

Humans have been pushing nature away for hundreds of years… We cap the earth in cement… Trap and kill anything we consider “wild”… We eliminate ecosystems… Then replace them ad-hoc in the places we deem suitable… We create gardens full of food in the middle of exotic monocultures of chemically dependent monocots… Organic vegetables growing among a sea of garbage… Food labeled as organic… Hiding behind a ten-foot fence… Taunting the deer… Torturing the rabbits… But in desperation… Will not stop a single one of them…

Man and nature can live in harmony… In fact… Nature only requires a small amount of compensation… I laugh when I hear stories of people living in these new plans of McMansions… Entire ecosystems have been destroyed to put these plans in… Yet the inhabitants still cry foul when their cheap landscaping shrubs get devoured almost immediately… If you tore my hundred-year old house down… And built a fire-hazard on top of it… You better believe… I am going to do more than eat your shrubs…

Living in western Pennsylvania, I am asked more questions regarding deer… Than any other garden pest you can think of… Everybody wants a magic bullet… When I answer by saying feed them… Most people scoff… But I stand by my word… The goal to keeping nature from eating your share… Is to compensate… More simply put… You need to make other food sources easier to acquire than your own… Depending on your situation… This is often as easy as a simple fence around your vegetables… And a feeder and salt block somewhere else… This isn’t really a secret either… Any old-time farmer will tell you this…

I guess what I am trying to say is this… Gardening is a skill that requires us to learn how to work with nature… In order to do this properly… We must think outside the borders of our gardens… We must allow our minds to seek out answers beyond the confines of our own property… The insects and animals surrounding you have no respect for the borders in your gardens… They do not see property lines… They do not know where nature ends… And where the garden begins… And that is my point… Nature doesn’t see where the wild ends… Animals don’t know where the garden begins… And neither should we… The entire earth is a garden… A paradise… Every square inch of it deserves protection… As gardeners… Our gardens have no borders… And Nature… Well that Is in fact… What we do…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – On Guerrilla Gardening

ScarletBegonia

“Guerrilla Begonias” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

The beautification of blighted land… Growing food in locations commonly thought of as waste land… Creating gardens of any kind on land that you do not own… That is what guerrilla gardeners do… Permaculture… Is a lifestyle in tune with the land… Responsible use of resources… Gardening for the earth as opposed to against it… Although the names of these two styles of gardening are different, they are essentially the same thing… An environment based form of civil disobedience…

Guerrilla gardeners often lack the resources that the larger initiatives have, budgets. Creativity, resource management and permaculture fit into the guerrilla gardening fold as a valuable resource for not just the guerrilla farmer, but the entire guerrilla gardening community at large. In a world where resources are limited, learning how to stretch them as far as possible is a valuable tool in any gardeners box.

Permaculture, is a sustainable based design method commonly broken into specific zones numbering zero to five. Zero being your home base, and five being the woods. Urban gardeners often do not have a yard and therefore your zones may be rooted in a guerrilla garden, in which case the garden would be your home base (zones 0 and 1), and you would build up from there. When one lot is easily sustainable, a close lot could then be converted into zones 2,3 and 4.

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“Guerrilla Tulips” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

A breakdown of the zones are as follows…

– Zone 0 is the center of activity, your home or apartment.

– Zone 1 is the most controlled and intensely used part of your garden. For an urban gardener this is typically the space right outside your front door, garden space you will walk by several times a day. This zone occasionally has to be away from the homestead, urban living does not always include a yard.

– Zone 2 is still intensely managed, but typically planted with crops and flowers that do not require daily maintenance. Urban gardeners may have a blueberry patch or a few dwarf fruit trees, typically still located on the home lot.

– Zone 3 is typically unmulched, un-pruned with water only available to select plants. I think of this zone as my guerrilla gardens, specifically the main garden.

– Zone 4 is semi-managed, semi-wild land. Typically non-existent to the urban gardener, depends on the amount of blight in your city.

– Zone 5 is an un-managed wild system used for observation as opposed to cultivation. Urban gardeners may have to travel to experience this zone, but I promise you it is always worth the trip…

Permaculture based guerrilla gardens may not incorporate all of the zones, this should not be a reason for despair. Apartment dwellers may not have any home garden space other than a few pots, my suggestion would be to find a vacant piece of land and create your zone 1 there. The zones in permaculture, as with all the ethics and principles are not meant to be thought of as rules but as suggestions… Permaculture interests me because of its ability to morph as the situation presents… As the earth changes… Gardens change… And as a result… We change…

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“Guerrilla Farm Stand – The Forgotten Farm Stand” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

Guerrilla gardeners often face problems with pests, soil conditions, water, and sunlight. Permaculture lends itself to these problems by answering questions in ways not promoting the use of chemicals, but in a way as to accomplish ones ultimate goal creatively while doing as little damage to the eco system as possible. Conventional agriculture methods rarely do the guerrilla gardener any good as they are based around money, permaculture incorporates naturally occurring elements like plants and animals as the solution to most problems. Got a bug problem? The solution is not pesticides… It is using plants that will attract the birds that will eat those pests. Got a weed problem? Alter the composition of the soil to discourage that weed from growing… Permaculture has a practical solution to most gardening problems, and that is the reason for the name of these posts.

What the guerrilla gardener needs for their garden must not only be purchased, but often carried to the garden site. If valuable nutrients in the form of garden debris is disposed of in a landfill, those nutrients and organic material will ultimately have to be replaced. Permaculture teaches us that those organic materials often sent to the landfill are perfectly acceptable to be left in the garden. Grass clippings and leaves contain valuable nutrients, often the reason a gardener has to apply supplemental nutrients is due to the fact they meticulously clean up the garden. If looks are an issue, bury the debris in an on-site pit.

Any spot where concrete meets soil is a possible rain garden. Rain gardens are nothing more than collection pools designed with plants to not only slow the flow of water to our sewers, but to creatively use as much of it as we can. Concrete and asphalt are impermeable surfaces, what rain water lands on them is quickly routed to the sewer system and ultimately to our rivers. Rain gardens stand in the way of this persistent flow, giving it time to collect and be absorbed by the earth and plant roots. ANY garden can be thought of as a rain garden if it absorbs run-off, techniques of design and installation are really the only difference you will find from system to system. When gardening near concrete, run-off should be a constant consideration… If you can do something about it… By all means do it…

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“The Peace Garden – Guerrilla Garden” – Center Street – Wilkinsburg, PA

The sustainable guerrilla garden is kind of a dream of mine, I often find myself discouraged at the amount of trendiness I find in what I consider to be an art form. Flinging seed bombs into an abandoned lot, although dreamy, does nothing but waste money. Weeds grow fast, really fast, much faster than most garden plants can compete with. For this reason I have found seed bombs to be ridiculously ineffective, oftentimes germinating in a rainfall only to be killed by two or three days of relentless spring heat. Those same seeds would have survived had I just gone on site, cultivated the land and planted the damn seeds… There is nothing worse than spending $10 on a bag of seed bombs only to have them fail in the first week…

Observation is the key to all gardening, a recently disturbed lot is a suitable location for seed bombs or broadcasting loose seed. But a vacant lot that has sat for a few years often has an impenetrable surface that has been baking in the sunlight for years, weeds are only able to grow because of their evolutionary adaptation to growing in poor soil… An adaptation that few of our vegetables and flowers have developed. Once the soil has been disturbed in some way, a cover crop of nitrogen accumulating plants like clover should be planted, sunflowers can be intercropped into the lot to create a combination of soil remediation plants.

After some general remediation, till the earth and plant your crops. At the end of the season cut down your plants and let them lay, remember the smaller the pieces, the quicker they will break down. Any opportunity to acquire organic material should be taken, leaves, grass clippings, and wood chips are available for free if you keep your eyes open for them. Given the fact that most landscapers have to pay to get rid of this debris, you are usually doing them a big favor by taking it…

I personally believe anyone considering experimenting in guerrilla gardening should give permaculture a look. Although much of it is perennial/food based, it can relate to any style of gardening you can come up with, and has an answer to virtually every problem you may face in the urban jungle… Though it may take a little translation from time to time… But that is where I come in… Until next time…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

I sell prints of my photography here – http://www.society6.com/chriscondello Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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The Eyes of Spring

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Spring is slowly waking up from her slumber…
The crocus open like eyes in the rising sun…
And close with the imminent sunset…
Survival… Evolution…
Peace…

When the gardens wake up in the spring…
We open our eyes in the rising sun…
And close them after the sunset…
Human rhythms… Perpetual…
Peace…

When the robins start to sing in the spring…
Winters tears will melt into rain…
And the ground will come alive…
Natures song… Harmony…
Peace…

peace – chriscondello

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