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…

TroutLily

“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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Floating Sea of Green – Anonymous Mountains

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“Floating Sea Of Green” – Keystone State Park – Westmoreland County, PA – Trillium as far as the eye can see… Right here… On the side of this mountain… I am but a small part of this picture… Yet… When I am among the Trillium… I feel like a king… Exploring natures beauty…

Sitting on the side of an anonymous mountain…
Among jack-in-the-pulpit and white trillium fountains…
Spring beauty blossoms through last years leaves…
A garden is growing among the woodland trees…

A garden is bigger than the size of your yard…
Gods creation is more than just broccoli and chard…
Heaven is a garden… And here on Earth it’s blue…
A bee that visits my garden brings sweet gifts to you…

Among the trees I realize I am a part of this land…
It is my job to defend the places that I find so grand…
If it came to it I think I would be willing to kill…
Stand on top of my Trillium and I’ll do it for the thrill…

Morel

“Mountainside Morel” – Keystone State Park – Westmoreland County, PA – Among the treasures to be found in Keystone State Park… A single Morel Mushroom growing among the Club Moss… Trail side… Hidden by the leaves…

So while I slowly tiptoe across this sea of green…
Knee deep through Mayapples I guide my queen…
Carefully we navigate these Appalachian thickets…
Among the mason bees and the mountainside crickets…

I let go of my baggage and release my inner fears…
A garden is a state of mind and my mind is right here…
A garden has no borders… There are no class walls…
A plant doesn’t see us unless we get down and crawl…

Big degrees… Pedigrees… Even the smart and dumb…
A plant doesn’t give a damn about your annual income…
I garden… Because it requires nothing but the desire to learn…
I sow seeds because I realize it will soon be my turn…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Complementary Gardening – A Manifesto

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“Osteospermum on Heliopsis” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – A selection from my garden… Summer 2013…

The common goal of gardening is harmony… Harmony with the earth… Harmony with the plants… Harmony with the animals… Harmony with ourselves… And harmony with each other… This harmony is achieved through successful (and environmentally sound) gardening practices… A gardener that is in harmony with nature, will grow a healthy garden. This garden will flourish, and as a result it will grow the gardener… The purpose of complementary gardening is to bring all aspects of the gardening movement back where they belong… Together…

The methods used are not nearly as important as the frame of mind in which they are used… Even conventional agricultural practices can be picked from when practicing complementary gardening… It is essentially a blending of the aspects of gardening and life that are important to you… Regardless of your devotion or investment to the cause… Even a few pots on a windowsill are beneficial… Practicing any type of gardening… As long as it provides you with some semblance of joy… Should be considered beneficial… When you are happy… The environment around you is also happy… And that is what gardening is about…

A garden should complement its surroundings in a way that is beneficial to all the elements of the earth… Not just the gardener… Although a garden may have physical borders, the positive effects associated with plant life span well beyond them. A garden is a sentient collection of plants, capable of not only healing itself, but healing the environment (including us) that is around it. In order for a garden to truly be considered successful, it should heal in one form or another… Not just physically… Emotionally and spiritually…

Complementary gardening is not a specific style of gardening, it is a “way of thinking” achieved through the consciences completion of a garden. By consciences, I mean simply being aware that there are connections in nature for you to find. These connections will exist regardless of the size of your garden, and regardless of your devotion to the cause. One thing that turned me off about permaculture is the general feeling that if you don’t shit in a bucket to make compost for your front yard farm, you are not worthy of the cause… It’s like they expect everyone to replace their lawns with food forests… Believe everyone has time to operate a micro-farm… And believe no-one should eat anything that casts a shadow… My beliefs are very different from this… And my writing will now reflect it…

"Buddies" - © chriscondello 2013 - Frick Park - Pittsburgh, PA - Complimentary colors... Growing in the same patch... Yet... None of them were close enough together to photograph... So I put them together...

“Buddies” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Complimentary colors… Growing in the same patch… Yet… None of them were close enough together to photograph… So I put them together…

The goal of gardening is to benefit nature. Although we are a part of this equation, we are not the only variable to consider. In my own personal experiences, the gardeners who only talk about how much “produce” was harvested, typically are the ones who don’t have a clue what is going on around them… Unless of course it is written in their little book… In order for gardening to be a complementary activity, it needs to complement all things. Although it is perfectly acceptable to include ourselves in this equation by growing food, it is important to remember we are not the only element worthy of consideration.

Food production, should be secondary to positive energy production. What I mean by this is food production (though perfectly fine), should not overshadow the fact that gardening is intended to be fun, good for you, and good for the environment. When all a gardener is interested in is squeezing as many tomatoes as humanly possible out of a 4’x12′ raised bed, the joy is very often lost. Success is fundamental to sustainability. Constant failure, which is often the result of taking on too much work, often leads to a loss of interest… and the eventual end of the garden all together. I aim to eliminate this sentiment by promoting the gradual and responsible implementation of environmentally sound practices, in all forms of gardening, through practical implementation and easy to understand writing.

A complementary garden, is one that balances the benefits of all the elements of nature with mankind. In the past, the focus of gardening has been on production in one form or another. Vegetables were planted, and the necessary steps were taken to achieve the largest yield possible. The downside of this was that often the environment came secondary to the vegetable yield, and as a result of this, past generations commonly used chemicals as a way to boost yield… Hell… We still do this… Ornamental gardeners are no different, often going to great lengths to pack the most blooms onto their plants while spending as little as possible… And doing as little work as possible…

Speaking from personal experience… Most of the fertilizers, pesticides, herbicide, and fungicides that are available today are very unnecessary… Adding to the equation is the ridiculous amounts of “miracle products and trends” that pop up in stores and on the internet… 99% of these products are worthless… Even more worthless are the application directions that come with them… Many of these chemical products will achieve the desired results when applied in relatively tiny amounts… It is the manufacturer that pushes heavy applications as the more we apply… The more we must purchase…

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“Yellow Iris in the Morning Sun” – Spring 2013 – The Garden Table – Wilkinsburg, PA

I really don’t agree with the use of chemicals in the garden… But I understand why people do… Instead of alienating anyone from reading my blog based on their choice of fertilizer… I have decided to instead simply suggest that one research any product before using them… Although my focus will remain on organic gardening… I’m not afraid to discuss the chemical world… And I am not afraid to admit that I use miracle grow in my garden… Though I will admit that my solution is about 1/16 of their recommended application…

I also think it is important to stress that is it ok to get pissed off from time to time… And it is ok to unload in a healthy manner… The purpose of this change is to address the fact that I don’t believe we will ever accomplish the perfect world some people believe is possible… I believe we each have the ability to make small changes… And when we all make small changes, they will eventually add up to much larger ones… Where many of these sub-cultures are constantly pushing you to do more and be more involved… I’m saying do what you can… Every little bit helps… And when you feel comfortable… If you feel comfortable… Add to your toolbox and try something new…

Complementary gardening should benefit you in a way that is not intrusive on your life… Your garden should be a positive complement to the negative aspects of your life, not one of the aspects contributing to the negativity in your life. A gardener, is a gardener, is a gardener… We are all worthy… There are no bad gardeners… Regardless of method… There are differing levels of experience… But in the eyes of a plant… We are all created equal…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

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Practical Permaculture – Planting Under Fruit Trees – Part 2

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“Different” – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – Cherry trees are a tough plant in companion planting, the sticky sap commonly seen seeping from the trunk is a magnet for pests. Flowering plants that will attract predatory wasps can often be the only organic technique available. Alliums can also be effective as a general pest repellant.

This post and plant list is an extension of a past post that can be found right here – Planting Under Fruit Trees with more information and another list of companion plants… This post is meant to accompany it…

One of the most common mistakes made when making plant selections for under a fruit tree is thinking of the planting as the center of attention when in fact it is the tree. Permaculture plant guilds created under a fruit tree, though possibly created with selfish intentions, are actually incorporated to benefit the tree.. Not you…

The plants used underneath a fruit tree can serve a multitude of functions, it is not unfair to consider yourself as a beneficiary of your plants, but as far as permaculture is concerned, it is not the responsible primary function. We create a fruit tree guild for the purposes of pest prevention, beneficial attraction, scent masking, soil remediation and general beautification, but the common goal is generally the health and fruit production of the primary tree.

The dream of having a vegetable garden under a production fruit tree is more or less a pipe dream in all but the warmest climates. That’s not to say that some vegetables can’t be grown, but it is a very safe assumption on my part to say that a tomato or pepper plant will never reach the same production level as one growing in full sun. This is just one of the reasons I suggest putting your focus on the trees needs. Tending vegetables takes valuable time (and unnecessary nutrients) away from the tree, when in fact your efforts should be focused on the tree.

Perennial plants are typically the most beneficial as far as a tree is concerned, again I want to stress that the primary focus of these types of efforts needs to be on the tree, if you are stuck planting annuals every spring it will only take time away from your primary focus. A fruit tree can live for a hundred years, a properly planted guild under the canopy can last for a good chunk of this trees life. Armed with this knowledge the question now becomes what will not only grow under a fruit tree, but benefit it for the foreseeable future…

Dwarf fruit trees require a lot more maintenance than most people realize, I think many are led to believe that there tree will stay tiny forever. Dwarf fruit trees are very confused trees and therefore can take on a mind of their own, aggressive pruning is often required to keep them producing. Many dwarf trees will be nothing more than a single stem a few feet tall when planted, the tree will grow quickly if not pruned.

Dwarf trees will stay small for a few years, it is completely acceptable to plant annuals around them. It will be several years before this tree develops a canopy, therefore the space surrounding the tree will be considered full-sun for the foreseeable future. In sustainable agriculture “alley cropping” is a method where rows of fruit or nut trees are planted, and the spaces between are used for annual crops. This is done until the trees reach production size and shade out the alley, providing short-term income while the more valuable trees mature.

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“Blue Borage” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Growing under a Kousa Dogwood… Perfectly happy in the shade and will come back for years to come through self seeding.

– Herbaceous Plants – For my Herb specific post check out – Planting Herbs Under Fruit Trees

Lavender – A flowering plant in the mint family, many cultivars of which are extensively cultivated in temperate climates. The plant is technically a perennial, though it is a short-lived one often losing vigor as time passes by. Lavender is extremely useful around fruit trees due to its repellant qualities, many insects and animals find it repulsive and will therefore avoid it all costs. Besides benefiting the fruit tree, lavender will benefit many other types of plants and should therefore be incorporated into any garden plan.

Tansy – Is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant of the Aster family. Tansy is commonly cultivated and used for its insect repellent properties, it is used as a biological pest control in organic gardens and sustainable agriculture. In England, Tansy is placed on window sills to repel flies, sprigs are placed in bed linens to drive away pests, and it has been used as an ant repellent.

Southernwood – A flowering plant native to Europe in the genus Artemisia, named for the goddess Artemis. The growing plant tends to repel fruit tree moths when grown in an orchard, the fresh plant can also be rubbed on the skin to deter other insects. This plant is commonly dries and used in the house to repel ants and other indoor pests, when burned the scent can remove many foul odors from the house.

Horseradish – Believe it or not, Horseradish is in the Brassica family. Although this plant is typically harvested and used, when left in the ground it will spread via underground shoots and therefore can become mildly invasive in many permaculture gardens. Horseradish is a broad-leafed plant allowing it to harvest sunlight even when planted in shade, this makes it a perfect companion for trees. Horseradish is said to generally be good for the overall health of a tree, it is not uncommon for old timers to tell stories of trees that were never productive until horseradish was planted below… Though others will claim it affects the taste of the fruit afterwards…

Borage – Also known as Starflower, is an annual herb that tends to self seed allowing it to come back year after year. Although this plant is edible, the leaves often being described as cucumber-like, its primary purpose in permaculture is as a companion plant. Borage accumulates and adds trace minerals to the soil and is a key ingredient in a complete compost heap. Borage also is one of the best bee and wasp attracting plants available, therefore it will benefit everything planted around it… Given the stunning blue flowers… It will even benefit you…

Nasturtium – Tropaeolum, commonly known as Nasturtium literally means “nose twister” or “nose-tweaker”, a reference to the peppery scent and taste of the flowers. Nasturtium is used in herbal medicine for their antiseptic and expectorant qualities. When planted under apple trees it is a powerful deterrent of the notorious codling moth, not to mention a whole host of other insect species not only damaging to the tree, but to other plants surrounding.

Hyssop – A herbaceous plant of the genus Hyssopus. Due to its properties as an antiseptic, cough reliever, and expectorant, it is commonly used as an aromatic herb. Drought tolerance makes this an ideal plant for underneath the canopy of a fruit tree, flowers make it a beneficial insect attractor. Hyssop shares many of the same benefits as mint since they are from the same family, though it is not as invasive so it is typically more suited to inter planting than mint.

Wormwood – Artemesia absinthium is a herbaceous, perennial plant with a fibrous root system. A powerful animal repellant suitable for plantings at the edge of properties. Wormwood is also a powerful insect repellant, it can be made into a tea or applied as a sporadic mulch throughout the garden. Wormwood produces a powerful poison and therefore should never be used directly on food crops, applications should be indirect.

Dandelion – Are tap-rooted biennial or perennial herbaceous plants, native to temperate areas of the world. Dandelions are thought to have evolved about thirty million years ago in Eurasia, they have been used by humans as food and herb for much of recorded history. Dandelions are one of the first plants to bloom in the spring and therefore are a very important source of nectar and pollen early in the season. Its tap-root will bring up nutrients for shallower-rooting plants, and add minerals and nitrogen to the soil. Dandelions are even said to emit ethylene gas which helps fruit ripen.

– Food Producing Shrubs – Will never produce the same as when field grown, but will still produce.

Currant – The genus Ribes includes black currants, red currants, white currents, and gooseberries and several other hybrid varieties. Currants do very well in shade, though an interesting trait I have observed is if even part of the plant grows into full sunlight only the part in full sun will produce fruit… The rest of the plant seems to go into a vegetative state.

Nanking Cherry – Is a deciduous shrub native to Asia, an understory shrub that has evolved to survive under the canopy of a tree. Will produce more fruit if planted on the outskirts of the tree, can even be used as a windscreen for more tender plants. This tree-like shrub can grow to eight feet tall, vigorous pruning can be required to keep it under control.

Serviceberry – Native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, growing primarily in early succession habitats. Varieties differ so care must be paid during selection for under planting a fruit tree, the short multi-stemmed varieties are typically best. I personally prefer to plant the serviceberry in close quarters with fruit trees, the serviceberry attracts birds that after finishing your tasty berries will immediately turn their attention to the insects.

Raspberry – Named varieties are in the thousands, most are thorny… All are delicious.. The thorny varieties not only repel larger animals, they tend to repel thievery as well. After all, what’s a few lost raspberries when the apples are spared from the deer. Raspberries are very vigorous and when not kept in check can become a massive, and invasive headache. They will do a great job of keeping the neighborhood children from stealing the fruits of your labor. Likewise, they can also keep you away from your trees. I recommend the raspberries be planted outside of the drip line, being able to get a lawn mower between your patch and tree is paramount in keeping the patch in bounds.

– Vegetables – Though I stress, they typically do not thrive like they would in full sun, growing these vegetables is possible

Carrots – typically grown in full sun tolerate some shade. In order to avoid deformed carrots they are typically grown in loose soil, but for our purposes the uncultivated soil under a tree will work just fine. A carrot is like a stake in the ground, as it expands it will loosen the soil. Carrots left in the ground will eventually break down, adding nutrients it has harvested to the top layer of soil.

Chard – Typically grown in full sun, it is important to remember that broad-leaved plants are equipped with enough surface area to tolerate some shade. Bright lights chard will not grow as brightly as if it were planted in full sun, but it will grow.

Kale – Another leaf crop commonly grown in full sun, most food plants that do not produce a fruit or vegetable can tolerate some shade, kale happens to be one of those plants. I actually like to grow some Brassicas under a tree as a trap crop, bugs tend to be more attracted to the weaker plants as opposed to the stronger more vigorous plants grown in full sun.

Asparagus – Opposite the fact that broad-leaved plants ability to absorb more light makes them more shade tolerant, thin leafed plants do not require as much light making them also tolerant of some shade. Asparagus is an ideal food plant for under fruit trees, the primary harvest season happens at a time when many fruit trees have yet to leaf out. Because of this asparagus is one of the few vegetables that are not affected negatively when grown under a tree.

Beets – Beets in general can handle some shade, in really hot weather they actually benefit from it. Beets in full shade will grow beautiful foliage, but the energy is rarely ever there to produce a sizeable root. Beets are nutrient accumulators and therefore there is absolutely no harm in leaving the plants in the ground to rot. The benefit of the beet is for the tree, not the gardener.

Beans – Beans are another vegetable that does not seem to be affected by some shade, in the hottest months the shade provided by a tree is actually preferred. Beans accumulate nitrogen, when the beans have been harvested the remaining plant should be left in place to decompose.

Peas – Another tasty biddle that is perfectly at home when grown in the shade of a tree, typically only grown in the cooler months, a tree can often provide a third late summer harvest. Peas are in the Legume family and therefore accumulate Nitrogen, after harvest the plant should be left in place.

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 Forest Falling

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“Hollowed Out on Duck Hollow” – Monongahela River – Pittsburgh, PA

This is one of my first poems originally titled “Trees Will Fall”… This is a new edit and photograph…

If a tree falls in the forest…
And no ones around to hear it…
I hear it… I feel it…
I understand…

A tree is built to eventually fall…
Marvel as it crashes to the ground…
Awakens the soil… Replenishes the soil…
Comes alive…

Fallen trees melt into the forest floor…
Replenishing the cycles of life…
Destroys homes… And creates them…
Simultaneously…

Homes built with the skeletons of trees…
Designed by flesh and bones…
We are both alive… We will survive…
We will all thrive…

Together…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – On Guerrilla Gardening

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“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…

TheForgottenFarmStand

“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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Vandalism

Vandalism

This post is part of a larger body of work titled ”The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook”. For the introduction and table of contents please click here

Vandalism is inevitable in all urban areas. Oftentimes, what the guerrilla gardener sees as vandalism is seen as clean-up by the unaware individual. Over zealous children with lawnmowers or weed eaters, though good intentioned can often be the end of a garden. It can take everything you have not to freak out in the moment… Remember this is not a time to scold… It is a time to educate…

Intentional vandalism never seems to be considered until it happens. Vandalism should be expected, at least when you expect it, you won’t be so surprised… And subsequently discouraged… When it happens… Never use expensive plants where this is an issue, use plants tolerant of a wide variety of conditions. Mints, once established, can be yanked, pulled, cut, even blown up with fireworks and still make a comeback. Mint, when in bloom is really a stunning plant that attracts a plethora of beneficial insects. Caution should always be taken when gardening with mint due to its invasive tendencies, but in this case we can make those tendencies work for us instead of against us.

Efforts at growing food in guerrilla plots more often than not will lead to theft. If you are growing food out in the open on a vacant lot, there is nothing you can legally do to a garden thief, consider this before your next move. What you can do is catch the garden thief in the act, not always possible, but definitely the most effective. The actor will almost always exclaim that given the fact that it was growing in a vacant lot, they figured it was “wild” food free for anyone to take. It really doesn’t matter if it is growing in perfectly cultivated raised beds on caged plants… This is the go to excuse. What you do next is of the utmost importance. Explain your intentions nicely, adding in the fact that you paid for the plants and put a lot of time and effort into the garden. Then as a peace-offering you should offer to share some of the extras when they are available… 9 out of 10 times this will resolve the issue while still maintaining a level of friendship…

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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Seed Bombs

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“I Hijacked this Photo” – The seed bomb… This one is cleverly crafted to look like a grenade… I wouldn’t waste my money on these… The equivalent spent on loose seeds will go much farther than these ever could…

Seed Bombs

This post is part of a larger body of work titled ”The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook”. For the introduction and table of contents please click here

Seed bombs, though a novel idea, I personally find to be pretty impractical. I am aware of the slack I may receive for this, but I am personally unimpressed with this trend. I say trend because the internet is full of articles and instructional videos on how to make them, and once something is available in a vending machine… It is officially trendy…

The idea behind the seed bomb, in my mind is more or less urban folklore. Situations that require one to have to throw seeds more than a few feet are the exception, not the rule. I find it is much easier to simply carry your seeds and a small garden shovel in a bag and just work some soil and plant your seeds. A bag full of seeds is jokingly lighter than a bag full of the equivalent amount of seeds formed into balls of clay… Or essentially a big bag of rocks… To this trend I say, get real!

A seed bomb is a combination of seeds, soil and fertilizer bonded together with some type of local clay. Some of the trendy new “store-bought” seed bombs are made of paper mache, intended to melt away in the rain before germination. A quick Google Images search for “seed bomb” returns thousands of photos, but if you look through them you won’t find even a single photograph of a mature garden created by a seed bomb. The closest thing I was able to find are photos of plants growing places the seed bomb was not actually needed.

Although some seeds will germinate on the surface of the soil, most do not. Seeds typically require uninterrupted levels of moisture and absolute darkness to properly sprout, any disruption in this process will ultimately kill the seeds. Scenarios where the seed bomb would actually apply, such as high fences and abandoned industrial sites, are not suitable for what is essentially a broadcast style of seed dispersal. Conditions would have to be perfect with cloudy skies and daily rain for the better part of two weeks for germination to take place.

Now that is not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this, many plants can be sown by simply broadcasting them over the soil. Many annuals disperse their seeds via wind, these could theoretically work well in a seed bomb. Many perennial plants often require stratification, and even after they require specific conditions to induce germination, for this reason they are typically not suitable.

The idea of throwing a bunch of “green grenades” is dreamy, and I understand the allure. But it all comes back to the whole idea of no work gardening, there is just no such thing. Weeds often grow faster than any seed in a seed bomb. A truly unmaintained area will quickly outgrow most of what you can pack into a seed bomb… In my experience the seed bomb always loses to weeds…

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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Long-Term Maintenance

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“The Garden Table” – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – This is my last project… Not so much a guerrilla garden as we have a ten-year lease on the property… But urban none the less… No budget… All recycled and salvaged materials…

Long Term Maintenance

This post is part of a larger body of work titled ”The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook”. For the introduction and table of contents please click here

Long-term maintenance is the killer of most guerrilla gardens. ALL GARDENS REQUIRE REGULAR MAINTENANCE! Whether organic or chemical, food or ornamental, water or soil, privately owned or guerrilla, no garden is completely sustainable without maintenance. Way too many people plug “no work” gardening into Google and find themselves reading my blog, there is no such thing as a completely work free garden… Actually… I take that back… If you are searching the internet for no work gardening… Then you need to pay someone to install and maintain your garden, because essentially, that is what you are asking for… And that is what myself, as well as many others like me do for a living…

With that said, a garden should not be all work. I find all too often that the general public sees gardening as nothing but work. There are some steps you can take to cut down on the amount of maintenance that will be required over the life of your garden. The solution can be as simple as digging a small canal from the downspout of a nearby vacant building, to as complex as soil nutrient alterations in an attempt to discourage a certain type of weed. I find all too often most problems can be solved with minimal work using nothing more than your brain… If you only learn one thing here I would want it to be “work smarter, not harder”…

Litter is a constant problem in my neighborhood, people throw their shit everywhere. When the wind blows that litter around, it will usually stick to anything in its path… Often it will be your garden… You can look at this one of two ways… Either you can get pissed off about all the litter, and subsequently give up gardening in disgust… Or you can be happy over the fact that your garden makes litter removal a little bit easier… I am saying this because I truly believe that if you are going to guerrilla garden on someone else’s land, you should maintain that plot of land as if it were your own… And that typically means cleaning up trash and litter that you had nothing to do with…

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“Daylily before Blight” – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Daylily make great guerrilla garden plants… Extremely hardy and tolerant of the harshest conditions… They require division every once in a while… You can see this as work or as a cheap source of plants…

Organic debris like leaves and grass clippings are very valuable in the guerrilla garden, they can provide a good percentage of the nutrient needs of a garden. Grass clippings are one of the most versatile materials available in urban environments, landscapers are often happy to part with them.

Many of the herbaceous perennials grown in formal gardens are cut back in the fall, most of these plants can be left through the winter. Winter weather breaks organic material down quickly, what is left of these plants in the spring quickly gets covered by new growth. A growing plant mines nutrients from the soil, nutrients that are stored in the leaves, these nutrients will have to be replaced if the organic material is removed so it is often best practice to leave the plants as they are.

Garden debris that is created can often be simply buried in the garden. Trench composting is a style of composting that involves digging a hole and filling it with whatever scrap organic material is available. In the case of a small guerrilla garden, any organic material you come in contact with can technically be buried. I do suggest sticking to smaller pieces in miniature gardens, digging through a layer of woven sticks and grass can prove to be impossible. Remember the bigger the material, the longer it will take to break down.

Guerrilla gardening is an opportunistic activity, sometimes soil, mulch or plants will suddenly become available… Successful guerrilla gardeners are always ready to take these items… Sometimes you will have to take some crap in order to get some good, beggars can’t be choosers… Vacant lots and guerrilla gardens provide unlimited opportunities, any free resource available to you should be considered. Oftentimes, the same things commonly thought of as only being found in high-end formal gardens can be available to the beggar who is willing to wait… Or willing to learn how to propagate plants… Which is the route I took… Now I can propagate just about anything…

An established guerrilla garden requires minimal maintenance. Occasional weeding and yearly mulch can keep a perennial guerrilla garden going for years. Guerrilla gardeners tend to be transient people, very few seem to stay in one location for very long and because of this vacant guerrilla gardens are becoming a normal occurrence. I find it funny that an activity that is commonly used as a protest against blight, could some day be considered a form of blight.

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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Perennials and Biennials

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“Tomato Soup” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Echinacea is a favorite of my girlfriend and I… I grow it everywhere I can… Available in a variety of bloom styles and colors… Drought tolerant once established… Often self seeds but the colors typically fade or completely revert to purple…

Perennials

This post is part of a larger body of work titled ”The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook”. For the introduction and table of contents please click here

Although some guerrilla gardens are intended to only last a year, some can last for a long time. Plant selection, coupled with continuing community support can make a community garden last for years with minimal maintenance.

A perennial is any plant that lives for three or more years, many live much longer. The garden flowers called perennials technically should be called herbaceous perennials because they lack the woody stems and branches of shrubs and trees, which are called woody perennials. Most herbaceous perennials die to the ground during winter, but their roots remain alive and send up new growth in spring. The tall tops of some perennials die in fall and the plant will develop ground-hugging rosettes of leaves that survive the winter. A few perennials, such as bergenia and epimedium, are herbaceous, but have evergreen or semi-evergreen leaves.

Most perennials bloom for two or three weeks at a specific time of the year, and their foliage remain till frost. Some cherished perennials, such as threadleaf coreopsis and fringed bleeding-heart, are long-blooming, producing flowers for 8 to 12 weeks. Others, such as garden phlox and delphinium, can be encouraged to rebloom after cutting back the first flush of flowers after the blooms fade and before they set seed. Many perennials with short bloom times have cool foliage that lasts well beyond the flowers, leaf color and shape should therefor be considered as well.

Many perennials spread, forming larger clumps every year. Some fast growing plants need to be dug up and divided periodically or the plants will become stunted. Aggressive spreaders must be continually hacked back or they will take over the garden. Some plants, like peony can grow for 50 years without ever needing divided.

Perennials are cold hardy to different degrees, some can’t survive winters north of Washington DC, others flourish in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Some thrive in the hot and humid summers of the south, while others will simply wilt and flop over in anything remotely hot.

PinkWhiteColumbine

Living for only two years, biennials germinate from seed the first year and put all their energy into growing foliage and strong root systems. They often live through the winter as a rosette of ground-hugging leaves… The next growing season… They send up flowering shoots… Set new seed… And then die… But biennials can be unpredictable, not always sticking to the intended lifestyle. Some behave as short-lived perennials, flowering for two to three years before they die.

Many biennials, like foxglove and hollyhock, reseed themselves so successfully that they seem to be perennial in your garden… They will return year after year… Oftentimes perennial seeds will germinate the same year they fall to the ground, allowing it to germinate the following year. You can help this along by simply shaking the seed heads over the ground where you want the plant to grow.

Container grown plants can be put in the ground any time of the year they are available. To remove the plant from its container, first water it, then turn it upside down, holding your hand under the root ball so when it slides out you can easily catch it. If the plant won’t budge, whack the bottom and sides of the container until it does… As a last resort you can cut the container off…

Roots of container-grown plants frequently encircle the surface of the root ball. Unless you interfere, the roots may keep growing around and around in the hole. Lay the plant on its side on the ground, holding it at the top with one hand, firmly rake the entire surface of the root ball with a weeding claw. Cut into the root ball with the tines of the claw to loosen and sever the roots. The cut roots will eventually branch and grow out into the surrounding soil.

Dig your hole wider and deeper than the container the perennial came in, you should be able to comfortably fit the plant in the hole while in the pot. Fill the bottom of the hole with at least an inch of soil. Place the plant in the hole and adjust accordingly so the plants crown is level with the existing soil level. Refill the hole with soil, firm the soil, water it…

A good starter list when beginning your guerrilla garden perennial research, all of the following plants will grow relatively well without much human intervention – Yarrow, Hollyhock, Golden Marguerite, Columbine, Butterfly weed, Fall Asters, Astilbe, Indigo, Bergenia, Mountain Bluet, Bugbane, Turtlehead, Coreopsis, corydalis, Delphinium, Chrysanthemum, Bleeding Heart, Foxglove, Echinacea, Blanketflower, Hardy Geranium, Lenten Rose, Daylily, Heuchera, Rose Mallow, Hosta, Iris, Dead Nettle, Shasta Daisy, Blazing Star, Lilyturf, Lupine, Forget-Me-Not, Catmint, Evening Primrose, Peony, Oriental Poppy, Russian Sage, Phlox, Balloonflower, Lungwort, Salvia, Stonecrop, Goldenrod, Lambs Ear, Foamflower, Verbena, Speedwell, Viola.

Continuing care of herbaceous perennials varies from plant to plant. For my general article titled “caring for herbaceous perennials”, please click here

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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.