Complementary Gardening – Gardening Without Borders

PurpliWhiteTip

“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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The Flora of the Urban Jungle – Spring Color

This gallery contains 16 photos.

So… I’m going away this weekend… Heading into God’s country… Planning on doing a little camping… Fishing… Hiking… And the part I am really looking forward too… Photographing Spring wildflowers… While I prepare to bring you another gallery… I wanted to make sure I did not leave without sharing something beautiful… You know… To last […]

A Plant A Day Till Spring – Day 47 – Iris

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“Sun on Sun” – Spring 2013 – The Garden Table – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

“A Plant a Day till Spring” will highlight one plant a day, starting on the winter solstice (December 21, 2013)… And ending on the vernal equinox (March 20, 2014)… If all goes to plan I will be starting with old Snowdrop photos from 2013… And ending with new photos of Snowdrops in 2014…

Good morning everyone… It is a cold one here in Pittsburgh and we are expecting a snow storm tonight… As I peaked out the window this morning I noticed the frozen spikes of one of my Iris poking through the snow… It is hard to believe that in a couple short months I will be photographing these blossoms again… I will be among the trees… With the bees… And the birds… In my garden paradise…

I never really paid much attention to Iris in the past… The blooming period for them is so short that it almost seemed not worth growing… Then a few years ago one of the volunteers at The Garden Table (who is also a member of the Western PA Iris and Daylily Society) brought the left overs from their annual plant sale… The sale was held on an unusually cold and miserable day and as a result the sales were pretty bleak… By the end of that day we were the proud owners of over 100 varieties of Iris… Not to mention a bunch of Daylily…

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“Throat of the Iris” – Spring 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

I had no idea Iris came in as many varieties as they apparently do… Every color imaginable… Even black… Many bloom early in the Spring… Others will hold out until fall… Some have tiny flowers… While others are massive…

Iris tend to grow in clumps… These clumps get overcrowded quickly and as a result the Iris will need divided every once in a while… I just take a spade and carefully work it underneath the roots… Iris have very shallow roots so it is rather easy to pop them out of the ground… Once they are out simply pull them apart… You can now plant your divisions… Or if you have as many as I do… Beg people to take them…

Iris are a good plant for areas you cannot provide water too… They make excellent guerrilla gardening plants… Although they only bloom for a short period… The spiky foliage creates interest year around… Iris are also noticeable by just about everyone… It is difficult to mistake the leaves for anything other than an ornamental garden plant… Iris also seem to have some tolerance to salt… Making them perfect for roadside guerrilla gardens in areas where snow is an issue…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

If you want some science – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_(plant)

These “Plant a Day Till Spring” posts are simply intended to kill time until spring when I start writing more… My source (where applicable) is Wikipedia.org… The photography is all my own… And I am adding my own information…

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…

Remember to tip… My Bitcoin digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

Get your own wallet at CoinBase.com

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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…

BigIris

“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…

I also accept Bitcoin donations… My digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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Practical Permaculture – Breaking Ground on Another Urban Garden

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“Looking on from Rebecca Avenue” – The vacant lot from the street… Sidewalk in the foreground… The trees in the rear will be heavily trimmed this spring… There is a brick alley in the rear… And my very involved landlady owns the houses on either side of the lot…

So… I am excited to announce that after an entire year of observation and preparation, I will be breaking ground on a new guerrilla garden/farm here in Wilkinsburg, PA late this winter. Located roughly one block from my current garden (The Garden Table), this lot will focus on production as opposed to aesthetics. I intend to document every project I undertake, much of it will be shared through this blog.

As is my typical fashion, I intend to complete this project using very little money. That may not seem like a big deal, but given the fact that it typically takes $25,000 in grant money to get one of these things off the ground…  I think I’m doing pretty good so far… In fact, this will be the fourth vacant lot I have converted into a beautiful urban garden with a budget of basically nothing.

The lot itself is 60’W x 140’D, with a 4′ rise over the first 15′ of the lot. It was a relatively recent demolition, wood frame and sandstone foundation. As a result, the lot has not had a chance to become too overgrown. Myself, as well as the borough employees maintained the lot over the summer through regular mowing and litter removal. Although there are some invasive weeds growing throughout, I have managed to keep them to a minimum through regular removal.

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“The Garden Table” – This is where I went when I had to move Whitney Avenue Urban Farm… Now that it has filled up… I have found myself seeking a place to overflow… My new lot will be used for all of the food I want to grow… But can’t quite fit into one small lot…

As it sits today, the grass is mowed and the lot is clear. I have been dumping leaf and wood debris all summer, remediation will be performed throughout development. The front quarter of the property will be raised using salvaged foundation stones, the fill will be locally available compost created from the leaves collected from the streets of Wilkinsburg. Bricks are a constantly available resource in my neighborhood, so I intend to work with them as much as possible. It is always tough for me to speculate what materials I will find in the immediate area, for that reason my plans typically change throughout the course of construction.

Fruit producing trees will be planted throughout, underneath each of these trees will be appropriate guilds. Vegetables will be grown in both contained rows, and interspersed among other plants. The quarter of the lot closest to the street will be mainly ornamental, the purpose of which is to make people driving by turn and take notice. The top of the slope will be a line of dogwood and redbud trees, which will also help in privatizing the rear of the garden from the road.

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“Whitney Avenue Urban Farm” – You are looking at one year of work… This farm lasted two growing seasons before I moved it… But I did… Brick by brick… Roughly two blocks away to The Garden Table…

Just to give you an idea of some of the things I will be including… Fruit trees will be (but not limited to) plum, pear, peach, apple, cherry, serviceberry and figs… The figs will be surrounded by south-facing keyhole style gardens to protect during the coldest months… Blueberries, currants, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries will be sporadically placed… Rows will be cut and vegetables will be numerous… I’m hoping to get into bees… The gutters from the neighboring houses will be collected or diverted into the garden… The lot also has a run-off issue towards the street… I intend to fix this with a bioswale… Everything on site will be recycled and locally scavenged… All plants will be personally propagated or donations from friends…

The food grown will be made available to locals on a (as long as you don’t steal it all) basis… As always… Volunteers always get first dibs… As of right now… I am the only person signed on… Though I do have a friend who is interested in helping… Regardless… I will be planting fruit trees come the thaw…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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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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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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