Our garden is another chapter in the story of our home life. When I see birds building nests in our garden, pollinators feeding on our flowers, lizards raising their young, or a toad hibernating under wet soil, they are part of our family. They affirm that our garden is a welcoming habitat and a safe house.
When we design, grow, save seeds and maintain a garden, we create a mini ecosystem that connects us to all the lives in our environment and community. Our gardens are living habitats that we share, always changing from year to year. It’s a partnership with all of nature’s cycles – weather, water, soil, plants and wildlife.
The native vegetation and geography among which our house has been “planted” influences our interaction. Our relationship with our garden can be a delicate balance between how we work with nature and how we work to achieve the garden of our dreams. We may even discover new plants and flowers growing from seeds deposited by wind, water, birds or other wild animals.
On a recent winter hike to a washhouse, I heard the buzz of active bees. Looking up at the steep rocks, I saw an exuberant colony with swarms of bees moving in and out of a crevice. Along the trail I had seen bees foraging, collecting pollen and nectar from flowering shrubs and wildflowers. Contrast this with commercial almond orchards where the hives must be trucked in during the spring bloom period in order for the crop to be pollinated.
A diverse natural environment can support a year-round population of bees, while an almond orchard can only support bees for one month out of an entire year. It is an example of the difference between a natural environment that is sustainable and rich in biodiversity and one that requires constant human intervention to survive.
It is easier for home gardeners to emulate and maintain a diverse and sustainable natural environment than for single-crop industrial agriculture. With a mix of edible, native and ornamental plants, we can create an environment for many life forms.
An integrated and bio-diverse plant community is called “permaculture”. It is a garden design concept that combines wildlife gardens, edible landscapes, and conventional flower and vegetable gardens into a sustainable and cohesive living system. It is an ecological garden based on the same principles as Nature.
Permaculture design involves four important goals that we can apply to our homes: to create a diverse plant community; eliminating toxic herbicides and pesticides; recycle organic waste to build soil instead of using chemical fertilizers; and respecting our place in Nature. This is now called “regenerative” gardening and agriculture that honors and conserves ecosystems, produces healthier and tastier food, and reduces climate change.
When we plan a garden that meets these permaculture goals, we broaden our perspective to include all the lives of our community. We don’t just tap into nature, but we also create a safe and nurturing home for those who share our environment. A garden can be a community where we invite others to share our story.
Visit GardensforHumanity.org to download a garden and landscape planning worksheet, and to connect and share with other members of our plant-loving community!
Richard Sidy is President of Gardens for Humanity, a founding member of the Sustainability Alliance and a member of the Verde Valley Food Policy Council. To reach him, email [email protected]