To the illuminated man or woman, a clod of dirt, a stone, and gold are the same… The Bhagavad Gita
Ornamental gardening is good, but edible landscaping is that much better. And when it comes to sustainability, efficient use of green-space is of absolute importance.
When we bought our house two and a half years ago, the property next door was sold around the same time. Our new neighbors inherited a yard that was a tangle of overgrown and barely identifiable plants that they were anxious to get rid of--and we were grateful to acquire.
At that time, we were dealing with the aftermath of having had our main sewer line and storm drains replaced, a project that entailed the digging of an eight-foot deep mote around the entire perimeter of our home. After tearing up the driveway, the front walkway, all of the grass and a couple of trees, we were left with a brown, muddy mess.
So we planted everything that people gave us and over the course of three growing seasons have amassed an eclectic assortment of perennial flowers, bushes and um, weeds.
It’s been comical to see how some of the mystery plants have grown. For example, I have an artemisia that looks like the abominable snowman--at this point I’m sure I could easily divide it into seventy-two separate plants. It sits next to—and clashes awfully with—a big clump of yellow coreopsis. If that’s not incentive to rearrange, I don’t know what is!
So as I contemplate this next phase of my garden plan, I am of course, thinking about how to make it more sustainable. I’ve been fascinated by the concept of “edible landscaping” but frankly, I’ve seen some ugly front yard vegetable gardens in my day. My abominable artemisia aside, the aesthetics of the entry to my home are very important to me…
This past weekend I attended a great lecture on Edible Landscaping at the Wyck, a national historic house and garden located about a mile from my house. My friend Nicole Juday is the horticulturalist at the Wyck and she does an incredible job of nurturing the oldest continuously farmed piece of land in the City of Philadelphia.
The lecture was given by Phil Forsyth owner of an ecological/edible landscape business in Philadelphia. Phil also heads up the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP), a non-profit endeavor working to turn vacant urban lots into permaculture oases of Edible Forest Gardening. Phil brought this concept to the center stage on the National Mall in Washington, DC as a part of the US Botanic Garden's One Planet annual display program.
I’ve seen the fruits of Phil’s labor (literally) as he designed and planted a garden-scape for my neighbors. It’s really quite beautiful. The photos shown here are of their recently planted pear and fig trees.
I was surprised and delighted to learn about all of the fruits that will grow in my climate zone.
In Philadelphia, it is possible to grow apples, pears, apricots, peaches, plums, cherries, persimmons and more. And berry bushes, such as blackberries, raspberries and blueberries are among the many that are also suitable for our climate. When asked about the marauding squirrels who have been known to pick clean a tree full of fruit overnight in an urban garden, Phil replied, "If you’re the only buffet on the block, you’re in trouble, but if everyone plants some fruit trees, there will be plenty to go around." I dig that logic.
In the lecture, Phil explained the concept of Permaculture of which I had heard but really didn’t understand. Quoting from the explanation in The Permaculture Activist magazine: Permaculture is a holistic system of design, based on direct observation of nature, learning from traditional knowledge, and the findings of modern science.
The description goes on to talk about the larger goals of restructuring society from a top-down method of thinking (imagine about our industrialized food supply) to a bottom-up action that reinstates control of natural resources (food, water, shelter, means of livelihood) to ordinary people in their communities.
Given what is happening in the world right now--such as the excruciating crisis in our financial institutions--it appears that folks will do well to reconnect to the world that sustains us.
Personally, I find comfort in the tangible aspects of day-to-day life. When I am in my garden, the Wall Street debacle and the chaos of the upcoming election fall way into the background and the hum of the bees and the warmth of the soil takes over.
This weekend I plan to harvest the last of the summer crops from our backyard vegetable garden and to make room for the next wave of fall plantings of spinach, lettuces, onions and garlic.
I am looking forward to adding some dwarf fruit and nut trees to my garden and to using the concepts behind permaculture design to add more depth, dimension and variety to my sustainable landscape.