Garden Design Best Practices

By Meg Hiesinger Ph.D. from The Ecology Center

Diversity, stability, and resilience are the three principles of great ecological garden design.

Diversity, stability, and resilience: these are the three principles of good ecological garden design. Well-designed gardens produce the most food with the least work and are cheaper and easier to maintain. This month includes some basic principles and checklists to create your own design. You’ll also find inspiration and sample designs from actual Grow Your Own! gardens.

To start, here are some guidelines:

Place things in relationships and make connections.

  • The way you arrange things in your garden design can greatly reduce the amount of work you do and the resources you need. For example, locating your chickens in the orchard will fertilize the trees and feed the chickens at the same time.

Draw inspiration from natural systems.

  • You are designing an ecosystem, so copy what nature does best. For example, a thick layer of mulch mimics the leaf litter in a forest- it protects your plants, directs water, and looks good. Companion planting helps your plants obtain proper nutrients and remain bug-free.

Use full-circle loops.

  • Ideally your waste products find a second life. For example, plant debris and veggie scraps provide nutrients for healthy soil when composted in a pile or worm bin.

Create abundance and surplus.

  • Increase the stability of your garden system by selecting items that have multiple benefits. For example, a fruit tree provides a sweet seasonal treat and surplus for winter canning. It also cools buildings in the summer and provides habitat for shade-loving plants to grow beneath it.

Start small.

  • Design your garden to accommodate all your wishes, and plan to build in phases as you obtain more resources.

Use appropriate technology and time-tested, low-impact methods.

  • For example, instead of starting with an expensive hydroponics system that depends on a constant supply of outside materials, try to become an expert in natural fertilizers first. You can make nutrient-rich compost and worm tea with ingredients from your own garden.

Reinforce your jobs.

  • Your garden should be a resilient system, which means your basic needs are covered no matter what. For example, with watering, combine hand-watering with drip irrigation. This way, plants still get water even if one method breaks down.

Ecological Gardening

A view from Happy Earth, an Australian Non-Profit

(Visit their page on Facebook or visit their Site)

Ecological gardening, like sustainable living, is about seeing ourselves, our homes and our gardens as important parts of local and global ecosystems. It’s about exploring the stories behind what comes into our gardens, and what goes out, and how we can make small positive changes, which have rippling effects far beyond our back fence.

Here’s some of the ways we are/plan to garden ecologically:

  • Growing lots of our own food organically, to bring food closer to our hearts and plates. See the Future of Food for more info.
  • Creating a food forest, which is not only the most efficient way of growing, but creates valuable habitat for wildlife.
  • Planting lots of local native species.
  • Not planting species that are likely to become local weeds such as strawberry guava or grafted passion fruits.
  • Creating habitat for wildlife through having layers of vegetation, lots of mulch, hidey holes such as in old pipes and rocks, frog ponds, etc.
  • Planting species that are suited to our climate and locality, and strategically placing them in optimal positions, to minimize the need for high inputs of water etc.
  • Questioning where things coming into the garden are from, such as rocks, mulch and plants, and trying to source things that are locally, sustainably and ethically produced/harvested.
  • Irrigating effectively and minimizing the need to water by planting at times when rainfall is predicted, and temperatures are cool.
  • Focusing on building the health of the soil, and not simply applying synthetic fertilizers, to ensure that nutrients are not leeched from our property and contributing to excess nutrient problems in our local creeks and elsewhere.