Until now, what I came up with as a garden design didn't start any revolution, even if it's more audacious than what we're used to see in frontyard gardens. Nevertheless, it allows me to benefit from the advantages of biodiversity :
|Common milkweed (Asclepias Syriaca), a Quebec native, is a feral plant, for sure, but it cuts a fine figure with its huge pink-ball blooms, followed by attractive seedpods. If a Monarch Butterfly passes by, its favourite plant is awaiting it. Some foragers eat certain immature parts of this plant, for instance the flower cymes and the seedpods. But caution is necessary, since in Quebec and elsewhere, there were some serious cases of poisoning. Personally, I rather leave them to Monarch butterflies and content myself with their natural beauty.|
- An uninterrupted succession of blooms provide a constant source of food for pollinator insects, which then are already in place to pollinise also any edible flowering plant when it starts to bloom. Same thing for many predatory insects, such as ladybugs, which can eat pollen as an alternative source of food whenever they don't find any prey. This way, plant diversity creates a choice accomodation for numerous beneficial insects, which will most probably choose to settle in.
|Toads are quite numerous in my|
garden. They are permanent dwellers.
Here and there, I build shelters like
this one for them, if they please.
|A tiny spring peeper found refuge in the heart of a "Trahlyta" daylilly flower, of which the petals sports a special mix of tinges : lavander blue going to grey. Throughout the years, I also found grey treefrogs, but their presence is only occasional, just like regular frogs. It is still impressive to find some a couple of feet away from the sidewalk on a site that was so hot and dry when I started gardening there.|
|This slug is in a dangerous |
predicament, crossing rough cement
between two garden beds. A small tuff
of black-eyed susans waits for it
on the other side, but the though
leaves will be a disappointment...
|A grey treefrog enjoyed a spa afternoon on the top of the pool filter. It seemed to enjoy the continuous vibration of the device, completely indifferent to my presence in close proximity. This tiny arboreal amphibian has the amazing capacity to change colors in a matter of minutes, going from green to brown to grey, to camouflage itself. Apparently, it hasn't yet managed to turn a neat, plastic-white colour, else it would have made for a pretty nose!|
|My garden at the end of March, when I'm|
almost done cutting down all the dead
vegetation of last fall. The debris are
cut short and left in place (except for seeds,
if I don't want them to sprout and give
birth to new plants).
Results: First, the occasional thaw-and-freeze cycles of mid-winter are not fatal anymore to some more fragile specimen. Second, I rarely have to water my perennials in summer, even in times of drought, and third, I rarely fertilize them. As for my annual vegetables, when planted in good soil and protected by a good thickness of mulch, I only have to water them occasionnally, like after many days without rain or during a heatwave.
|Crocuses are among the first few plants to come out from my vegetal mulch. After a very colourful show, they will disappear until next spring, and in the meanwhile, no one will be able to guess the presence of their dormant bulbs.|
- Nature spontaneously creates groupings of plants that, because of their complementary characteristics, come to cooperate and help each other out. When a garden has lots of varieties, chances that they may form beneficial companionships are multiplied. This happens without me even being conscious about it, for the most part. Daffodils repel rodents, catmint draws... cats who, in turn, repel birds and rodents, the few dandelions that can manage to root in the garden leave a breathing hole in the soil once I pluck them out, and they leave good nutrients on the ground where I drop them to decompose. The lilac Miss Kim slows down the gushing winds that slip between my house and the neighbours. Its falling leaves are left in place and contribute to the existing layer of mulch in its vicinity.
- Since plants are complex beings, we do have to expect some measure of failure, sometimes inexplicable ones. For instance, these papavers that never managed to settle anywhere in my garden, even thought I tried and tried, and the conditions were, in theory, very adequate. And these radishes that never amounted to anything but producing leaves wherever I tried them. I think that after a series of unsuccessful trials, it may be preferable to stop cultivating something that definitely has a hard time to grow in one's garden. The easy way to garden is sometimes synonymous with humility, wisdom and going with the general flow.
|The most common plants may give us huge surprises, like this Geranium (Pelargonium), an annual that can offer us a few leaves to chop in order to add an unusual taste to a salad.|
One of my favourite exploration strategies is to gather information on each one of the species present in my garden, weeds included. Internet is a very valuable source of new informations, as are some specialized books on gardening. This way, through my readings, I realized that many plants among weeds as well as ornementals, are perfectly edible, or present themselves with very useful qualities.
There's also the occasional edible mushroom that may offer itself as a sampling, when we can identify it with certainty. And let's not forget that maple syrup may be harvested even in cities !
And when I pull out a dandelion, whenever its root is fat enough, I harvest it to dry it up, because one of my favourite herbal teas is made of stinging nettle leaves and dandelion roots. This tea is recommended by herbalists for its detoxificating and invigorating effects. As Hélène already pointed out, every plant has its usefulness, even if we, gadeners, aren't always aware of it.
All those discoveries and observations made me think a lot. Why not use as many different perennials as possible as a food source ? After all, their advantages are numerous :
- Many species of perennials grow very well in part shade or even in shade, unlike our traditional vegetables.
- They require minimal maintenance, compared to annual vegetables , and many of them are not invading. Incidentally, the ones that are more agressive may be efficiently controled by harvesting them on a regular basis. It's what I do with goutweed.
- As long as perennials find what they need to prosper in the spot we chose for them, they are much more resistant to climat changes. Indeed, either in bad or nice weather, your clump of chives or your big hosta will reappear year after year.
- If we learn to cook with edible perennials, we can vary our meals without spending one cent, as long as we're willing to get used to new tastes.
There is plenty of choice :
|If you like to aromatize your meals|
with celery leaves, lovage
(levisticum officinale) may be for you.
Here, this perennial can reach 3 feet
(1m) in part shade. In Helene's case,
in full sun and during the good gardening
season of 2013, it reached 6 feet.
Thus, one plant is enough for an entire
|Jerusalem artichokes tubers|
(Helianthus Tuberosus L.).
Rhubarbs, when in bloom, become the showstoppers of the month, and then, I can use the stalks either in a dessert or jam or even extract their juice as a substiture for lemon juice. I never noticed any weakness in my plants if I let them flower. I use the big leaves (toxic if ingested!) as mulch directly around the plants themselves.
Amongst groundcovers that are dense but not too high, sweet woodruff (Galium Odoratum L.), with which Helene makes Maitrank.
Then again, we can think of all the varieties of trees and bushes who give edible fruits: gooseberries and currants make an abundant harvest of berries, just like raspberries and blueberries which can also be used to make herbal teas from the leaves. Elderberries offer flowers and berries if you are patient enough to do the harvest. Roses of either Rugosa or Canina varieties give their petals and their fruits called rosehips.
Finally, we may incorporate in the garden beds some small fruit trees, cherry, apple, Juneberry and Common Sea-Buckthorn, to name a few. And don't forget that some other species of trees may be tapped, besides maples. For instance, birch trees give a syrup presenting a texture and taste a little similar to molasses, but more refined. Really delicious. This syrup too may be homemade.
For me, the nicest part of all this adventure is that my quest for new informations is not completed yet. I did not have the time to investigate over at least half of the species present in my garden. Therefore, my fun is far from over !
|My garden under a coat of ice.|
Have a happy gardening year in 2014 !