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The Evolution of a Design

One of the “rules” of Permaculture is that every design evolves.  And it should, as needs change and plants grow.

house front orig
I called my new home “the ugliest house on the block.”  Today’s sitting garden (pictured below) is where the gold truck is parked.

When I first moved into this house, I knew I didn’t want an extensive garden to take care of, because the house itself needed so much work, and I had other things I wanted to do.

What I needed for the front yard was 1) sunlight to reach the south-facing windows, 2) year-round beauty, 3) privacy, and 4) low-maintenance.

The solution was to erect a fence, and plant evergreens near the street that wouldn’t grow higher than 8 feet, so the lowest winter sun can still heat the house; use shorter plants and deciduous trees near the house, so the sun can shine over or through them in winter; and plant perennial and native flowers everywhere I could.

mesquite2Keeping things simple (I’d complicate it later), I created narrow gardens, 2- to 3-feet wide, all around the perimeter of the yard, next to the house, next to the road, and around the one enclosing side.  Done.  Simple.

Later, after the water harvesting and solar features were developed, and the kitchen-side garden terraces were built and planted – and even after I added a mesquite tree and bench to the front yard – I found the big empty space was just not inviting, even surrounded by greenery and flowers.  Besides that, the granite gravel needed weeding!

The Permaculture solution to weeds is to plant more of what you want.  So I expanded the garden space to every square inch that wasn’t needed for a walkway or for sitting.

Not that I wanted the extra work of creating or maintaining more gardens, but this felt like playwhen the time was right – and I did it little by little.  The payoff was huge!

And it actually resulted in less work!  Gardens, as living communities, tend to take less work than single plants or spare gardens.  The plants in a more complex community provide each other nutrients, shade, moisture, mulch, and more – and that’s work we don’t have to do.

Widening the gardens meant that I’d need to utilize the “keyhole

From Toby Hemenway's book,
From Toby Hemenway’s book, “Gaia’s Garden.”
one winter squash will be nestled in each lobe of this adapted
See the keyhole on the left, near the hose? The original garden is back where the roses are, on the right.

garden” design (creating short walkways into them every six linear feet or so, so that every part of the garden is within a three-foot reach.

front yard
Since this photo was taken last year, we’ve laid down cedar mulch over the gravel, giving the yard a much softer “forest-like” appearance.  Sunflowers have been positively amending the soil (thanks!), but also rather dominating the space, creating a much wilder picture! And the central mesquite (rather obscured in this photo by the elderberry behind it) is bigger this year too – one day providing more serious summer shade.

And here’s the garden today, so lush, I begin nearly every day, summer and winter, sitting here, feeling oh so blessed!

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Artist, author, and speaker.

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