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Sustainable garden practices: Water and soil are precious resources

Photo taken by Sonja Wilcomer for Yerba Buena Nursery.

Sustainable is a word my college dictionary doesn’t recognize. But then it has been a few decades since this cherished and well-used book entered my possession.

The concept of sustainable agriculture or horticulture as we use it today usually refers to site-specific use of resources in growing food and fiber.

Whether it is land, water or even plant choices, agricultural or gardening practices are followed that will conserve and even restore or renew each resource for future generations.



For those gardeners who focus on growing ornamentals rather than edibles, sustainable practices are still an essential commitment.

For the home gardener, sustainable garden practices must include soil stewardship. This commitment alone will keep you occupied building compost piles, growing cover crops, protecting soil surface with appropriate mulches, irrigating only as needed or perhaps even rototilling less.




Choices of plants should reflect recognition of irrigation requirements for each plant.

While landscape plants were once evaluated for “drought-tolerance,” anticipating those periods when natural rainfall was less than average, there is now an increasing awareness of water as a precious resource.

Water efficiency standards have been developed for municipal landscaping. As irrigation water becomes less available and more expensive, the home gardener will pay attention.

In the private garden of Brad Carter and Fred Hodgson, a serious commitment to water-efficient plant choices has been made. This exemplary garden includes natives and non-natives, all irrigated with natural rainfall.

Open to the public today, a stroll through this garden is an education. Lovingly created, the garden is peaceful, too. With art adding to the whole, this special garden epitomizes the integration of creativity through plants and art.

If we look at plant choices, especially beyond the food and fiber agricultural crops to be harvested, plants grown within a sustainable garden will address the issues of habitat for beneficial insects, including the many species of pollinating insects. The Xerces Society has a wealth of information on its website about natural habitat and pollinators.

My garden has evolved. Still a test garden for deer-resistance and irrigation and exposure requirements, fascination with the native bees has redirected my focus. First, it has resulted in an edible garden where the least amount of soil disturbance possible is practiced as annual edible crops are replanted each year. This no-till method leaves holes in the ground where native bees dwell.

Secondly, attention to bloom periods of nonedible and edible plants guides my choices. While there are many perennials that bloom in late spring and early summer, including natives, there are fewer that provide pollen or nectar through the summer and fall months.

Since this is when most of the fruiting vegetables need pollinators, attention to companion plants is critical. It may even lead you to allow a basil plant to bloom while you harvest from its neighbors and prevent bloom so you may have the crop of delicious leaves.

Evaluating a site and microclimates with goals of sustainable planting and practices will be the essence of my walk (and talk) at “Art in the Garden” this morning. Come join me! And wear a hat – the cool weather we have been enjoying will be a pleasant memory as we return to early summer temperatures, perfect for the tomatoes we just planted.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom,” now available locally. She will be at “Art in the Garden” today with a talk beginning at 10:30 a.m.. For more information, visit http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.


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