Chaos Gardening

Gardens for food and beauty

My dear friend Sue’s gardens have always been an inspiration for me.

I’ve always wanted beautiful chaotic, mostly self maintaining flower gardens. You know, the kind where the flowers do their thing from year to year and your biggest job for maintenance is filling in gaps, keeping them from completely taking over, and thinning once a year. Years ago, when I fell in love with these types of gardens, I had no idea at the time how many of these amazing plants were actually beneficial. Not just for attracting and helping pollinators, but also for health. So many of these beautiful, spreading plants have medicinal and nutritional uses as well.

Now that we own a farm, we are free to manage it as we see fit. For us, that means adding gardens, lots of them. The goal is to turn this into a permaculture haven, to use regenerative practices to rebuild what was lost in the soils and more natural methods of raising food–both plant and animal based. In permaculture design, you create zones. Zone 1 includes gardens and things that need daily tending, harvesting, monitoring, etc. This is where your food and market gardens go. Currently, while we are working on the analysis and design for the entire farm, we are getting our hands dirty with Zone 1 work.

This is a photo of our “normal” garden plot taken two weeks after planting. It’s filled up now!

Over the last two years, we have been adding to the soils in the areas we knew we would want to grow things. This year, we are doing some major planting. To the outsider, or conventional gardener, our process most likely seems quite chaotic. We currently have one small, “normal” garden plot with your typical rows of veggies. But the rest of the gardens are pure chaos! I have started several flower beds. To each of these beds, we are now adding in vegetables, herbs and other edibles. Many of the veggies that folks love to plant in the sunny, tilled garden beds, actually prefer shade. So in the shade of berry bushes and tomato plants, we are adding carrots, kohlrabi, lettuces, etc. We are also adding edible and beneficial flowers like borage, calendula, and bee balm.

This strip lining the driveway has luffa (sponge) gourd, borage, tomatoes, hot peppers, and Calendula growing between the day lilies.

In keeping with the new chaos, we have a strip bed between the yard fence and the concrete drive way that we are filling with an equally interesting mix. Day lilies are the primary plant in this bed. But in the gaps there are sponge gourd vines, tomato plants, hot peppers, and borage. Eventually, the day lilies will completely fill this narrow strip. It we liked the way this worked out with edibles, etc. mixed in, we may create gaps for this purpose. For now, it’s an experiment and we’ll see how it works out!

We’ll post pictures of our chaos, zone 1 permaculture gardens as they fill in and bear fruit! Stay tuned.




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