Jan Riggenbach is a longtime garden columnist and feature writer for “Midwest Living Magazine.” She is the author of “Your Midwest Garden: An Owner’s Manual” and “Midwest Gardener’s Handbook.”
I grew up in one of the tract homes hastily constructed after World War II. Every yard had an elm tree in front, a couple of arborvitae by the porch, and elsewhere only sod.
My friend, on the other hand, lived in the older part of our little Midwest town. Her house was surrounded by trees in front and a huge vegetable garden in back. Her father came home from work every afternoon, set his lunch pail in the kitchen, and headed to the garden to harvest the family’s dinner.
A small understory tree is beautiful in all seasons, a serviceberry also produces fruit that makes wonderful pies.
I thought her yard was paradise. There were gooseberries and currants tucked beneath the shade trees, grapevines twining their way up a fence, and a hedge of hazelnuts. A wonderful little serviceberry tree provided fruit for pies. There were hedges of raspberries and blackberries, and a ground cover of strawberries. Perennial crops of rhubarb and asparagus were there for the picking.
Native plants such as Joe Pye weed attract butterflies and other pollinators.
A few chickens provided not only meat and eggs but also manure to enrich the garden soil. Plant waste went into a compost pile. My friend’s mother canned the garden produce and baked bread.
Enriching soil with homemade compost is the cornerstone of a sustainable garden.
The family didn’t have a lot of money, but that never mattered. In terms of their everyday life, they were rich.
I’m sure my friend’s parents never heard of “sustainable gardening” or “permaculture,”today’s buzzwords that weren’t in use in their time. But those modern labels would apply to their gardening style, which is as doable now as it was back then.
Edible landscaping relies on fruiting shrubs such as raspberries.
The concepts are closely related and sometimes used interchangeably. A sustainable garden is one that produces minimal waste and is eco-friendly and low maintenance. Permaculture is literally a contraction of two other words: permanent and agriculture. It’s often defined as gardening or farming practices that are more sustainable.
Grapevines do double duty, covering an ugly chain-link fence and producing welcome fruit, too.
Landscaping with edible crops, conserving water, composting wastes, limiting the use of chemicals, using native plants, encouraging pollinators, and layering plants to get more out of less space are just a few of the practices that help make a garden and landscape more sustainable.
Learn more from Jan Riggenbach at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show where she will be speaking at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 15 about “Big Ideas for Smaller Gardens.” View the complete list of this year’s Educational Seminars.
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