Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Practicing Sustainability in the Garden

Grow native plants such as butterfly weed in your sustainable garden.

While researching sustainable gardening for my August newspaper article, I found a blog post I wrote on the subject in 2010. I think it is worth repeating. I've brought the information up to date and added some recent photographs. (I kept some of the original pics -- weren't Dude and the grandchildren cute back then? Well, they still are!)

What is Sustainable Gardening?

Most people are familiar with the term 'organic gardening' but what about 'sustainable gardening?' I like to think of practicing sustainability as 'adding to' the earth, rather than 'taking away' from it. This means my garden sustains itself as much as possible. Here are seven ways I practice sustainable gardening:

    1.     Making Compost

I have three compost bins, and some compost piles.  My mini horse, Dude, would produce great compost I'm sure, but the only storage places are under the many, many walnut trees on the property. I'm afraid the juglone produced by the trees contaminates the compost -- as a result we lost vegetables two years in a row. So I stick to my compost bins that produce 'black gold' from garden cuttings, and the like.

Dude has other attributes such as being great fun for the grandchildren.

I recently harvested compost from the bottom of the middle bin by raising the door at the bottom.

Many of my gardens are lasagna gardens, made by layering newspaper and organic materials.

This is how the Serenity Garden began.

 2.     Limiting Chemical Pesticides and Fertilizers

Using compost means I need less chemicals. I also use seaweed or kelp as a fertilizer to feed the earth and encourage a natural rate of plant growth. When making new beds, I cover weeds with cardboard or newspaper instead of applying herbicides. A chemical-free garden is a safe place for children. Without chemical pesticides and fertilizers you can still produce a bountiful harvest.

My grandson, now aged 14, still helps me in the garden.

      3.     Increasing Water Retention

Mulching is a great way of helping the soil retain water. As those who follow my blog know, I use Canadian cedar mulch. I place soaker hoses under the mulch, but I mainly water by hand as I collect rainwater in barrels from gutters on the barn, tractor shed, and house roofs. We have a total of five water  barrels.

Barrel collecting water from the house roof.
Barrel collects water from the tractor shed

    4.     Reducing the Lawn Area

Lawns use more water and fossil fuels to maintain than any other planting. I eliminated most of the lawn in the cottage garden since I wrote the original article. We still have far too much lawn area, but I’m working on it!

The pond and cottage garden occupy a former lawn area.

     5.     Encouraging Pest Predators

Ladybugs are great predators for getting rid of aphids. Releasing ladybugs and praying mantis is a wonderful experience for children and a treat for your garden.

     6.     Removing Invasive Plants.

Multiflora rose is one of our biggest scourges. It is pretty in the spring, but kills all in it’s path. You have seen the following picture on my blog before:

There is a tree under there.

When we removed the multiflora rose, we revealed a pear tree. H.H. made the most of the tree's naturally formed 'eyes' and 'mouth' and added a nose from a tractor part, a rake for a moustache, and a straw hat.

Our rakish pear tree

      7. Restoring Native Plant Communities.

Invasive species can upset the delicate balance of a local ecosystem and even make some native plants extinct, therefore it is important to restore native plant communities. Native plants generally require less fertilizer and other additives. They encourage native wildlife such as pollinators. Some of the many native plants that I've added to my gardens over the years include columbine Aquilegia canadensis, wild ginger Asarum canadense, butterfly weed Asclepias tuberosa (lead picture above), turtlehead Chelone 'Hot lips', Joe pye weed Eupatorium fistulosum, dwalf crested iris Iris cristata, liatris Liatris spicata, and beebalm Monarda didyma.

Turtlehead, bottom left, with buds about to burst into bloom today.

Joe Pye Weed. This one is 'Little Joe' -- it doesn't grow so tall

Practicing sustainable gardening is one of life’s challenges. It is a challenge that provides me with a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I am 'giving back to the earth.'

How do you practice sustainable gardening?
Pamela x

I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!
 I look forward to visiting your blog in return.


  1. Great post! I'm working on these things, too. I like your rakish pear tree. :)

    1. We actually gave the pear tree a name: Karl. The moustache reminds us of a dear neighbor who passed away.

  2. Interesting! Thank you for sharing the lesson!

  3. Definitely worth repeating. I think gardeners, more than most, understand the importance of sustainability and getting children involved is important too so that they grow up understanding how crucial it is.

    1. You are so right, Jo. I am very frustrated, however, by those 'gardeners' who value lawns so much that they use chemicals and fossil fuels to get them 'perfect.'

  4. Very good information. Thanks for repeating it. I'm working on sustainability by composting; using mulch, newspaper and cardboard to keep weeds at bay (and doing lots of old fashioned hand pulling); as well as a few other things. Stop by my new blog ( and check it out.

    1. Welcome, Joanna. I look forward to checking out your blog.

  5. Very good article and a great reminder! My main task in this area is reducing a lawn! I had a lot of compost this year from my two compost piles and a composter. I am not a big fan of mulch, I don't like orange-brown color of most mulches. So, I try to plant densely so that weeds didn't get much space.
    Pam, I love your blog's header picture. And your grandchildren - what great helpers!

    1. I agree with you about mulch, Tatyana. One of the benefits of English cottage garden style is placing plants close together.

  6. Excellent post and much useful information. Thank you for it.

  7. www.thenorthernwestvirginiagardener.blogspot.comJuly 27, 2017 at 9:34 PM

    Enjoyed this post very much! I am working hard eliminating my lawn area - filling it in with as many plants as I can get that are deeply discounted!

  8. Thank you for sharing this excellent and informative post. I think I may remember that photo of the grandchildren from years ago...still adorable!

  9. Your greatest contribution to sustainability is your grandson who has inherited your gardening genes - love to read about that!

    1. I read your comment to grandson Jon. He was extremely flattered and asked me to thank you!

  10. Oh yes! This is a great post! Like you, I try to garden sustainably, however the lawn is always a tricky point due to the use of fossil fuel. I avoid using power tools elsewhere though. The lawn is not cut as often as other people's and I leave wild areas that are cut just once a year. Even so, I do feel guilty. It's lovely to see your grandchildren in the garden - here's to future gardeners!

  11. I know what you mean about feeling guilty, Sarah. We try not to cut the lawn so often, but the whole garden looks scruffy when the mowing isn't done. I just have to get it cut when I know company is coming.

  12. I've never thought of my garden as sustainable, yet I follow many of these practices. Huh, who knew I had a sustainable garden!

  13. Wonderful post, definitely worth updating!
    I think of sustainability often this time of year when I consider how much work I've put into the garden. What would happen if I stopped, I don't think too many areas would last for more than a few weeks.
    But some areas would. many spots take care of themselves and others just need a bit of touch-up. I've noticed butterflyweed seedlings in the meadow and more natives settling in... as well as plenty of new invasive to remove...
    My lawn does require constant mowing, but other than a little fertilizer it's on it's own. No watering and although it can look sad most Augusts I really enjoy the break!