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Nature is the best gardener so what we learn from the natural environment we apply to how we design, implement and maintain our clients’ gardens.
There is much we can learn from the way the cycle of life works in an unspoiled natural environment such as an old growth forest. The plants in a forest do not require bags of synthetic fertilizer (‘NPK’) to grow because in such an environment there exists a symbiotic relationship between the plants and the multitude of microbial life in the soil. Fungus attach themselves to a plant’s roots and significantly extend the reach of the plant to obtain the nutrients it requires. In return, the plant feeds the fungus with the sugars it produces during photosynthesis.
Bacteria in the soil break down organic matter, releasing the nutrients that a plant requires. This organic matter is the debris on the forest floor; dead leaves, broken branches, bark, etc….The cycle of life.
To have this natural cycle of life functioning in the gardens we ‘resurrect’ is our starting point. For the beautiful gardens we leave our clients with at the end of our project to be even more beautiful and thriving in two years will only be possible if there’s an abundance of microbial life in the soil that symbiotically functioning with the plants.
· Encourage our clients to start composting, if they are not already. This is important as it helps people realise that our food scraps and garden debris (even waste-paper) is a valuable resource for our garden and it brings us, as humans, into this natural cycle of life. We provide a worm composting kit that is suitable for a small household or even apartment.
· Soil is prepared with compost which is rich in bacteria and manure, a ‘food source’ that will attract more healthy bacteria into the soil.
· Pelletized organic ‘fertilizer’ is also dug into the soil. This is different from standard (synthetic) NPK fertilizers in that it’s produced from natural products (chicken manure is one of the main ingredients) and it must be broken down by bacteria for the nutrients to be made available to the plants.
· The mulch we use has been composted. This is important as standard mulch will start its decomposition once it’s been applied to the garden and this will draw nitrogen out of the soil, diverting it from the plants. With composted mulch this is not only avoided but we are also adding more compost (and life) to the garden. It’s common to see mould (a form of bacteria) growing on the mulch and this shows that your garden has healthy life in the soil.
There’s a common saying in gardening; “I’ve given the plants a good feed” when you have fertilized your garden. It would be more accurate to say; “I’ve given the soil a good feed.”
In any one area in an old-growth forest there will be a diverse range of plants growing: trees will be surrounded by a variety of plants at their base, ferns, cycads and medium growing shrubs will be interspersed amongst the trees and there may even be epiphytes (plants that attach themselves to trees or rocks for physical stability only) such as tree ferns attached to the trunks of the trees.
However, in our gardens and especially in agriculture we tend towards a ‘monoculture’ in the design. In agriculture this design is understandable as it’s more efficient from a labour perspective to have only one type of crop planted in a particular area. But if you were an insect that found that plant particularly tasty, imagine the party you’d have with your mates feasting on that crop. And if there were any predators present, somewhere in that area, there’d be too many of you for this to be an issue. So how do we manage these insects? We spray them with a toxic chemical and the residue of this toxic chemical ends up in the soil…
Imagine again if that plant was growing in a natural environment and was one or two scattered amongst a diverse range of other plants. The insect attracted to the plant would still want to feast on this plant but it would have to run the risk that its predators could be residing amongst any of these other plants… So, insect feeds, predator feeds and there is no requirement for toxic chemicals.
Uniformity and symmetry are important features in garden designs, especially in English gardens, however, even within these design guidelines, we will always encourage biodiversity be introduced into the garden. This can be achieved by planting 2-3 species of groundcover plants and medium growing shrubs underneath or between taller shrubs and trees. Where there is a hedge, we can plant groundcovers at the ground level or even intersperse a different cultivar of the hedge plant in the hedge.