Spring for me is garden. Where I live we have about 6 months on/6 months off garden-wise. Even with some late bloomers or early risers, it really is too cold to call it gardening until April or May. This year has been even colder than normal, so even my peas are just now starting to finally sprout - in MAY. I don't usually plant out things like tomatoes or heat loving herbs until the first weekend in June each year anyway, so starting seeds indoors helps give a boost to a short growing season.
I have a small garden. Now, I know *some* city dwellers may say mine seems big, but really, in the grand scheme of things I have a much smaller than average American yard. I am here to tell those who say they don't have enough room to grow food - yes you can. If you haven't known me for long, you might not know about our garden. When I say small, it is small. We have a side yard stripe in between two houses. It goes from street to alley. Our front yard is only a few feet to sidewalk (so I don't even call it a yard), and there is no back yard, only carriage lane and a short driveway.
And when I say I grow a lot of fruit, vegetables, herbs, and flowers in a small space, I mean it! And I'm not a big fan of rows. The trick with a small garden is to find plants that tolerate your light, your scale, and your climate, and grow UP if you can. I try to experiment with new varieties every year to tweak our space to get the maximum result from our shady half of the day urban garden. And I know my limits. I plant determinate varieties of tomatoes in pots on my front porch because that is the only place it gets hot and sunny enough. I stick fruit canes and bushes in any extra spots. I grow dwarf or columnar of certain types (I have two dwarf columnar apple trees in pots on my deck). I use every inch I can find. And most importantly, I know that since I have a small space in a neighborhood where my garden is visible to all, that appearance matters. I know I need flowers and color and height and interest and smell and continued blooms - not just square areas with things in a line!
Our garden is urban organic permaculture. No chemicals, no pesticides, integrated plantings. My neighborhood is what you would call urban - at the edge of our city. Houses are close together and we have houses and condos and shops and a restaurant and a new grocery store. A city bus passes our house several times a day. But our garden is living. We get frogs, worms, rabbits, dozens of kinds of bees and wasps, ladybugs, birds, you name it. Even a stray hawk or opossum wanders in at times. It is amazing!
So. You will find that once garden season begins, I am a bit obsessed. While we have our wonderful CSA share at a local farm for our primary food source during the growing season, I grow things that we want more of or that are not available via our CSA. Things like fruit, favorite veggies, culinary herbs, herbs for tea, and lots of fresh flowers. I also focus on things that can be dried/preserved. No matter how small your space, you can supplement your groceries and have a great place for kids to wander. All of the kids on our block spend time in my garden each summer. Just about every day. They hide in there, they help me water, they pick, they play. It is a good thing.
Obviously all of these photos are not from my garden right now. But I need them. They are my inspiration. My reminders. Looking at a spring garden each year is a leap of faith, so to speak, the ultimate in optimism. To see blank and imagine full and dynamic and alive. An organic integrated permaculture garden is a big living thing. It becomes bigger than the gardener. We plant and plan and water and supplement and put it all out there, but the seeds do what they are here to do. As do insects, birds, soil microbes, and weather. The key is getting a good foundation, putting everything out there, and just being an observant caretaker from there. I have found one key to success is diversification. I don't grow a lot of any one thing. We are a family of 4. I don't need 400 pounds of squash. But I like variety. And my garden does better with it. When things are planted so close together, it helps keep the good bugs and pollinators here, and helps to keep the bad ones at bay. And when one plant is done for the season and not looking so lush, everything else is good, and something else can take its place. Also, if any one thing fails miserably in my space, there is no gaping hole. And every single year I tear out more grass. We have a green carpet path in the middle, but other than that, who needs it?
What I want to do is post a list of all of my seeds and perennials for this growing season that I have so far (I will add to it throughout the season as well). I like to see what I have. New, tried and true, colors, types. Tracking change from year to year. I also like showing how diverse even a small space can be. Don't be afraid to experiment and combine or plant close together. Find out what works in YOUR space and soil. And don't think you have to use a whole packet to start. Start a few. Save the seeds in a cool dark place to use again later in the season or even next year. Share your leftovers or trade for other varieties with friends! Go in with a group of friends on an order of many types of seeds and split them up between you all! I use all of my greens and radishes each year, but I never plant a whole packet of peppers or tomatoes - I know my space is small, I don't have the heat, and I get plenty from my CSA. So I only grow a few plants of unusual varieties I know I cannot find anywhere.
So, 1. Start small. 2. Diversify. 3. Pick plants that work in your climate so you don't have to do much work to be successful. 4. Share your seeds. That is a great way to learn from other local gardeners, try new things, and experiment!
Here is my 2014 list so far::
So, there is my ever-evolving and changing list from where I start today. I have a few rounds of peas, radishes, and greens in ground. It is just warming up enough to see those sprouting up. My rhubarb is tiny - but growing finally. I have some lovage, valerian, raspberries, currants, blackberries, clary sage, lemon balm, moldavian dragon head balm, strawberries, and more popping up throughout. And my tulips are just starting to bloom, and lilacs don't have buds yet (latest ever!). Can't wait!
Now I have posted too many pictures. I can't get enough! I need green growing things like I need oxygen. Oh, wait.
But seriously. I live somewhere that has extreme winters, so having a green luscious dense fragrant garden full of life and bees and birds and happy kids goes a long way in the summer. My older son says we cannot ever ever ever ever (EVER!!!!!) move or leave this place - who will care for our creatures big and small? What would happen to our sanctuary? Even the smallest garden - whether a few pots or a raised bed - can be a sanctuary. Who will care for our creatures big and small if not us. So go! Plant! Plant things! And if you think you have a black thumb, remember. The sole purpose of these seeds is to live and propagate. If you give them even a somewhat appropriate habitat they will most likely do so. They are fierce warriors, these seeds. They grow through concrete in urban landscapes, in chernobyl where no humans dare to tread. They live. SO don't worry, plant!
Do you have a garden? Do you have a deck? An acre? An urban lot? What do you grow where you live?
I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, permaculture designer, organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, health justice activist, whole foods maker, and mother of two young adults in south central Wisconsin.
©2007-23 Denise Cusack, all photos and text. Feel free to share my posts on FB or Twitter or online media or pin on Pinterest (thank you!), but please keep the links back to my website intact (meaning please do not take or copy my images off of this website and share them unattributed or without linking back here or use them without permission). Thank you! :)
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