Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition
When the first edition of Gaia’s Garden was in press, the staff at Chelsea Green, my agent, and I had animated discussions about whether the word permaculture should appear on the cover of the book. Back in 2000, few people had heard the term, and we all had our doubts about using it. Would the word entice potential readers or just baffle them? In the intervening years, permaculture, though it hasn’t quite become a household word, has popped up in the media, been taught at several dozen universities, and grown a grassroots network of many thousands of practitioners. Hence, in this edition I felt comfortable with dipping a little deeper into the nature of permaculture. If you still don’t know what permaculture is, the first chapter will help explain it.
Although permaculture embraces many disciplines, most people come to it through gardening and their love of plants. Thus, though the permacultural aspects of this book are more overt in this expanded edition, the book remains garden focused rather than a sweeping guide to all aspects of sustainability.
A second change needing some explanation has occurred in the years since the first edition. When I first wrote Gaia’s Garden, we lived on ten mostly forested acres outside Oakland, Oregon, a village of 850 in very rural Douglas County. This was where I learned the concepts and methods described in the book, and I refer to our Oakland home often. But life is constant change, and many circumstances, including the success of this book, meant that we needed to be nearer to people. We have since moved north by a three-hour drive to Portland, Oregon, and now live on a small urban lot. This forced two changes in the book: The references to our southern Oregon home are now in the past tense, and I have added a chapter on urban permaculture gardening. The book’s focus has always been on the typical North American yard of one quarter acre or less, but city living and landscaping pose a unique set of challenges and opportunities for ecological gardening in smaller spaces. Since three-quarters of the people on this continent live in metropolitan areas, I wanted to provide all of us, even those with no yard at all, with tools for using our landscapes to reduce our ecological footprint and become more self-reliant, while enhancing habitat for increasingly threatened wildlife.
This book began when I visited a garden that felt unlike any I had seen. Walking in an ancient forest or snorkeling in a coral reef, I have felt an aliveness, a sense of many interlocking pieces clicking together into a living and dynamic whole. These are places that naturally exude abundance. Sadly, this feeling was lacking in any human-made landscape I had experienced. Natural landscapes seem so rich; they seethe with activity; they hum with life in comparison to our own. Why is it that nature can splash riotous abundance across forest or prairie with careless grace, while we humans struggle to grow a few flowers? Why do our gardens offer so little to the rest of life? Our yards seem so one dimensional, just simple places that offer a few vegetables or flowers, if that much. Yet nature can do a thousand things at once: feed insects and birds, snakes and deer, and offer them shelter; harvest, store, and purify water; renew and enrich the soil; clean the air and scent it with perfume; and on and on.
Then I encountered a garden that had the vivid aliveness of nature, yet it was packed with fruit and edible greens. Soon I found a few others like it. In these places, using new techniques from permaculture and ecological design and old ones from indigenous people and organic gardening, a growing band of pioneers has created landscapes that feel like nature but provide an abundant home for people as well. These are true backyard ecosystems that were designed with methods and concepts gleaned from nature and that feel as alive as any forest. I wanted to know how to create these places, and I wanted to help others create more. Gaia’s Garden is the result.
These gardens represent a new landscape, one that provides for people as well as for the rest of nature. You could think of them as “edible landscaping meets wildlife gardening,” but they are more than that. These are true backyard ecosystems—not just disconnected fragments that are as resilient, diverse, productive, and beautiful as those in nature. They are not merely flowery showplaces or ruler-straight arrays of row crops. Yet they also are not the brambly tangles that identify many wildlife gardens. They are places where conscious design has been melded with a respect and understanding of nature’s principles. The result is a living and riotously abundant landscape in which all the pieces work together to yield food, flowers, medicinal and edible herbs, even craft supplies and income for the human inhabitants, while providing diverse habitat for helpful insects, birds, and other wildlife. Places where nature does most of the work, but where people are as welcome as the other inhabitants of Earth. Although this book is about environmentally friendly landscapes, it is not an eco-fanatic’s manifesto. It’s a book on gardening, full of techniques and garden lore. But between the lines on these pages is a plea for less consumption and more self-reliance. Anyone who would pick up this book is probably familiar with the environmental destruction humans have wrought in the past few decades, so I’m not going to assault my readers with grim statistics. Suffice it to say that we have to do better. This book is an attempt to show one way to proceed. Our home landscapes consume immense amounts of resources—far more water, fertilizer, and pesticides per acre than any industrialized farm. And providing for our needs spurs relentless conversion of wild land into factory farms and industrial forests. Yet our yards, city parks, curbsides, even parking lots and office courtyards could become lush, productive, and attractive landscapes that aid nature while yielding much for us as well, instead of being the grassy voids that they are now. This book shows how to do this, using techniques and examples devised by the pioneers of the sustainable-landscaping movement. This book is an introduction to ecological and permacultural landscaping. Gaia’s Garden is not an introductory gardening book—I assume that most of my readers have done a little gardening—but I do attempt to explain some new techniques and concepts well enough for novice gardeners to implement them. Many of the subjects touched on here are large enough to deserve a book of their own, so lamentably I’ve had to limit how deeply I plunge into some fascinating topics. This may be frustrating to some readers, but I’ve included an annotated bibliography and a resources section to allow further pursuit of these subjects. Most plants mentioned in the text are identified by common name to avoid the Latinate bafflement that botanical nomenclature can inflict on many gardeners. For a few unusual or ambiguous species, I’ve added the botanical name. The various tables and lists of plants are alphabetized by common name, but in those I have included the botanical name as well, as that is the only way to be sure we’re all talking about the same species. With hundreds of thousands of plant species to choose from, these tables cannot hope to be comprehensive lists of all useful plants, but I hope my selections will provide readers with a broad palette from which to choose. To represent the wide variety of geographic regions on this continent, I’ve also tried to give examples from many areas and for different climates. More Americans now live west of the Mississippi than east of it, and this book reflects that bicoastal reality.
Most of the ideas in this book aren’t mine. Many of the techniques shown here have been practiced by indigenous people for millennia or worked out by gardeners of all stripes. They have also been compiled in the ever-broadening array of books on ecological design and permaculture. In this book, I’ve attempted to synthesize these permacultural ideas with ecologists’ growing understanding of what makes nature work. I can claim credit for few of the techniques and concepts described here, merely for the way some of them are presented. And of course, any errors are my own. Numerous people unselfishly gave me their time, collaboration, hard work, and support. For inspiration, suggestions, and for their development of the ideas of permaculture, my first and biggest thanks go to Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. For touring me through their gardens and for their generosity I thank—in alphabetical order—Earle Barnhart, Douglas Bullock, Joe Bullock, Sam Bullock, Kevin Burkhart, Doug Clayton, Joel Glanzberg, Ben Haggard, Marvin Hegge, the much-missed Simon Henderson, Alan Kapuler, Brad Lancaster, Penny Livingston, Art Ludwig, Vicki Marvick, Anne Nelson, Jerome Osentowski, John Patterson, Barbara Rose, Julia Russell, James Stark, Roxanne Swentzell, Tom Ward, and Mary Zemach. For support and fruitful ideas I thank Peter Bane, Bill Burton, Brock Dolman, Ianto Evans, Heather Flores, Jude Hobbs, Dave Jacke, Keith Johnson, Mark Lakeman, Michael Lockman, Scott Pittman, Bill Roley, Larry and Kathryn Santoyo, Michael Smith, John Valenzuela, and Rick Valley. For assuring me that books were not as hard to write as I feared, a special thanks to Stuart Cowan. To my agent, Natasha Kern, I owe a huge debt for her perseverance, ideas, tenacity, and steadfast confidence and support. Thanks also to my editors, Rachael Cohen and Ben Watson, who have smoothed the text considerably, tidied up my grammatical excesses, and guided me through the labyrinthine process of publication. The staff at Chelsea Green have been a pleasure to collaborate with. And for a thousand graces, large and small, while I twice disappeared into this book, I am grateful to my wife and soulmate, Kiel.
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