Green is always so tender and lush as it erupts from its hard, drab seed coat. Thankfully this only marks the beginning of much more growth to come if handled right. Take this scenario for example:
Just finishing its second year at one of my client’s home, right outside their front door, is the first installed PASSIVE-perennial vegetable garden fusion.
It is about 2/3rds perennial polyculture and 1/3rd PASSIVE annuals. The perennials provide much of the show, while the annuals give a small smatter of color and the bulk production at which they so excel.
The new placement of the garden is a major improvement of what they had. Their old garden was far behind the house, where they got little enjoyment and use of it because it was in a literal blindspot of their everyday life.
The new garden started by merely laying path. This we made of ceramic block, left over from some of the previous owner’s building projects on the property, which until then did nothing but take up space in a pile, unused.
Design I had roughly figured and drawn beforehand, which we discussed and moderated as suited our needs in process of laying the block. The final product is a series of large curves, or spirals, if you will, within each other. This created curved beds about three feet wide for easy access. Where the paths were further apart, we made small islands of stone, which had the added effect of breaking up the large spiral design, besides being a pretty addition itself.
Mulch eradicated the grass lawn on the plot. This was mostly fallen branches and mowed grass from the lawn, which for the client was formerly just another waste product they had piled for compost.
They also applied select vegetable waste to the mulch, which has popped up to their delight as cilantro, pumpkins, basil, dill, and many others we didn’t expect. Right by the house, they got some of the finest cantaloupe I have ever seen grown in this area. On my parent’s farm nearby we have tried for years to get good muskmelons, trying black plastic for heat, and irrigation to combat the dryness. So I was a bit envious when I saw these just appear from the mulch. They were smack on the southeast corner of the house though, just out of reach of the spouting which overflows in heavy rains, soaking the spot. Microclimates rule.
With minimal identification from me, the offensive weeds like quackgrass and thistle were casually plucked whenever found, and the garden has been a serendipitous mass of vegetables since.
Quick growth of a cover crop mix planted that fall, and continued additions of grass mulch they got from the lawn, with a chance find of some straw the husband, Hans, got at his work, bolstered the store of the organic matter ready for breakdown over winter, effectively blocking anymore weeds.
This left us with a clean spread of grass mulch, with patches of green herbs and vegetables popping up. It was quite nice for what could have been an awkward establishment phase. This year, it only got better.
Over winter I designed the planting, ordered seed and plants, starting out many of the plants for the client in my greenhouse. Transplanting happened as the plants were ready, such that I completed the list by June. A picture of the initial planting list I sent them is below. A few things we skipped, a lot of things were added.
When out shopping at a local greenhouse for example, a couple artichokes somehow tagged along home and made themselves happy in the new garden. One of these bloomed, and gave two smaller buds for eating.
At the top of a hill, the garden has a wonderful microclimate. Of course, being close to the white brick house helps too. So I figured lots of things normally too tender for our climate might even overwinter here. The artichokes are just one of several accidental warm climate additions that slipped in. I’m chaffing to see how they fare.
In the annual planting area, there is comfrey and Cystisus scoparious for the permanent mulch making system. Cystisus stays low, so won’t block the view across the garden. At the east edge, Amorpha is planted in a row of wild daylilies to provide ample mulch for the perennials, and a small surplus for the annuals. Across the driveway, to the west, is a long line of Amorpha with comfrey at its feet to block wind and provide further mulch if necessary.
We added a bamboo bean tipi for a focal point this year, with tomatoes around the base.
These were mostly heirloom slicer tomatoes. We would have planted some cherry tomatoes, but the variety they planted the year before, “Matt’s Wild” had taken propagation into its own hands and now their persisting progeny couldn’t be chased out of the garden with a stick. Fruits thickly festoon the bramble of branches they make though, so this isn’t too much of a problem. If anything they choke out the less desirable weeds.
Self seeders like this, and perennials that provide stock for annual propagation, are the next step in the PASSIVE method I want to refine, so keep an eye out for more examples like this.
Annuals such as calendula, and biennials like salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius), good at self seeding, were planted nearby in the perennial polyculture to cover the ground between the young perennials. A very pretty variegated mint is more permanently filling in the cracks. In the annual area we planted mache as a self seeding groundcover. See my post on its use here.
With all the mulch poured on the garden from the yard, there was descent fertility, although higher later on. This wasn’t until the end of the summer, because it was dry and bound up and not feeding the soil until we got rain. It’s fascinating to note that, although watered a few times with a sprinkler, this did not have a noticable effect on the mulch and its breakdown -hence fertility. One good summer’s rain, and the mulch suddenly changed color, and so did the garden.
The compliments are starting to roll in from my clients’ friends on how the garden looks so nice. The wife, Elora, is an artist in several media, and lately made a series of really cool macro lens pictures of the plants titled “A Garden Meditation.” Check it out here.
It is, as they tell me, their new entertainment to sit on the porch and watch the bees and butterflies flit around the lush growth and radiant colors. They have sent me several pictures of salads and tomato harvests they have made thus far, and posted a good bit to their social media pages if you want to take a look.
The best thing about the situation is it’s just year two, and only the beginning of what should become a very long lived, productive, PASSIVE-perennial gardening system.
Book update: I know some of you can’t check my posts released on Fridays until Monday, so I am offering PASSIVE Gardening as a free gift again today.
Almost any device -smartphone, tablet, desktop -of almost every brand, can download the Kindle app that allows the device to display kindle books. Just click on the “Read on any Device” next to the book picture. At any rate there is no need worry about having a device that can support it.
I do understand some do not like extensive reading on an electrical device though, so will have a soft cover copy out soon.
The book had 700 downloads last time. No reviews yet, so the race is still on to see who shatters the silence. In whatever order they come, I am particularly excited to see a review from you.