One challenge we face with every garden we create is, what can we build into the design to make sure the garden is not only beautiful, but also a regenerative place of abundant life? All life on earth needs food, shelter and water. We create food and shelter with the plants, but we also need to create spaces where water is accessible to birds, butterflies and bees, in order for them to build a home in your garden.
All gardeners know that gardens need water to stay green and lush, but the past several years of on-again-off-again drought mean we've had to think hard about the amount of water we use - and about how we can cut our water usage back. To make being water wise even more urgent, many municipalities have incentive-based and/or tiered-cost programs to encourage homeowners to reduce their water usage in the garden. It has become expensive to irrigate a garden, even on a small plot of land, using the more conventional irrigation systems.
Plants need water to survive and to provide their environmental benefits of food and shelter for our native pollinators. At Mariposa, we discourage the trend toward limiting plant choices, creating arid gardens, and taking away the elements that create life in the garden; that is not the way to improve the health of the environment for plants, pollinators, OR humans. Transpiration, or the movement of water vapor from plants to the air to form clouds is essential to a healthy water cycle and to a healthy planet. Arid gardens may look modern and stylish and require little water, but a suburb filled with plots consisting of succulents and gravel will contribute to disruptions in the regional water cycle and can actually exacerbate drought conditions by making the planet hotter and drier!
The water cycle needs transpiration of water vapor from plants to remain healthy.
This winter we've had a pretty good year for rain, but the specter of drought still hangs over the state of California, threatening to return. Using water wisely is always a good practice, no matter what the rain gods bring us, and the threat of drought is fundamentally related to the need to combat climate change with methods that promote sustainability and regenerativity.
To paraphrase Hamlet, to irrigate or not to irrigate is not the question. Instead, we need to improve the source of the water that we use in our gardens. Water harvesting and greywater reuse are two of the primary ways to conserve by keeping water on your property instead of pulling more from the municipal tap. In the next two posts we'll show you how you can implement simple water harvesting and greywater techniques to continue to irrigate your garden, without using additional water bought from the city.
Does your outdoor space give you joy? Does it allow you the opportunity to connect to the natural world?
Or is it a source of worry, an expensive responsibility, a time-consuming chore?
If you lean more toward the second feeling than the first, you're not alone. When we lead busy lives, spending time in the garden becomes a taxing chore. It can seem like there's always something to do, and not enough time to get it done.
When we first meet our clients, many of them are overwhelmed by their outdoor spaces. Our goal is to help create enjoyable gardens for our clients, where they can relax and settle into a relationship with the natural world. A garden that hold life, such as a diverse array of butterflies, birds and bees, as well as a myriad of colorful plants that bloom year round, is one that can relax our minds, and calm our fears.
Building gardens with an eye toward creating places that invite butterflies, birds and bees is commonly known these days as habitat gardening. Habitat gardening is about building and maintaining gardens by designing them through a way that creates serene spaces full of life, color, beautiful scents, and fresh air. As a bonus, this kind of garden requires less maintenance than traditional gardens because its design works with, rather than against, nature.
Habitat gardening is also about taking a critical look at the standards of both the landscaping and agricultural industries and questioning what we as homeowners and garden makers can do to improve the environment, improve our health, and improve our communities by taking better care of our local environment and the living beings who depend on it.
As a firm with thirty years of experience in designing, building, and maintaining gardens based on permaculture and ecological design principles, we've learned how to create and sustain ecologically beneficial gardens that are also beautiful, inspiring places for human beings. The pictures below show one of our client's gardens before and after; at Mariposa, we want everyone to have a space like this, that takes the stresses of the day away by providing a garden that is teeming with life, one that allows you to connect to the natural world.
We want to share our expertise and knowledge of how to build ecologically inspired gardens with homeowners and members of the gardening community in this blog. Starting one garden at a time, we are working to restore and regenerate the health of our local and even our global environment. We’d love to start a conversation with readers, too; feel free to use the comments to tell us your opinions, experiences, learnings, successes and failures.
Next up: How to design your garden with nature in mind.
Before and after photos show the change from traditional to habitat garden at this Oakland home.
Andrea Hurd, founder of Mariposa Gardening & Design.