The Living Garden

Note: The Living Garden is a project of the Successful Gardener.

The Living Garden is a concept that grew out of my being told, “You can’t do that”. “That”, in this case, was control stink bugs organically. When I was living in Union County, NC, my garden was overrun by the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. To make a long story short, I discovered that you CAN, in fact, manage stink bugs without pesticides. As I have worked with the concept over the last few years, it has grown into more than just pest management. It’s how I grow my garden.

As you can guess by the name, the concept is based in increasing the Life found in a garden. “Every garden is alive”, you might be saying. ‘What’s so different about your garden?” I’m increasing the Life in a garden and letting that Life manage the garden. Here’s how that works out in the garden.
A healthy garden soil is loaded with all kinds of Life. Beneficial bacterial, fungi, worms, and other bugs that help the plant feed itself. Composting, mulching, and cover cropping are ways to feed the “critters” that live in the soil. If you have to use fertilizer, choose organic fertilizers that feed the critters, too.
Mixed plantings are a great way to get started with the Living Garden concept. There are a few basic groups of plants that promote Life in the garden by attracting all kinds of living things. Beneficial insects, those “Pollinators, Predators, & Parasites” as I call them in one of my classes, do all of the good work in a garden. And for them to hang around, they need the same things that all living things need – food, water, & shelter. Aromatic herbs, like Basil, attract some insects and actually repel pests like aphids. Daisy-flowering plants, like, well, daisies, provide lots of food and shelter for beneficials. The “Umbrella-flowering” plants like Yarrow, Parsley, or Queen Anne’s Lace, have flat clusters of small flowers that are like a resort hotel for beneficials. Nectar plants, like salvias, verbenas, or monardas, provide lots of food for all kinds of insects, not just pollinators. Ground beetles, one of the best controls for stinkbugs, love to hide out in grasses like muhly grass or one of the feather grasses. They like deep woody organic mulches, too.

All these predator & parasite insects will need lots to eat, so we need pest insects in the Living Garden! That’s right, we want some aphids, and even stinkbugs in the garden. So pesticides, if used at all, must be used sparingly and in a selective formula. Otherwise, you might kill off all of the Pollinators, Predators, & Parasites you’ve worked so hard to attract. But frankly, you might need something on occasion. Cabbage worms still need an occasional spray of Bacillus thuringiensis. Handpicking works, too. But the point is that pest insects are a vital part of the Living Garden.
Mammals, reptiles, & birds can be both predator and prey. Habitats for these “critters” can play dual roles for all kinds of other Life. For the pests, repellants, barriers, and traps all provide some deterrent to damage.
So how does this translate into how you garden at home? First of all, mix your plantings. Don’t segregate flowers, herbs, and vegetables into separate gardens. The more diversity you have in the garden, the more alive your garden will be.
Second, build your soil constantly. Start a compost pile, including composting your leaves. Use that compost liberally in your gardens. Mulch all of your plantings using only organic mulches.
Provide plenty of habitat for all the beneficial “critters” in the garden. Water, shelter, & food are essential for all living things. Plants and mulches are certainly a part, but bird houses, bat houses, bee hives, shrubs, trees all add to the Living Garden. So plant plenty of flowering trees and shrubs. Add small water features all through the garden. Add bird houses for insect eating birds. If you have a space, install a bat house for mosquito Management. Even if you don’t have space for a beehive, you can add a “bug hotel” that can house all kinds of beneficials, including solitary species of bees.
The most important thing to do is enjoy your garden. If you find the garden a pleasant place to be, you’ll spend more time there. And a garden that is visited often by its gardener is usually an enjoyable place to be.

Remember to enjoy your garden, because THAT’S what makes you a successful gardener.

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