Esteemed Co-opians of Alder Bay, this page is for you and for one purpose only; to sell you on a new (old) method of gardening that involves no chemicals and builds quality soil to improve the vitality of your plants.
My name is David Gowman, and I have been, whether you knew it or not, your gardener for the last eight years. Alder Bay Co-op has a policy of chemical free garden beds and a penchant for green-style maintenance with very successful composting units and a certain amount of on-site green waste sequestration (leaves under bushes), all to the benefit of our plants. The next natural step is layering the soil in the garden beds, work that has already begun. However, I need your help, because no revolution happens without support.
What is layering? Rather than scraping away the fallen leaves on your garden beds, we leave them in place, adding more actually, to create a blanket of material that insulates through the winter and becomes food for microbes and fungi that in turn deliver nutrients back to the plants. In areas where weeds are a problem, they can be flattened under cardboard or newspaper with compostable material and/or soil laid on top. Layering creates better, thicker, fluffier, more nutrient-rich soil with each passing year and removes us from the need to add fertilizer.
My feeling is that we would all like to have organic gardens, free of petrochemical additives. For all the right reasons; the lives of our plants, the lives of the adults and children in our immediate environment, we can easily imagine this as a necessary and wise direction for modern living. But the problem that stops us is neither one of ethics nor politics, but aesthetics.
Everybody wants it pretty.
This is the truth. Gardening, until you turn your bed over for food production (and three of you have already), is about making it pretty. The plants, bushes and trees we cultivate are predominantly an exercise in growing sculpture around our living spaces. The most popular look has been, for a very long time (though not forever), black soil in between green plants, a style called ‘Plunk Gardening’.
Plunk Gardening is a popular look because of the contrast of black soil under green plants, but at the cost of depleting the soil and reaching for chemical fertilizers to solve our problems.
In a Layered Garden, the composting leaves between plants will begin as orange, brown and yellow, but turn darker and eventually black over time, a winter display of decay that means natural plant food and freedom from chemicals. The fronds of evergreen plants are teased out above the composting material where possible, displaying even through January when it all starts again.
With each successive year, the soil improves, becoming thicker, richer and more able to retain moisture. Further, the soil comes back to life, exhibiting microbia, bugs and fungal mycelium that create better, natural food for your plants.
When you notice the layering in your gardens, you get to feel the satisfaction of knowing that your co-op is practicing ethical modern gardening, and I hope you will take pride in that knowledge.
But you already know this method is good and responsible. Now I want you to call it pretty. Thanks for reading.
Hooray for layered gardening.
Thanks, Cynthia. You’d think it wouldn’t be controversial here in crunchy-granola Vancouver.