Eco-Saturday: Darwin gardening

darwin8

In the Southwest, xeriscaping is popular, as it involves planting only native and/or drought-tolerant species in your garden so you don’t end up draining every aquifer west of Amarillo in a misguided effort to keep some delicate green thing alive.

Here in the Midwest, I practice a variant I developed by accident, which I call “Darwin gardening.”

Sage is a reliable perennial for a Darwin Garden.
Sage is a reliable perennial for a Darwin Garden.

The original Darwin Garden was located in our backyard in Belleville, Illinois, and it happened by accident: I started with a neat garden divided into four-foot squares delineated with old bricks I’d found in the garage, with neat mulched paths between them, and by the time we left, my laziness and absolute refusal to coddle weak plants left me with an unruly but outrageously productive tangle of perennials and vigorous self-seeding annuals that included echinacea, parsley, Roman chamomile, chives, dill, sage, spinach, cilantro, mint, marjoram, oregano, carrots, blackberries, and waist-high collards that thought they were perennials.

The Darwin Garden wasn’t neatly manicured, but it was healthy, low-maintenance, and completely organic. When you let natural selection dictate your landscaping design, you don’t need pesticides, heavy watering or other environmentally questionable practices to keep your garden thriving. You also don’t need huge blocks of time to take care of your garden, because your plants will be sturdy enough to survive without constant coddling.

Arugula -- a vigorous self-seeder if allowed to bolt -- has replanted itself all over the center bed and beyond.
Arugula — a vigorous self-seeder if allowed to bolt — has replanted itself all over the center bed and beyond.

We have a similar garden here. When we moved in last year, I planted a small garden, watered it occasionally, and otherwise ignored it, knowing the fastest way to find out which plants were suited to the local growing conditions was to neglect them and see whether they survived.

That's not a yellow Easter egg. It's an overripe cucumber I'm leaving to rot over the winter. Come spring, it will put out a whole clump of seedlings.
That’s not a yellow Easter egg. It’s an overripe cucumber I’m leaving to rot over the winter. Come spring, it will put out a whole clump of seedlings.

A year into that experiment, I’ve got sage, strawberries, mint, basil and Shasta daisies that came up with no help from me, and next year’s arugula and cucumbers have already planted themselves.

Late lavender blossoms. Lavender is known as a reliable perennial, though this is the first year I've had any luck growing it.
Late lavender blossoms. Lavender is known as a reliable perennial, though this is the first year I’ve had any luck growing it.

If you’re a little bit concerned about the environment and a lot lazy, consider planting your own Darwin Garden. If you can tolerate the frustrations of that first year, you’ll find it pays big dividends in subsequent seasons.

Emily

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