garden systems, mapping and design

Gardening to me is learning about systems - soil biology, entomology, habitats (pollinators), native and adapted plants. I love researching and building a garden system that is sustainable. Over the past few months, and more diligently the past few days, I have been researching and planning for the new garden here in Indiana. The biggest challenge for me was to break my zone 8 (Western Garden zone 6) thinking and embrace zone 5 (SunsetClimate zone 41). My gardening calendar has shifted from a 280 day extended calendar to a May to October (less than 180 days) calendar for edibles. I will be starting warm weather crops earlier and will experience significant rainfall differences.

My yard at the old house was the gardener's dream, a north south orientation with mature planting forming a heat scoop. The community embraced front yard edible landscaping and urban farming, and the flow of the space supported basic permaculture practices. The house itself was a war era cape cod, modest but with good flow from kitchen to garden. The new house is a larger, rambling, 100 year old Victorian farmhouse with late 80s addition. The kitchen does not have easy flow to the garden, and the overall flow of the house segregates the indoor living spaces from the outdoor spaces. I have spent a lot of time analyzing the flow and coming up with ideas to change the interchange between outdoors and indoors. I am lucky to have a survey of the house, completed before the addition but nonetheless useful. For other properties I have manually measured off the space to create a garden map. I do not use fancy landscaping software, although for my first garden I used the BHG online tool. If you have software, awesome, if you do not, do not shy away from mapping the garden for planning. A good map can save you years of frustrations. And hint: map the mature size of the plants :)

I am a huge fan of urban (and suburban) farming and homesteading. Urban farming appears to be a new or perhaps unheard-of concept in my new town. Every home is surrounded by a lawn and the landscaping is dominated by evergreen shrubs and hostas. Last fall after we moved in I removed hundreds of hostas, joking that they must be on the state invasive species list, and arbor vitae. I donated the hostas and overgrown bulbs and tubers I found to the city for parks planting and maintenance.

My year one plan will be to establish the front and side yards with native and adaptive perennials and berry producing shrubs for pollinators and wildlife. I will also put in a small fenced vegetable garden. I usually do not segregate the edibles from the flow of the garden but will start this way for functionality (and to ease the neighbors into the idea). We also have additional wildlife in this area and bird and raccoon management will be easier if I can net and cover in one area. 

I start with a year 1 -3 plan. Plants will not mature and fill in for (at least) 3 years and I simply can't budget or get everything done at once, but I strongly believe in having an end goal or vision in mind. I wrote earlier about Integrated Pest Management; planning is a critical part of the cultural practice. 

I use my background in both art and environmental education to design edible landscapes that have neighbors marveling at the beauty of eggplant foliage and strawberry groundcovers ;) I do hope that my neighbors here are accepting of this new (to them) aesthetic. One of my favorite books is RobertKourik's designing and maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally. I also recommend Hemingway's Gaia's Garden. I have to let go of Solomon's Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades and my Sunset Western Garden Book, among other regional treasures. I have ordered two new regional books and I hope they prove useful.

I will post photos of the garden map this weekend.


  1. I just splurged on Holgrem's "Permaculture:Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability" and Mollison's "Introduction to Permaculture," trying to tighten up my flow concepts! My Amazon Prime promised delivery by Wednesday :)


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