Monday, May 28, 2007

Soil Amendments or Work With Nature?

So I’ve been snooping around the countless garden blogs that are out there and saw one about Xeriscaping—a term I thought had died about 20 years ago. Xeri—Greek word root meaning dry (same for Xerox, ‘cause they use dry toner to print). The article took the usual “10 tips” approach, and one had to do with “helping your soil.” Readers were encouraged to dump lots and lots of organic material into their beds to create a rich medium for their plants. That way you can grow “anything” and not worry about the water.

But how about designing with nature and not pushing uphill to work against it?

Living here in Santa Barbara, CA, I look out at the Santa Ynez Mountains every day. Tons and tons of native chaparral vegetation that bursts with shades of blue Ceanothus flowers and the rusty branches and trunks of Manzanita, then becomes dotted with stunning wildflowers in the open spaces. Cool canyons shaded by sycamore trees. It does this with no help from me or anyone else, thank you very much. It’s a natural system. No weekly gardener, no “projects” over the three-day weekend.

Here’s my philosophy about the “tip” on adding all that organic material to your soil—go with the flow. Why pay good money to add stuff to the soil, then rototill until the natural, living web of life that makes up soil is disturbed? Did you know there are billions of living organisms in a handful of soil? Who are we to mess with that?

What about selecting plants that are either native to your area, or from other parts of the world similar to yours? Stands to reason that there’s somewhere in Europe or Asia, or South America with a climate just like yours. It also stands to reason that plants from those regions need the same conditions and shouldn't have to be put on “life support” to thrive.

So I get to play with plants from Chile, Australia, South Africa, Italy, France, Spain, Libya, and my home state. They’re all adapted to a Mediterranean climate – dry summers, wet winters, mild temperatures, low nutrient levels. Most need little or no fertilizer, can get by with minimal summer irrigation, and if I create a lot of diversity, no pests. I use good design to create interest--form, foliage color, texture, contrast, harmony--it doesn't have to be only about big fat flowers. I work with what nature gave me and create beauty with plants that thrive on their own.

Your garden AND your lower back will thank you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm so glad you are saying this so I don't have to feel guilty that I trust my DIRT!