the untidy gardener

fallen kale

fallen kale leaves

When the fiance and I started our Master Organic Gardener certification class, we were told that what we were about to learn was going to be a change of perspective more than anything. A paradigm shift. We’ve learned a lot about gardening; how to test our soil, understand the biology and chemistry of soil vitality and how to make compost tea. But at the end of the day, the most important lesson I will take away from all of this is how to see my garden in a completely different light.

Now don’t get me wrong – we were already practicing organic horticulture before we dove headfirst into this class. I certainly wasn’t running around with Roundup in my hip-holster. No sir. But boy oh boy have I had some revelations. The biggest one being – the best way to a fantastic organic garden is to not garden so much! See – told ya, wrap your head around that!

spent leaves

spent leaves

What we forget more often than not, is that nature had it figured out long before we came along. Most of what we do in the garden just interrupts that natural systems. We till the soil and disturb the essential bacteria and microorganisms and fungi, thinking that we’re adding good “tilth” when really all we’re doing is killing all the critters who would build beautiful tilth for us without us even lifting a finger. Kinda counter productive, don’t you think?

We have a tendency to want to keep our gardens as tidy extensions of our living room and what you really think about it – that’s pretty silly. And so rather than prune and preen and cart all of the debris off to the compost bin safely out of sight behind the shed, we are letting things fall as they may.

perennial bed with healthy litter layer

perennial bed with healthy litter layer

A healthy litter layer means lots of places for critters and decomposers to live and hide and gives them lots of lovely things to eat. The plants have spent an entire season working hard to collect those nutrients and grow; shouldn’t we give them back to the plants so they can use them again?

Ok some people probably look at the picture above and cringe. I’ve hacked back the flowers and left them right where they started. A job that would normally take the better part of the morning took all of two minutes with some nice big shears. Easy peasy! You’re thinking the look might be growing on you now, aren’t you? Wouldn’t you rather be sipping tea in the sunshine admiring your garden than hauling yard waste? I would.

This weekend we took advantage of the rare bit of sun to hack back at the jungle of herbs and other perennials that fill our garden, and remove the last of the tomatoes. I took a chance. I hacked em up wack wack wack – and left them. Duh duh daaaaa. Nothing bad happened. ┬áThe sky did not fall.

herb garden after a hair cut

Here’s the herb garden after a bit of a hair cut. The cat mint in particular needed to be waked way back, as did the lemon balm which despite a later summer mowing had grown once again completely out of control. And then I did something else completely crazy and out of character for the tidy gardener . . . I put leaves INTO my yard! Yes you heard me. My neighbours were perplexed to see the fiance and I work our way up and down the boulevard on our block, raking leaves out of other people’s yards – only to haul them into our own.

mulched herb bed

mulched herb bed

And here is the end result. Keep in mind this is my front yard, not the private veggie plot hidden in the back. And personally, I think it looks not too shabby, all things considered. All of those leaves are going to break down during our winter rains and become the most beautiful soil by winter’s end. And I won’t have to lift a finger.

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