Plants going in to this kind of garden need to match the site conditions well to keep it low maintenance. Look at elements such as climate and microclimate, soil type and water availability (actual and potential for extra).
Is it to provide food or other produce for a single household or to be shared with friends or sold at market? Is it to be a mainly productive or mainly attractive garden? Is there a key crop that the rest of the garden must support or is the garden to be producing small amounts of a wide range of crops?
Before you get planting, it’s worth selecting at least a few key species to start the garden off, including plants from each storey (tree, shrub, herb, ground cover and optionally climbing and root crops). To help in this task, I'm using a fantastic database of useful plants called Plants for the Future, which is available online. And of course, keep in mind the baseline conditions when choosing plants so that they'll thrive with minimal work from you.
Building in resilience
Plan out how the newly created ecosystem will keep pests in check and maintain water levels and soil fertility.
- All my experiments with various organic techniques for keeping pests at bay will feed into this - for example keeping a diverse range of species and growing plants to attract beneficial insects or scare off pests.
- If water is scarce, ponds or ditches can be designed in to maximise rainwater capture; keeping high levels of organic materials in the soil can help keep moisture where it is needed (i.e. from leaf fall or add home grown organic mulch).
- Areas of fertility crops, such as alfalfa and comfrey can be planted out and later harvested as a nutritious mulch to be placed on the soil around cropping plants. Below is a photo of one of my young comfrey plants in my newly planted fertility patch, back last summer. This coming summer, I should be able to start cutting these plants back to use on the vegetable garden.
When it finally comes to putting pen to paper and drawing up a garden plan, the following factors should be considered:
- Access to crops.
- The possible need to create sunny spots as well as shady spots.
- The baseline conditions on site (water, soil and microclimates).
- Use of companion planting to make the most of beneficial plant relationships.