PERMACULTURE ** Design Principle #8 – Keep an eye on the EDGES!

In gardening the edge is the intersection of two environments. For me in life it is where my artwork and studio intersect with the planning and caring for the gardens. This blog is an edge where my gardens and orchard intersect with readers who want to know more about permaculture and might be curious about garden inspired art. Edges are rich with possibilities.

As I plan my spring and summer gardens I’m reviewing the edges in my gardens and orchard. I’m asking myself where do I want to increase and decrease edges.

Sometimes I decrease or even eliminate an edge. This week I decreased and eliminated edges by sowing carrots, peas and spinach in the same bed. I maximized space by interplanting carrots that grow underground, spinach that grows on the surface and the peas that vine over the carrots and spinach. Interplanting confuses pests which normally have a field day attacking the traditional straight rows of peas, carrots and spinach of monoculture planting. Also it is said that carrots exude a substance that enhance the growth of peas, peas in turn fix nitrogen in the soil and provide shade for the spinach which keeps it cooler and prevents it from bolting. Decreasing and eliminating edges can have many benefits.

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Edges in my garden!

Where the vegetable garden and the paved patio meet on the south side of my house is an edge where I can maximize the heat that collects in the shelter of the house. I use sun heated walls and the heat coming off the patio pavement to start plants earlier than I could in the back of the garden which is cooler because the edge there is in the shade from the hill behind the garden. In the cooler back part of the garden I plant lettuce in early summer for a late summer crop of lettuce that doesn’t bolt.

In the orchard I’ve planted raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, currants, elderberry along the necessary fence that keeps the deer and wild turkeys out. The leafy foliage of vines and shrubs helps to block the harsh Santa Ana winds we get in Southern California from drying out the fruit trees and summer vegetables I grow in the orchard. By not allowing the orchard to dry out in the late summer and early fall I can conserve water and cut back on irrigation during the driest of months.

The edges in and around my gardens and orchard are messy; they are where stuff accumulates and change happens. Oak leaves piled up along fences get harvested for compost piles and mulch. Mixed plantings of chard, kale and arugula thrive in the somewhat shaded south east corner of the garden while the asparagus patch that never took off gets slowly converted into a productive raspberry patch from the raspberries planted along the east fence.

Not all edge action is encouraged. Bermuda grass in my garden beds is a source of frustration for me. If I ignore it for a month I find it

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Bermuda grass creeping into the garden beds

creeping its way along the edges of the garden and choking garden pathways, insidiously sending out underground runners that infiltrate garden borders of calendula. The edge is where transition takes place even if it is transition from productive garden to covert Bermuda grass take over. Poison oak is another edge jumper I have to keep an eye on and remove from edges to close to the house even though I appreciate its fall beauty on the forested hillside behind the house.

Remember when planning your gardens that straight lines and smooth shapes (like perfect oval shaped ponds) reduce the amount of edge, while curved lines, berms, swales, dips and mounds increase edge. Edges are also increased by varying the height and depth of plantings and the addition a water source whether it is irrigation lines or ponds.

Have fun with your edges, be creative and remember to keep your eye on them. Watch for the unexpected!


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