The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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canny planting

An important part of being a canny gardener is thinking about how to do the most with least (thereby save money).  Some could be about buying perennials, some could be about plants that re-seed/re-grow  by themselves every year and some about plants that do two or three things. Here are some easy plants that have worked for me because they are easy, need little watering and resistant to common pests while attracting bees and good insects.

  • Eating and looking/smelling good– Edible Chrysanthemums, Chopsuey greens (extreme right), pansies and lavender.  Shown below (left) is the edible chrysanthemums and my thai rice noodle made with it.  I am going to use the flowers and the pansies, along with the nasturtiums to make a ‘flower salad’ later.

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  • Buy one and get many for free– Calla lilies, Hosta, Alpine sedum, mint (both mint and sedum work well as ground cover, saving time on weeding. Shown below is my Hosta plant which has had many babies and survived slug onslaughts (slugs love Hosta).  When the leaves are young, you can eat them as greens.

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  • Reseeding by themselves- Mexican Daisy, poppies and Marigold. White flowers spring through fall. All needs medium to low water.  With the daisies, you can also divide and get many from one small pot that you buy.

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  • Perennials– Clematis, Agapanthus, Lobellia Fan Scarlet, Canna (many of the South African flowering plants will also grow in the UK and Europe, needing only little watering and care and producing gorgeously vivid blooms) . Shown from left to right are the Californian poppy (that occasionally becomes perennial!, calla lily and agapanthus, Erysimum (Bowles Mauve) and Clematis.

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  • Useful weeds– Herb Robert, Dandelion, common geranium, nettles- I have got these free from the heavens- they are medicinal herbs, good for bees and grow with no problems! Shown below are nettles which I use for food, fertiliser and tea and also wild geraniums.

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useful animals

Animals are very useful in organic farming, in more ways than one.

In Parana district in Brazil, an intrepid Mayor, Jaime Lerner, used sheep to trim the lawns of gardens and the sheep’s wool was used for funding children’s schooling.  A totally win win situation!

My Uncle who used to run an organic farm in the Himalayas used geese to do the same plus geese are effective burglar deterrents!

unnamed (Photo from BBC)

Goats are being now used in the USA to fight invasive weeds and plants.  One of the reasons they are more effective than weedkillers and chemicals is that plant seeds rarely survive the grinding motion of their mouths and their multi-chambered stomachs – this is not always the case with other techniques which leave seeds in the soil to spring back.

Also, unlike machinery, they can access steep and wooded areas with tall goats able to access plants more than eight feet high (smaller goats can climb trees as I have seen in India). A herd of 35 goats can go through half an acre of dense vegetation in about four days which is the same amount of time it takes them to become bored with eating the same thing.

From the BBC magazine, January 2015- “At Duke University in North Carolina, marine biologist Brian Silliman has spent 20 years working on understanding and eradicating the invasive species phragmites. This reed, which thrives in salt marshes, can grow up to 10 feet tall, pushing out native species and blocking bay and sea views for coastal residents. One way of tackling phragmites is to burn it.  Silliman says at first he tried insects and other forms of “bio control” to tackle the plant, but nothing worked.

“Then I took a holiday to the Netherlands, where the plant comes from, and saw it wasn’t a problem there because it was constantly being grazed by animals,” he says.  In studies, Silliman found that goats were very effective – in one trial, 90% of the test area was left phragmites-free. “I think all wetland managers should take up this method,” he says. “It’s cheaper, less polluting, better for the environment and goat farmers get paid.” One plant goats are increasingly being used to clear is kudzu. This fast-growing vine, native to east Asia, was first introduced into the US in 1876, as a ornamental plant that could shade porches and prevent soil erosion.

However, this technique is not good for African countries where livestock, especially goats, have eaten useful plants and decimated the land of plants, leading to erosion.  So other means have to be employed there.

To be a canny gardener, one must find the best animals for the job and use them effectively.