As we head into 2012, green, local and indigenous are still the buzzwords in the garden this year. We’re forming stronger ties with Mother Earth and looking beyond ornamental, thinking: “Sure, it’s pretty, but can I eat it?” Forward-thinking gardeners are ripping up the green concrete—their lawn—and planting front yard veggie patches and hedges of corn, even in the heart of the busiest cities or most lawn-obsessed suburbs.
Backyards have become havens for the birds and the bees with fruit trees and native species while chicken coops and even aquaponics are blending form and function. It seems as though everyone—not just folks with land—is feeling that pull: urban tower-dwellers just need to plant up, growing vertical gardens in containers, on rooftops and in windowsills.
1. Straw bale gardening
Straw bale gardening is taking container gardening to new heights of green. This is where gardeners use bales of straw—not hay, there is a huge difference, hay is full of hay seeds—as a container for planting everything from flowers to saplings to veggies. We love this for a number of reasons: it’s fully compostable, it raises the garden up, which is great for our knees and backs, it’s neat and tidy and doesn’t require hauling bags and bags of soil, and it lets those with poor, toxic or hard, rocky soil garden. What’s not to love?
2. Water conservation
It’s becoming clear: water is finite, and gardeners—a group of folks well aquatinted with the life and death realities of water—are at the forefront of its conservation. Who among us hasn’t watched our precious tomatoes wilting under a scorching, relentless sun and seriously considered doing a rain dance? Gardeners are taking action by putting in rain barrels, diverting downspouts, investigating cisterns—an ancient idea whose time may just be coming again—grey water capture and aquaponics.
For the uninitiated, aquaponics is a self-contained system of growing edible plants in trays filled with clay beads instead of soil. Water is circulated from containers below, where fish or shrimp are raised. The plants provide oxygen and filtration for the critters, the critters provide fertiliser for the plants. You feed the critters, and if the critters are tasty, you can even harvest them—salad greens on top, perch on the bottom! Now if we could only get that old man next door to stop watering his driveway!
3. Urban homesteading, guerrilla gardening, foraging and harvesting a wild bounty
The 100-mile diet is so 2011! Now we’re talking about the 100-meter diet. From backyard hens in urban backyards to beekeeping on swish downtown hotel rooftops to foraging for feral fruit in city parks and ravines. It’s about food security, self-sufficiency and not letting perfectly good fruit or arable land go to waste. All across Canada in cities and small towns, folks are banding together, fanning out to harvest apples from long forgotten trees or descending en masse onto a deserted plot of soil, and planting–for beauty and food. As a nation of gardeners, we’re taking responsibility for the health and well-being of the pollinators—bees, bugs, bats and birds—eschewing chemicals, creating habitat, hanging up bat and bird houses and setting up bee hives.