043 – Gaia’s Garden chapters forward to 3

Published 12 years ago in Permaculture , Podcasts - 0 Comments

Review of Gaia’s Garden.

Paul and Jocelyn review the first three chapters of the book. The first edition came out in 2000 and the second edition came out in 2009. This podcast covers the forward and the first three chapters but the newer edition does not have a forward. Paul’s edition has a forward by John Todd. The forward discusses how nature always seems to find a way to thrive and how everything will work out just fine as long as there is sunlight. Paul thought it was very fitting to opening to author Toby Hemenway’s book. Jocelyn feels that because Toby is a biologist, his approach to permaculture is a scientific one.

The forward explains how a meadow garden requires a lot less back breaking work. Paul’s edition has a preface that discusses an aliveness and Paul was impressed with this description. In the newer edition they discuss how permaculture has evolved since, and how Toby is living on a more urban lot in the second edition. Toby emphasizes how this is a book on gardening. Toby wanted to provide people with tools to reduce our ecological footprint. Toby explains that this is not an introductory gardening book. Paul recommends square foot gardening for people just getting started on gardening.

Paul and Joceyln both like how Toby is encyclopaedic with his references and this book makes an excellent reference tool as well. Toby tries to merge permaculture with ecology in this book. Paul’s interpretation is that by working with nature and nudging nature we can be much more productive. Next is chapter one and includes lots of native species discussions. Dave Bennett joins Paul and Jocelyn to review chapter one. Chapter one discusses the idea of an ecological garden and Paul likes this idea. Instead of forcing nature to do something, we need to work with nature. In Toby’s book he states that if we were to kill all the insects in our garden the work that we would have to perform would be back breaking.

Dave discusses a “Shaman’s Garden” and how when he was a young man he met a Native American who had a woodland garden and how, by not using mono-crops and using native plants, the amount of work is reduced. Jocelyn likes how the Shaman’s Garden is a good example of synergy in an ecological setting. Paul discusses how planting crops in patches to confuse bugs works very well. Using this method, if one patch gets eaten the other patch (if far enough away) will probably be untouched. Paul talks about how plants are mostly water and the group discusses some of the debate around this topic. The group moves on to a discussion about monocrops versus native plants, versus non-native plants and how growing food in your yard/garden would help the environment.

Toby describes an ecological model of a garden and how the “invasive” plants that show up are opportunistic as well as how invasive plants are used by nature to heal the land. When the land has been compacted and monocropped, nature steps in and wants to help fix that land. Dave brings up how dandelions are used by nature to de-compact soil with their deep tap roots.

The book emphasizes how working with nature will always be easier; if you garden right, there should be far less work. Paul starts on chapter two and discusses some of the technical issues the podcast crew experienced. Jocelyn sounded like she was speaking from a barrel at one point in the podcast, but they are going to work through the difficulties.

Paul feels that chapter two is another introduction, similar to chapter one. Dave felt that Toby is gently expanding on the principles in chapter one using the Bullock brothers. Chapter two is a logical next step up for those folks more into ecology and biology. Paul has visited the Bullock brothers farm and thinks many of Toby’s points made sense. Chapter two was not all that profound for Paul as compared to Chapter one. Jocelyn Paul and Dave discuss how ecosystems mature over time and how that ties back to Toby’s book. Jocelyn feels that the discussion is necessary because many gardeners may not realize the concept without talking about niches and succession. Jocelyn felt the in depth explanation is valuable in order for the reader to get the overall concept.

Using mulch and shrubs and how to integrate some of these concepts is good review for others. Toby reminds readers what a new landscape requires to be an ecological system and Jocelyn feels this was valuable information. The review of zones, sectors and edge was helpful. Paul would have liked to have seen the edge discussion go into more detail and he felt it was focused on an urban application. Paul feels that having Jocelyn is good because he is biased in his perspective and how lawn and landscape folks need to be aware of these concepts. Jocelyn was reminded of how complex some of these topics can become. Paul’s philosophy from a design perspective does include some rough maps but a large part of his design includes how the system evolves over time and you don’t know what will evolve so trying to plan out into the future is very difficult. Jocelyn thought that the maps may help people who enjoy the visual aspect of having it down on paper but looking too far out may cause problems along the way. Paul feels that you must keep in mind that what we put on paper today may change as soon as tomorrow as we learn more. Dave likes more of a wild/natural approach and his mapping is typically very general and how the plants flow and meet with edges to create a flow through a property. Toby explains how keyhole garden beds are more efficient than rows and Paul felt this is a good bridge between square foot gardening and permaculture design. Toby’s book is more for smaller spaces on a small scale and most home lots have limited space. Paul is used to larger scale projects. Paul likes to mix a polyculture and likes to create edge, even on smaller properties. Dave explains how he used his front yard as a garden, but it was done in a willy nilly fashion and how this is similar what Toby proposes. Dave used wildflower seeds to start and then planted vegetables within those areas.

Chapter three is about the design of the ecological garden and as time goes on, you will learn more about the land and what the property owner wants. Chapter three did not strike Paul or Dave as particularly exciting, but they felt that this was because they have read and heard so much of this information before. Jocelyn felt that because permaculture is newer to her, and that she is more of translator of permaculture concepts, it was a nice review for her. Paul points out that Toby shows keyhole gardens which are awesome, but Paul would like to change that some of the keyhole gardens need an exit. Paul thought it important to be able to pass through the garden. Shortcuts will be necessary to get outside of the keyholes. The reach of most folks is about two feet and hugelkultur beds would be an improvement on the keyhole designs. Dave mentions how he is trying to get some software to draw out the paths on his Shaman’s garden design so people can see how it was laid out for easy access to plants and for harvest. Jocelyn and Paul both agree that Dave needs to map the Shaman’s Garden layout out and get it out on the permies website. Look for chapter four in the near future.

Relevant Threads

Gaia’s Garden and Toby Hemenway
Toby Hemenway Swales, Basins, Curb Cuts
Toby Hemenway vs. Brad Landcaster

Credit: Kevin Murphy

You can discuss this podcast on this thread at Permies.

Get all of the podcasts in convenient, giant zip files