Gaia's Garden is the sort of book that makes gardeners want to go out in the noonday sun and immediately start putting its techniques into practice. This comprehensive guide presents the concept of ‘permaculture’ – also referred to here as ‘ecological design’—in a thorough yet understandable and encouraging way.
The author confesses that he was actually reluctant to use the term ‘permaculture’ originally because so few people were familiar with it when Gaia's Garden was first released in 2000. In this second edition, author Toby Hemenway says he feels confident that the term is now sufficiently familiar and is no longer a foreign word to average growers. This may be true for those dedicated to organic methods, but the majority of vegetable and flower growers continue using outdated and toxic methods, and most still rely heavily on chemicals and labor-intensive practices, either unaware of or unwilling to experiment with the more planet-friendly and body-friendly methods of permaculture.
Toby Hemenway is a devotee of organic gardening, of course, but his reasoning for that goes beyond idealism. Eco-friendly methods not only produce healthier food for us to eat, but also make gardening easier by letting nature do the bulk of the work. These techniques, explained in detail with supporting background information in Gaia's Garden, result in “sustainable human settlements” by emulating nature’s own gardening methods. Natural gardens are part of the larger ecosystem, incorporating the rhythm of soil, water, plants, animals, and yes! even insects. Just take a moment to examine any undeveloped woodland or field; plants of all sorts thrive without human intervention, growing stronger and healthier than most of the plants in cultivated areas. Mother Nature really does know best, and if we would achieve the same low-maintenance, low-impact, high-yield gardens in our own yards, all we have to do is follow Mother’s example.
By studying the plant groupings found in nature, Hemenway is able to design ‘guilds’ of plants that protect and bolster each other. Gardeners have long been aware of companion planting, but permaculture is more than basil among the tomatoes. By grouping communities of plants that complement each other, a guild can provide nutrients, attract beneficial insects, and repel destructive insects and weeds without the cost or danger of artificial fertilizers or poisons. For example, a guild might contain an apple tree, daffodils to suppress grass, dill and bee balm to attract pollinators, chicory and plantain for nutrient accumulation, and comfrey for convenient mulch.
While Gaia's Garden offers plenty of explanations and examples, the author stresses the importance of each gardener’s intimate relationship with her own local soil, climate, and plants. A few of the other topics covered in this book include
Permaculture represents not so much a new way of gardening as a return to the very old way of gardening. The sterile soil and toxic sprays that go along with straight rows of a single crop may be what many of us are accustomed to, but wouldn’t we rather have no-fuss, attractive, and easily-maintained gardens that produce bountiful harvests of healthy, hardy plants? If so, then Gaia's Garden is the first and only guide we’ll need to achieve that envy-of-the-neighborhood garden.
- why tilling is one of the worst things you can do to your soil
- the quick and dirty method of building soil
- cover crops for fertility
- easier, cheaper, healthier methods (especially exciting for lazy gardeners like moi)