What is an ecological garden?

Like nature, an ecological garden functions as a holistic self-sustaining ecosystem. This is similar to the concept of a closed-loop system. Rather than relying on external inputs like chemical fertilizer, city water, pesticides, and produce grown thousands of miles away, an ecological garden captures rainwater, builds healthy soil, stores carbon, attracts bees, and produces loads of nutritious food.

Ecological gardens capture and store rainwater. I'm often puzzled when I see sites channeling rainwater into streets and ultimately Puget Sound, harming salmon, with the owners then paying for municipally treated water to irrigate plants in the summer. Instead, we can capture and store rainwater in cisterns, swales, rain gardens, and healthy soil. 

Ecological gardens build soil. Plants themselves can build healthy, nutrient rich soil. By designing a garden that includes plants that fix nitrogen in the soil, accumulate nutrients and add organic matter, healthy soil will develop similarly to a forest floor layered with leaves. The best part of about this is that you can lay in your hammock while the plants do the work.

Ecological gardens support pollinators. There is growing attention to the crisis facing bees and there's a lot you can do in your own yard to be part of the solution. Including native pollinator plants in your design not only supports local bee populations but also attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, and ensures large crops of fruit.

Ecological gardens produce food! I try to use as many edible plants in my designs as possible. While native plants are amazing and I use those heavily, every meal you produce from your yard reduces pressure put on land to be developed for commercial agriculture.  And many of the plants I work with are incredibly nutritious and taste way better than produce on grocery shelves.

Most importantly, ecological gardens integrate all of these functions while making an amazing outdoor space. Ecological gardens can look any way you'd like. They can be tidy and calm or a riot of color and wild blooms. I work with clients to design a garden that works for them.

My concept of ecological gardening comes from the Permaculture movement. Permaculture is a set of design principles that was developed in the 1970s by BIll Mollison and David Holmgren. Much of this way of thinking is in fact ancient and has been practiced by indigenous peoples as so beautifully described by Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass. Reading Braiding Sweetgrass taught me that I can do more than just lessen my impact on the earth. I can develop a mutually beneficial relationship with plants.

“We’re only truly secure when we can look out our kitchen window and see our food growing and our friends working nearby.” – Bill Mollison, co-creator of permaculture.