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Nick says:

I was working in a streetside garden one day and a young girl stopped by, with her dad in tow. She looked about five or six years old. She asked what I was doing, so I described how I was clearing out overgrown creeping oxalis to make room for a melon sprout that had just opened its first yellow flower.

She watched for a few minutes, then asked “Why are you doing this?” I talked about how beautiful the garden was, and how important it is to make beautiful gardens on this planet. But she was quite young, and I missed the opportunity to answer more deeply.

I left a career of more than three decades as a computer firmware engineer to pursue a new calling with little relationship to the old one. Why did I leave behind a whole career for such a risky new path?

 

141120-0641a planet in trouble
I look out at the world, and I see beautiful, living species vanishing by the dozens and hundreds all across the planet.

Amazing natural ecosystems are being torn down, chewed up, and turned into mono-crop farms, cities, and endless uniform suburbs. The planet’s biosphere, also known as Gaia, is being progressively despoiled. Earth is a planet in trouble, and I want to do something to help restore it.

Despite what is happening out there, I still feel hope for Gaia’s future. Lots of people are already doing great work. Some projects are large or even huge, others are small and seemingly insignificant, but all of them are important.

I was ready to do something, but what could I do? I am just one tiny little human. After several years of “casting about” for the next thing to do, I was not particularly wealthy or even well-off. I realized I would have to start small.

 

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a new way of gardening
A new passion emerged for healing Gaia. I decided to start right at home. How could I improve the ecology of my own garden? Could I do that in other gardens?

In that moment of insight, the offering I call “deep nature gardens” was born. A new kind of gardening began to evolve, in which a healthy, diverse, beautiful ecosystem is the most important element. A whole new world of possibilities opened up, and it is still unfolding in amazing, new directions.

We have a big opportunity to work for planetary healing, and that is why I do this work. If enough of us begin to act in large and small ways, we can make a difference. We can create and preserve healthy ecosystems in so many places. The ever-evolving offerings from deep nature gardens are centered around exactly that opportunity and that hope for the future of Gaia. I am one of many people acting in various ways to save Gaia. You can do it too by creating a deep nature garden of your own, and in many other ways. This blog is not just about my own work, it is about what all of us can do to help heal Gaia.

 

141120-0728a growing community
Now, as more and more nature-loving people begin to find us, the passion for this work continues to grow. This path, this inspiring calling, is what I want to do.

There is a plan now, a way of moving forward to do even more for the planet, with new offerings and more beautiful deep nature garden spaces everywhere, not just here in the Bay Area but anywhere there is a gardener who wants to create something truly extraordinary.

This is my work now, and I joyfully offer it to the world, in person and through our excellent modern online tools.

If you are local, my assistants and colleagues and I can shape your garden and continue its evolution as a hands-on service. But no matter where you are, if you have the commitment and the passion I can help you create and evolve a beautiful deep nature garden.

I hope that many more lovers of Gaia will get in touch and explore how to create a beautiful ecosystem, a diverse and abundant species enclave, in their own landscapes.

I also look forward to developing our other offerings, including enclosed ecosystems, artistic mini-landscapes, and so much more that is still being invented, or even unimagined as yet.

 

gratitude
Thanks to all of you who are becoming part of this! I feel so much gratitude to be part of this extended community. I am grateful also to the little girls and boys who are just now asking “why are you doing this?”

in love with Gaia,

Nick Turner

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What we do is not like “regular” gardening!

In some ways the relationship between a deep nature garden and its human caretaker runs in the opposite direction than it does in a “normal” garden.

Here is a table that might make these differences more clear:

traditional garden deep nature garden
garden expected to “obey” gardener gardener and garden co-evolve
gardener takes care of garden garden adapts itself to conditions
maintains a consistent design design co-evolves with gardener
garden is planted garden grows in
garden is “done” once it is planted garden constantly evolves
ecosystem is simple and controlled ecosystem is complex and self-regulated
contains only selected plants contains many volunteers
unexpected sprouts are removed unexpected sprouts are celebrated
pruned for controlled appearance pruned for natural appearance
wants to be “complete” may have some blank places
plant eaters are killed plant eaters are welcome
augmented with fertilizers augmented (if at all) with compost
“protected” by poisons not in need of protection
gardener works in the garden gardener merges into the garden
conforms to gardener’s vision always reveals new beauty

 

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One of the most common comments from deep nature garden clients is about how much activity there is. “It’s totally buzzing with butterflies, bees, and birds!” said one client recently. But you don’t need to create a full deep nature garden to bring much more critter action into your outdoor spaces. Let us show you how!

Your garden is part of Gaia, the great global ecosystem. By making it more welcoming for many kinds of creatures, you directly help to heal the planet and contribute to the beauty, diversity, and abundance of the whole world. This is your invitation to take a more active role in that healing.

 

130713-1223easy upgrades
Any garden can be made into a more critter-friendly place with some well-chosen additions. Got a wood pile? A rock pile? A bird bath? A bat box? What is the best critter shelter for that shady place under the camellia? What kind of critters can be attracted to that sunny bank?

You don’t have to give up the lawn or the trimmed hedge (unless you want to!) and you can decide which features to actually add. Your garden animation project can happen in easy steps, one new critter-happy feature at a time.

Deep nature gardeners are passionate about bringing nature back to suburbia. We want a garden full of movement, with lots of flying insects, birds, and even lizards, newts, frogs, and toads. It’s not an ecosystem without the critters!

More and more people are doing garden upgrades to attract and nurture many kinds of wonderful creatures. Will you be part of this movement?

 

Here are some of the excellent critter-friendly garden upgrades you can do:

* bird houses and bat boxes. There are many kinds of birds, and many kinds of bird houses. Just one is not enough! Your garden can be much more bird friendly if they have a place to nest. You can also create bird-friendly nesting zones in other places, such as a thicket.

140621-1417* flowers. Flowers are not just there to look pretty! They are very important in our gardens. They are for nectar, for pollen, and for specific kinds of creatures. We can help you select kinds of flowers that will bring many happy, busy flower-loving insects and birds.

* plants for leaf eaters and seed feeders. Plants are the base of the whole food chain. By providing plants that serve as food sources, you can attract even more fabulous creatures. The larval food plants of many kinds of butterflies are easy to grow, as are plants that provide seeds or nesting materials for birds. You can even grow plants that attract herbivorous insects that in turn tend to attract certain specific kinds of predators.

* bee boxes, bee banks, and other special insect features. There are many ways to attract and nurture an abundance of different kinds of insects. Many wonderful insects are becoming increasingly rare in suburban areas. By creating habitat for them you help preserve precious species diversity, which helps to heal the planetary ecosystem.

* a thicket. Every garden should have one! Here is an area, small or large, where humans never go. In this one place, certain plants are allowed to create a dense tangle of stems and leaves, pruned only on the outside. There are some kinds of birds and mammals who only nest and breed in such thickets.

140621-1423* water features. Whether it is a puddle, a bird bath, a pond, or even a pump-driven stream, a water feature is one of the very best ways to attract creatures not seen in any other place. Everyone wants a drink now and then, and lots of creatures use the water in other ways as well. If you don’t have some kind of water feature in your garden you are missing out on a lot of diversity.

* artistically placed decaying logs. Possible shelter for newts, toads, small mammals like wood mice, and a whole host of smaller critters like spiders, crickets, centipedes, and much more. There might also be moss and mushrooms.

* a beautifully arranged rock pile. A great place to find lizards, field mice, and maybe even a snake, plus a wide assortment of smaller critters who appreciate the dry spaces inside.

* a tree stump or dead tree (snag). If you have one, don’t yank it out! A tree stump can be one of the most interesting critter habitats. As it slowly returns to the soil it attracts an ever-changing, ever-deepening collection of happy creatures.

* open composting area. A place where the natural process of compost conversion happens out in the open, where local birds and other creatures can come to find many kinds of abundant food animals like grubs, worms, and other compost-dwellers. We are amazed at the unusual, interesting birds who visit our open compost systems.

These are only a few of the interesting and valuable garden upgrades you can add to bring more critters to your garden. There are many more, including dry composting, moss gardens, dirt / soil / mud banks, special soil areas, and even special “food breeders” designed to enhance the local ecosystem by releasing hundreds of harmless but highly nutritious small insects.

 

140621-1427let us help you make it happen
If all of this sounds as cool and exciting to you as it does to us, please get in touch!

As always, you are welcome to have a free get-acquainted visit. Let’s walk around in your garden spaces and talk about the possibilities.

Even the smallest gardens can be upgraded for better creature support, and we can offer countless creative ideas.

Mount critter shelters on a blank wall or hide them under the bushes. Add a few containers of clover, dill, or other butterfly larval food plants. If you grow veggies like carrots or brassicas, let a few bolt into bloom to attract many kinds of pollinators. Grow common, easy “weeds” like lamb’s quarter and amaranth that provide abundant seeds that small birds like finches simply can’t resist. If there’s a bird bath nearby, so much the better.

Read more about creative, artistic garden upgrades.

Want to get started? Let’s set up a free introductory appointment!

There are critters out there who need good homes! Will you help them?

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Way out back behind the abandoned car lot, out by the train tracks, deep nature is returning. Watched over by graffiti and boarded up windows, the pavement cracks slowly yield to invading plants and critters.

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090614-25Above, a triangular nano-garden of spotted spurge and annual grasses. Both are superbly adapted to this harsh environment. Each of the spurge plants can release thousands of nearly microscopic seeds that can remain viable for decades until they fall into a suitable place. The grass seeds carry tiny back-facing spines that help them lodge deeply into the cracks.

At right, a healthy looking plant with slightly fuzzy, slightly sticky leaves (is it some kind of cudweed?) pushes up through some tiny, reddish unknown plants, which might be thyme-leaf sandwort

Below, longer views of some more grown-in areas. These completely untended nano-gardens feature more cudweed, grasses, and some stands of tall prickly lettuce.

Also present are dead leaves dropped by nearby oak and eucalyptus trees, adding their shelter and nutrients to the tiny ecosystems forming at the bases of the pioneer plants.

We stroll around a bit more, enjoying the completely unpruned, totally natural shapes of the plants pushing up through the cracks.

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Below: bright sunlight shines through yellow-green leaves of prickly lettuce.

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Below: Around the corner there is a whole different kind of nature garden, where young eucalyptus saplings drop their chemically acrid, slow-decaying leaves to form an ever-deepening layer over the pavement.

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Below: A small eucalyptus has sprouted at the base of a paint-peeling garage door.

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Postscript: This area was photographed in June of 2009. Today, it has been repeatedly cleared of plants, and there is talk of tearing down the old buildings and putting in condos and “light retail.”

Oh well…

Morning light reveals a freshly rain-washed world. As the clouds begin to part, the eye is delighted by happy leaves and petals spangled with brilliant rain jewels. Words cannot describe how lovely it all is, so there are few words in this post.

Enjoy!

 

While I was over at the new ecogarden project this morning, something special happened back in the home garden. Remember those promising iris buds? Today they popped!

It’s been three years since these babies last blew, and I had forgotten what lovely pastels they show. Yow!

And the scent… I bring my nose close enough to tickle the petals, and inhale. Mmmm. Iris perfume is psychoactive, I swear.

Irises (Wikipedia article) come in two main groups, the rhizome irises, and the bulb irises. I like the rhizome irises because of their huge, showy, delightfully scented flowers.

Rhizome irises grow extremely well in this California climate, as long as they get enough sun. It seems like they actually prefer to be neglected.

There’s another interesting bloomer in the garden right now, one that many people might choose to pull right out. It’s this magnificent sowthistle:

Isn’t that a big old ugly weed? No! Not in this garden.

Look how lovely is the form of the plant, the strong stalk and the amazing wrap-around leaves. Look at the forms of the flower buds, flowers, and the puffy white seed head.

Sowthistle (Wikipedia article) belongs to the genus Sonchus, but identifying individual species can be difficult. This one is probably annual sowthistle (S. oleraceus). It has sturdy, hollow stems and milky sap.

The leaves frequently show the tunnels of leaf-miners, tiny caterpillars that live between the leaf layers. The tips of the stems often bear colonies of aphids.

The flower heads show buds, flowers, and seed heads in all stages of maturity:

For our parting shot, a close-up (below). A winged aphid has just landed – see her at the upper right? She’ll plunge her sucking beak into the plant and enjoy the milky sap, popping out a near-constant stream of tiny wingless daughters, each one already pregnant with more daughters. Within a few days, it is likely that this flower head will be crowded with hundreds of happy aphids:

Of course, it’s always possible that a lady beetle might find the mother aphid and her progeny, in which case all bets are off.

I arrived in the morning, when most of the yard was still in shade. As you can see, the owner of the property has spread a lot of hay on the ground, which has started to decompose in many areas. In some places it’s ankle deep.

Those white boxes are beehives, two of them with active colonies. In the distance at the rear of the yard is a chicken run with four very happy chickens.

The owner has requested a top-to-bottom ecosystem transformation for this space, with  just a few special requests. This will be fun, but also a LOT of work. It’s definitely a big project.

In this post we’ll do a general tour with some comments about possible directions to take. In future posts we’ll look at some more specific elements of the project.

As we enter the yard, on the left is an herb collection, the most maintained part of the garden at present. Owner kept stooping to pull “weeds” – I told her the first rule is “no more pulling of plants!” She acknowledged this might be a challenge for her.

The rectangular stepping stones will probably be replaced by something less linear, maybe wooden rounds or irregular flagstones.

This small bed features mint, salvia, and miscellaneous garbage. Minus the garbage and with some work, this will become a sweet little kitchen herb gardenette.

Looking back to the main yard, there is a bee bath and a huge mound of French lavender, behind which are several large catnip bushes and the beehives. Between the beehive in the front and the two in back are some raised beds, currently hosting a variety of volunteers – what some might call “weeds.”

At the right, against the fence, are piles of wood, rusty shelves of garden junk and some containers of toxic chemicals. Under the thick hay are wooden boards and more scattered junk. All of that stuff will be removed.

Looking to the left, there is a small patio area in the foreground. This will be cleaned up and surfaced with some kind of stones or bricks, made ready for happy garden parties.

On the small table are some veggie starts that the owner wants planted. She wants me to decide where to put them. There are tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplants, some herbs, and a struggling artichoke.

Behind the table are two more raised beds. These will be moved to the front of the yard, where they will get full sun for almost the whole day, rather than the morning shade they get here.

Down the path through the arched metal trellis, the chicken run is visible.

The other raised beds, to the right side of the path. Kind of a mess. Hay and catnip bushes will be removed, and new (purchased) growing mix added. Some of the veggies will be planted here. The two beehives will eventually be moved to a slightly better location near the front fence, where they will get morning wake-up sunlight and partial shade for those hot summer days.

Eventually these two raised beds will also be moved to the front for the full sun there.

Turning around to look toward the front of the yard, one can see the area where the veggie beds will be, already brightly sunlit even at this early hour. Beehives will be near the fence at the picture’s left side.

One of the challenges of this project is that the entire rear of the yard is shaded until midday by tall trees.

While the shade is great for the chicken run, it is a little too much. Some of the tree branches will be artfully removed, resulting in more dappled light for the rear of the property.

The trees include two figs, several majestic pines, and some other broadleaf trees. All of them need serious pruning and shaping.

There is also a struggling rose bush that might do better with more light.

I am imagining a lovely forest floor type ecosystem under the trees in the back. May apples, anyone?

So… off we go! I could not resist getting started right away.

First, I cleared away the junk and catnip from the area around the raised beds by the beehives. We let the chickens out, who happily scratched around finding grubs and beetles in the newly disturbed soil. You go, girls!

There was enough time to partly plant two of the raised beds. I would definitely call this an emergency planting. As you can see, the tomatoes are looking a bit wilted. But this is good soil and they should perk up with proper attention. In the interest of expediency, the veggie plantings here are being done in a  fairly traditional non-ecofarm style, just dropped into the raised beds.

In future posts we’ll take a look at some of the resident interesting plants and critters, and begin to see some more serious cleanup.

Here are updates on this new ecogarden project:

taming the giant lavender

putting in a redwood walkway

in the company of chickens

Thanks for following this project! Your comments are welcome.