For the past month, we’ve been working to convert both the front lawn and side driveway to a useful food and forest garden. This may sound like a simple concept, but there’s a good deal of consideration involved when turning soil near an old house (with the potential for lead-based paint) and driveway that likely saw lead dust (from tire weights), oil, among other pollutants. This is where building soil becomes so essential.
While on the surface, the soil appears healthy – there are no obvious dead spots, the grass appeared healthy – we can assume from the culmination of years alone, that pollutants are present. Building soil on this sight, sometimes requires the removal of some old soil beneath the new bed and in addition, planting red clovers (strawberry clovers work best) and other preferred plantings that lift heavy metals and toxins from the soil.
Some native reed grasses, including phragmites (whose exotic cousin gets a mighty a bad rap), digest toxins and hold them in their foliage, where the plant may then be removed, and with it, some of the toxins. I prefer to err on the side of caution when working on sites like this (or old orchard sites, where biocides have been applied repeatedly), rather than leave it to fluke or fate. And really, this falls into our permaculture philosophy of leaving the sight better off than when we found it.
Nearest the house, as there are already some established gardens, we’ve decided to start building soil slowly, over the course of a few seasons, relocating some insectary plants to later replace with food sources. In the front lawn, as we have a busy road and much salt, we will plant only fruit bearing trees, and focus primarily on habitat and insectary plantings for beneficials. The back yard, the most protected space on the property, is being converted into a food-forest garden. And the side yard, my inspiration for today’s post, that place where the long driveway runs all the way from the street to the very back of our property to a garage used primarily for storage, where we’ve focused the most attention.
It wasn’t an easy decision to remove the driveway. We considered what it would do to the value of the property to segment the driveway from the garage, which a future potential buyer for the house might wish to use for their car. We thought about the previous owner, who lived here for about a decade and never used the garage for their car, and the fact that we had also not been drawn to use it, and decided it’s simply not in a good location that promotes usability. Also considered, was the increased value a food-forest would add, both in beauty and in bounty, to the property. Chris, inspired by a project he’s helping with downtown, decided to create an element of mystery on that side of the property, by creating a ‘secret garden,’ accessed through a gate draped with wisteria. Some soil has been removed and fruit trees planted along the neighbors fence and the beginnings of guild beds are starting to take shape.
[Side Note: Normally, we would have waited to plant trees at a new location, however the soil is in excellent condition and the pH perfect for our apples and pears, so we went ahead with the plantings.]
Soon, a gate (removable in case we ever do need access to our garage from the road) will be constructed that will obstruct partially our view of theroad,while inviting the curiosity of the passerby, to take a peak at what lay beyond the gate. Keeping with the architecture of the house, our insectary plants are true to the Victorian era with verbena, Queen Anne’s lace, cone flower, nepeta, butterfly bush and butterfly weed, chives, and our favorite dynamic accumulators, yarrow and comfrey.
The focus on the entire property, for those unfamiliar with forest gardening, is the perennial food source, whether it be fruit-bearing bushes and trees, or perennial onions, tubers, and legumes.
Farming on a small acreage is possible and makes for a rewarding education in ecology. What space might you consider converting to garden?