If you’re anything like me, you’ve noticed the barren, compacted parkways all around L.A. Most of them have at least some plant life, some have trash, others nothing at all. Just sun-baked, bleached dirt. My guess is that most of you reading this are not quite as nerdy as I am about the health of our parkways. Like, you may never have asked what is the best mulch to use in your yard or the planting strip out front of your house or apartment, known as a parkway. Technically, the city owns parkways, but citizens must maintain them. Perhaps where we can come together is that parkways could stand a makeover. I’m here to share my techniques for revitalizing the parkways of L.A., cheaply and with little work on your part.
The methods I use with my clients are super simple, yet they, like most Permaculture techniques, pack a massive punch. In the field, ecological designers like me call this sort of approach, where minimal effort produces maximum results, a fulcrum move. The idea is that a fulcrum moves only a little at the joint, but at its end it swings wide. In other words, you put in little work to effect a change, but the landscape jumps into action and sweeping change is the result. Another great benefit of using fulcrum moves like the ones I’m going to share with you here, is that your costs are reduced. That’s right, your water bill will go down, and if you pay a “mow, blow, and go” landscaper, you won’t need them to maintain your parkway as much, if at all.
Plants do a lot for human beings. If I were to try and list all of the services provided by the Plant Kingdom to the Animal Kingdom, it might amount to an encyclopedia set. Most of us know about a handful taught to us in school: plants breathe out oxygen, provide shade, and offer us delicious produce to eat. In this article, I'd like to share a few of the many additional gifts we get from Southern California plants by highlighting a few species you can grow if you live in Los Angeles County.
I wondered if writing this article would help anyone get through the holidaze, and I remembered the story about the starfish: A man walking along a beach tosses washed-up starfish that are still alive back into the sea. A stranger passing by asks him why he bothers to do it when there are so many of them. He tells the stranger that his small action meant something to the one he was about to toss back out into the ocean.
One of the main principles of Permaculture is to grow by chunking, or to start with a manageable piece of a site and build off of it so as to connect each area within the larger context. In other words, pick a spot that makes sense to you and go from there. “There” can be the back door of your new home in late Spring, where you only have space and time for a small kitchen garden. It can be a barn that holds your front-burner project. Whatever you choose, once you start working Permaculture into your site, it becomes easier in a way.
For my intern, who is building a cob pizza oven for this year’s Village Building Convergence on a double lot in Northeast Portland, Oregon, a Pizza Permaculture garden made sense. We assembled a design team and met on-site several times to assess and prepare the space for holding the workshop.
Design considerations were limited by other activities and features sited nearby:
· Sun exposure needs for the plants differ from that of the mushrooms, so I sited the tomatoes next to the “crusts” (burlap bags containing mushroom spawn & growing medium at the tops of the beds) without the use of cages. This will allow the tomatoes to drape over the burlap bags and shade the spawn inside, creating a microclimate.
· Proximity to the cob oven makes it easy for owners and their guests to bring fresh ingredients to the prep area when the pizza dough is ready to be topped.
· Leaving adequate space for movement around fire pit seats and the wildlife tree bench ensures a welcoming and comfortable space as well as a functional garden.
· Narrowing paths between beds allows for such a small garden to inhabit this special sun-drenched spot amidst other activities and gardens.
· Visually linking the garden to pizza via shaping the beds like slices is a fun way to key potential users into the social side of Permaculture.
Permaculture principles adhered to included:
A. Observe over time & design for specific site & client. The owners have lived at the site for six years & have been able to witness & cooperate with site microclimates, as well as weave the pizza garden in with other design elements, namely the cob oven. In addition, following the installation, they will be able to observe its success and make adjustments over time, extending the observation period.
B. “Start small with intensive & productive systems that are manageable.”* The design is for a very small overall area, but inside it much is happening. From soil layering to mycoremediation, the pizza garden allows for growth by chunking.
C. Obtain a yeild. Herbs will continually produce, and so will mushrooms. Plants like Basil and tomatoes are fun to plant each year and widely available. Giant zucchini can be shared with neighbors or provide potluck dishes to help the owners continue to build community with their neighbors and the Permaculture network of Portland.
D. Connect using relative location. We’ve placed the pizza garden in useful relationship to the wildlife tree bench, firepit, and cob oven. This means being able to walk between all of these areas, carry produce fresh-picked from the garden to the oven’s prep counter, and sit comfortably on the bench and around the firepit.
E. Use biological & renewable resources. Donated plants & organic compost & mulches, & volunteer design & labor contribute to social as well as natural capital, or the long-term establishment of beneficial relationships & stored energy.
F. Turn problems into solutions. When we recognized that the beds had been sited 12” too close to the bench in an effort to give room for firepit seating, we were able to plan for narrowing the bench around the wildlife tree as well as move the beds out. This solved the problem of people not being able to lean back against the tree before when sitting on the bench.
*paraphrased by Tom Ward
1. Scrape to bare clay earth, about 4 to 6 inches depth
2. Lay down a thick layer of innoculated hardwood chips (6 months’ old Alder, Maple, Birch, Cottonwood, Ash = no more than 20% of pile)
3. Spread a compost layer on top of wood chips and mix with chips 4. Layer with cardboard that is 3/4 wet and has been punctured with holes for each plant
5. Plant and topdress with compost
Following the installation of the mushrooms and plants, children immediately began playing a guitar and swinging near the new garden, and a chicken hopped in next to the smallest Basil plant. We erected a chicken fence.
I wanted to make the workshop replicable, so that anyone not familiar with Permaculture could use it to get started in a manageable way, or show their grandparents how fun and useful Permaculture can be. A young woman from San Francisco wanted to use the workshop to introduce her summer camp group to sustainable gardening. A designer from Montana took inspiration from the lively discussion during the workshop for seeking a more deeply satisfying niche. Look for the workshop again soon. And start preparing your spiel to your grandparents. 🙂