Getting to Know Plants

I listened to a wonderful podcast with Byron Joel on Sustainable World Radio while at the gym today. Here are a few take home messages:

We all have a partner plant, something that really speaks to our soul. Byron’s is an Oak. Mine is definitely the Tulip Popular. I always feel joy and peace when I see one. I never could tell you why. But I also feel especially close to potatoes and pears. I wonder why we have a special affinity for some plants?

When we have gas to depend upon, we can make choices of what to grow based on whims or fads. But if we want to reduce our use of petroleum-based products, we need to be smarter about our approaches to living. While we can geek out doing deep research and learning latin names for plants, the best way to start is by observing. Take walks around your region and see what grows all on its own in the wild spaces. Those, or their edible relatives, will probably grow well in a garden, too. Ask other gardeners what it is that they grow by just dropping seeds down (or even because they reseed themselves in the garden) and start with those.

Don’t forget to see what naturally grows together. They may be supporting each other and should also be good companions in your own yard. Also, if you notice fewer pests around, look for patterns in plants — they may be repelling them. There are many charts for companion planting, but many of those were based on 1930’s science that doesn’t work well in the garden. Still, there’s also good science that cooperation among plants is real and can be harnessed using good observation skills and a lot of trial and error to improve our gardens and decrease the work (and petroleum inputs) needed.

To have a truly regenerative garden, you want to have as many critical needs met through multiple sources, and have every source serve multiple functions. For instance, water is essential and so having multiple sources of water is a priority. Rain barrels and other water catchment, wells, and streams & dams, can provide alternative water sources in case one or more become unavailable. Or consider beans, which not only provide food but also are a great source of nitrogen replenishment for the soil. Further, in the case of pole beans, they can also provide summer shade for lettuce. And some varieties, like Scarlet Runner, have blooms that are attractants for pollinators.

Check out the podcast!


About mwolske

I'm a Senior Research Scientist in Community Informatics at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois.
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One Response to Getting to Know Plants

  1. The Editors of Garden Variety says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your recommendations!

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