Friday, May 4, 2012

The Wild...

I took a course back in September that consisted of forty-eight hours of instruction over the course of eight Saturdays. The course series was entitled Urban Eco-System Agriculture, it was held at The Huntington Library and Gardens and was taught by Darren Butler and Scott Kleinrock. The class was comprised of about 25 individuals all who are making an incredibly positive affect in their local communities.

Class Photo on our last session. Some gardening gurus are missing from this photo. 

Reflecting back on this experience I can't help but close my eyes and transport myself to where it all started, the parking lot. Exiting our vehicle and walking through the early morning midst past the holly hedges and into the grandeur that is the Huntington Gardens is how each morning started. Approaching closer to our destination whilst passing mindful magnolias automatically made me feel as though a treasure awaited me at the end of this path.

Welcome to your destiny...
Covering this course in one blog post is impossible, however I hope my thoughts and reflections offer a good snapshot into some of the key teachings I was able to receive.

How can we create thriving and resilient garden designs that peacefully coexist with nature in and around urban environments?

The populations we live in are dense which limits space as well as natural resources, especially when considering the "big picture" of our ever growing nation. As a society we rely on large scale farming that has time and time again failed us and nature.

Resilient food forest garden designs will not feed a neighborhood overnight. But, we need to start somewhere.

Every little pocket of our nation has a different level of environmental literacy.

My belief is that change will only arrive over time and by individuals inspired by leaders to make a change for themselves, and for the future of their families and community. If people don't fully understand "the why" they will not take action to change and adapt to a new lifestyle.

Scott lecturing on this particular garden design at The Ranch. 

When it came to creating garden designs I was taking control of the situation by reacting instead of observing.

Instead of looking at small scale farms for inspiration I now look to the forest, to nature. After all, she's been here a really long time and I have no interest in creating designs that do not last over time.

A key learning for me from this course was that we can create garden and landscape designs to heal broken systems and the answers lie within the wilderness and within the virtue of patience.

Ranch Lecture during Fall season. 
Can't think of a better classroom. UEA session at The Huntington's Ranch towards the Winter season.  

Studying local wild plants helps me create synergistic garden designs. Imagine a garden that requires little tending only harvesting and initial planning? I do.

When hiking through our nearby trails I notice several edibles and medicinals, annual and perennial. I ask myself, "how do these plants survive?" Just like Darwin taught, Nature picks her survivors and these seeds have found the best possible conditions for themselves whether it be soil temperature, soil drainage or both.

Embrace diversity and mix plants around, perfect rows are so passe. Experiment with the micro climates in your garden, let some plants reseed themselves, and most importantly nourish the soul of your garden, the soil.

Here's a short list of some resilient plants that will support your garden's ecosystem. 

-Strawberry Guava Shrub/Tree
-Pineapple Guava
-Carob Tree
-Pakistani Mulberry
-Lots of herbs like, thyme, basil, lavender, sage, and marjoram. Let them flower so they can    reseed.
-Goji Berry Shrub/Tree
-Diakon Radish
-Cherry tomatoes (Punta Banda is a great resilient variety)
-Ground cherries

Row of Lavender at The Ranch.

 Harvest at The Ranch.

If possible incorporating one or more of these features will also aide in your ecosystem garden design. Those marked with * are highly encouraged. 

-Birdbath (especially if you are in an urban area with no backyard chickens)*
-Berms and swales
-Bee Skep
-Bare soil for mason bees
-Logs (lookout for mushrooms, yay)*
-Ground covers like clover and buckwheat all over in empty spaces, scatter them seeds!*
-Shrubs, CA natives are a great option as well as Mediterranean and Latin herbs.*
-Fruit trees (backyard orchards)*

Birdbath surrounded by herbs at The Huntington's Ranch.

And just like the end of all of our classes I leave you with a poem or I should say a Manifesto. This is one of my favorites that our Teacher, Darren read aloud early on in our sessions. 

Manifesto:The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


  1. Beautifully written and love that poem from class as well!! Thanks for sharing :)