(An excerpt from the book)
Gaia’s Garden is divided into three parts. Part 1 develops the idea, introduced in chapter 1, of the garden as an ecosystem. Chapter 2 offers a simple guide to concepts from ecology that gardeners can apply to make their yards work more like nature. Fear not— this is not a textbook, it’s a gardening manual, so I don’t go into technical details. I give plenty of practical examples of ecological principles at work. Next, chapter 3 describes the design process and techniques that are used to create an ecological garden. Most of these ideas will be familiar to those versed in permaculture, but may be new to people from a traditional gardening background.
Moving from theory toward practice, the second part of the book looks at the pieces of the ecological garden. A chapter each delves into soil (chapter 4), water (chapter 5), plants (chapter 6), and animals (chapter 7), but from a different perspective from that of most garden books. Instead of viewing soil, water, plants, and animals as static, as objects to be manipulated into doing what we want, I treat them as dynamic and constantly evolving, as having their own qualities that need to be understood to work with them successfully, and as intricately connected to all the other parts of the garden.
Part 3 shows how to assemble the garden’s elements into a backyard ecosystem. Chapter 8 begins with simple interplanting techniques, and expands on these to show how to create polycultures (blends of several to many plant species that work together) and human-designed plant communities, or guilds. Chapter 9 offers several methods for designing garden guilds. Building on these two chapters, chapter 10 describes how to assemble plants and guilds into a multi-storied food forest or forest garden. The final chapter reveals how these gardens take on a life of their own, and mature into self-sustaining mini-ecosystems that are far more than the sum of their parts. I also give a few tips and techniques for accelerating this process.
The main text of the book explains the ideas behind an ecological garden, and gives examples and descriptions of the ideas in action. Specific garden techniques are usually set off from the text in boxes so they are easy to find. Included also are lists of plants relevant to the ideas in the text (insect-attracting species, drought-tolerant plants, etc.), and the appendix contains a large table of useful, multifunctional plants and their characteristics.
Many of the techniques and ideas in this book can be used by themselves, simply as ways to make a conventional garden more productive or earth-friendly. There’s nothing wrong with taking a mix-and-match approach to these ideas, using only the ones that are easy to fit into an existing landscape. But these techniques are also synergistic; the more that you put in practice, the more they work together to create a richly connected and complete landscape that is more than a group of independent parts. These resilient, dynamic backyard ecosystems act like those in nature while providing for us, and reducing our demands on the diminishing resources of this planet.
More Excerpts from Gaia’s Garden: