Forget the perfect plot. A “messy” garden is a centuries-old idea that will bring more joy (and less work) to your backyard.
|Dear Garden Grower,|
We often think of gardens as symmetrical, well-tended, planned, and maybe even tame. Flowers are colorful borders. Plants are trimmed and organized. Ornaments are carefully plotted and considered. But what if a garden were irregular, unfenced, arbitrary, and unkempt? This seemingly chaotic approach to gardening isn’t as outlandish as it sounds.
Long before Europeans came to North America, indigenous people cultivated a broad array of crops, including corn, tomatoes, and potatoes. And, unlike the neat rows of European gardens, native plots appeared to be randomly arranged. That’s up for argument, however. These “chaotic” gardens made sense. Plant diversity, unlike monoculture cropping, discourages and diverts insects. Bean, corn, and squash plants work in conjunction: beans add nitrogen to the soil, corn stands as a trellis, and squash leaves retain moisture and limit weed growth.
Native growers seldom harvested an entire plant, leaving enough roots or tubers on nutritious edible perennials and annuals to regrow or self-seed. Fruit, seeds, and greens were plentiful in their seasons, and root crops held their place underground in Earth’s natural storage cupboard, ready to be dug up when needed.
Native American farmers used fire to clear land for planting, increase sunlight, and improve the soil. The ashes of shrubs and leaf litter benefited useful plants, such as blueberries and huckleberries. In effect, Native farmers were permaculturists, who shaped highly productive forest ecosystems.
Today, your garden can take on a similar role, benefiting you and the planet at the same time. Find out how easy it is (and how much less work it can be!) to grow a Native garden. There are many websites to learn how to grow a Native garden, one of my favorites is The Farmers Almanac.
Bell Tower Festival
at the gardens
Gardens are always open
10:00 - 4:00 PM Daily
Weekends: May - October
10:00 - 4:00
201 East Lincoln Way
Jefferson, Iowa 50129
The Thomas Jefferson Gardens bring to life the prairies that welcomed Lewis and Clark explorers and early settlers, heritage plants from Monticello, farming practices of Thomas Jefferson’s time, outdoor musical instruments to experience, a children’s garden, and so much more.