BY CHRISTIE GREEN
Bigger. Better. Faster. More. Express. Instant. Two-for-one. All you can eat. Sound familiar? Expedited Excess is America’s middle name. We shop in express lanes, slumber in “Express” hotels, and eat more, faster and cheaper at restaurants. But are we satisfied? Healthy? Balanced? Nourished? Sane?
As with eating and our consumer culture, so often with landscape and garden projects we hurry to the finish line, where the complete, picture-perfect outdoor space mirrors our internal impatience and insistence. It is instantly “installed” upon new construction or remodel completion with precisely planned pathways, raised beds, amended soil and mature plantings. Our paradise awaits, yes? What else is there to do but enjoy a cool cocktail while perched on the perfectly positioned mail-order bench our landscape designer creatively specified?
Rather than rush from landscape or garden concept, to drawn details to immediate implementation, I propose a slow, small approach to the land based on keen observation, consistent nurturing, seasonal action and artful inclusion of foundation elements.
Vital soil requires years to build, strata by strata; graceful trees and gourmet edibles too require seasonal sun, moisture and careful tending for maturation into healthy specimens contributing aesthetic, ecological and culinary appeal. We grow, change, evolve and mature over many years, so why would we consider hurrying nature toward the final “bang” of an instant garden? Slow down. Observe. Live. Our homes and land are our sanctuaries—refuges to be enjoyed sensually and seasonally. Our lifestyle patterns in partnership with land patterns may develop into the authors of artful land design if given time and space to co-evolve.
As a landscape professional for the past 11 years, I have enjoyed and labored over being part of almost every type of garden and landscape imaginable—small and subtle to large and elaborate. Whether the budget is limitless or tight is of less effect than the character of the relationship amongst property owner, land and time. Those projects whose clients request a complete landscape with all infrastructure and final plantings in place in sync with the grand moving-in typically overestimate their understanding of the space and their own place within it. What was originally believed to be the prime vista-viewing portal becomes the windblown “no-zone” and the edible bed relegated to the outskirts becomes an archeological site of lost hope. Good intentions and decisions based on technical data are rarely sufficient when designing and implementing a landscape plan. Time and lived experience are the true assets to a successful living landscape.
Patience and pace become wise partners in the land development dance. Observation and experimentation join as allies in the continued, active evolution of any place. We as stewards rather than consumers of the land are the pivotal factor, as our beliefs, choices and actions so extremely determine the course of land and resources. What, when and how we do what we do matters.
So what does Slow Land look like? How do we take small, deliberate action for long-term, sustained ecological, aesthetic and psychological benefit?
If yours is a highly disturbed, post-construction site, the first way to proceed is to cover the soil—with almost anything: sheet mulching with alternate layers of nitrogen—and carbon-rich materials, straw, bark, simple compost mulch or erosion control fabric. Our infertile, alkaline soils are susceptible to wind and water erosion and benefit from any organic matter which helps improve soil texture for increased moisture absorption. If planning to incorporate an edible or perennial bed, you may simply experiment with bales of straw as the bed infrastructure, stacked one, two, or three bales high. The straw holds soil and plantings in place and serves as a mobile soil-builder by covering and amending with its carbonaceous bulk.
For hardscape and general landscape layout, mock-ups are essential. Try flagging tape, flags, stakes and spray paint on the ground as ways of experimenting with placement and styles of infrastructure; they are much easier and less costly to erase and try again than jackhammer removal of brick and mortar. Simple mobile bamboo, willow trellis or fencing materials from our local greenhouses are easy to use as courtyard wall, fence or barrier mock-ups and may be reused as garden elements later.
Along with these few simple suggestions for moving forward slowly in the spirit of experimentation, your sensory observations, photos and sketches are critical players in gathering information and insight about your surroundings. Self-awareness and introspection are important ingredients in the Slow Land process as well. Get to know yourself and where you spend time during each part of the day. Be realistic about your budget and time constraints and about what type of effort during what time of year you’re willing to invest in the garden. What is your capacity? Where do you need help? How much will you entertain and what types of activities will you enjoy in the garden? How are friends, elders, children and pets included in your lifestyle and landscape? Be truthful and inclusive for a better informed design and course of action.
After thorough observation and thoughtful experimentation, continue with infrastructure elements—from below ground to above ground. Water harvesting, effluent water and irrigation systems first as they require trenching and ground disturbance, followed by hardscape—pathways, patios, raised beds—followed by planting, preferably in stages from large plants to small. For a truly mindful, deliberate, slow-paced implementation, I recommend executing these stages over three full years, with major planting only while seasonally appropriate in spring and fall. This regulated regimen will prove easier on the land as well as your pocketbook, with fewer mistakes made in haste resulting in costly revisions.
Slowing down, observing, considering one component at a time serves as a psychological salve in counterpoint to today’s frenetic multitask pace of instant gratification. You deserve the respectful, conscious peace of a slower pace. Your land deserves your slower, respectful pace for long-term resilience and healthy fertility. Enjoy each other, evolve together—thoughtfully and slowly.
Christie Green is the proprietress of Down to Earth, LLC. Visit her website at www.getdowntoearthlandscapes.com, or call 505-983-5743