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‘Permaculture,’ ‘organic’ and Felder all provide surprises

The article below appeared originally online at Clarion Ledger about Felder Rushing’s newest book Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Season.

A reader asked, “What you do, this ‘deep or pure organic,’ is more like permaculture, isn’t it?”

I’d have to say that’s a pretty good stab at an explanation, but only part of growing organic.

The term “permaculture” was coined by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, one of his students, to incorporate two concepts: “Permanent Culture” and “Permanent Agriculture.” Mollison said the concept came to him in 1959 while watching two marsupials browsing in the rain forests, seeing how flora and fauna worked together to be sustainable.

Since then, the term has grown to include a lot more than agriculture or gardening, embracing even political activity and international problem-solving.

One of the leaders in the field is Portland State University Professor Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (2000, updated 2009, Chelsea Green, $29.95) which I highly recommend.

So, what is a permaculture garden? Let me say that, the clearest way of understanding the concept would be to consider alternate phrases that essentially mean the same thing, such as eco-gardening, or creating an ecological or biodiverse garden with few human interventions.

Many of the practices of organic farming, such as nurturing natural insect, fungus and bacterial life in the soil, promoting vegetative decomposition and encouraging beneficial insects to keep balance in the garden, are elements of permaculture.

But, while organic gardeners may attempt to till the soil as little as possible, disturbed ground is anathema in permaculture, since it allows nonnative invasives (or opportunistic plants) to spring forward altering the ecosystem.

In our organic garden, we rotate crops, add amendments, and are constantly working the soil with compost to return the nutrients lost in crop production.

But in permaculture, the goal is to recreate dynamic, vibrant landscapes found in nature, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem with little if any human intervention.

So, they share some processes and aim toward the goal of sustainability and natural balance, but differ in degree and kind.

It’s not “all or nothing,” however. One can incorporate elements of permaculture in one’s food or flower garden.

See Hemenway’s book for photos of some wonderful garden designs that can incorporate permaculture in your backyard.

Felder’s book to be a classic! Speaking of good reads, our own fellow local garden columnist Felder Rushing has a new book coming out in July titled Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Seasons (Chelsea Green, $29.95).

I was sent a review copy, and I’m going to tell you the absolute truth: What a great book!

It covers everything a beginning – and expert! – gardener would need to know, including such “exotic” items as growing a “green” roof, creating a backyard wildlife habitat, secrets of fertilizing and more.

Perhaps the greatest gift of this book is that it lays gardening out as not a hard-to-do chore or activity of “experts,” but something everybody and anybody can do, without much fuss or muss. The purpose of gardening, as Felder points out, is to have fun. How often we forget that!

The photos are incredible, the book laid out well, with large type, and lots of easy-to-follow instructions. It reads like an old friend, sitting on the porch, rocking, sharing ideas.

Contact Jim Ewing at (601) 961-7036, email [email protected], on Twitter @OrganicWriter, or Facebook:

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