Monday, April 20, 2015
These days, many of us live in homes or apartments and often don't have much spare space for the garden we would really like. In addition most of us are struggling to find the time for day to day living without the added burden of looking after a huge garden. The garden bug is a hard one to shake and having a green thumb but no space or time for a garden can be very frustrating. There is, however, a way that can give you a garden and satisfy the garden bug within you and that is container planting.
What is Container Gardening?
Just as the name suggests, container gardening is when you grow your plants in containers or pots. The scope of gardening this way is enormous. You are not limited to planting a few annuals but can incorporate vegetables, herbs, a whole range of flowers, ferns, shrubs and small trees. You are not limited to growing your plants outside but can bring them in when they are flowering to literally bring your garden inside your home.
A patio, balcony or veranda, no matter how small, can be the site for your container garden. Even the smallest of areas can accommodate a few productive pots. If you live in a townhouse, condo or apartment you can design a container garden to suit your patio or balcony. If you are renting and do not want to develop a garden for your landlord then consider planting in containers and if you have to move you can take your garden with you.
Why Container Gardening?
Growing plants in containers can be extremely satisfying and, like any sort of gardening, tending to your plants can be very therapeutic. If you live in an apartment with a small balcony, what could be better than looking out at your pot plant garden or picking some fresh herbs or vegetables that you gave grown in containers and using these in your cooking.
Container gardens have the added benefit of being portable. If you move house, you can take your garden with you or maybe you just want a change and rearranging your pots an achieve that. In a very short time your garden can have a whole new look. A container garden is not subject to the flat one dimension of a conventional garden but gives you the added dimension of height. By using pots of different heights or placing them on benches you can have the advantage of several levels of plants. This is great for hiding walls or untidy areas. The style and look of your portable garden is limited only by your creativity and imagination.
Being able to raise your container garden off the ground and the ease of maintenance means that these gardens are ideal for the elderly or people in wheelchairs where bending to ground level and using heavy garden tools is not an option. This is one of the most positive benefits of growing plants in pots and shows just how versatile it can be.
Your container gardening supplies, like pots, potting soil and plants are readily available from garden centres, hardware stores and supermarkets.
Is Container Gardening For You?
If you are a passionate gardener or just someone who likes to potter around in the garden and have limited space or a disability that prevents you from doing conventional gardening, then container gardening could be for you. With its ease of setting up, simple maintenance and accessibility aspects, anyone can be a container gardener.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Classical Chinese gardens and fountains are more than collections of beautiful plants, trees and water. They are representations of nature, providing insight into the philosophical and spiritual mind of past Chinese artisans and high-ranking citizens.
The principles of classical Chinese gardening can be useful and insightful to garden lovers living anywhere in the world. Chinese design objectives can inspire American home gardeners to try something new such as a garden fountain and encourage the expression of culture and philosophy through gardening.
In the 2,000 years since the imperial family first set aside natural areas for hunting, traditional gardens in China have developed into an art form equal in rank to painting, calligraphy and poetry. Several of the finest gardens, built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1912), have survived the ravages of time and politics.
Suzhou, about 50 miles west of Shanghai, is known as "the city of gardens." For generations, rich officials, merchants, landowners, scholars, garden designers and garden crafters settled in Suzhou to enhance its fame. The principles of classical Chinese gardens were well represented in their gardens. Visitors come to learn their secrets and experience their magic.
These gardens provide insight into the traditional Chinese view of nature, which includes the role human's play in the natural order. The gardens hold clues to the ancient Chinese mind through the winding paths, the use of symbolism and the selection of plants. In the traditional Chinese view of nature, humans were equals with everything in the natural world. As the philosopher Lao Tsu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, "Man follows the earth. Earth follows heaven. Heaven follows the Tao. Tao follows what is natural." Traditionally, Chinese people assisted in the expression of nature but did not impose their will upon it.
Chinese gardens were originally designed to symbolize a living entity: rocks formed the skeleton, water and fountains functioned as the blood, while plants provided the clothing. To portray the influence of human beings in nature, architectural constructions (bridges, pavilions, halls, courtyards, gateways, windows, doors and pavings) were integrated into a garden's design. Their purpose was to illustrate the ideal interaction of humans with nature. Together, these elements made up all that is natural on Earth: vegetation, mountains, and bodies of water with gently flowing Chinese fountains as well as human influence. The way they were integrated into the garden expressed the relationships they have in nature.
Gardeners in the West may be unable to mimic the grandeur with which the ancient Chinese gardeners represented nature, but they can include parts of each element. The goal is to create a sense of wholeness within the limitations of the site and to consider all these elements as integral parts of the garden.
Just as a garden's main elements are symbolic of the parts of a living whole, symbols that make up the culture's beliefs are scattered throughout Chinese gardens and integrated in their design. For example, bad spirits were believed to travel in straight lines so pathways were seldom designed straight or flat. It was believed that the many changes in levels and directions made it difficult for these spirits to infect the people enjoying the garden. Dragons, symbols of strength, change and goodness, frequently adorn Chinese fountain walls and roofs of garden structures.
Suitability -- The most appropriate location for every feature of a garden must be found. Seasonal changes in weather and plants as well as the physical requirements of the garden site are considered. In addition to finding the most suitable site for each garden element (plants, rocks, water fountains and architectural constructions), details such as the size, shape, color and placement of railings, windows and doors in a building, for example, are also considered to ensure complete harmony of the surroundings.
Taking Advantage - The Chinese garden designer attempts to use the garden's surroundings, whether near or distant, to the best advantage. Sights, sounds, movement and stillness, the subtle and the obvious, are used as part of the scenes created within the garden. Many of the private gardens in China were small in size -- no larger than the typical garden sites of single family homes in the United States. It is the challenge, then, of the garden designer to create the illusion of spaciousness by incorporating far-off sights and sounds into the garden's ambiance.
Refinement - To define what is refined in the garden design is a judgment rooted in culture. In Chinese gardens, this refinement has meant incorporating a tranquility, gracefulness, elegance, neatness and distinctness that is in accordance with nature. The expression of these characteristics is judged in China against culturally accepted historical standards. Outside of China, gardeners can define what is considered refined according to their own standards.
Simplicity - To Ji Cheng, being simple means not being extravagant. Resources that are on site or nearby are considered the best materials to use in designing the garden. Rare or unusual objects and plants are considered extravagant.
Changeability - This objective is prominent in traditional Chinese gardens because it expresses the natural law of constant change. A garden design can create a sense of change and unexpectedness with scene changes in every turn of a path, an unexpected or different view from each window and aesthetic changes with each season. Designs can include changes caused by clouds, sun, wind, rain, snow, insects, birds, plants and water.
A garden's plants provide a link among all its elements, symbolizing harmony in nature. Plants are the garden's dynamic, living component.
In accordance with the Chinese view of gardens as representations of nature, the trees, shrubs and flowers of a garden are chosen to reflect the unique features of the garden's region. Most traditional Chinese gardeners select native plants, or plants with special meaning in Chinese culture. Bamboo, for example, is common in Chinese gardens because of the many lessons it teaches. Bamboo is strong and resilient. Staying green throughout the winter, it teaches that one can flourish despite harsh conditions. Bamboo grows in clumps, modeling life in the family. Its fast growth illustrates self-development.
The plants are situated in ways that show off an individual plant's unique features. Their arrangements in the design demonstrate their interrelationships with other species as they occur in their natural habitats. The purpose of plants in Chinese gardens is to reflect the inherent order of nature. More than a collection of plants or even an expression of beauty in the purely visual sense, the classical Chinese garden is a physical representation of Chinese philosophy and culture. These gardens embody the best of traditional Chinese thought and culture, which sees humanity functioning as part of a greater natural order.
Today, home gardeners can apply their plant growing talents in the spirit of these old Chinese gardens by expressing their own culture and philosophy toward nature in their garden designs and by applying Ji Cheng's design objectives. The result will be a garden that unites aesthetics, plant cultivation, philosophy and culture.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Put simply, compost is decomposed organic matter. So those leaves breaking down on the forest floor are compost, as too are the bodies at the cemetery. All organic matter lives, then dies and breaks down into different qualities of compost. That breakdown of organic matter is carried out by animals, plants, moulds, microbes, air and water, basically 'nature' or 'mother earth' depending on how whimsical you feel.
That was the easy answer, but the long answer is dependent on what kind of gardener you are. Do you make your own garden compost, and if so how? Or do you just buy it in bags from the store? Every gardener who is a fan of garden composting has a slightly different method. They will use slightly different ingredients in their garden composters. So everyone's garden compost is a bit different!
Garden soil tends to be a combination of crushed rock and mineral mixed up with hummus (the end result of your garden compost bin). Compost is the bulk within the soil but not necessarily the nutrient provider. Hummus improves the soil structure, allowing it to hold moisture and air.
The more hummus the soil has the better the structure. The soil will not be compacted, as some clay soils are apt to do. Hummus opens them out leaving air pockets which are so vital for the micro-organisms and insect life so vital to the health and vitality of the soil and eventually your plants.
Hummus is spongy and great at holding water so is vital for those with sandy soils. But, any soil will be improved by the addition of more hummus. Home compost is free and easy to create. There is no reason not to compost waste from the home and garden. Much easier to trapse to the bottom of the garden with garden waste or kitchen scraps to compost, than sort them out and place in bins for a destiny in municipal landfill.
Brilliantly, many local authorities across Europe and the US are recycling organic waste on a commercial scale. But if you have space for even the smallest beehive compost bin it makes sense to keep your garden waste for yourself and make your own garden compost. Your compost will be a very locally sourced product and free to boot!
Compost or hummus provides the soil with slow release nutrients. The variety of nutrients will depend entirely on what the compost originally was. For example composting a nitrogen rich poultry manure, will give a nitrogen rich compost.
The very best garden composts are made from a wide variety of ingredients so the resulting hummus is full of the widest variety of nutrients. The hummus which is the end product of the garden composter should be spongy in texture and full of all the trace elements needed in the garden.
So when you are making compost at home the very best approach is to put as many different things in your garden compost bin, as possible. That way you will get the widest variety of goodness to put on your garden.
It is worth telling friends and neighbours if you are starting garden composting. That way you can get more 'food' for the compost bin from them. Composting is the ultimate in garden recycling. And, the more you can recycle to the composter the better the compost will be.
The biggest problem most people face is not being able to fill the garden compost bin fast enough. The whole point of garden compositng, is to improve on what nature does all day every day. The earth tends to compost slowly. Moulds, bacteria, insects, scavengers all slowly turning what was once alive, into hummus to feed the next generation. If you leave a pile of dead leaves in the corner of your garden, eventually nature will break them down. But since they're dry and exposed to the elements, along with being one solitary type of matter, the process will be very slow. Indeed you may find they've all blown away before you get a decent leaf mulch!
Garden composting means helping nature out. Gathering all the dead matter you want to recycle into garden compost, and then protecting it from the elements will speed up the process no end. Also using as wide variety of ingredients for your compost bins will introduce lots of different organisms that work together to make your compost useful in no time.
When carried out successfully garden compost is a beautiful, nutty product that improves the fertility and productivity of your garden. To the successful gardener, composting is a way to save money, work with the environment, recycle and reduce waste. Perhaps most importantly it is a way of ensuring the garden remains productive over the long term. If we are forever harvesting crops we literally reduce the soil bulk and soil vitality of our garden. You can see this in practice as over the years the actual level of soil on a vegetable plot will sink. Maybe more importantly crop yields and performance will falter unless something is done.
Although garden compost is not particularly rich (say in comparison with an organic fertilizer) in nutrients immediately available to plants, it is a feeder as well as bulker for the soil. The nutrients locked up in the compost will be 'slow release' nutrients which means putting composted matter on the garden, means feeding in the long term. This will promote tough plants which are fully developed and strong, not the sappy growth susceptible to disease which quick release fertilizers can give.
The soil life; microbes, bacteria, worms and so on will pull down the compost into the soil where it can do even more good. Best of all you don't have to dig it in!