Times may have changed; but for the most part, gardening has not. Although our lifestyles are busy and much more technical, our gardens remain pretty much the same as when our ancestors were around. In fact, many of the plants and ideas used today are not so different. For instance, natural gardening techniques were once all the rage. Traced as far back as the early 1800s, natural gardening and the notion that ‘gardens are a place for relaxation’ still serve as inspiration to gardeners today. In a time of busy and costly lifestyles, who really has the time or money to maintain huge, extravagant garden plots? Why not save both time and money by looking back to the past for creative gardening ideas aimed at the simpler pleasures in life.
Stick to natural plantings. Our ancestors lived in harmony with nature, delighting in its bounty of succulent foods, medicinal treatments, and inspirational beauty. With minimal effort, even the smallest areas within a landscape can be transformed into native wildflower paradise. In spite of what many people think, native foliage plants and wildflowers are not difficult to care for so long as they are suitable to the chosen site. There are numerous resources available with vital information about the types of plants which are favorable to the particular area in which you reside. There is no better way to become at peace with your surroundings than to create a restful retreat filled with the same plants as those who came before us.
Blend together that which is useful and that which brings pleasure. The livelihood of our ancestors was once dependent on their ability to grow crops. Although they took great pride in vegetable gardening, herbs played an important role as well. Herbs were not only used for foods but for the healing properties with which they offered. Yet, our ancestors were not afraid of mixing things up a bit. Growing in the midst of vegetables and herbs were attractive wildflowers. Although many of these native plants were also quite useful, enticing pollinating bees to the garden or deterring menacing pests from the garden, most were simply found to be a pleasant bonus. Even though our lives may be busier today, our gardens can still be both useful and beautiful. Whether it comes in the form of a small plot, flower border, or container, you can have it all by adding native plants to your existing vegetable and herb gardens.
Compost, compost, compost. Many of the basic techniques applied to organic gardening today were used by our ancestors for generations. Even back then it was well known that compost promoted greater soil and plant health. Nearly any type of plant material can be composted for use in the garden such as leaves, lawn clippings, straw, and garden or kitchen scraps. Compost tea was commonly used to fertilize garden plants and still quite popular today. It takes little preparation, and the rewards are well worth the effort. Simply place a shovelful of compost in a burlap bag and place this in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water. Allow the bag to soak for about a day or two then apply to your plants; they will thank you with abundant vigor. The use of manure and nitrogen-producing plants, such as alfalfa and clover, were also commonly used by our ancestors for fertilizer.
Our ancestors knew their soil, their plants, and their climate well. Their life depended on their success in the gardens as well as in the fields. Throughout the seasons, they worked and practically lived here. Every spring, our ancestors would plant gardens; every summer, they would cultivate them. Every fall, gardens were harvested; every winter, they were cleaned up and put to bed, left to do all over again with the return of spring. With each harvest, however, seeds were often saved for the following year’s planting. Seeds were like treasures to our ancestors, and every generation passed these riches on to the next to ensure endless success within the gardens. In effect, they were recycling. Using seeds from your garden’s previous growing year not only provides the same variety of crops and plants but also a saves money by cutting out the need to buy expensive seeds and plants from catalogs or nurseries every year. However, you should only try to save seeds from non-hybrid plants.
Our ancestors often reused items for miscellaneous purposes within the garden and so can you. In fact, you can recycle many of the items you already have at home by reusing them as containers and other gardening accessories. For instance, don’t throw away all those plastic butter bowls or cool whip containers. Use them as interesting flower pots. Items such as old gardening boots, wheelbarrows, tires, and toolboxes can make attractive containers for plants as well. Keep your empty egg cartons handy and make use of them for starting seeds. Plastic milk jugs and pop bottles can be used to make mini greenhouses; and if you happen to have any old window frames lying around, these can easily be converted into cold frames. Holding onto items such as old tools, bottles, and the like and reusing them as decorative pieces is also an interesting way to pay homage to our ancestors.