A Healing Garden Should be Healthy for the Planet, Too

Arugula grown from Seeds of Change organic seeds; swiss chard and other herbs and vegetables bought as seedlings from a nearby certified organic farm.

This may be forehead-smackingly obvious to many of you, but I’m going to say it anyway:
In my opinion, a healing garden should be good for the earth as well as for us. What does this mean, exactly? Here are some thoughts, and I welcome additional suggestions from my readers:

1. Go organic, or at the very least, don’t go toxic with your “raw materials” (soil, compost, plant material) and how you treat them (e.g., companion planting or permaculture instead of ChemLawn). It’s better for us, it’s better for the birds and other wonderful creatures we’re trying to attract, and it’s better for the earth. There are lots of good websites, companies, and organizations out there with information about acquiring and growing plants without the use of pesticides and herbicides. Sometimes it takes a little more work, or you might have to deal with some unsightly holes in your leaves. I wasn’t wild about the look of netting on my strawberries last year, but I sure was wild about the taste and knowing that they were 100% chemical free.

And is my own garden 100% organic? Honestly, no. That Hamemelis I mentioned on 1/21/08? I seriously doubt that it was born and raised without chemicals. But now that it’s in my garden, it’s in a pesticide-free zone.
2. Save water. Especially in drought-riddled areas like New Mexico, where I lived before I moved to soggy New York, it’s just downright irresponsible to plant things that need a lot of water to grow. Or to install a fountain that doesn’t recycle its water or that sprays huge jets that evaporate before the water lands back in the pond. And even in New York, I strive to plant things that, once they’re established, can manage fine on their own.
3. Reduce waste. Create a brush pile and/or compost pile for leaves and other garden debris and for kitchen scraps (no meat, nothing cooked). Brush piles make excellent wildlife habitats; compost piles make the best plant food around, and it’s free! And you’re keeping that much more waste out of the landfill, thus reducing your overall “footprint.” Everybody wins.
For hardscaping and planters, use natural materials such as stone and wood that won’t fall apart after a couple of years, or that can be recycled.
4. Use materials that don’t negatively impact the earth. Those pvc picket fences may be cheap and cute, but they are toxic to make, they can’t be recycled, and they can cause serious problems if they catch on fire, creating carcinogens that get into our groundwater supply. Imagine the ironies of a healing garden for cancer patients surrounded by a pvc fence. The mind boggles.

And again, am I the perfect “zero carbon footprint” example? No. The stone and soil used to create my raised vegetable garden, in the photo above, did not come from the site, they were trucked in from somewhere else. As with almost anything in life, designing a healing garden is about balance. Maybe you’re a small non-profit that relies on donations from a big box nursery for your plant material; maybe the house you bought already had a pvc fence when you moved in; maybe you don’t have the space or the time for a compost pile. We all have to make choices about what we can and can’t do. The important thing, in my opinion, is to at the very least be aware of your impact on the earth, and to strive to reduce your negative impact and to increase your positive impact in whatever ways are possible and feasible to you.