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Nurse Log

Upper Salmon River Cedar Nurse log

“Art is a stimulator of consciousness. When we bring art into our daily lives, it helps us rise above our mundane existence to experience visions—both our own and those inspired in others. Gardens, too, are works of art. Every garden is a masterpiece, whether it is a tiny window box of flowers or the great garden at Versailles. To live in a garden and to tend one is to exist with a perpetual work in progress because no landscape is ever truly complete, and none is ever static.”  M. Gilmer, 2001

Common Sense Garden design is like the “slow food” movement in that the design is a work in progress and allows for nature to take it’s course. I call it slow gardening. And, similarly, slow gardening takes a deliberate and emergent approach to landscape and gardening. Using permaculture ethics (or philosophy), including observation over many seasons – often years – to discover a course of action that also fosters a systems management approach to landscape. Long-term, sustainable and earth friendly practices that contribute to a beautiful outdoor space that balances function and form.

An example that illustrates this way of designing is lawn replacement. Often lawns have had years of compaction, fertilization, and over watering leaving the soil depleted of organic matter. One approach is to leave the lawn intact and sheet mulch over the lawn, layering newspaper or cardboard, straw, leaves, branches, or other organic matter with manure, compost and then to plant a green, living manure or cover crop. This would be allowed over a season or two to rest, decompose and grow. The cover crop eventually is “chopped and dropped” and then we can landscape this new space in a variety of styles, even replacing it with lawn – preferably a blended seed using clovers, and other drought tolerant grasses and herbs, or flowers.

Often I suggest native plants as foundation plants throughout a landscape. For example in the Pacific Northwest we would use vine maple, Oregon grape, currents, elderberries, and sword ferns. These combined with ornamental shrubs and perennials create a healthy foundation for the site – balancing function and form.

This landscape is a living, emergent form of art, and changes with time. Working with this idea of transformation and change we can design for these changes, but we can also let nature take her course and delight in the surprises!