This post will officially install me as an uber-nerd in any minds that may consider me somewhat conventional still, although I doubt there are many left out there. But I've been reading this book lately, and like any good book I get into, it has really changed the way I look at things. It's called "Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" and is written in flowing prose by Toby Hemenway.
Permaculture is a way of 'designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in the natural ecologies' It has made me look at gardening and landscaping in a totally different way. (In case you're wondering, we are about to begin a full scale landscaping of our yard done by a professional landscaper so I've been brainstorming ideas). I'll leave you to discover the rest of what this phenomenal book has to offer but I will leave you with three things to entice you. First, the cover photo shows a lush green garden full of color and beautifully designed. The garden is situated in the middle of desert in New Mexico. The real kicker? Due to the use of permaculture principles, the owner hardly ever waters save for a few trips with a watering can to isolated spots that need a little love. Unreal.
Second, when talking about harvesting and storing rainwater, the author puts forth the following calculation:
"The average 2,000-square-foot, two-story house (which would be like a 1000 square foot house in Canada, with a basement, as most American homes do not have basements) has over 1,000 square feet of roof....If that house is in a region receiving 40 inches of rain a year...the roof will collect 25,000 gallons of water each year. That's enough to keep a 1,000-square-foot garden water for 250 days of drought." Where do we send that water now? Onto our yards where it runs off or onto our driveways and sidewalks where it ends up in the storm drain system.
Finally, in one chapter on the multiple uses and synergistic connections formed between plants in a properly designed garden (read: pretty much the exact opposite of most North American gardens) there is a particularly beautiful passage on the myriad functions a single oak tree plays in the forest ecosystem. The full description is 3 pages long but I will quote just a few paragraphs to point you toward some of the principles developed in this book:
"Soon the sun warms the humid, night-chilled air within the tree. The entrapped air dries, its moisture escaping to the sky to help form clouds. This lost moisture is quickly replaced by the transpiring leaves, which pump water up from roots and exhale it through puffy-lipped pores in the leaves called stomata. Groundwater, whether polluted or clean, is filtered by the tree and exits the leaves as pure water. So tress are excellent water purifiers, and active ones. A full-grown tree can transpire 2,000 gallons of water on a hot, dry day. But this moisture doesn't just go away--it soon returns as rain: up to half of the rainfall over forested land comes from the trees themselves (the rest arrives as evaporation from bodies of water). Cut the trees, and the rain disappears.
Sun striking the leaves ignites the engines of photosynthesis, and from these green factories, oxygen streams into the air. But more benefits exist. To build sugars and the other carbon-based molecules that provide fuel and structure for the tree, the leaves remove carbon dioxide from the air. This is how trees help reduce the level of greenhouse gases.
As the leaves absorb sunlight and warm the air within the tree, this hot, moist air rises and mixes with the drier, cool air above. Convection currents begin to churn, and morning breezes begin. So trees help create cooling winds."
I strongly encourage anyone interested in gardening or landscaping to check out this book. It is fantastic.