In my last “from the permaculture patch” article I asked you to evaluate your relationship with your garden and with our community garden. In high summer do have a garden full of flowers but can only see the few weeds? Are you grateful the snow is concealing the state of your front yard? When you spot a garden gnome, does his look strike you as smug and reproachful? If your relationship with gardening could be summed up by: “Ugh, I just haven’t been doing enough in the garden,” I asked you to stop sewing those particular seeds of shame and regret. Instead, let’s think of a garden as something that is for people, that gives more to people than it demands, and that should give more than it demands. If a garden is taking more than it is giving, we’re doing it wrong.
“Yield” is an important concept in permaculture. In order to design a green space with intention, we need to know what its purpose is. We need to know what we want our garden’s yield to be. Carrots? Beauty? Renewal? Fresh air?
What do you want from your green spaces?
If you want a private place that smells like spice lilies and sounds like wind chimes, where you can sit and sip sangria with your best friend, then make one of those, and don’t feel badly that you aren’t also growing enough turnips in that very spot to feed a monastery.
If you want to fill a root cellar with carrots and potatoes, plant carrots and potatoes, and don’t feel badly that you’re not also growing a row of every type of vegetable ever cultivated by man, including lemongrass, eggplant, and quinoa.
If you want a spot where the kids can make mud pies and kick a soccer ball, or where the dog can chew on some rawhide, don’t worry if wedding parties don’t tend to crash your back yard for photo ops.
If you’re just learning to garden or are new to Zone 3, and you want to experiment with growing cantaloupe, try growing cantaloupe, but be content that both cantaloupe and the knowledge that cantaloupe doesn’t grow very well here are a type of yield.
Do you really just want a quiet and private spot to feel the sun on your shoulders? A place to notice the seasons changing? Something pretty to look at out your kitchen window while you do dishes? One really beautiful tomato to make the best sandwich ever each September? Someplace that renews and recharges your senses and your spirit? A physical challenge?
The really empowering thing about knowing what we want our gardens to yield is that it allows us to perform the essential calculation of yield – investment = profit. Taking the time to calculate how our green spaces are benefitting us or not can help us make good decisions. We may need to repurpose our spaces and recalibrate our relationships with them. Making intentional choices can help us remove ourselves from the grim soldiering through of gardening as a chore, something we do because we must, because that is the way it is done, because that is the suburban dream dreamed up before we got our particular chunk of it and that is the way it has always been dreamt. What is important about a garden to you? Is it how it looks to neighbours and to passersby? How it looks to you? How it feels to be in that space? To spend as little time as possible working outdoors? Any of these are valid but knowing what we want our “yield” to be helps us make good decisions about what we invest. In many ways, yield is such a simple, obvious, basic concept that it’s easy to overlook.
Is there a yield you want from the Parkallen Community Garden? Is it kale? Is it basil? Connections within your community? Solitude? To learn from more experienced gardeners? To teach what you know to less experienced gardeners? Fresh air? To put some food on the family dinner table whether you are 4 or 44? The wherewithal to look the next smug and reproachful gnome you meet in the eye and say, “Look here, lil’ buddy, I helped make the Parkallen Community Garden awesome.” If there is a yield you want from the PCG, I encourage you to go and get it. Take it. Plan to take more from it than you give. Manage your time commitment – guiltlessly – to produce a positive yield.
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