(this is a Texas Tale about how I became a Food Forest Gardener. The beginning was decades earlier)
I married a man who had a gardening mother.
His memories of her Victory Gardens and flower gardens were special to him and he encouraged me to learn about gardening. My husband, Bud, began gardening in our small backyard and I began trying to learn how to grow plants while raising 3 kids, going to school, holding down a job and taking care of our home. Sorry to say, I wasn’t a very successful gardener, but I did learn a few things along the way.
My husband was also an amateur archeologist. He signed the entire family up for archeology field schools every vacation in the summer.
We learned about how people survived in the often harsh climates of Texas. One day, while we were sitting in a shade, the field biologist and I were talking. We were in the Chihuahua desert of West Texas and surrounded by low growing creosote bushes.
He said, “Mary, ever notice how each of those creosote bushes are in spaces just like they were planted equal distances from each other in every direction?”
I had not noticed, but he was right.
He continued, “Every notice that there are almost the same group of plants at the base of each creosote bush facing the same direction?”
I again had to admit I was not that observant. Now I looked closely and saw that at the base of each creosote bush had the same group of plants near them.
“Why is that so?” my biologist friend asked me then. I had no idea. He explained. This conversation opened my eyes to a new way of looking at the world.gardens.
“The creosote bushes are spaced exactly as they need to be to be able to get enough nourishment from the soil, sunlight and water from the dew and rain.
The group of plants at the base are located in the one direction that allows them to be shaded from the harsh western afternoon sun. The plants under the creosote bush are determined by the type of roots they have.
Some are fibrous, wide and shallow to take advantage of surface water from dew or rain and these are short lived, some roots go deeper and some even deeper. Tap rooted plants that push deep down in the soil are there too. These roots allow the plants to grow close together because they don’t compete for resources. Now as they grow, mature and die, they create these little micro-climates that hold moisture for all the plants in the group so they can grow in this harsh climate of the Chihuahua desert”
This conversation was the beginning of my understanding of the spacing and planting of plants in our gardens. When Bud and I retired we began The Purple Gate Herb Farm in Caldwell, Texas. (pgherbfarm.com) My interest and attention on how plants thrive has become a focused learning curve that keeps me learning all the time.
In many ways nature is wise. I never forgot this lesson. It was decades before I could put the ideas into practice as we began planting theme herb gardens.