Planning an organic garden: on being both ‘participant’ and ‘anticipant’

I think part of what delights me so much about a farm, or even an edible garden, is the anticipation.

Appalachian woods walkPicture walking through a park: the path you are walking on crunches under foot, overhead the branches of the trees nearly touch.  Ahead of you, the path bends softly out of sight, behind you it is the same.  It is as if you are traversing an eternal linear glen, each step a serene echo of the step before, until you become aware of a new sound layering under the bird song.


All you can do is hear it, but you know without any further input than this that the water is falling, that it is cooler near where it falls, that there is a pool into which it must be falling (water onto rock sounds different than water into water).   Soon, smells will join the sounds in your anticipatory picture: you can smell the bright green moss, you can smell the slight funk of a pond.

Have you yet seen the water?  No, but you have enough information to begin to enjoy it long before you get there.  In the garden, the phenomenon tickles my fancy.  I am somehow both incredibly Here in the gardening moment, and deeply blurred with the future.  I know those tomatos, long before I see them swelling, I can smell them when I brush past the vines.

Right now, we’re on the far side of winter from my next chance to dig.  There’ll be that (comparatively) warm week in January when I’ll do the bulk of my pruning (I want a reason to have to be outside to enjoy that weather), but even the first seeds won’t be started for another month yet (I am raising no artichokes this year).   So how do I garden right now?  How do I get my fix of being simultaneously hyper-present and hyper-anticipant?


It’s never as glorious as one might hope, but it can be very engaging.  Planning a farm and a garden are fairly distinct- one has a monetary requirement built into its raison d’etre, the other could have aesthetic requirements, though I’ve certainly seen my share of ‘functional only’ garden plots. But farms and gardens do start with the same key activity: site analysis.

Garden site response goes on to look at pattern-making (all those plan drawings from the view point of a bird) and experience making (more easily worked in section and elevation drawings).  Within this framework, most edible gardens go on to behave more like farms than like more purely decorative gardens do because farms and edible gardens look at annual crop rotations, successive planting schedules, and other matters of sequencing time.  Flower gardens are far more likely to seek the dreaded eternal pause, which likely explains why I prefer to view my flower-heavy garden beds more as insectaries and planted meadows than as flower beds.

garden design section park Feed DenverIt’s that wedding of form and function that delights me, thus this begins a week long look at garden planning.  I’ll start with site analysis tomorrow, take a closer look at how soils function, and talk about how site analysis is a generative force for site response.  We’ll spend a day each on pattern making and experience making and then talk about how the two intersect.  I’ll finish up with a closer look at the sizing and layout of garden paths and garden beds.

This garden planning focus is not a random lark.  Gardening is fundamentally participatory- you have to get out there and DO stuff- and that in itself is often daunting to folks.  Beginning in January 2012, I’m launching a newsletter to help folks stay on top of their own garden planning.  Some of that info will show up here on the blog, but I’d like to tailor things a bit, be more responsive to individual USDA zone requirements in the newsletters.  These won’t be chatty affairs, but they should be informative.  Keep an eye out for more developments.

Happy holidays!

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