The large lawn and grassy patches between buildings that I inherited at Sylvan Camp and Falls are like a blank palette for me, waiting to be filled with color, with edibles and with plants that attract all kinds of creatures. I started by hauling in shrubs and scraggly stems of melastomes, lantana and other flowering plants that botanist Willow Zuchowski located and identified around the property. We were looking for native species that provide nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies and moths. Moving them during rainy season meant even quite large plants recovered and are thriving. Soon they will be covered in bloom and irresistible to hummingbirds. Next, I pulled in some tall plants: heliconias, gingers and pipers, to act as a privacy screen between two cabins and to make a start on a bat garden. Bats love piper plants, carrying off the long white seed stalks and eating them like corn on the cob.
Last but not least, I started on a garden plan next to the kitchen, to grow herbs and vegetables. I’d already “borrowed” some young perennial chile pepper plants from a neighbor which have been growing well. I’m lucky in having silty runoff from the rivers and streams that is a good mix of sand and organic matter, pretty good for topsoil. But I wanted a raised bed, and I thought it would be interesting to try out a permaculture enrichment technique: placing decaying logs and branches as a base, under a foot of good soil. We want organic produce and I love the idea of self-enriching soil.
First, I hauled old logs that had been stacked around the yard after heavy rains had dropped big limbs. I was thankful to have a wheelbarrow, not just for the weight but to help keep the angry ants and termites off me – well, it was partly successful. The work seemed to get increasingly heavy, so I started adding trimmings of hibiscus plants that had grown much too tall. Some of these branches had side shoots that stood up way above the garden beds. Stopping to grab a drink of water, I was amazed to see that just a few minutes after placement the two highest stems were already adorned with a dragonfly and a damselfly, one blue and one red. An unexpected bonus of the permaculture method – native predators attracted in to keep the pests in check! Now the soil covers these branches, but I will add more lookout posts for my dragons and damsels, putting them above any growing plants, and let them keep the herbivorous and other pest insects under control.