This is the first of an ongoing series with Perfect Earth Project, a nonprofit dedicated to toxic-free, nature-based gardening, on how you can be more sustainable in your landscapes at home.
This morning in my family’s garden, we found two monarch caterpillars sporting their jaunty yellow, black, and white stripes munching on some milkweed. Overhead a song sparrow trilled. It’s been about five years since we started filling the small beds with native plants, and we’ve noticed a big change. What was once a generic garden full of sterile cultivars is now a hive of activity. I couldn’t be happier, but, also, I know there’s more to do for this ecosystem, and more discoveries to uncover. Through my work with Perfect Earth Project, I’m deepening my knowledge of how to garden sustainably, specifically the principles of nature-based gardening.
Simply put, nature-based gardening means working hand-in-hand with nature, not trying to tame it into submission by clipping, mowing, and spraying it to fit an outdated notion of beauty. As Perfect Earth founder Edwina von Gal says, “Stop putting your garden into shapewear.” Instead, work with nature: Nurture your soil. Grow the plants native to your region and allow them to flourish without chemicals. Provide habitat for wildlife (humans aren’t the only inhabitants here). Plant a keystone tree (or ten!). You’ll be amazed, I promise, at the beautiful, bustling, and interesting environment that almost magically appears. As Joy Harjo writes in the poem “For Keeps,” “Sun makes the day new. / Tiny green plants emerge from earth. / Birds are singing the sky into place. / There is nowhere else I want to be but here.”
Here are Perfect Earth’s principles of nature-based gardening.
1. Grow native plants.
They need so little, and they give so much. Aim for at least two-thirds in your yard.
2. Remove invasives.
Get rid of the non-native plants that are taking over our landscapes and outcompeting native plants.
3. Say NO to toxic chemicals.
Nature-based landscapes don’t need synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to thrive.
4. Nurture your soil.
Your garden is only as healthy as the soil in which it grows.
5. Maintain biomass, and mind the mulch.
Leave the leaves and all organic matter, make compost, and grow a living mulch.
6. Reduce your carbon footprint.
Tend to your garden manually or go electric. Your neighbors (and your ears) will thank you.
7. Prune prudently.
Stop chopping with abandon! Every cut is a wound.
8. Plant trees properly.
Do right by roots and don’t bury the crown when planting trees.
9. Water your lawn deeply.
At least 30 minutes and only as needed.
10. Reduce your lawn.
Return part of your yard to the birds, bees, and butterflies. Maintain the lawn you do keep by following toxic-free practices.
11. Plant a habitat garden.
And watch the pollinators and wildlife flock to it.
12. Have faith, have fun.
Change from a fussy and restrictive landscaping style to something more comfortable, loose, and personal. Let your landscape surprise you.
To learn more about each of these practices, download Perfect Earth’s guide to Nature-Based Gardening here.
- Ask the Expert: Edwina von Gal, on How to Help the Birds
- Ask the Expert: Edwina von Gal, on How to Have a Healthy, Toxic-Free Lawn
- Ask the Expert: When to Start Cleanup and Other Spring Gardening Questions for Toshi Yano of the Perfect Earth Project
Frequently asked questions
What is nature-based gardening?
Nature-based gardening is an approach to garden design and maintenance that seeks to work with, rather than against, the natural environment. It emphasizes the use of native plants, organic practices, and ecological principles to create gardens that are sustainable, biodiverse, and supportive of local wildlife.
Why is nature-based gardening important?
Nature-based gardening is important because it helps to restore and protect the natural environment, supports biodiversity, and provides habitat for local wildlife. It also reduces the need for chemical inputs, conserves water, and creates beautiful, resilient gardens that are adapted to the local climate and conditions.
What are some nature-based gardening tips?
Some nature-based gardening tips include choosing native plants that are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, composting to improve soil health, conserving water by using rain barrels or drip irrigation, and creating diverse habitats with a variety of plants, trees, and shrubs.
How can I incorporate nature-based gardening into my existing garden?
To incorporate nature-based gardening into your existing garden, you can start by gradually replacing non-native plants with native ones that are suited to your region. You can also remove invasive species and create habitat features such as bird feeders, bird baths, or pollinator-friendly plantings. Implement organic practices and minimize the use of chemicals to promote a healthier ecosystem in your garden.
What are the benefits of nature-based gardening?
The benefits of nature-based gardening include enhanced biodiversity, improved soil fertility, reduced water usage, decreased reliance on chemical inputs, and the creation of beautiful, wildlife-friendly spaces. Nature-based gardens also provide opportunities for education, relaxation, and the enjoyment of natural beauty.
How can nature-based gardening contribute to environmental sustainability?
Nature-based gardening contributes to environmental sustainability by reducing the negative impacts of conventional gardening practices. It decreases the use of synthetic chemicals that can pollute waterways and harm wildlife, conserves water resources, mitigates climate change by sequestering carbon in soil, and supports local ecosystems by providing food and habitat for native species.