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Entries in sustainable gardening (3)


The Advantages of Self-Sustaining Gardens, a book review for

The Self Sustaining Garden, a guide to matrix planting Peter Thompson, Timber Press,

We are in the midst of a multi-faceted historical development in gardening that has been propelled by social change. In our era, time available to maintain a garden has become as precious as water in the desert. Consequently, alternative styles of landscaping are evolving; styles that require fewer resources. In one way or the other, all of the alternatives politely ignore traditional gardening philosophies. The self sustaining garden is one option.

The author submits that a self sustaining garden requires less effort because the plants do the work. The key to success is not to attempt to grow ones favorite plants. Instead, one must select those that are best matched to local ecological conditions. In such situations, what goes on in the garden will be controlled not by the gardener but by the relationship between the plants that are happy growing together.

The author refers to this kind of self-sustaining landscape as matrix planting and offers wildflower gardens as an example:  Wildflowers grow all over the world with no help from humans. They survive by forming self-sustaining communities-broadly know as vegetation- which shelter and protect the plants within them, while excluding outsiders. They are successful because the plants within each community have established a balance with one another which enables each to obtain a share of resources, living space and opportunities to reproduce…Matrix planting is based on this natural model…

Matrix planting requires less energy and resources as it contradicts traditional garden maintenance methods. For example, tilling and amending the soil is no longer required. Regular use of fertilizer is unnecessary; weeding of self seeding plants is discouraged. Pesticides and slug pellets are never used and irrigation becomes irrelevant. The objective is not to grow bigger and better looking plants, simply healthy ones that can survive without too much intervention from the gardener.

The author establishes the basic steps to creating a sustainable garden. They begin with proper soil preparation and an understanding of the concept of planting in patterns and rhythms. He continues with dedicated chapters that discuss the variety of sustainable gardens based on specific growing conditions, such as ornamental grass meadows and pools and wetlands. One chapter is devoted to the function of shrubbery while another deals with gardening in shade. Within each chapter, inspiring case studies are included and lists of plants appropriate for very specific growing conditions are supplied. From cover to cover, over 1000 plants are recommended.

Readers who are mostly concerned with water conservation will find this book helpful. Mr. Thompson points out that, even though it was not specifically devised to address problems of water shortages, matrix planting has much in common with water conservation. He reminds the reader that traditional, generous irrigation encourages unbalanced growth of those plants best able to take advantage of additional water. Matrix planting of self sustainable gardens reduces the amount of water required for a garden’s survival.

Mr. Thompson is a scientist. As a  botanist, he headed the Physiology Department of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, where he initiated research of seed germination, seedling nutrition and the long term conservation of plant genetic resources. His book targets the scholarly, erudite gardener who appreciates a traditional style of garden writing almost as much as the science of gardening itself. In that regard, this publication is not a how-to manual, even though step by step instructions are given. This is a book for reference and consultation whenever sustainable gardens need to be considered. 



The Gardens at the Royal Palace Have Gone Green. based The Telegraph reported recently that Buckingham Palace is advertising to fill the position of eco-gardener. The job description refers to keeping the grounds of the palace tidy and environmentally friendly, including recycling and composting the soiled straw from the horses’ barns. The position title is green gardener and the annual salary is 15,000 British pounds.

Take a look at the picture of the grounds, situated in the city of London, in the UK. Aren't they awesome? There are 42 acres of land, shrubs, rose beds, and herbaceous plants to maintain with sustainable, organic garden practices. Prince Charles is responsible for the royal family going green.


A Reader Writes About Sustainable Urban Gardens 

A visitor to the Michigan State Fair captured this image of an ingenious support arch for growing organic cucumbers. The arch aerates the plants to help reduce the incidence of fungus that might otherwise attack a densely growing crop. This photo was taken at the Organic Urban Farming Demonstration Garden.I received an interesting e-mail from a reader in Detroit, Michigan who generously devotes his time teaching the public how to grow sustainable organic crops in the inner city. Sustainable organic gardening requires minimal irrigation with little or no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Furthermore, it values the growing of crops close to market to help reduce the amount of fossil fuel needed to transport food.

Meet Ryan Rowinski, a Detroit entrepreneur who runs an organic nutrient supply company called Great Lakes Garden Supply. Mr. Rowinski studied crop and soil science at Michigan State University where he developed a fresh perspective on a society’s relationship with nature and food. He asked if he could share with my readers some of the work that he does to foster the growth of healthy crops called “nutrient dense food”. I found his work intriguing and I am pleased to share it with those of you who enjoy growing vegetables in your gardens.

Mr. Rowinski asks why our food supply relies so heavily on chemical fertilizers. Ancient cultures, he argues, were built on the success and sustainability of their domestic agriculture without the use of such products. These societies thrived for thousands of years. How did they do it? The answer, he discovered, lies in sustainable agricultural production. By amending soil with natural occurring elements such as compost, mined minerals and mineral salts, ancient farmers lived in harmony with nature. As a result, they were able to develop long lasting domestic agriculture.

Using man-made chemicals to feed our crops, as we do today, is not considered sustainable because it is not in harmony with nature. Some of the food produced under this condition is nutritionally deficient. In addition, chemicals destroy naturally occurring organisms in soil that generate food for plants. When mega-farmers use chemical fertilizers, the soil develops a chemical dependency in order to grow crops. This nutrient-depleted soil condition will continue in perpetuity. Organic gardening, by contrast, is about stimulating the biology in the soil that, in turn, frees up nourishment for plants to produce “nutrient dense food.  In simpler language, organic food from sustainable gardens ought to be more beneficial to our health. We already know that organic crops taste better.

The balance of nature that is evident in the sustainable process inspired Mr. Rowinski to develop a Sustainable Hydroponic Farming method that recycles irrigation water, rich in mineral run-off. This by-product, which might otherwise leach into the environment, is converted back into plant nutrients that enrich the soil. Organic growers believe that this is a nature-friendly way to produce a nutritious quality food crop.

This past summer, Mr.Rowinski and a colleague built a compact crop garden on a small tract of land inside the grounds of the Michigan State Fair. They named it Organic Urban Farming Demonstration Garden. Their objective was to demonstrate that it is possible to farm organically and successfully in congested urban areas on small, vacant or blighted lots. Working the mini-farm generated a wealth of knowledge worth sharing. Mr. Rowinski has made that possible by posting a three-part documentation of the project on You Tube. Click on the links below to watch these informative videos.

part 1:

part 2: