You stop by the garden center, the colorful display at the entrance is so enticing. You grab a few spontaneous buys. It’s fun, it’s delightful.
But how does a plant fit into your overall garden ecosystem?
David Holmgren, in his Permaculture Principles, coaches us to Obtain a yield. Widely circulated on the internet you’ll find an image of a chicken that explains yield in terms of inputs and outputs. But I thought it might be fun to think specifically of a plant.
Any given plant fills several functions within your garden. Some types of plants will “check more boxes” than other plants.
As an example, a brightly colored impatiens plant from the garden center might provide beauty and aesthetics, it might provide some air-freshening, it might “enrich the neighborhood” by adding to a conventional aesthetic, but an impatiens comes up short on a lot of the other functions.
The grapefruit tree in my backyard produces a huge fruit crop, it provides beauty/aesthetics, it performs carbon sequestration, erosion control, it’s a perennial mainstay of our backyard so it’s maintaining a long-term haven for soil organisms, it gives significant fallen-leaf mulch as well as biomass production for our compost pile, it’s wildlife habitat for birds and nectar source for bees/orioles/hummingbirds, air freshening and scenting, it would probably check “enrich the neighborhood” if the prior homeowners had planted it in the front yard instead of back, and you could probably say timber for the times when we need to prune a limb.
Consider the plants you currently have in your garden: What roles to they fill? Do you have an abundance filling one particular role, and few filling another role? Are there functions you’d like to cultivate more of?
Next time you go to the garden center, think about your garden review. Then look for plants which fill in gaps in your garden’s functions.