One of the early lessons I learned about growing a permaculture or edible landscape is that most people have no idea what one is. Quite a bit of the good stuff we are growing as food, medicine, or beneficial companions register as “weeds” to new visitors on our homestead. Also, since most people think of their yard, as…well, a yard, and not a garden, there is a tendency to treat everything that grows anywhere but right in front of the house or in heavily-mulched marked beds as they would a typical suburban lawn. In other words, they walk on it and sometimes even park their cars on it.
It only took a few times of people trampling my newly amended and seeded beds, or almost taking out my 1 year trees, for me to realize that I needed to make it obvious where to walk and not to. But since we are establishing a 2.5 acre food paradise, of mostly perennials that take time to establish, it would cost a fortune and add a hefty carbon footprint to our planting if we used conventional products like bricks or lumber to mark beds. Instead, I try to use free or cheap reusable stuff, that is aesthetically acceptable and sometimes quite rustically charming. Today I marked out two new beds, shown in the header photo, with failed and spent shiitake mushroom logs. But I also wanted to share a couple other ways I have creatively protected planting beds from foot traffic.
These faux wattles below, have appeared in a couple other garden blogs I wrote recently, but they are working out so well, I thought they deserved a place here. I used old brittle bamboo posts staked between new bamboo posts to create the illusion of a wattle.
Non-gardeners don’t always know the rule that it’s bad to walk on soil since it causes compaction. When beds are empty, visitors seem to like to step directly on them. So, I also just use bamboo stakes at corners, wrapped with string, to create bed barriers until things start growing in. Since the garden is gated, before I take anyone new inside, I explain why I marked the beds. This not only keeps them from accidentally stepping on my beds, but it also gets them to start thinking about how they treat their own soil.
Sometimes even when I have clear footpaths, people like to take shortcuts across my beds to get to other areas. So, for spots where people tend to want to step across, I find pretty downed bits of wood and put them right in the way to create tripping hazards. (No one trips, they just make the calculations and realize that’s not a good place to step.)
Sometimes I’ll also just dig trenches about a foot wide and deep around the beds. The trench simulates edging that people are used to seeing around traditional garden beds, so they naturally stay to the outside of the trenched area. The trenches collect water and drive it to the roots of the plants inside the bed as well, so it has other benefits. Eventually it fills back in, but by then, the stuff growing inside the beds are more mature and easy to recognize as intentional plantings.
For large areas, I have some tiles that I space about two-paces wide and use to mark where people should walk. I also stake prepared soil and new plants to make sure they aren’t overlooked. Once the landscape becomes more developed and the path is obvious, I reuse the tiles in the next area for development. For our permanent spaces, we also use a mix of the tiles, rail ties, and flagstone to make inexpensive and attractive directional paths.
I really like to use tree stumps and roots when I have them. They take a while to decompose and initially they are pretty heavy too, so they can do double duty as a light retaining wall until plant roots begin to hold the soil in place.
And, for areas where human entry is specifically discouraged, I use two foot chicken fences. They are easy for me to step over, but visitors avoid those areas. The 2 foot fencing is much easier to work with and less expensive than taller fences. When the area is no longer off limits, I can take the fence down and use it again.
Since Matt and I still like our evening wine…bottles often make an appearance as bed borders. For permanent paths, we also use rail ties since they are pretty cheap here, last forever, and are a re-purposed material. I also use “carpets” of rocks that we collected from our soil as entrways to new outdoor rooms. The visual impact of these 5′ x 8′ rock carpets draws people to step on them.
It will take a while for the aesthetics of permaculture and lawnless edible landscapes to become the new norm. So, until then, I hope these ideas help keep your new plantings safe from unwitting intruders.