Tag Archives: sustainable gardening

Garden Update – Results of Condo Association Building and Landscaping Committee Meeting

If you haven’t read my previous posts here is the story so far:

Is it possible to have a permaculture garden when you live in a condo complex?

Garden Update – Results of Condo Association Board Meeting

As was decided at the November 17 board meeting, I attended the Building and Landscaping Committee Meeting on December 9 to explain my garden plan in detail and answer questions. The committee as a whole determined that I was following the by-laws and previous decisions by the board so I was to continue my plan with the compromises we agreed to worked in. The person who complained about my garden is to get a letter saying I’m managing my garden in accordance with the board and the by-laws and they can manage their own garden the way they like it. The landscapers came around for another round of leaf removal in late December and once again skipped my garden as agreed and I am very happy!

On January 1st and 3rd, I applied 20 more bags of mulch, bringing the total number of bags of mulch I’ve applied this season to 82. This time I went to the Clayton mulch pile where they have shredded leaf mulch available for the taking. It’s darker in color than the wood chip mulch I’ve been using, so I’m hoping topping the beds off with a darker layer will help my garden blend in a little bit with the neighboring areas which have not been mulched yet (that’s usually done in February and only every other year) and have only bare soil showing.

I do think the results are an improvement as you see here:

From left to right - front garden, side garden and back garden on January 4, 2016.
From left to right – front garden, side garden and back garden on January 4, 2016.

Comments from others have given me some ideas and I think the results are better than if I had not had any feedback – so far the collaboration and cooperation is resulting in a more attractive garden than if we had gone all my way or all their way. This is how it should work, how I hoped it would work and is the reason I engaged management at each step. If I can successfully pull off a sustainable garden in a condo complex, many others might learn from my experiment how to go about it. Many people all over the country who want to garden in a way that benefits the environment are dealing with the same challenges. Although I am not trying to grow food like the people in the article I can relate to some of the difficulties – for example getting permission for something according to the by-laws then getting threatened with punishment for doing it, which has happened to me more than once. Many organizations and governments are working at cross-purposes and giving their citizens mixed messages and not communicating effectively with each other or the people they are supposed to serve and the citizens suffer as a result. I think too many large organizations see their constituents or customers as subjects. The communication situation in my case has improved greatly and I’m optimistic about the future.

I’ve considered removing more of the liriope since it is not a plant native to Missouri and I want to have more native plants, but I changed my mind because liriope is all over the entire complex and having some in my garden will help with visual continuity. I’ll just keep planting around it and thinning it now and then to keep it in check. Some of the feedback I got indicated that the garden doesn’t so much look bad in their opinion as it looks different and that bothers some people. Looking different was definitely my goal because I don’t think the rest of the complex is as attractive as many other people think but since I know what a healthy garden is supposed to look like I’m seeing it in a completely different way than most people and I do realize that. To me a healthy garden is a beautiful garden, to others an unhealthy garden might be more attractive because they don’t understand what they are seeing. I think blending it in a bit better will help.

I didn’t have enough mulch this time around to cover the path area in the back as well as the planting beds, so my next step in the garden will be to get some more wood chip mulch to cover the path areas. The back garden in particular tends to look a little chaotic at times because my goal is to leave some of the dead plants standing through winter to provide habitat for wildlife and to keep the garden healthy. I think the contrasting color path area does help the appearance because it makes it look a little more ordered.

Once that is done, the next aesthetic issue I would like to address in the garden is that white pipe cap sticking up. I have an idea for a way to conceal that and another cap that is nearby that is not shown in these pictures. I’ll write about what I plan to with that later, and we’ll see if the condo association approves it.

In addition to mulching to cover up the fallen leaves in the planting beds, I applied more fertilizer and raked up the front yard. I’m not required to care for the grassy areas – the landscapers remove the leaves periodically – but it’s in my best interest to rake the area around my garden because when the grassy areas look messy my garden gets blamed. It’s understandable that people don’t distinguish between the parts I maintain and the parts the association maintains – how would they know? It looks like one unit and I’m going to start treating it as such. The leaf blowers the landscapers use leave some of the twigs behind and it does look better with the twigs raked up as well. I used what I raked up to help build up a small raised bed where I hope to grow something later.

Examples of erosion in areas that are not mulched. On the right, you can see plant roots exposed.
Examples of erosion in areas that are not mulched. On the right, you can see plant roots exposed.

These photos show spots near my unit that are not part of my garden that are suffering from not being mulched – with all the rain we’ve had lately in the St. Louis area (which I’m sure you heard about in the news!) erosion can be a problem. My garden area did not have erosion at all because it was well mulched. I’ve gone through a lot of expense and time over the last 11 years building up better soil in the planting beds – I don’t want it to go down the drain!

Garden Update – Results of Condo Association Board Meeting

I went to the board meeting on 11/17/15 to explain my garden management plan. The plan had been agreed to back in February, but there had allegedly been a complaint about it so I thought I’d better explain to the board what the plan was and how I planned to deal with the complaint. I’m not allowed to know who made it so I have to take their word for it that it happened at all. Also I requested a copy of the complaint with the personal information blocked out and I was told I’d get it but I don’t have it yet, so I’m skeptical about whether it exists at all.

It seems that one board member is bitter and resentful that I even have a garden at all, she apparently thinks I don’t deserve “special treatment”. It seems likely that no matter how I manage my garden she will be unhappy that it exists. I did not know this until the meeting but apparently gardening permits are no longer issued at the complex. I got mine in January 2005 so unless the board votes otherwise it seems my garden along with several others is “grandfathered in”. To be angry with me over this doesn’t seem like a very fair attitude to me because the only reason I even got the idea to start a garden here was that the association used to advertise in the newsletter to come to the office and get a permit to start a garden. In other words, I was invited. You can’t rely on the word of the management about too many things, they’ve followed through on several of their agreements with me but have blown off several others. Some of this is no doubt because of the large size of the complex but it’s difficult to rely on their word for anything. If you rely on what they say you are likely to get attacked for it later, even you have it in writing. Some of the people who work here are wonderful to deal with and some give you the impression that they’d be happier if you left and never came back. That is why I would not advise anyone to move here – unless you enjoy conflict and stress. Otherwise there are a lot of good things about it.

Unit owners are only allowed a short time to speak, there is a timer that goes off when your time is up. People are allowed to make anonymous complaints about you but if you want to defend yourself you have to go on the record which I don’t mind doing but I sure wish the alleged detractors if they exist were man or woman enough to do the same. The PowerPoint presentation I had prepared was far too detailed to deal with in the time allowed so I requested to present it at the Building and Landscape committee meeting on December 9 and that request was granted. In the meantime, I suggested a couple of compromises on the North and West sides of the building to make the garden blend in a little better with the rest of the complex which were accepted for now. With those small adjustments I’m to proceed with my plan until the Dec. 9 meeting. What will happen after that I don’t know. The management has a copy of my plan along with my contact information and has my permission to share that information with anyone who would like to talk to me about the garden. I have strong ideas about how I want to manage the garden but I also have strong ideas about not causing problems for my neighbors. If a compromise can be reached I want to try it and not just give up. Some things ARE negotiable. My garden has become habitat to lots of delightful creatures since I started it and is also habitat for at least one endangered species – the Monarch Butterfly. For them, I want to try to keep it going.

11-27-15 - Monarch butterfly chrysalis on swamp milkweed.
11-27-15 – Monarch butterfly chrysalis on swamp milkweed.

On November 19 the leaf blower guys came around again and this time they confirmed with me that I wanted them to skip my garden and I would manage the leaves myself. I confirmed that was the case and sent an email to the condo association and the landscaping company to thank them profusely for their cooperation.

On November 23, I applied 20 more bags of mulch to cover the leaves that had fallen since the last mulch application. That was not enough to do the whole job so I did the North and West sides first which are visible from the street. I’ll do the rest at the earliest opportunity – probably today. I also applied some more blood and bone meal fertilizer and the last of my oat seeds which I’m using as a cover crop.

November 24 – 20 more bags of mulch completed the job, for now.

Is it possible to have a permaculture garden when you live in a condo complex?

Three views of Carolyn's garden
I’m fortunate that I’m allowed to garden in the condo community where I live. My garden has been a tremendous source of pleasure and personal fulfillment for the last 11 years. It’s also been a source of occasional frustration. I realize that my gardening style, while common in some circles, is a bit avant-garde for a community where landscapers who don’t use sustainable practices do most of the garden work.

Any time people do something different there is an adjustment period and some conflicts. When you garden in a community others’ needs have to be taken into consideration. I’ve found that so far that any challenges that come up can be resolved satisfactorily with open communication and creative compromises. I think all gardens are experimental and frustrating to a degree, in my opinion anyone who sticks with gardening a long time accepts this as part of the deal.

My garden is on a really difficult site. When I started the soil was almost pure clay. I have no areas of full sun. I have building shade. I’m surrounded by huge oak trees – they are beautiful and I love them but gardening beneath them is far from easy. Human interference is by far the biggest obstacle to having a good garden at this site. Most people probably would have given up on this project years ago but I’ve gained so much knowledge along the way that I will never regret it. I hope others will benefit from what I’ve learned also by reading about what I’ve done.

2015 has been the most promising season yet, up until what I hope is a minor setback a few days ago. I don’t want it to escalate so I’m going to give a presentation to the board this evening as I understand there are one or more new members. What will the outcome be? Check this space to find out!

View the presentation here (if you don’t know the back story it’s in there):

www.daasx.com/chasenfratz/gardenplan

PDF version:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/k2a46de2hi75fgp/garden_slide_show.pdf?dl=0