Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like there is a huge difference between a farm garden and a homestead garden.
Farming is so honest and gritty. Farming is about getting dirty, working hard, staying focused and above all else, getting stuff done. And I feel the typical farm garden reflects that utilitarian sentiment. Farm gardens are wildly productive, abundant and ordered, crops are often planted in rows, evenly spaced and straight forward. There is no time to explore or to just be with the plants, there is no time let the garden determine your next meal. You tromp focused down the row, stop at the expected aisle and harvest just what is needed, taking time only to weed a little and then turn on your boot heels and head back the way you came.
Homesteading, on the other hand, is less about energy in versus calories out and more about place-making. While productivity is equally important in a homestead garden, there seems to be something different about a homestead garden, something that is hard to define, it’s almost curious. This type of gardening draws you in, invites you to stay and quietly welcomes you to become part of it, to touch, smell and taste its wares. To harvest what you see and to search out what you cannot, more like a leisurely treasure hunt than a task that needs doing.
The homestead garden is creative, natural and ever evolving. Tending a homestead garden in not a chore to be carried out, it’s an adventure to experience. And as every gardener is different so too is their homestead garden, it’s an ever-evolving sculpture, a work of art in space and time, it is an expression of who they are – weeds and all.
The homestead garden is such a practical choice for any urban or rural homesteader, it’s a one-stop shop for any gardener and as such it must meet a multitude of needs. A homestead garden has so much pressure to perform, to be the key source food, flavour, medicine, beauty and sanctuary for the gardener, but it does it all so graciously and with such splendor.
So, what sets this type of garden apart from other forms of gardening, why is it so much more magical than a common production garden? And how do you create a garden like this for yourself? All you have to do is follow these 3 simple rules and you will have the homestead garden of your dreams.
Design Integrate Adapt
A gorgeous homestead garden is well designed, complexly integrated and adapts with the changing seasons. A homestead garden is more than a place to grow food, it is an extension of the home and is designed to serve the needs of the gardener and their family.
As a homestead gardener myself, this is where the flavours of my kitchen are defined, where my herbal medicine is harvested and where I go to first to seek nourishment for myself and my family. I am in my homestead garden every day, it is truly a part of my home and as such, I treat it with respect and gratitude.
– Design –
Where to begin? Always Start with a Great Design:
Design is essential for establishing a new garden or even for adapting an old one. Stay focused on how you want your garden to feel, follow the tips below and before you know it you will have a homestead garden worth showing off.
Customize your Homestead Garden
Design with yourself in mind, create a wish list of all of the elements you want in your homestead garden. List the foods you and your family eat most often, the flowers that you love, even your favourite colours and include them in your plan. Doing so will help you establish your must have features and help you create a shopping list when it comes time to pull it all together.
Express your Design Style
Look online for inspiration(or see my Pinterest boards for tons of great design ideas), if your aesthetic is wild and free then design for that, making sure to stand firm on a few key design rules:
-tallest items like fruit trees to the back
-low border plants like strawberry or daylily to the front
-foot traffic friendly plantings like thyme and sedums on the edges or along the paths
After that, go wild! Design in winding paths that lead to hidden treasures like a rhubarb patch or apple tree. Create woven willow structures that act as both plant supports and art into your garden, remember this is your space there are no wrong answers.
If you prefer a more formal look, seek your inspiration from the french potager gardens. Use plants that hold their structure and keep spaces and paths clearly defined. To incorporate edibles into your formal homestead garden consider substituting traditional plant species for edible options, for example instead of a boxwood try a blueberry hedge. When selecting lettuce varieties, opt for colour blocked rows of head lettuce to line your paths. By keeping to plants that hold their shape and colour you will have better luck predicting their final size and shape, resulting in a more formal looking homestead garden.
Keep it Close to Your Home and Easy to Access
Set your garden up for success by keeping it close to your main traffic areas, nothing deteriorates a garden faster than neglect. Place your garden close to the house and in a sunny area that is easy to access.
Design adequate paths and access throughout your homestead garden as well. I prefer my paths to be around 3 feet wide and I always line them with mulch, gravel or grass to help differentiate the paths from the planting beds.
Design in Social Spaces
Homesteaders live where they work and take pride in their homes. Which is why it’s nice to design in a bit of peacemaking in your beautiful homestead garden. A spot to sit and read a book or enjoy tea with a friend.
A few things to consider when designing a social space in your homestead garden include the size of the social area, sun exposure, and guest interaction.
How you use the space will help define its size. If you want it large enough to fit the whole family be sure to plan room for dining and seating for everyone. Will your space be used as a place to have a cup of tea with a friend? or just big enough for a lounge chair or two?
Consider designing for shade and sun exposure. Do you want a space to hide from the heat of the day or bask in the sun while sipping a cool herbal ice tea? Design for your needs and lifestyle to get a truly custom garden.
Include elements that entice the senses and evoke interaction between the guests and the garden. Flowers like evening scented stock, lavender, and sweet pea all smell amazing. Wind chimes, birdbaths and garden art all create visual interest in the garden, all of which add to the experience of the garden and encourage your guests to return. Think of ways you can stimulate the senses in your homestead garden.
Ask yourself questions like these early on in the design process to avoid major changes later on. While the design might seem like an easy step to skip, please don’t overlook it. A well-designed homestead garden is customized to meet your specific needs, expresses your personal style and is easy to access and maintain, making it an enjoyable space to explore and be a part of; which is what a homestead garden is all about.
– Integrate –
Use Integration to Create a Gorgeous Garden
Integration is the practice of mixing plant species that are normally segregated, by stacking your crops you can create higher yields in a smaller space. Secondary crops like nasturtium and pumpkin can be set to ramble throughout a home orchard, making use of the lower growing area, attracting bees and creating shade to retain moisture on the orchard floor, integration can be not only productive but incredibly beautiful.
Integration is what defines the homestead garden, herbs and veggies grow under fruit trees, flowers and medicinal herbs grow together and are harvested for use in the home. An integrated garden is incredibly productive and mimics a natural ecosystem, designing this way may be a new style of gardening for you but trust me, it’s not only productive but beautiful as well, just be sure to include the following elements, culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, annual vegetables and perennial crops.
Integrating culinary herbs into your homestead garden is essential if you are planning on gardening with organic practices. Culinary herbs bring in pollinators and confuse pests they also serve as great companions to your other plants.
If you cook often, culinary herbs can quickly rack up your grocery bill, which is crazy because they are so easy to grow. While some are annuals and need to be reseeded each year, many culinary herbs are perennial and can be harvested year after year.
Culinary herbs serve so many uses and are essential in any homestead garden. Fresh spring herbs can easily be harvested with nothing more than a pair of kitchen scissors, dried indoors and stored for use all season long.
Culinary herbs to include in your homestead garden:
Thyme, oregano, cilantro, chive, basil, rosemary, and dill.
Integrate Medicinal Herbs
Integrating medicinal herbs into homestead garden is a great way to benefit both you and your garden. Medicinal herbs can be used in the garden as organic pesticides for healthy plants, mulch plants healthy soils and as fodder crops for healthy chickens and livestock if you have them.
The effectiveness of herbal medicine is gaining validation through the medical community and is beginning to be seen as an acceptable alternative to pharmaceuticals for the treatment of minor illness. This is good news for the urban or rural homesteader because homesteaders are tough cookies and won’t often bend to treatable upsets. Instead of taking the day off if a tummy ache strikes, they will head out to the homestead garden, brew a pot of mint and fennel tea and then get back to work.
Medicinal herbs like mint, chamomile and dill are generally safe for consumption, but you should consult your physician and do a little reading on exactly how and why before taking anything as a solution to any ailment, doing so will help you avoid side effects or unintended results. And always ask your doctor before taking herbs when pregnant or nursing. Safety first, as always!
Medicinal herbs come in countless forms but are often flowering plants that are not only useful but beautiful as well. The structured silver beauty of a mature lavender plant, the colour explosion of bee balm flowers or the mob of yellow and orange blooms that come with calendula plants are all gorgeous and absolutely worth incorporating into any medicinal homestead garden. Be sure to integrate medicinals into your homestead garden and grow your own “Farmacy”.
Medicinal herbs to include in your Homestead garden:
Plantain for bee stings, mint for stomach upset, cilantro to prevent gas, garlic to boost the immune system and lavender for relaxation.
Integrate Annual Veggies
Growing your own food is rewarding and healthy and as such annual vegetables are essential for any homestead. All too often we segregate our vegetable garden, casting it off to the back yard like an afterthought, just another way to ‘deal’ with the unsightly corner of the yard.
I feel our food deserves more respect than that, instead, our veggies should hold a place of honour in our yards; the brightest spot close to our social spaces and our kitchens; it’s the least we can do for these darling little plants that live to feed us.
Grow your veggies among your herbs and medicinals to create a self-supporting ecosystem. Peas and beans can be trained to climb fruit trees, nasturtium flowers can ramble among squash plants to increase pollination and self-seeding salad greens like lettuce and ruby mustard work well to fill empty space and out-compete weeds.
Annual Vegetables to include in your homestead garden:
Lettuce and salad greens, scarlet runner beans, squash and pumpkin, garlic and onions.
Be sure to include perennial food crops in your integrated homestead garden. Perennials are so easy to grow and once established can grow on for years without any work from you. I recently consulted on a historical homestead that was established in 1910, where I found perennial crops that are still going strong today, this included 2 massive walnut trees, a diverse fruit orchard that was way older than I am, and asparagus plants that had self-seeded along the length of the driveway. Both the new owners and I were amazed at the resilience of these perennial food crops.
So clearly, homesteaders know the value of perennial crops, species you plant once and they continue to come back year after year. What could be better than stepping out into your homestead garden to harvest a bushel of fresh rhubarb and a bowl of fresh strawberries and bringing them straight to the kitchen to create a fresh baked pie that holds all the flavours of spring.
Cultivating an annual vegetable garden can be a lot of work, and needs to be redone year after year which is why integrating perennials into your homestead garden can be a wise and delicious decision.
Perennial crops to include in your Homestead garden:
Nut trees, fruit trees, strawberries, rhubarb, berry bushes, french sorrel, and asparagus.
A well-integrated garden is healthy and productive, herbs, fruit, and veggies are planted densely to out-compete weeds confuse pests. Flowers are included to increase pollination, add beauty and attract beneficial insects. An integrated homestead garden provides crops, habitat and visual interest through the seasons, and with so much to explore it is also an adventure waiting to be had.
– Adapt –
Adaptation is all about working with your garden as a whole, a complex and ever-evolving ecosystem. A homestead garden changes with the seasons and production ebbs and flows with the years. To ensure your garden stays healthy and beautiful interact with your garden daily to observe changes, harvest your crops often and adapt your plan as the seasons change.
Observe your Garden Daily
Tour your garden often and get to know when you garden needs you, observe changes in the soil, check for plant diseases and possible pest outbreaks. And remember by integrating your social spaces into your garden you can relax while watching the relationships between elements like that of the aphid and the ladybug.
Harvest Crops Often
Harvest regularly, not just in the fall, homestead gardens are diverse and ever changing, harvest your bounty at it’s prime. Snip bountiful blooms to display inside your home, pick sun-ripened tomatoes in the heat of the day and save dried seed pods to plant again next spring; the homestead garden changes with the season, so harvest accordingly.
As you harvest, replant. Spring peas can be replaced with bush beans as the season changes and the weather becomes too hot for peas. Cilantro bolts quickly and should be seeded bi-weekly to ensure a bountiful harvest all season long.
Adapt your Plan
While much time will be spent designing your homestead garden, in the end, a garden is dynamic, it is an ecosystem that is forever changing. In the long run, you will need to adapt your plan each year as trees create shade and perennials grow in. Rotate your vegetable crops to prevent disease, divide large perennials and change up your annual plants for new colours and varieties. Sometimes plants die, that’s life.. replace old ones with something new and interesting to you excited about your garden year after year.
A well-adapted garden is always in bloom and looks beautiful as the seasons and years progress. As trees grow and provide shade the well-adapted homestead garden becomes easier to maintain, perennials grow and become more productive, annual crops self-seed and fill empty space and weeds are out-competed by flowers and herbs. The adapted garden is a productive, bountiful ecosystem that evolves over time to sustain itself.
So remember to create a beautiful homestead garden you need to design it well, integrate species for a healthy and productive garden and be ready to adapt your plan as your garden evolves. Follow these rules and you too can have an amazing homestead garden for years to come.
Okay, let’s do this! Let’s get started designing your amazing homestead garden this weekend, here are some great resources to get you going.
And remember the best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago, the second best time is now.
Thanks for hanging out!
For your Pinning pleasure!