The gardens I studied in Honduras had five canopy zones,
vines along the ground, herbaceous plants, larger herbaceous and small shrubby
plants, large shrubs and small trees and large trees. How can I translate that
to my high elevation, arid temperate urban garden?
The trees are easy. I will grow traditional fruits like
apple, pear, peach, plum, cherry and apricot along with a few more marginal
varieties like figs and Carpathian Walnuts. One option for dealing with global
warming is to bring plants north, or to higher elevations, so if they cannot be
grown where they traditionally thrive they will survive in the cooler lacation.
Unfortunately some of my favorite tree fruits like avocados and coconuts are too
tender to try to produce here even with global warming.
I will plant a variety of large shrubs between the trees.
Pomegranate,elderberry, chokecherry, and wolfberry to start. These are all good
for juice and jelly, but perhaps more importantly, they distract the birds from
milder tasting tree fruits.
It is the lower stories where I will need to search out
new varieties. Most of the annual vegetables we grow require full sun and will
not do well under trees. While we have more intense sunlight than anywhere else
in the United States there are still many vegetables I will grow in the
unshaded part of my back yard.
Under the trees I will plant a few traditional
vegetables: lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, peas and members of
the cabbage family. I will concentrate more on culinary herbs and perennial
vegetables that evolved as understory plants in the woods and forests of the
I will start with Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts,
clumping bamboo and daylilies. All of these tend to spread, but with our dry
soil they can be easily controlled by allowing the soil to dry out. In the
brighter areas I will plant asparagus, rhubarb, air potato and a variety of
My favorite herbs are parsley, chives, rosemary, thyme,
garlic, oregano and cilantro. I will plant these in the spaces between young
trees. After these are established I will seek out other herbs that will do
better in heavier shade as the trees grow.
All of these species will be planted in a carefully
planned arrangement so they have room to mature, get the appropriate amount of
water, are accessible for harvest. The garden will be pleasing to look at but
will appear wild and natural.
The natural vegetation of this area is not trees and
these understory herbs and vegetables. After all, we only get about 9 inches of
rainfall a year. Harvesting the rain from the roof will increase that to about
12 inches, greywater to almost 20. Adding lots of mulch and organic matter will
get us through the dry spells with only a little supplementation, so I have
many choices for the understory.
The entire process will be documented on video, so watch
for announcements of the videos on YouTube.