Innovative gardening is about being clever and creative in gardening. There are many ways in which you can be more inspired in the garden and the way you conduct gardening. Don’t forget that although most gardens are made by humans, they are still very important to the planet as they represent a part of the natural environment and contribute to the world’s biodiversity.
In the following article, we will give a general overview of innovative gardening, provide innovative gardening notes and try to answer questions such as:
- What is innovative gardening?
- What is innovative gardening in agriculture?
- Why should we use innovative gardens?
- What is vertical gardening?
- Examples of innovative gardening
- Importance of innovative gardening
- Types of innovative gardening
In Innovative gardening, we do our best to make full use of the resources we have in hand. Whether this is limited space and land, or plastic bottles ready to be recycled, an old pair of gardening boots, etc, the idea is always to make things more interesting, have a more beautiful garden and reduce the environmental impact that gardening may create (such as waste of water or too many plastic pots).
When first starting an innovative garden, it is important to plan well ahead. Software exists for planning, but I find pen and paper to be more appropriate for such instances.
Plan in advance what you can plant in your garden, as this will vary depending on your climate, accessibility to water and the level of direct sun or shade you experience in your garden.
Keep your garden diverse, encouraging the use of companion plants to help different plants support each other.
Insects and bugs are actually helpful, and an organic garden or field will need them to grow properly and as much as possible without any pesticides. If you are growing commercially, cultivating organically is much more difficult, but at the same time tends to have greater profit margins on the market. Consumers are normally happy to pay a higher price for produce that is organic and free from pesticides.
Furthermore, when gardening innovatively, don’t limit yourself to soil and land. You can garden creatively vertically and horizontally, on walls, rooftops, ceilings, tables and your driveway. In summary, creative and innovative gardening is limited only by your thinking.
Have you ever, for example, thought of putting a mailbox in your garden to store your gardening gloves and tools? Or else reuse old toys and change them into cute plant containers?
Starting your vegetable and fruit garden using original containers can improve even the smallest areas, including internal yards, internal rooms, balconies and roof terraces.
What is innovative gardening in agriculture?
In agriculture, companion plants can be used to maximize yields, deter pests and avoid diseases.
Flowers, for example, are of course beautiful to look at and admire. Nonetheless, they can serve very practical uses in the vegetable garden. These include:
- Keeping pests away
- Attracting pest predators
- Attracting pollinators
- Controlling weeds
An example of companion plants is to plant in raised garden beds both asparagus and strawberries. Onions in between can also help provide nutrients that can assist all crops grown in the areas as the different vegetables will assist in providing each other with required nutrients.
Planting flowers in the same area can help feed and attract bees, who in turn will cross-pollinate the garden and make sure that your garden is well pollinated for future vegetable and fruit growth. Don’t forget that bees will also pollinate your vegetables, not only your flowers.
Making sure weeding is done properly is also important, to avoid having unwanted plants or crops taking away precious minerals and nutrients from the soil and other plants.
Some practical examples of how vegetables have friends include:
- Basil: Basil can help increase the yield of tomatoes if grown relatively close. Basil also has the potential of improving the flavour of lettuce
- Broccoli: Mint and sage have the power to keep cabbage moths away and protect your precious vegetable
- Carrots: two important friends are chives and rosemary. Chives can improve the flavour, whilst rosemary keeps away carrot flies
- Tomatoes: Both basil and mint can enhance growth and taste
Why should we use innovative gardens?
Innovative gardening can motivate people to be more responsible. You can be more respectful of the environment, recycle materials used at home and avoid wasting water.
A culture of innovation in the garden will push you to be more creative, and constantly looking for new and better ways of doing gardening.
This is important not only in terms of resources but also in terms of the type of plants, flowers, vegetables etc that you can grow in your garden.
For example, covering seedlings with plastic bottles, or plastic bags can help you grow plants and flowers that would not normally grow in your area. The plastic will help serve as a sort of greenhouse, that will keep the seedlings warm and give the plants a better chance of survival.
Using old clothes, gardening boots and gloves as containers in the garden, or to decorate, is another way to recycle older materials without throwing them away. This helps keep them away from landfills and makes your garden more interesting to look at.
If planned correctly, especially in terms of companion plants and layout, the garden can essentially fertilize itself with minimal human intervention.
What is vertical gardening?
Vertical Gardening is a process through which plants, fruits and vegetables grow in a vertical, upwards direction (on top of each other) instead of the horizontal, more traditional manner (next to each other on the ground). In summary, vertical gardening uses upright growth containers to make the most of your growing space.
Sometimes, a vertical garden is also referred to as a Green Wall and can be grown both inside and outside.
Vertical gardening provides you with the ability to grow plants and crops above the ground and along walls, or vertically standing structures.
It is commonly used in offices or public spaces, but can also be practised at home and in agriculture.
The main objective of vertical gardening is to maximise space, especially where this is limited.
For example in Malta, where land is scarce and many homes are small in space, vertical gardening is an ideal alternative to the traditional type of gardening which requires large spaces and lots of land.
Another advantage of vertical gardening is that these systems are generally very efficient in watering and saving water. Water dripping down by gravity from plants at the top will water the plants and crops below them.
Certain vertical garden systems are expensive to purchase, however you can create your own through DIY if you obtain some wooden pellets and old plastic containers. Just make sure that the plastic containers (or any container) have proper holes at the bottom for water drainage, as most plants will suffer from root rot if they are left standing continuously in water for a very long time.
Vertical gardens tend to be easy to maintain, and green walls usually have very efficient systems of watering and pruning.
Examples and types of innovative gardening
Composting is another example of innovative gardening. Try and use scraps from your kitchen and cooking to add nutrients to your soil and garden.
One way of doing this is to keep a well-covered container in a far away corner of the garden where food scraps and kitchen waste is kept. This will eventually form compost that you can add to your soil once or twice a year.
By doing this, you are recycling home waste, providing fertilizer to your soil and saving money from purchasing store-bought fertilizer.
Not only kitchen waste can be used for composting. Scraps and leftovers after gardening activities, such as freshly cut comfrey, can be used in composting to add essential nutrients to your compost.
Using old and discarded tyres as containers is another example of innovative gardening.
Keeping these out of landfills, especially the ones where they are burned, helps reduce air and visual pollution. Furthermore, you can also save some money by avoiding the purchase of extra plastic pots.
Using bricks in garden design will give extra character to your garden. These can be used for decoration or to help build proper raised garden beds.
Another interesting use of innovative gardening is to attract birds. Install a bird feeder in your garden and create the right conditions for birds to make your garden their home. Provide water, food and shelter from rain and sun. By doing this you are developing a bird sanctuary, which you can admire from the comfort of your home.
Another cheap creative idea is to use plastic bottles for watering. If for example, you are going on holiday, or for any reason you cannot water your plants for some time, using old plastic bottles (from soft drinks or water) with tiny holes on the sides and top can help release a slow but steady stream of water to your plants.
In this way, your plants will continue receiving water, slowly, even at times when you cannot tend to your garden yourself. As always, if using this method, or any method, to water plants in containers, ensure that the containers have holes at the bottom for water drainage. In this way, excess water can drain out of the holes and the plant will not rot. Furthermore, ensure that the holes are not blocked for any reason.
Build a food forest
If you have the space, you can build a food forest. This is an ecosystem of trees, vegetables and flowers that grow together, supporting each other and attracting pollinators such as birds and bees. In return, you get fruit and vegetables to consume and share all year round.
One way of retaining moisture in compost and soil is mulching. Nonetheless, this can also be made creative and attractive if instead of using old leaves or straw, you decide to use shells. In this way, you would be opting for both a practical and attractive choice.
Mulches are not only ornamental but also functional. Apart from crushed sea shells, you can also try pea gravel (commonly used in landscaping), slate pieces, straw, pebbles, bark, china fragments and terracotta stones.
If you have a problem in your garden with slugs and snails, you can protect young plants and seedlings using plastic water or soft drink bottles. Cut down the bottle and use it to create a sort of protective barrier, or collar, around the plant.
In this way, you are giving some extra protection to your plants from hungry snails.
Importance of innovative gardening
Innovative gardening is very important for the world we live in today. It has a large number of benefits, including the below:
- Encourages responsible living
- Produces fruit and vegetables
- Cost saving
- Reduces waste in landfills
- Promotes reduce, reuse, recycle
- Improves record-keeping skills
- Contributes to environmental preservation
- Adds excitement to uninteresting areas, such as offices or shops
- Adds dietary variety to you and your family
- Improves critical thinking
Innovative pots and containers
One of the most common ways of being creative and innovative in gardening is through the use of pots and containers. Long toms can be used to maximise space, and terracotta pots add a rustic feel to your garden, for example.
Many different everyday household items can be used for this purpose. Certain general rules are constant, for example, having proper water drainage. But otherwise, you’re very flexible as to the types of containers you can use. I am going to list some examples below which might be useful ideas to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs through innovative gardening.
Most kinds of kitchen containers are also suitable for sowing seeds and growing seedlings. These include plastic trays, eggboxes and supermarket packaging. Think about fruit plastic containers. These usually have holes at the top and the bottom and are ideal as a cheap alternative to grow seedlings, serving well for both ventilation and water drainage needs.
Olive oil cans
Chilli pepper plants are not only colourful but also functionally useful for the kitchen. Chillies exist in many different varieties, including Italian sweet pepper, the Cayenne Buist, Kashmiri chillies and Bolivian Rainbow Chili Peppers. Most chillies are well suited to be planted in colourful and empty olive oil cans. This is a trend which has also become very common in garden and plant shops along with supermarkets. Empty tomato cans are also used for planting kitchen-related plants and herbs.
Sometimes, waste from construction activities can also be used for innovative gardening. Clay pipes can be used as a sort of long tom pot or container. Try growing chives that can later be used in your cooking as required.
Old wire baskets, that were used in the past in supermarkets and groceries, can also be used as a container. Most wire baskets are robust and can be used to grow different vegetables, for example, tomatoes or spinach.
Colourful rubber tubs, so commonly found in homes, can be used to grow vegetables. They provide enough depth within them to grow vegetables with a large root system, or else those vegetables that grow underground, such as potatoes.
Galvanized buckets with a few holes at the bottom are the ideal growing medium for many herbs, including mint. Many people will want to give away these for free or at a cheap price and they make an ideal container for the contrasting colours of the mint. Keep them close to your kitchen, and the mint can be used in your cooking to add that extra touch of flavour to your food or dish.
Alternatively, if available, an old galvanised metal bath can also be used. These are a little harder to find, but if you have the space available, it is a unique addition to your innovative and creative garden. This larger space can be used to grow courgette vegetables for example.
Old wooden boxes can be used to grow some fruit that enjoys growing in a longer, more horizontal container. Try strawberries for example, which are a stunningly colourful addition to your garden. The strawberry runners can also be planted again within the old wooden fruit or wine box to cultivate even more strawberries. Just remember to water regularly and to have proper drainage, and therefore remove extra water either from the ground surface or from the root zone.
A vegetable packing sack, made of artificial material, can be used as a distinctive and usable planter. These woven sacks are sometimes used to package and ferry potatoes and crops. The close weave of the sack will allow surplus water to escape, and therefore in this case no drainage holes at the bottom are required. Try growing broad beans whose flowers are loved by pollinators.
Kitchen containers, small food plastic bowls, plastic washing-up bowls, laundry baskets and old strainers or colanders can also serve as containers or pots for your plants, fruit and vegetables. Both rocket and radishes can grow rapidly and are easy to manage. The more brightly coloured your boxes, bowls and containers are, the greater contrast these will provide with your vegetables and plants. Think about red and green salad leaves growing in bright-coloured containers.
Newspapers can be used to create biodegradable pots. Cut a piece of newspaper, form into a circular, paper pot shape, fill it with soil and sow the seeds. When this is put into the ground, it will serve as a protective pot for the seeds and seedlings until it biodegrades naturally into the soil. This is also a very environmentally conscious and cost-effective option, as it saves you from the need to continue purchasing plastic pots.
Visit garage sales and flea markets to find decorative flour and bread enamel bins. These were very common in the past. Their colours and descriptive text create unusual pots with a traditional feel. Be careful, however. Don’t leave these containers in direct sunlight all day, as they can get very hot and damage your herbs. Growing lettuce or herbs on your kitchen window sill adds personality to your home, and will surely be a talking point when inviting guests and friends over.
Vintage baskets, more commonly known as cane baskets, are cool to use as containers and can add a traditional quality and characteristic to your garden. Think about all the models from about 70 years ago with plastic threads. Most of these will not be good enough today to be used for holding shopping goods but are still ideal to use as a container for growing vegetables. You will need some sort of plastic bag and liner to protect the cane from the water, however. This sort of container is really good for herbs such as parsley, thyme and marjoram.
A wicker basket can also be used and is suitable to grow herbs such as chervil, occasionally called French parsley. If sowing chervil seeds in very wet periods or times, keep monitoring for snails or slugs. Unattended, these can destroy your seedlings.
Intercropping is an efficient system of growing plants and vegetables. Through intercropping, you plant smaller plants (normally fast-growing) in the space between larger, slower-growing plants and vegetables. The faster-growing crop will mature at about the same time as the slower-growing plant starts requiring more space.
In this manner, you are using the space in your garden more efficiently, and you can grow a larger volume of fruit, plants or vegetables.
There are different combinations you can use in intercropping, including:
- Lettuce, cabbages and broccoli
- Radishes, spring onions and carrots
Arguably, one of the greatest uses of innovative gardening is in areas where space is limited. But do not get discouraged, as even the smallest of spaces can still be used to grow fruit, vegetables and especially herbs. All you need is a small terrace or sunny windowsill.
The availability of different and attractive containers has the extra advantage of adding extra character and personality to your home, acting as a showcase for guests that visit you.
Some of the most obvious produce include herbs, peppers, chillies and salad leaves.
Growing your vegetables also means that you know what you are eating. The shape and colours of your produce might not be the same as the ones you see in a supermarket. But that is only because yours are natural and organic, whilst most likely those produced commercially and sold in stores are grown in artificial conditions.
Try and practice companion planting. Invest in your knowledge around feeding, watering, fertilising, and learn how to fight the most expected types of pests and diseases in an organic, natural fashion.
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