Regenerative Gardening

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Nurturing the ecological circle to heal the garden & the planet

Healing Our Gardens & Ourselves

The older I get, the more I want to encourage my gardens to be independent yet abundant. Finding the ecological balance between a naturalistic Eden and a giant mess is tricky, especially in the early stages. Transitioning from control oriented models to one of working with natural plants and patterns involves unlearning old ideas as much as learning new ones. Don’t get me wrong; when I walk into my little backyard, I want to call in a bulldozer. It’s been totally neglected for the past few years of increasingly stressful family health issues. Too many times I would open the back gate, determined to clear it all out, and end up just closing the door and walking away. Just. Too. Much.

On the other hand, the birds are thrilled with the chaos, as are a zillion bugs and bees and who knows what all else. A large part of my horror is based on what’s growing wild back there; if it were all natives, I might just call it good, but it’s a nasty mix of persistent garden weeds that I inherited with the house. When we moved in four years ago, I spent the whole first year clearing and weeding and uprooting and composting bales of bindweed, invasive blackberries, Bishop’s weed, vinca, and sticky-weed (aka bedstraw, though I certainly would never want to sleep on a mattress stuffed with that prickly stuff). Had I kept on top of the eradication project, the back garden would very likely be fairly clean. Probably.

The Big Pause

Some people used the Pandemic Pause to teach themselves several languages, play a new instrument, and develop marvelous recipes using ingredients that were still available (remember those empty shelves?) in inventive ways. However, the pandemic took the wind out of my sails. My daughter’s medical team changed, as did mine, and care was only available online. As she began to lose ground, she was told she probably had long covid (which turned out to be a serious misdiagnosis) and back then nothing was available to help. About that time, I stopped doing a lot of things-ok, anything-that felt too hard. For starters, a community electrical system replacement project tore apart my new retaining wall and waist-high raised bed, filling half the small backyard with heaps of sand and soil and heavy stone blocks. A rather inferior type of raspberry avidly spread through the newly prepped ground beds and bindweed jumped the fence to weave its merry way through the canes. After a while, I just closed the gate and stopped looking.

As my daughter’s condition improves, I’m finding just enough energy to begin a very slow process of reining in the wild. I’m leaving the native plants, those I planted and those that choose to appear, from ferns and false Solomon’s Seal to coralbells, Tellima and Miners’ Lettuce (though the Oregon Grape has such powerful takeover tendencies its spread has to be limited). Everything else is on the removal list, whether to the nearby community garden, to friends, or to the green waste bin. All those hikes up First Hill to Harborview Hospital helped me get some of my own strength back and made me realize that as my daughter’s condition had worsened, so had mine. Her situation was extremely serious because her gut had been failing for years, which nobody recognized, not even her. Things that develop slowly can creep up on us until we find ourselves in dire straits, inside and out. Her condition was so degraded that it was life threatening. That was a huge wake up call for both of us and fortunately the crisis came in time to save her life.

Reboot and Renew

It also helped me reverse my own downward spiral and reset my life as she’s been resetting hers. We’re both having to dig down deep to remember how it felt to be strong and competent, qualities that can get lost in a long, drawn out illness, whether physical, mental, emotional or all three together. Reclaiming my little lost garden is part of that process and it doesn’t really matter how long it takes. Some days I can put in an hour without interruption, others just a few minutes. Some days I only think about it and that’s ok too. While pondering renovation, I’ve been tickled to notice that regenerative gardening is getting a lot of buzz these days, touted as a ground breaking way to go beyond doing less harm to get to active improvement of our share of earth. It may be news but it’s not new because guess what? It’s all about healing the soil, and the magic ingredient is compost. Who knew? Well, obviously some of us knew….

No matter how trendy it seems, the idea of regenerative earth work is definitely a positive impulse with far reaching and vitally needed impacts. Regenerative farming combines key elements from various schools of organic, sustainable, and what’s called ‘polycultural practices’ which basically means cherry picking the best ideas from many sources. The big idea is that every farm and every garden, every park and every managed forest is part of an interconnected ecosystem. The underlying principle is that humans really need to start (or return to) working WITH nature and natural systems rather than trying to reshape and manipulate nature to meet our short-sighted human goals.

Heal The Soil, Heal The Planet

Regenerative systems all start with soil; nurture soil health with compost (just sayin’), minimizing soil disturbance, covering bare earth with mulch. It’s also about supporting our allies, planting for pollinators from bees and butterflies to birds and bats. These days, all living things need our protection and active support, so let’s plant for the wild things as well as for our own needs and pleasures. We need to relax our control based perfectionism to allow imperfection; instead of freaking out when fodder gets nibbled, let’s remember that’s how caterpillars become butterflies. If leaf cutter bees leave a few rose leaves hole-y, rejoice that they are becoming adorable little egg cases.

With humans, healing our own ecosystem starts with nurturing gut health. It means eating not just to fill our bellies but to encourage our inner garden of beneficial, wholesome gut flora. Plant based, whole food diets are better for us and better for the planet. Instead of Meatless Mondays, let’s consider observing Meatless Most Days, and explore the amazing cuisines of the many cultures that consider meat a condiment. Better soil quality, better food quality. Better food quality, better health for everyone on the planet. Onward, right?

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9 Responses to Regenerative Gardening

  1. Barbara Stewart says:

    Been a while. Glad things are looking up. Thanks for sharing a slice of your life.

  2. Jan Peacoe says:

    I gain so much insight reading your blogs. Thank you for the inspiration and continued healing for your daughter and our planet. ❤️❤️❤️

  3. Laura Matson says:

    Thanks so much for the reflections and information on regenerative farming/gardening. As part of my Master Gardener training I am preparing a talk about these concepts. I like the focus on caretaking a habitat rather growing a perfect and trimmed garden. I was thinking about this as I was watching a Black-headed grosbeak perched on my lovage plant that has shot up in this weather and going to seed. Guess I’m not cutting that for awhile

  4. L paxton says:

    Ann, I just stumbled on your website as I fell once again down the rabbit hole….i was seeking your rose soil for planting. All i recall is alfalfa, Epsom salts, and compost…but i can’t recall the proportions. 6 david Austen roses await planting here and i am so excited but want to make absolutely sure i do as much as i can to help them along.

    We all seem to be struggling through this unpredictable time and I pray the challenges facing you recede and you can return to what brings you joy. So send you all good wishes for complete recovery and look forward to reading every new issue of the log house blog. Many thanks, Ann.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hmm, I’ve never used Epsom salts, but give roses an annual feeding mulch of aged dairy manure and adding about a quart of alfalfa meal or pellets spread over the active root zone (drip line). Exact amounts aren’t really important as the size of each plant varies.

      • L paxton says:

        Thanks so much, Ann.
        On 7 acres and the help of a kiwi landscape fellow, i didn’t have to double dig, thank goodness. I’ve put the bare root roses into larger pots for this season with food for them so that i can move them about a bit before deciding exact placement but it looks like Lark Ascending which grows to 5 x 5 may need to be planted sooner rather than later. Well, i googled “Epsom salts and roses” and did read a recommendation to soak roses in 1/2 cup per gallon before planting and will try in future. Encourages root growth and strength i think. Best, loryn

  5. margie morgan says:


    I appreciate your honesty in sharing your life, in the garden and out.

    Help, Bindweed is taking over much of my vegetable garden. I know not to try to dig it up since that will disturb by perennial vegetables. So I simply keep cutting it back. Do you have any other ideas that might help stem its spread?

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Margie, I enjoy yanking out bindweed in winter, when the soil is damp and open and you can get a lot of the roots out. In summer, and in planted beds, it’s trickier but I use a Japanese farmer’s knife (horihori) do dig out as much as I can without disturbing the nearby plants. As long as it hasnt gone to seed, you can put bindweed in the compost or green waste bin, where it adds minerals and other nutrients as it breaks down.

  6. Tamma Farra says:

    I truly loved your analogy of soil health and human health. So many lessons to learn from nature. And I loved how you are giving yourself the space you need to do what you can when you can. Thank you for sharing your trials in life and how nature is reminding you about similarities between it and you. And as you gives us a boost when you say Onward right? Yes. Onward we go. Thanks

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