Because the layout of the garden is broken up into 4 different sections with adequate space between each, access to the different areas of the garden is made easy, allowing for maintenance of all areas. Decisions on which plants would do well were based on location, cost, and quality. The patio receives varying degrees of insulation and wind, mostly due to the tower. Therefore, the design accounts for plants’ specific requirements and natural environments.
Selection and Arrangement of Species
Species were selected with five main goals in mind:
1. Respect diversity and mimic nature by emphasizing natives and perennials and arranging intermingled varieties that provide services for each other, i.e. let the plants do most of the work once established.
2. Purchase locally from faculty and farmers in the Valley; gather freely and locally from nearby forests and meadows.
3. Create space attractive to both humans and beneficial wildlife.
4. Include vegetables, herbs, and flowers to allow for a variety of future uses and potential partnerships with other players, including East Campus Dining Hall.
5. Include evergreen species so that the garden won’t be drab and dormant during the winter.
Selection proved to be a tedious process involving many different considerations. Instead of first devising a plant list and then a layout designating which area each species would occupy, the process became a cycle of choosing species based on needs and end goals (fragrant herbs that will saturate the air with pleasant aromas), arranging them based on requirements (cabbages grow well near geraniums and have similar water needs [Happy, 2011]), and then repeating the selection process once other discoveries were made. Revisions were plentiful, with the first consideration of the arrangement being guilds, or companion planting, based on which plants could provide services to other plants; e.g. deciphering which plants would act as biological controls in order to reduce input and thus environmental impact. Other considerations included soil, light, and water needs, propagation methods, growing and blooming season, pests, spacing, and method of harvest.
A final design was determined based on all of the above considerations (see post “Tentative Design”). Since part of the aim was to create a living classroom, even upon finalization the design became an experiment. Planting has already ensued, and there is always room for further revisions. It will be exciting to see how the plants interact with each other in the varying light, rain, and wind conditions the patio experiences across days and seasons. Prior to details of each individual bed, general arrangement considerations are listed as follows:
- Taller plants toward the north wall of the patio with descending height gradation towards the interior of the patio (so that taller, fragile plants like tomatoes will be sheltered by the wall; and so that shorter plants, like herbs, can be more easily accessed, enjoyed, and maintained).
- Tiered growing seasons arranged across all four beds to allow for some kind of growth throughout the year without any one bed being devoid of life.
Bed 1, as indicated on the ISAT Roof Garden design (Appendix A and post “Tentative Design”), has the largest area and thus can accommodate the largest variety of species. It was determined that this would be the best place for taller edibles to hug the north wall and thus why a variety of tomatoes has been placed here. Surrounding the tomatoes are various alluims (onion, garlic, chives) who increase soil mineral availability and repel pest insects. Garlic also protects tomatoes from red spider infestation (Fruits, 2010). Geraniums attract butterflies and other pollinating insects while repelling cabbage moths; so a Virginia native species, spotted geranium [Geranium maculatum], hugs the border of the bed alternating between brassica (arugula, lettuce, cabbage) varieties. Swiss chard does well here, too. Toward the middle of the bed is an experimental array of fragrant herbs that not only attract ‘good’ insects but whose aromas will also be able to be detected by visitors at the north wall benches and interior patio. These herbs include lavender, pineapple sage, and creeping rosemary, to increase groundcover and reduce cost. They have similar requirements and will receive sun for most of the day and partial to full shade from the tower in the afternoon.
Bed 2, located in the western interior of the patio, will harbor a native short grass species with nasturtium or other colorful flowers to center the arrangement. Around the outside of this bed, in the line of sight for those coming through the patio doors will be a weed-suppressing groundcover crop that loves inhabiting the abundant limestone in the Shenandoah Valley. This cliff stonecrop, an Appalachian Mountains native, will be interspersed with small, easily movable limestone to create a beautiful, natural, and unique scene.
Bed 3, on the eastern side of the north wall, will become a butterfly garden. It is in the prime flyway corridor location to attract migrating monarchs, whose populations have been declining in the area and overall (Marshall, 2009). It will include a native milkweed species and other native wildflowers, such as wild blue phlox, blueflag, black-eyed susans, and more cliff stonecrop for weed deterrent and attractive edging.
Bed 4 is the smallest bed toward the interior and patio entrance. Since it is in direct line of sight of visitors, Bed 4 will contain native wildflowers and intermixed herbs; including wild ginger, Virginia bluebell, chamomile, spearmint, basil, oregano, and thyme- which is a nice companion plant for nearly anything and enhances the flavor of neighboring herbs (Happy, 2011).
Short term: Since this is largely a student-run project and most students will not remain in Harrisonburg when JMU is not in session, systems for care over the summer had to be devised. General needs, like watering, will be provided by campus maintenance while 12-month ISAT faculty and staff will oversee the care. Pruning needs will arise occasionally, so a handful of interested students remaining in Harrisonburg will visit the patio periodically to check on the growth and prosperity of the plants.
Long term: The biggest hope is to induce enough interest in continuing ISAT and Geography students so that future classes will adopt the patio as an opportunity for experiential learning and research. The various bed sizes and endless potential for growth allow for a number of experiments. There are many courses at JMU with environmental foci, and the number is growing alongside the university’s transformation into what will hopefully one day become a completely sustainable, no-impact campus. The patio improvement idea has already passed hands once, from 2010 fall semester’s Agricultural Systems class, and it is expected that this trend will continue. While devising ways to benefit from the patio, these classes could recruit other students and professors with a vested interest in making JMU a cleaner, greener place to learn. Learning organizational techniques from JMU’s own EARTH club, students could revamp the Environmental Management Club or begin a new organization that would not only emphasize current regional and global issues, but also take an active role in improving projects across campus aimed at reaching this goal.
Potential for Future Use
Testing waste wood biochar in the garden is one of many different research projects that are being considered for this space. A couple of students in the Sustainability course taking on these projects this semester have already built a working biochar stove. The benefits of biochar are seemingly endless; its potential for becoming a staple in all sustainable gardens and farms is enormous. Lessons in biochar reach us from pre-Columbian Amazonians who incorporated biochar into tropical oxisols to create more fertile, arable soil. Advantages include carbon sequestration and increased soil nutrient- and water- holding capacity.
Other projects for continuation and expansion of the patio include a water catchment system for gathering rainfall from the third floor roof’s gutters and guiding it to a barrel that would be used to water patio plants. Another is a trellis erected against the north wall between Beds 1 and 3 that could support climbing ivy and perhaps one day an Espalier fruit tree. The French Espalier method involves securing a young tree’s pliable branches to horizontal posts that eventually promote evenly spaced and parallel branch arrangement (see post “Spring Has Sprung!”). The arrangement allows naturally spreading and sprawling trees to be flattened out, but just as productive, within limited space.
Yet another possibility is the construction of portable greenhouses (Appendix C) that would allow for propagation of climate-sensitive species in a more controlled environment that could later be transplanted into the garden, providing students with start-to-finish cultivation experience. Another student involved in the entire ISAT hillside project this semester is working on signage to better help visitors and students, faculty, and staff unaware of the changes understand the goals and procedures of the various sustainability projects. His ideas could be implemented at the patio garden to explain the current arrangement, future use, and a broader sense of goals and accomplishments. (c)
AUTHOR: NATALIE K. STICKEL (“ChinaCat”). Please message me for permission to use this work!