How Does Your Garden Grow? Different Gardening Methods Explained

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?

In today’s world, Mistress Mary might have a hard time describing exactly how she gardens. Silver bells and cockle shells aside, if you look at the gardening section of your library or bookstore or search the interwebs, its easy to get overwhelmed by all the different styles and theories and methods. Square-foot gardening, intensive gardening, organic gardening, permaculture, native, gardening companions….so many ways to garden!  If you’re wondering what they mean and what would work best for you, read on!

Different gardening methods explained

Here’s a basic breakdown:

Organic Gardening can be summed up to not using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides (things like Round-up or Miracle Grow). Organic gardening can apply to any type of landscape, edible or not. It is a huge umbrella term, acting as the foundation of many other methods of gardening that take the concept further.

Instead of chemical fertilizers, in my organic garden I grow cover crops. I encourage beneficial insects to keep pests in check.
Instead of using chemical fertilizers in my organic garden I grow cover crops. I encourage beneficial insects to keep pests in check instead of spraying pesticides.

Permaculture Gardening is a holistic design approach and has been touted as “extreme organic gardening”. Permaculture gardens consider systems (water, energy, food, etc.) and utilizes techniques to live sustainably. Permaculture has a fundamental understanding of ecology and nature, such as concepts of niche, biodiversity, climate, soil, and watersheds. Designs follows listed guidelines (ranging from 4-40, depending on the publication), and include things like choosing elements that have multiple functions, design for resilience, and mimic nature.

There are many ways that permaculture principles can be implemented into the garden. On my homestead, some of the permaculture concepts I’ve utilized include earthworks, rainwater catchment systems, sheet mulching, tree guilds and growing perennial edible crops. Other common principles seen in residential scale are building with cobb (a natural clay/straw medium), spiral gardens, food forests, keyhole gardens and anything that “stacks functions”.

An example of stacking functions: my chicken run roof both collects rainwater and shades my curing garlic.
An example of stacking functions: my chicken run roof both collects rainwater and shades my curing garlic.

Biointensive Gardening is a method that maximizes yield while increasing fertility of the soil. This is achieved by a very specific technique of soil preparation called double-digging. This concept, sometimes also called the French Biodynamic Method was brought to the US by Alan Chadwick, and made popular though the amazing Chadwick Garden at my alma-mater, UCSC. Biointensive gardening also implement plant rotations, close spacing, and compost, compost, compost. Biointensive methods are often used in smale-scale sustainable agriculture, but can work in a home vegetable plot just as well.

In my mom's garden, she gets immense yields from her double-dug beds that are regularly amended with compost.
In my mom’s garden, she gets immense yields from her double-dug beds that are regularly amended with compost.

Square-Foot Gardening is relatively new to the gardening method club, and was invented by a civil engineer. It follows a very specific technique of using a 4′ by 4′ raised bed and the planting space in specific 1′ by 1′ areas. A variety of plants are then grown, but each has its own square, within the bed, and spaced according to the method’s guidelines. You can find out more about square-foot gardening on it’s website here. While I have not used the square foot method exactly, I do plant close together, and grow multiple varieties in one space.

multi crops in one bed
Last year’s summer garden beds were a mix of closely planted sunflowers, zinnia, dill, squash, beans, tomatoes and nasturtium. Pretty sure there was some basil in there, too.

Three Sisters, Companion Planting, & Planting Guilds are all very similar methods, and are based on the theory of beneficial relationships amongst plants. The Three Sisters is a well known one: beans, corn and squash are planted together. The beans fix nitrogen, the corn provides a pole for the beans to climb, and the squash shades the ground to suppress weeds and conserve moisture. Another common example is growing basil with tomatoes, to improve the tomatoes’ flavor and help ward off diseases.

Marigolds are a popular companion plant, as they are believed to discourage nematodes.
Marigolds are a popular companion plant, as they are believed to discourage nematodes.

Ecological Gardening may not be an official gardening method, but its what I use to describe how I garden. I mix and match practices from all sorts of gardening styles, but always under one theory: my garden is as much for me as it is for the nature and the earth. I let seed heads and “dead stuff” stand for the birds. I plant flowers for both bees and insects, and let veggies bolt for flush of flowers. I keep water available for the birds, the bees and the bugs. I keep piles of rocks and sticks for insect habitat. As a result, I’m surrounded by nature at all times, which makes my heart sing and my soul nourished. sunflower headscosmomantis on sunflowerbee on radishsunflower seeds

Is there a gardening method that I forgot? How do you garden? Please leave me a comment below! Remember, you don’t need an account, just an email to ensure you’re not a robot. I love hearing from you!

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2 thoughts on “How Does Your Garden Grow? Different Gardening Methods Explained

  1. I think a mix of different sources is the way to go. Take all the different ways and combine them in the way that works best for you. I think there is a lot of stress when trying to conform to one method only.

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