North Shore gardens and lawns are famous for their beauty. But in the new paradigm of yard and garden care, it isn’t a yard or a garden. It’s a yarden, and that means food plants everywhere. As the prices go up and we all become more aware of Nature, this makes more sense every day.
Yardening is chic! Even better, it’s easy. Felicia Cowden uses simple methods of edible landscaping, mostly learned from Lavon Ojai, who recently passed on. The Cowden garden is a legacy of this man’s deep knowledge of forest gardening and healing plants. Our bloggers visited Ms. Cowden’s yarden one day to find out how she does it. She walked us around her house through the densest distribution of vegetation I have ever seen in a yard. As we talked about what we saw, wonderful perfumes floated through the air, tickling the senses.
It began with the turtle pond. The garden spread out spontaneously from the pond into the lawn, and rather than fighting it she encouraged it. She likes plants you don’t have to pamper, focusing on hardy perennials. Bushes need less maintenance than flowers. She broadcasts seeds – they grow fine that way. The plants move around from year to year, wherever the seeds fall.
She pulls a water hyacinth out of the water cleaning tanks, dripping from its black feathery roots, and throws it in the back yard pool to feed the turtles. It’s easy! Turtles eat the plants – in her tilapia pond, the fish eat mosquitoes; chickens eat the tadpoles. The worry that all these plants might attract centipedes just makes her laugh. Oh, the chickens eat them too, she explains.
Felicia Cowden does not believe in weeding. She just mows the lawn. Growing in her rich green grass are numerous healing plants that don’t mind being mowed – plantain, for instance. This lawn, she says emphatically, is medicine beneath our feet.
Three years ago she planted eight bananas – the trees are 15’ high now. She creates separate areas with fallen banana tree sections, which are basically 200 lbs. of water with potassium and various other chemicals – a log full of nutrients at the edge of each garden area. If the plants get greedy and try to cross the nutrient log, they get mowed.
Felicia’s secret is her team of invisible helpers. What she really does is farm a micro-herd of worms, mycelium and microbes – they do almost all the yardening, while she just feeds them and keeps them happy. She does not use pesticides and chemicals because they kill the micro-herd. Bad idea – then we have to do the work. It’s the Lazy Princess’s Guide to Gardening.
And what does she grow on her 1/3 acre? Happy volunteer avocado plants wave at you through the picket fence. Ground cover plants keep the weeds down, like sweet potatoes and pumpkins. She has both. Her pigeon-pea grew 12 feet high in 4 months, pumping nitrogen into the soil that feeds the other plants. Next to it, the gliricidia is also a nitrogen fixer, like the shower tree in the next yard and the lima beans growing wherever they like.
The fruits from her cayote vine are sweet and tender when cooked. Naupaka heals cuts. She has a mamaki plant from a Wai’ale’ale seed, an oregano bush spilling in enthusiastic waves over the sides of its half-barrel, mulberries, Hawaiian yams, kalo, lilikoi, chocolate, vanilla and coffee.
Low-hanging fruits smile down at you from overhead – noni, lychee, orange, tangerine, guava, egg fruit, fig and Malabar chestnut. A mighty avocado towers above the rest. A kava flourishes near the house, growing from the grave of Felicia’s deceased bunny. In the ex-bunny space, with rich soil and many worms because of all the bunny poop, a lemon tree, a soursop and a cotton tree flourish. Nothing can die here without feeding new life.
The Cowden children were homeschooled for several years, and their life science lab was Mom’s back yarden. It’s all a home school project called Akamai Learning. Her book: Life is the School: Love is the Lesson is available from Amazon.com.