Colleen Vanderlinden


I do not have a "neat and tidy" garden. I do have a bountiful, healthy, organic garden. It turns out that the two are closely tied together -- my sloth in the cleaning department has provided my garden with great soil. This isn't just rationalization. Soil science is solidly in my corner.

While I try to incorporate all of the tenets of permaculture (and I hope you check out Sami's articles on permaculture principles -- it's a must if you want to grow a healthy garden) in my garden, my favorite is this one: use biological resources. This is what Sami calls "the lazy principle."

Here's the thing. We know that soil is more than just some inert material that is convenient to stick plants into. We know that it is a thriving ecosystem, a veritable organism all its own. We know that every member of the cast, from the tiniest bacteria to the worms, from mammals to plant life, has an important part to play. It is a system that works best when we step back and leave it alone. Seriously. How often have you heard someone say "hey, we better go rake up all that leaf litter in the woods -- it' s not good for the plants!" But every fall, it's a guarantee that you'll see people frantically trying to get every last leaf out of their garden beds. Why?

We've been told that leaving leaf litter contributes to disease problems. This is a problem only if you've had disease problems the previous season, in which case, yes, leaves should be raked up and disposed of. We've been told that leaving litter in the garden creates homes for rodents that will then devour our plants. This isn't a problem if you ensure that any leaf litter in your garden is pulled a few inches away from the crowns and stems of plants. The other argument is that "it looks messy" to leave fallen leaves in the garden. I can't do much for that argument, other than gently suggest that it may be time to lighten up a bit.