First help the local people to decent food

Photo credit: WVC 1997

Photo taken at the start of the community garden photographed 12 years later by Willemien (see photo of 2009-02 in Niou). At the first training session, the local women learn how to apply the soil conditioner TerraCottem.

Do hungry people need trees or a garden?

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem – University of Ghent (Belgium)

Four years ago, a friend has sent a message, in which a short paragraph got my special attention:

The …………………… (name) Movement started a project in the Senegal many years ago. I participated in the information campaign. The field workers planted about 20.000 Acacia trees. Visiting the project one year later they saw that all the little trees dried out.  The local people answered that they had not enough water for the trees; they used it for their cows and goats.  But how could we plant 20.000 trees with …………. (name of a technology)?  It would be too expensive!

Here is my reply to him:

Dear Friend, You are completely right.  All those big projects are doomed to be unsuccessful, simply because a number of limiting factors (like water) will always hinder the achievement of the goals.

Instead of spending all the good money at reforestation without taking care of the hunger and poverty of the local people, foreign aid should concentrate on agro-forestry, creating small family gardens and surround these with fruit trees (these are TREES too).

Photo credit: Willemien Maastricht
Photo credit: Willemien Committee Maastricht-Niou

2009-02 – Burkina Faso, Niou village, Jardin des Femmes: community garden combined with mango trees, created in 1997 by the Belgium TC-Dialogue Foundation in cooperation with the Committee Maastricht-Niou for the local village women’s association Gueswende.

We should not look first at economic return on our investment, e.g. planting trees and shrubs for biofuel, but first of all eliminate hunger and diseases in a region, which is a conditio sine qua non to count on the collaboration of the local population at bigger reforestation projects in the future.

How can we ever justify that we ‘help‘ the local people if our main objective is to gain ‘something’ for ourselves?

For me, there is only one solution: first help the local people to decent food and then see how they can really help us to create return on investment.

Photo credit: Willemien Committee Masstricht-Niou
Photo credit: Willemien Committee Masstricht-Niou

2009-02 Burkina Faso: Jardin Kabouda, a community garden created with the support of the Committee Maastricht-Niou. A splendid example of combating hunger, child malnutrition and poverty.

Unfortunately, it has been and still is always business as usual, even for some international organizations, surviving thanks to the unsolved problems like hunger, child malnutrition and poverty, for which billions of dollars are repeatedly collected, without changing much at the grassroot level.

I get tears in my eyes, thinking at all those poor people out there, seeing how billions are spent year after year at what is called combating the problems.

Hunger, child malnutrition and poverty should be combated in the field itself, at the grassroot level, by offering people a chance to grow their own fresh food and fruits in a private family (kitchen) garden or in a community garden (see photos above).

We will never win that war if we continue to ship only food (the ammunition) to the frontline, not the necessary weapons (a fence, fertilizers, seeds, …) to create small gardens, the ideal platform for self-sufficiency.

For sure: victory can be ours!  Let us make the right strategic move.


The (un)sustainability of food aid programs, an interesting discussion (Willem Van Cotthem)

It all started with a quote of the actor Robin WILLIAMS, recently shared on my Facebook page: “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up alone, it’s not.  The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.

A comment of John Richard PENDERGAST (London, UK) ignited an interesting discussion about the significance and lack of recognition for methods and techniques to help stop hunger and malnutrition :

29-7-2013. Hi Willem, Can you please tell me (why) people have not taken my ideas forward to help stop people dying from HUNGER, even though I’m offering my 3Rs Plastic Container Gardening ideas to the world for FREE, so that one day it might become part of Governments WORLD AID programme right now and in the future. (

What is the PROBLEM with people not using my ideas? 

Is it because I’ve got a young black naked child on the intro-page of my website (, scraping the earth for something to eat, with the words Making Globalisation Work for the POOR on it ? 

Or is it because I’m offering a different way to grow something to gardeners who already know how to grow their own food?

Or is it just because it’s too much of a high price to help save lives, even though it’s for next to nothing, because it’s all made from waste.

I know lives are being lost when they could have been saved.  What more can one man do without help from like-minded people, trying to save millions of lives if we can in our own ways ?

Here is my short reply to him :  Yes, John, That’s what happens to great ideas. Anyway, keep up the good spirit, be patient, for Rome and London haven’t be built in one day (or even two).

John PENDERGAST’s reaction was :

30-7-2013. Hi Willem, Yes I know things don’t happen overnight normally.  Over (16) years now I have been telling so many people like yourself that my 3Rs Plastic Container Gardening systems works.  And you have proved it by using my ideas in your own way.   You would have thought someone out there,  who is already involved in trying to help save lives, would have taken my ideas forward, just like my friend Dr Job S. Ebenezer is doing in his group Technology For The Poor. 

Album:Photos from John Richard Pendergast's post in CONTAINER GARDENING AND VERTICAL GARDENING
Album: Photos from John Richard Pendergast’s post in CONTAINER GARDENING AND VERTICAL GARDENING

Maybe if we, and lots of other people, make comments on say the World Food Programme or the DFID, someone might get the message and start up some projects with our help.”


This was a sparkling for my more consistent reply : “Sorry, John, But for many years (1992-2006), as the representative of the Belgian scientists at the desertification convention UNCCD, I showed, to all the delegates of the countries and the international aid organizations, with presentations and poster stands various effective methods and techniques to combat desertification, hunger and malnutrition. Not even a handful of them have reacted in a constructive way. One of the most positive reactions was that of UNICEF Algeria, setting up a project of “Family Gardens in the refugee camps in S.W. Algeria” in 2005-2007. For a reason still unknown to me, who was their own scientific consultant, this successful project was suddenly stopped in 2008, although all the UNICEF reports were extremely positive.

2007 - Family garden in the Sahara desert (S.W. Algeria) - UNICEF-project (Photo WVC)
2007 – Family garden in the Sahara desert (S.W. Algeria) – UNICEF-project (Photo WVC)

Many people commented already on this strange attitude and decision. The common idea in all these comments is : (1) if UNICEF Algeria has built successfully almost 2000 family gardens (kitchen gardens) to help the refugees in the Sahara desert to grow fresh food full of vitamins for their needing children, (2) if UNHCR and FAO delegations in the refugee camps have seen this success story and even asked to construct a similar garden in their headquarters in Rabouni (Tindouf area), why didn’t these UN organizations synchronized their efforts to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in a sustainable way by building a family garden for every family in the camps ? Why do they prefer to continue the monthly shipment of truckloads of food over a distance of 800 km in the desert (and this for already 37 years (since 1975-1976 !).

Can someone tell me what the meaning is of the word “(un)sustainability” ? Here, I rest my case.”

Shall we continue to carry water to the Danaids’ jars? (Willem Van Cotthem)

Did you read my former (2011/12/22) posting on the combat of child malnutrition  on this blog ?  Maybe you didn’t read my reaction on that UN-message ?  Here it is :


Yes?  Then you know that UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake “called today on the global community to take action to prevent one million children in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa from becoming severely malnourished.

He said : “We must begin at once to fill the pipeline with life-sustaining supplies to the region before it is too late.” and “underscored the urgency to act before the ‘lean season’ when food runs out due to inadequate rain or poor harvests, which can start as early as March in some of the countries across the Sahelian belt.

I fully agree that UNICEF and its partners must be prepared to get sufficient amounts of ready-to-use therapeutic foods to treat severe acute malnutrition.  I also agree that “each child has the right to survive, to thrive and to contribute to their societies.

Indeed, “we must not fail them” !

Nice children in the Sahara desert getting healthier food with vitamins and micronutrients thanks to UNICEF’s family gardens (Photo WVC)

However, the real question is if the best way of solving the problem of child malnutrition is getting sufficient therapeutic foods to intervene when the need increases.

Or, could it be that a well-prepared programme of vegetable and fruit production by the Sahelian families themselves is a better cure ?

One may doubt about the feasibility of such a programme, but knowing that UNICEF itself was successful with its own “Family gardens project for the Saharawis families in the Sahara desert of Algeria“, there can not be any doubt anymore.  If family gardens, school gardens and hospital gardens can be productive in the desert, they can certainly be in the Sahel, where a better rainfall offers more chances to use the minimum of water needed.

Many families in the Sahara desert avoid malnutrition of their children by producing fresh vegetables and fruits in their small UNICEF garden (Photo WVC)

It should not be extremely difficult to accept that it is better to produce fresh food and fruits for the children in the threatened countries of the Sahel (like everywhere on this world !) than to have to spend billions of dollars at purchasing therapeutic foods for children already malnourished.

Yes, “we must not fail them“, and we will surely not fail them by offering them chances to take care of their own family gardens and school gardens.

There are in the drylands tenthousands of successful small gardens.  We have the necessary knowledge and technical skills to duplicate these “best practices” wherever we want, even in the desert.  Who would still hesitate to take initiatives to gradually “submerge” the Sahel with small family gardens and school gardens ?

If there is a pipeline to be filled, it should be filled with the necessary materials to create family gardens and school gardens.

Shall we continue to appeal on “solidarity” for raising billions of dollars for responding to the successive crisis periods in the drylands ?  Or shall we, once and for all, spend a minor part of that money on enabling sustainable food production by the local people themselves ?

You Madame, you Sir, which way would you go ?  Would you, for instance after a period of more than 35 years of food supply to the refugee camps in Algeria, continue to send truckloads of food without trying other successful and sustainable ways of local fresh food production ?

No, we can’t let these hungry people starve, but don’t you think food aid for decades is carrying water to the Danaids’ jars ?

In 2005-2007 UNICEF showed undoubtedly in the Sahaara desert that setting up small family gardens was a huge success.  Who is authorized to tell us five years later why this magnificent, rewarding sustainable project was stopped?  Don’t tell these refugees anymore that the silence is golden.

Do I still have to confirm that I admire the nice work of UNICEF for children in real need ?

UNICEF ALGERIA representative Raymond JANSSENS, tool in hand, visiting one of the family gardens in the Sahara desert.  Wherever a kitchen garden flourishes, there is no more child malnutrition ! (S.W. Algeria) – (Photo WVC)

Sustainable food production / Duurzame Voeding (Tim JOYE-LNE Flanders / Willem VAN COTTHEM)

In Dutch : Sustainable food production (duurzame voeding)

by Tim JOYE – LNE Flanders

What comes first: Strategies for combating climate change or for creating gardens to produce food for children? (Willem VAN COTTHEM / MediaGlobal / UNICEF)

Let me recommend to read very attentively the former posting on this blog :

UNICEF: Children most vulnerable to climate change

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized,.

Matthew McKinnon, Head of the Climate Vulnerability Initiative at DARA International, told MediaGlobal how the impact of climate change is already evident.

“In Asia, Central and South Asia are the most vulnerable regions; in the Pacific, it is the small island developing states. Both areas are affected by more extreme weather, by effects on human health, by sea-level rise, by desertification (especially India and China), by economic damages to the agricultural sector and effects for natural resources, such as water and biodiversity.”

Geoffrey Keele, Communications Specialist with UNICEF’s East Asia and Pacific Regional Office, explained to MediaGlobal the specific harms children face in light of these changes.

“The leading killers of children worldwide are highly sensitive to climate changes,” he says. “For example, higher temperatures have been linked to increased rates of malnutrition, cholera, diarrheal disease and vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria. Yet children’s underdeveloped immune systems put them at far greater risk of contracting these diseases and succumbing to their complications.”

And Mr. Keele explained that the rising occurrence of extreme weather events might hamper long-term agricultural production. “This could lead to higher food prices and a corresponding increase in malnutrition rates in a region where one in every four children is already stunted due to poor nutrition.” Moreover, such events may divert children from activities like going to school in order to aid in household tasks or pursue work to earn wages, thus deepening their vulnerability.

It is common knowledge that child malnutrition is one of the worst plagues for humanity.  Therefore, it is quite understandable that, if climate change is hampering long-term agricultural production, leading to higher food prices and increase in malnutrition, this is also determining UNICEF’s strategies for helping the children to better nutrition.

However, when reading that Mr. McKinnon, concerning the Durban Summit to bolster financing and advance the fight against climate change, said : “We hope that the Durban Summit will plug the funding gap between 2013-2019 with explicit developed country commitments for annual increases in climate finance from current levels to progressively attain the $100 billion“, we are tempted to put a number of question marks.

Should we rather use $100 billion for climate finance than for improving child nutrition ?

Putting the question is answering it !

No wonder that I am immediately thinking at that splendid low-budget UNICEF project “Family gardens for the Saharawi refugees in the region of Tindouf, S.W. Algeria“, where in 2005-2007 almost 2000 small family gardens have been built, providing fresh vegetables and fruits for the refugee families, in particular the children.

Food production in the Sahara desert : if this low-cost project is possible in a desert, we must be able to feed all the children of this world (Photo Philip HITTEPOLE) / Taleb BRAHIM)

No one denied the importance of this beautiful UNICEF initiative for the children’s health, not even the staff members of the WFP in Tindouf.

We were all terrified when suddenly, at the end of 2007 and without any explanation, UNICEF stopped this successful project.  Fortunately, the Saharawi refugees themselves found the necessary force to continue the efforts step-by-step.

Instead of building upon the lessons learned about inexpensive food production in the Sahara desert for deciding upon strategies to decrease rates of child malnutrition, UNICEF is now hoping for “explicit developed country commitments for annual increases in climate finance from current levels to progressively attain the $100 billion“.

Let me invite you all to quickly estimate how many family gardens, community gardens, school gardens, allotments, urban container and vertical gardens could be build with $100 billion.

And yet, in certain circles, climate finance seems to become more important than financing sustainable infrastructures for improving child nutrition.

See what the poor people in the slums of Nairobi did : creating their own sack gardens ! See what aid organizations did to provide fresh food in the refugee camps of Dabaab : sack gardening. See what many people in flooded areas in Asia do : container gardening, even in hanging containers. See what urban families do on their balconies : bottle tower gardening.  Remember what  hungry people did in World War I and II : creating Victory Gardens (allotments) in open urban spaces.  Be also aware of those spontaneous actions for food production called “guerilla gardening“.

Bottle tower gardening : production of maximal food with minimal water, recycling discarded bottles and pots at the lowest cost. That is sustainably combating malnutrition and hunger (Photo Willem VAN COTTHEM and Gilbert VAN DAMME)

Is all this only ringing my own bell ?

So, what will come first : climate financing or food production financing (and not “food aid” because that is not a sustainable solution; it should be linked at emergencies) ?

Time has come to decide : will we use our scarce financial resources to combat malnutrition and hunger or to combat rising temperatures, mostly due to industrial activities?

Since 2008 continuously wondering why UNICEF stopped its marvelous family gardens project in Algeria, I feel my temperature rising.

Please cool me down with a decent answer !


Farming or gardening with old tyres instead of containers (Comment Dev Raj Paudel)

A new comment on the post #251 “Great ideas for container gardening” :

Author : Dev Raj Paudel
E-mail : merodev@gmail.comComment:
Has anyone heard about farming on old tyres instead of containers on rooftops? If yes, please kindly send me details at

MY REPLY (Willem)

Farming or gardening with old tyres

I don’t have any information on the use of old tyres instead of containers on rooftops, but it seems to be an excellent idea, taking into account that ways should be developed to canalize the percolating drainage water on the rooftop floor. Maybe some clever “developers” will come up with interesting solutions to recycle the leaching water.

Neighbours of mine use old tyres in their garden to construct “special accents” or “attraction spots” with particular colourful flowering species. They even paint the tyres in corresponding colours.

The tyres are simply laid down on the garden soil and filled with potting soil, which is in direct contact with the local garden soil, offering earthworms a possibility to penetrate inside the “tyre bed“.  The inner side of the tyre (its cavity) is also filled with potting soil. Thereby, a certain part of the irrigation water is also running inside the tyre cavity, where less evaporation occurs. Thus, the overall mass of potting soil retains irrigation water much longer. Its water retention capacity is even higher when mixing a water absorbent soil conditioner with the potting soil. It has thereby been shown that less irrigation water is needed to keep the potting soil inside the tyres moistened over a longer period. This can be an interesting aspect for gardening in the drylands, on rooftops or in containers.

For sure, half tyres or quarter tyres could be used to produce hanging baskets. It suffices to fill the inner side of these parts of tyres with potting soil and to perforate the lower part of the tyre to enable drainage.

Moreover, I strongly believe that old tyres will be very cost-effective materials to create “raised beds” or “small-space gardens“. Instead of using wood for the outer limits of a raised bed, or instead of installing “earthboxes” (see former postings), an old tyre could certainly do the job.

My neighbours use tyres to create circular raised beds or circular “square foot gardens (a meaningful contradictio in terminis !). In fact, why not recycle the old tyres to make our environment greener. The tyres are getting almost invisible when planting pendent (hanging) species at the outer edge. Cutting the tyres diametrically, half tyres can be used as crescents on slopes to limit soil erosion.  They are positioned horizontally at the contour lines of the slope.

Why should people not use an old tyre to construct a small herb garden ?

Supposing that one gets a set of identical tyres (same dimensions), it would even be possible to create a table garden by superposing e.g. 4-5 tyres, of which the outer side can be painted in a green colour. The inside cylinder of the 4-5 towering tyres has to be filled with potting soil, so that the surface to be planted comes at table height. Probably, this “cylinder gardening” will be a nice idea for elderly or handicaped gardeners.

Believing that it could also be a constructive idea for school gardens, I like to recommend teachers setting up trials to show youngsters how to recycle the tyres, taking care of their environment, while growing vegetables, fruit trees and the like in otherwise landscape-polluting tyres. Let me also recommend to offer to every boy or girl working in the school garden one single tyre to cultivate. It would be “their” own little garden for which they are personally kept responsible. School gardens in developing countries could consist of a high number of such circular beds (the tyres), one per pupil, on which vegetables can be produced for the school cantina or for the pupil’s family. Once the pupils are trained at school to “garden with tyres“, they would also have the capacity to transfer these ideas to their own house and invite their family to apply the same method. Knowing that less irrigation water would be needed to produce more food, this “tyre system” could possibly contribute to ensure food security for the rural families in the drylands.

Wherever old tyres are used for farming or gardening, the system seems easier to sustain than practicing it in the field or an open garden space. Tyres seem to be an ideal material for sustainable gardening, in particular for urban gardening. From time to time a small part of the potting soil can be replaced with fresh compost to enhance the organic content of the rooting zone.These are but some simple ideas about possible uses of old tyres. I hope many visitors of my blog will react upon this posting and come up with good examples, preferably with pictures, to show what one can do with those tyres. Looking forward to your contributions.

Microcredits or microloans of a soil conditioner (Google / Magharebia / Willem)

Read at : Google Alert – Algeria

Algeria to increase microcredits for young entrepreneurs

Algeria’s Ministry of National Solidarity plans to raise the number of microcredits granted to young Algerian entrepreneurs to more than 100,000 by the end of 2008, local press quoted minister Djamel Ould Abbes as saying on Saturday (March 15th). Speaking at a meeting aimed at evaluating the work of the National Agency for Microcredit Management (Angem), Abbes said the move was expected to ensure social stability for some 150,000 families. Ould Abbes said the agency has been instructed to quickly establish a list of eligible beneficiaries, including young graduates, widows, housewives, rural women, poor families and the families of victims of the national tragedy. Abbes also said the government has instructed banks to reduce the waiting period for a decision to no more than three months for individuals who submit an application.



Microfinancing and microfranchising are used more and more to alleviate poverty, e.g. helping poor people to start a small business with a minimal credit and acceptable payback conditions.

When speaking about poverty of rural people, microcredits for a small business seem generally reserved for the creation of little shops.

However, my personal experience with small projects in the drylands tells me that offering a small quantity of a water stocking soil conditioner to farmers is one of the most important steps towards sustainable development. Indeed, the farmer (or his wife) is thereby enabled to treat a family garden for the production of vegetables with a minimal quantity of irrigation water. The higher yield is partly used for the family, partly taken to the market, thus enhancing annual income. A certain percentage of this supplementary income can then be used for purchasing an additional quantity of the soil conditioner, again enhancing the volume of the harvested vegetables and fruits and the ensuing annual income, etc.

Therefore, I can only recommend to foresee in any system of microfinancing a possibility to offer to rural people “microloans of a small quantity of soil conditioner“, e.g. 20 kg as a start. For every farmer family, such a microloan can be the start of a swift positive change in standards of living. It suffices to apply the water stocking soil conditioner in the family garden, e.g. 20 kg for 200 square meter to see crop production enhancing with only a minimal irrigation, and to take a part of the significantly grown quantity of vegetables and fruits to the market. More annual income offers more means to pay back the microloan. As the soil conditioner remains active in the soil for a longer period, e.g. several years, it continuously stocks rain or irrigation water, even capillar moisture in the rooting zone and it fertilizes gradually the topsoil while accelerating mineralization. Thereby, the production of crops remains significantly higher during a long period. The farmer’s family can gradually expand the kitchen garden, produce more and more crops for the market and get higher and higher income. Isn’t this sustainable development ?

Let me recommend to think seriously about applying MICROLOANS OF A SOIL CONDITIONER for alleviation of poverty in the drylands. It is a simple, practical and very efficient way to help the rural poor. I am convinced that this method can easily be applied by NGOs, playing an effective role as the intermediate link between the producer of a soil conditioner and the local farmer family. Any comments ?

Dirt on Sustainable Gardening (Google / Jasmine’s Blog)

Read at : Google Alert – gardening

The Dirt on Sustainable Gardening

By Gail Nelson
The Transplanted Gardener

Interesting display gardens like Poly Patio, with its use of reused materials, and The Jeweled Garden, with its use of glass, illustrate many brave steps outside the box. But I have to say being whooshed through a series of slides (due to technical difficulties) during Sustainable Artistic Habitats with James Pettigrew and Sean Stout, left me felling like I personally need to do more. They shared many techniques that can improve the health of your garden and minimize any negative impact on the environment, all the while keeping it artistically pleasing.

Their tips: Continue reading “Dirt on Sustainable Gardening (Google / Jasmine’s Blog)”

Algeria – Education for children of Sahrawis refugees (uno-fluechtlingshilfe / Willem)

Algeria – Education for children of Sahrawis refugees
Algerien – Bildung für saharauische Flüchtlingskinder

INTRODUCTIONSince their dislodgement 30 years ago, 165.00 Sahrawis, population of the Western Sahara, live in incredibly harsh conditions as refugees in the western part of the Sahara. Once they were nomads, but now they live in refugee camps and are dependent on international help. The most difficult for them is the lack of perspectives. In the desert nothing can be grown. Nothing is available. There are no jobs and youngsters dream of a better life abroad.

(Follows the German text and my personal comment with some nice pictures)


Seit ihrer Vertreibung vor über 30 Jahren leben rund 165.000 Saharauis, ein Volk aus der Westsahara, unter unvorstellbar harten Bedingungen als Flüchtlinge in der westalgerischen Sahara. Einst Nomaden, sind sie heute In vier Flüchtlingslagern zu Bewegungslosigkeit gezwungen und abhängig von internationaler Hilfe. Das Schlimmste für die Menschen ist ihre Perspektivlosigkeit. In der Wüste kann nichts angebaut werden. Es mangelt an allem. Es gibt kaum Arbeit und vor allem die Jungen träumen von einem besseren Leben in der Ferne.


  • Der Konflikt »
  • Die Rolle der Frau »
Besonders prekär ist die Situation im Bildungsbereich: Für den Besuch der Grundsschule (sechs Jahrgangsstufen) besteht Schulpflicht. Die Kinder werden mit sieben Jahren eingeschult. Derzeit gibt es 2.236 Lehrkräfte (zumeist Frauen). Eine Sekundarschulausbildung gibt es in den Flüchtlingslagern jedoch nicht. Die Schulen sind schlecht ausgestattet und ein effektiver Unterricht wir durch folgende Faktoren erschwert: Continue reading “Algeria – Education for children of Sahrawis refugees (uno-fluechtlingshilfe / Willem)”

Glossary on Sustainable Gardening (Google / Washington Post)

Read at : Google Alert – gardening

Putting In a Good Word or Two for Sustainable Gardening

By Joel M. Lerner

The green movement has grown dramatically in recent years, creating its own vocabulary to describe a variety of products and practices that purportedly are healthier for people and the environment. If you want to go green in your garden, here is a glossary of common terms you will encounter:


The ability of organic material to be broken down by bacteria, worms, fungi, insects and other means. The end product is compost.


The coexistence of a wide variety of plants and animals. Invasive species can disrupt this balance.


Similar in concept to biodegradability, except that this process can apply to a broader range of substances, including oil, tires, plastic and pressure-treated lumber.


The antithesis of green, though the term “chemical” can be confusing because all matter is made up of chemicals — organic or inorganic. Compost, for example, has a chemical formula. Through common gardening usage, “chemical” has come to refer primarily to man-made fertilizer and pesticides that, when used to excess, are bad for the environment.


A pigment that makes leaves green and, when combined with sunshine, is responsible for plant life.


The study of the interactions of organisms in their environments and the practices we can employ to ensure biological health in the world.

Green roof

A roof that is partially or completely covered with vegetation. Traditionally they were made of mud; weeds grew on the mud and created sod that helped keep houses warm or cool. Given today’s building materials, codes, regulations and urban atmospheres, however, a firm understanding of the subject is crucial before creating a yard on your roof.


Integrated pest management, a strategy that aims to use the least pesticide necessary.

Native plants

Those that are indigenous to a particular region and have evolved with the wildlife there.


The natural garden requires less work than tightly clipped hedges and manicured lawns. There is no such thing as a maintenance-free garden, but this style will grow full with little work. Cut back perennials once a year, prune woody shrubs only when they’re growing where you don’t want them, mulch, and enjoy.


Any carbon-containing material that is or was alive. Organic material is crucial to soil health and is often the substance that makes the difference between subsoil and topsoil. Today the term primarily concerns food labeling.


Virtually synonymous with sustainable landscaping, permaculture is a collection of activities each of us can do in our living spaces that, taken cumulatively, can make a difference. Under this system, resources seldom leave the property. Every element is reused or generated on-site. Wastewater is filtered through plants and used to irrigate vegetables. Organic material is composted. Electricity is generated. Water can be pumped by wind. Continue reading “Glossary on Sustainable Gardening (Google / Washington Post)”

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