The humid subtropical climate of coastal Georgia provides Savannah residents with more than just muggy summers and mild winters; it provides them one of the essential ingredients for a thriving garden.
And Dave Jacke, veteran ecologist and landscape designer, thinks Savannahians ought to capitalize on that.
“You guys can grow so much food,” exclaims Jacke, a lifelong resident of New England.
In fact, he points out that Savannah’s gardens can produce more edible and aesthetic species, and more diversity of what can be grown, than most parts of the United States.
And he should know. He is a veritable expert on functional and ecological landscapes. A student of ecology and design since the 1970s, Jacke launched his own ecological design firm, Dynamics Ecological Design, in 1984.
Today, in addition to running the firm, Jacke is a teacher of ecological design and permaculture and has recently published a second volume to his first acclaimed textbook Edible Forest Gardens. The success of his books has generated a great demand for his expertise and Jacke increasingly finds himself traveling the country conducting lectures, workshops, and consultation.
This month Dave Jacke’s hectic schedule will bring him to Savannah for what will be his first appearance in Georgia. January 25-28 Jacke will be leading a three-part workshop series called “Gardening Like the Forest.”
The workshop is the brainchild of co-hosts Elizabeth Stewart and Susan Lamb.
“We’re really lucky to have set this up when we did,” explains Stewart, “Had we contacted him any later he would have been booked up.”
Stewart and Lamb contacted Jacke in spring 2006 about visiting Savannah shortly before his most recent book release. Now in their third year of planning and hosting workshops, Stewart and Lamb have attracted Jacke and others to Savannah in effort to create an informal network of like-minded locals.
Their workshop series, called Winged Wisdom Workshops, is modeled after a learning community in 13th century Turkey and offers participants the opportunity to consider all dimensions of life, including poetry, music and chanting, travel, health and healing, gardening, and spirituality.
“We want to create a learning community, and, together, consider the ways in which we are living our lives....whether it be how we cook, garden, or worship,” says Stewart.
Jacke joins a long list of enlightened Winged Wisdom lecturers. Some of his predecessors include Teijo Munich, Founding Director of the Asheville Zen Center, Rita Golden Gelman, author of Tales of a Female Nomad, Tom Balles, acupuncturist, author, and Distinguished Lecturer at the Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts in Columbia, Maryland, and David Starnes, professor of creative writing and linguistics at Georgia Southern University.
Sponsored by Brighter Day Natural Foods Market, the Center for Holistic Healing, and the UGA Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens, “Gardening Like the Forest” will take place at the Bamboo Farm and aims to redefine traditional concepts and functions of gardens and greenspace.
“We’re trying to mimic structure and function of forest ecosystems in our backyards, front yards, and side yards,” says Jacke. The workshop will illustrate Jacke’s concept of ‘edible forest gardens,’ which are basically small-scale working ecosystems and are achievable by area gardeners.
“What Dave Jacke is talking about is modeling the landscapes of homes and public places around forest landscapes that are more productive and easy to maintain,” says Stephen Garton, Director of the Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens, a fitting location for the upcoming workshop.
A one-time plant introduction station for the USDA, the Bamboo Farm is an educational center partnered by the University of Georgia and the Chatham County Commission. Their mission is to educate people in coastal Georgia about horticulture and horticulture technology, especially that which maintains and enhances environmental quality.
“Jacke’s message coincides with our ultimate interest,” says Garton. “What actions can people take as homeowners or landscape managers to make sure that our resources are available for future generations?”
Garton shares Jacke’s interests in the form and function of natural plant communities over more highly managed non-natural communities. As he explains, there is a critical element of aging within the plant community that often is overlooked in traditional gardening and agriculture.
Typical yards, crops, and landscapes tend more toward maintaining immature states, while the quintessential mature landscape is the natural forest.
Furthermore, Garton points out that Jacke’s edible forest gardens are an exercise in permaculture, an agricultural practice developed 30 years ago that focuses on long-term sustainability for the betterment of the natural environment. Jacke synthesizes the principles of permaculture and ecology into designs and plans for new ways to view a backyard environment.
“Dave Jacke is providing an alternative to gardening practices that we may have slipped into without thinking about why we are doing it,” Garton says, “But is that the best that we can do with that land?”
For Dave Jacke it is not. He contends that traditional gardening practices are often counter-productive. Think of the time and cost intensity of mowing, weeding, fertilizing, and spraying pesticides.
Jacke argues that gardeners are actually combating nature when they try to harness it through conventional gardening. Edible forest gardening, however, focuses on returning the landscape to a more natural state, allowing the ecological system to do most of the work.
In his books Jacke discusses garden designs and development that are effectively self-maintaining.
“In theory you don’t need external materials,” he says, “If you invest smartly through design time, expenses, and labor and you pick and place your edible forest garden well, it should function as a self-maintaining system.”
This is the reason many Community Supported Agriculture programs, CSAs, are moving to the edible forest gardens. In one example a community has employed Jacke to establish a 20-acre fruit, berry, and nut farm.
On such a large-scale venture animals are needed to maintain the farm. But surprisingly, gardening systems can be the most complex in your own backyard because the smaller scale allows you to get more intricate.
In Greensboro, N.C., for example, a colleague of Jacke’s designed and developed an edible forest garden on less than one-quarter acre of land. It’s aesthetically pleasing to be sure, but almost everything in the garden is edible.
With initial labor of approximately 10 hours per week for two weeks in the spring, and then again in the fall, and around one hour per week maintenance, the garden provides food for eight months of the year.
To crunch the numbers, this translates into 68 hours of work per year for eight months of flowers, greens, vegetables, herbs, and perfect beauty.
To help you get started with your edible forest garden, Jacke helps highlight some unconventional alternatives to intensive species that are more commonly grown. He offers offhand tidbits, for example the benefits of growing pears or persimmons versus growing apples.
“People don’t realize it but apples are some of the highest maintenance fruit to grow,” he says.
We should consider instead growing pears, paw paws, or persimmons that don’t suffer the pests and diseases of the apple. Jacke advises that grapes are another high maintenance crop to avoid. Instead consider growing a lower maintenance vining plant such as the kiwi, with few to no pest problems.
Other important elements to your garden are flowering plants to attract beneficial predator insects as well as bees and butterflies. Jacke recommends flowering mint. Water features like small garden ponds are a great way to attract allies such as dragonflies, salamanders, and frogs.
Pile rocks or rotting wood to create habitat for a multitude of other beneficial creatures, like snakes.
“Tidiness,” Jacke points out, “ is actually a form of disorder in ecological systems. You do not want too tidy a yard.”
The benefits of edible forest gardens are undeniable. It can increase household food production thereby lowering the cost of groceries. It boosts adjoining ecosystems and provides natural benefits.
And it is easier on the back. As Stephen Garton advocates, “This is a landscape that works for us rather than us becoming slaves of landscape maintenance.”
According to Dave Jacke, to produce food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, “farmaceuticals,” and fun, you need to look no further than your own backyard. That said, Jacke is abundantly aware that the implications of a home garden extend far beyond that realm.
“Every calorie of food we eat in this country takes 10 calories of energy to grow,” Jacke says, “and that figure does not include the energy it takes to package and sell the product. And that also doesn’t include oil.”
Like most of Americans, oil and energy production and consumption are issues of increasing concern to Dave Jacke.
“In New England,” he says, “There is only, on average, a two week supply of food at any given time. We are entirely dependent upon the trucking industry, and the oil that moves those trucks, for our food.”
Edible gardens, he offers, are an alternative to that dependency. They also offer an alternative to the financial dependency of purchasing industrial agriculture foods.
“Industrial agriculture,” Jacke argues, “is one of the most destructive forces on the planet.”
Edible forest gardening is one action people can take as homeowners or landscape managers to help conserve natural resources and the environment for future generations.
The weekend workshop opens on Thursday evening, Jan. 25 with a free introductory talk on home-scale ecological food production. Jacke will review the concept of edible forest gardens and provide practical examples and uses for the home garden. There is unlimited seating for this lecture at the Jewish Educational Alliance, and everyone is encouraged to attend.
The workshop expands over the weekend at the Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens, with a session from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday entitled “Fundamentals of Ecological Gardening,” and then 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday entitled “Remaking Eden through Ecological Design.”
There is pre-registration for these sessions, which will be geared toward intermediate and advanced gardeners and will include hands-on activities and a crash course in localized ecology.
“It’s our hope that this workshop opens a window in people’s minds to other things that we can do in landscape that may less compromise the foundation of life on this planet,” says Garton.
Winged Wisdom Workshops presents “Gardening Like the Forest: A Workshop Series” happens at these places and times:
• Thursday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Educational Alliance, 5111 Abercorn Street
• Saturday, Jan. 27, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. & Sunday, Jan. 28, 9 a.m.–3 p.m. at UGA Bamboo Farms and Coastal Gardens Off of Highway 17, 2 Canebrake Rd, Savannah, GA 31419
For more info contact Elizabeth Stewart at 352-2468 or 2007@WingedWisdomWorkshops.com
For additional information on Dave Jacke visit edibleforestgardens.com.
For additional information on the UGA Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens call 921-5460.