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Converting a spouse

 
Posts: 15
Location: cornwall, ny
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So for several years I have been interested in gardening and increasingly worried about the world and our environment.
Last year, my wife and I finally moved out of NYC to Cornwall, NY which is about an hour north. I'm getting ready for my first spring as a landed gardener!!!

But, leaving the city, where I was able to keep a small carbon footprint and a nice home at the same time has had it's challenges.  
Finding permaculture though, and a possible path to a carbon negative life (which seemed frankly impossible previously) has been amazing.

But, trouble in paradise, I have had a somewhat difficult time convincing my wife, to let me convert our small plot into a food forest. What to do???
I was wondering if anyone had experienced this, and if there were any suggestions.

Basically, my plan now is to try and go slow with my conversion of our yard, and to try and show her the advantages, while still designing certain areas to maintain the 'curb appeal' she desires our new exurban plot.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2408
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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Privacy Fence around the fence yard of fruiting plants. Every chainlink fence post (10ft). You can dozens of trees around the property that way.

I would not be able to convince my partner but I could trade with her. I get to plant 50% of the yard and you get to do this thing you always want or I get to give up the motorcycle that you always thought was too dangerous.

You could call it edible landscaping. And show 3d and regular 2d design plan.

Short of that by a empty lot nearby and garden on that site.
 
pollinator
Posts: 350
Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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I don't buy the idea the a food forest has to look 'wild'. Does she like bushes? Plant a few in a nicely landscaped sort of way; say, blueberry, Wintergreen and strawberry plants in-between. Does she care for a tree? Pick a pretty food producing tree and place it esthetically. Maybe even two. How about flowers? Arrange some comfrey, geraniums, nasturtiums, and echinacea around the bushes and tree. Intersperse with some ramps. Mulch it all with some fancy wood chips from the garden store. Leave a nice lawn in the middle, but mow it at three inches instead of one.
Instead of 'food forest' think in terms of 'edible landscape.'

Leave it for a year and see how you both like. Sustainable change is slow, so use the thinking time for esthetic design. It think it could enhance curb appeal.
 
pollinator
Posts: 441
Location: Derbyshire, UK
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I have a food forest at allotment (community garden), which has rather strict rules on what things should look like (they like conventional rows of vegetables in bare earth)- its perfectly possible to make food forests look good enough! I use wood chip instead of their preferred bare earth, strawberries as ground cover, plenty of flowering bulbs and flowering shrubs. I have to do somewhat more tidying up than a 'proper' food forest as it has a look 'tidy'- so its more work in cutting down/picking up plants past their best and putting them in a compost bin- then spreading the compost. I also can't keep all the plants I'd like- sorry dandelions. But the extra work beats not having a garden!

So my advice is to start on a smallish area (half?) as a compromise, and make it look beautiful!
 
Posts: 437
Location: Australia, New South Wales. Köppen: Cfa (Humid Subtropical), USDA: 10/11
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Is the issue that she's worried it'll look unorganised and untidy? Or, won't fit in with other neighbourhood gardens?

If so, then she needn't worry at all. A food forest can look like most others, only it's productive. They can mimic almost any type E.g. cottage, topiary, tropical, Mediterranean, Japanese, parterre, and so on.

Even a cacti garden can be done using Dragon Fruit, Pineapple, Prickly Pear, etc if climate is favourable.

It (not so) simply comes down to design, and very careful selection and placement of plants - some flowering ornamentals well placed as eye-candy to both humans and pollinators.

 
garden master
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Location: Maine, zone 5
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Besides making it absolutely beautiful, are there some fruits that she really likes?  When she's in her beautiful yard and can just reach out and pop some lovely blueberries (or other fruit she'd love) into her mouth how can she not love that?  If my wife did that for me she'd be my hero!
 
garden master
Posts: 1985
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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I've looked up a couple guilds for you. Maybe if she sees what a 'neat' guild looks like, it would help you out. I don't know the specific plants that would do well in your region, but you could research and replace any plant with another of the same mature height, and growth habit, for wonderful results.

This one is is a photo shop concept from Tanglefoot Farm



Here is a real world guild from Greenhouse Bed. The plants listed at the link are oregano and eggplant.



The plants under the tree are great!



Plop a guild in a corner of your yard. Just mulch really well! Also, a berry will bear fruit much faster than trees, so you might start with that. Or as someone mentioned, strawberries under the tree, Yum!
 
master steward
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I have never like the term "Food Forest".  Maybe, I just don't get it?  I have forty acres of forest and have no desire to run out and plant in it.  

My suggestion would be to start slow and plant something edible and beautiful.

Try some Nasturtiums, it has colorful flowers that are fast and easy to grow and they provide edible blooms known for their peppery tang.

Try a rosemary bush, it has a wonderful smell and is useful for cooking.

Are there somethings that you really want to grow?  Trees or vegetables?  Maybe we can make some suggestions based on those.
 
pollinator
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I don't particularly like it either. In my climate a forest setting just doesn't provide for humans nutrition. Which is why we are in this in the first place! It can be an element of an overall design, but it is certainly not an end goal and and of itself.
 
pollinator
Posts: 3011
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I disagree, although I don't think that "food forest" is necessarily the best descriptor.

When I think "forest," I think closed-canopy. Unless that closed canopy is composed of an upper trophic level of nut-bearers, and shade-lovers like mulberry, hazels, and shade-loving vines, the pickings are going to be slim anywhere a tree hasn't fallen relatively recently, where you might find blueberries and raspberries.

My ideal arrangement is more like aisles of pasture or potential garden bed between rows of food hedges on contour, planted with some of those same shade-lovers, while being structured to both take advantage of the increased light levels fostered by the spacing, and to grow into something closer to a closed-canopy design. The food hedges will trap runoff, stop sediment and topsoil otherwise carried away by rain.

In addition, the parallel lines suggest order, which will appeal to order-oriented individuals, and will allow for some keeping of a "traditional lawn," or perhaps a covert polycultural lawn mix, with tiny flowers for pollinators.

As an aside, I once had a neighbour that had garden herbs take over their lawn. Every time they'd mow, it smelled like oregano and sage, and there were almost always tiny light purple flowers under the cut line that the bees loved.

I suggest that you take as much of the advice that others have suggested as you can with regards to going slowly, and covertly, to make your point over time.

Maybe suggest a perimeter hedge, if it fits your plans and the neighbourhood, and make it a polyculture. If you include hawthorn, you can graft pear scion wood onto it. Otherwise, plan in terms of keystone or feature food plants and their supportive guilds, and try to organise, at least at first, in shapes and patterns that will please a non-permie.

And I would focus on pleasing the senses. I would plant something scented between your house and the prevailing winds; if lavender or lilac is a favourite, that will work. I would make sure that whatever you do for lawn, that it feels good to walk through barefoot. I would make sure to design with an eye for the seasonally-changing visual aspect of the space, so that not only is something interesting happening visually over the whole yard and at all times, regardless of the season, and if you can coordinate colours and blooming times, all the better. Brightly coloured and scented blooms will make your space bee-murmurous, and attract all other kinds of pollinator, and probably hummingbirds, if you're careful to accommodate them, and a food hedge will support songbirds.

And whatever you plant foodwise, I would suggest that you go slowly there, too. Maybe grow a half-dozen tomato plants, as opposed to three-dozen (I have overdone it myself, early on, and got a harvest, but also every problem caused by overcrowding, and it looked messy and haphazard). Go for quality over quantity, and give some thought to how you can combine different crops that will mature at the same time for select single-origin meals. A good example is my favourite tomato guild. I plant them just under twenty inches apart, with a basil plant equidistant, and oregano between, and garlic and onions close by. If there's room, an inner row between two of tomato in this pattern could handle one of peppers, sweet or hot, or eggplant, depending on specific circumstance. I like to plant a lot of scent distractors, too, like marigold, geranium, and onion of any type.

Converting a spouse is finesse work. It's necessary to appeal to personal taste, greed, and vanity, mostly, and laziness, where it applies. Let us know how it goes, and good luck.

-CK
 
master pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Michael Cox wrote:I don't particularly like it either. In my climate a forest setting just doesn't provide for humans nutrition. Which is why we are in this in the first place! It can be an element of an overall design, but it is certainly not an end goal and and of itself.



Martin Crawford calls his a "forest garden" and emphasizes that the food forest must be maintained at an immature stage in order to be productive for humans.  Geoff Lawton discusses how the food forest can be abandoned for years and then brought back into productivity very quickly by cutting it back to a less mature form.

In Mollisonian and Lawtonian permaculture the food forest augments but does not replace annual kitchen and main crop gardens.
 
Posts: 120
Location: Prairie Canada zone 2/3
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Personally, I would advocate for a conversation with your wife where you find out what SHE wants, and why, rather than starting out by trying to convince her to do what YOU want.  

There is almost certainly a compromise that can be made, but you'll never even know what to offer if you don't know exactly what is motivating her.  Maybe she wants to focus on flowers, and would be okay with a dwarf apple tree and a pollenator garden.  Maybe she wants to be able to suntan, and is afraid that your food forest trees will block out all the sun.  Maybe you are not a naturally tidy person, and she's afraid that this is just an excuse to not have to mow the lawn, and you'll need to convince her otherwise.  

Many men are not naturally good at this sort of conversation - it is a relatively feminine style, and difficult to master, but it will likely help you resolve the issue.  The trick to that sort of conversation is to TRULY want to know what SHE wants, and ask a lot of questions to make sure you understand, even if you think you've got it.  No arguing or convincing allowed.  If you spend the whole conversation trying to think of arguments to rebut her concerns, you're doing it wrong.  The rebuttal can come later, after you've spent some time thinking about how to meet HER needs.  

Once you know what the underlying motivations are, I'll bet you can find a way to grow food AND make her happy.  

The example used in my mediation course was two companies fighting over a limited supply of oranges, which both needed in order to make their products.  After exploring the issue, it turned out one company needed the peels, while the other needed the pulp, and both companies could use the other's waste product.  A bit cheesy, but in real life, it often turns out that way, where people's needs are complimentary and not competing; it's just the means of meeting the needs that were in conflict.  
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I know many women who aren't good at this kind of conversation either. One's level of self-centeredness isn't defined by whether you dimple or dangle.

It's a difficult thing, because in my experience, one tends to trust their own reasoning until given a reason not to do so. "Winning" an argument isn't possible because it's already been reduced to a zero-sum game, and that's not conducive to an amicable conclusion.

I often find myself in the position of frustration, wherein I could win the argument based on the facts, but then I am accused of "not letting the other party win." The discussion stops being relevant on its merits, and it becomes a conversation about respecting the others' rights to hold an opinion, regardless of validity within the argument, or who is actually factually correct with respect to the discussion at hand.

I also find myself being accused of "mansplaining" when gender doesn't even enter into a conversation, which is also frustrating. It has always seemed unbalanced that I can research a topic fully to form my opinion, and then be blindsided by such an argument from a less-than-well-prepared individual and essentially dismissed because my being right wouldn't be "fair" to the other party.

It's like pro-con debating. The pro side spends days, maybe weeks, pouring over the data, making really solid, fact-based arguments that should just slaughter the opposition.

And the opposition wins with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

On the other side of the "figure out what she wants" strategy, which is a wise way to go about it, also figure out what, exactly, you wish to accomplish, and sketch out the different ways you can get there.

If, for instance, a closed-canopy-style food forest isn't in the cards (doesn't jive with her idea of front and back yard), break it down to a food hedge, say, and more of a savannah setup. Figure out at least three ways to do what you want, with varying levels of neighbour acceptability, in case that's the issue.

Figure out, in concrete terms, exactly what you want this project to yield per year, and how to go about it. If you just want to surround yourself with polyculture, just stick to the forms in place and mix up the varieties, and make sure that there's always something blooming (mostly for pollinators, but also because it's hard to argue with pretty).

I don't know if conversion is the right mindset. It suggests that there is something that must be believed in without supportive evidence, and there's plenty of supportive evidence for the benefits of permaculture. It also sounds preachy, as though you think it necessary to bring enlightenment to your poor benighted spouse, whose mindlessness just appals you. Permaculture has no need of the trappings of religion.

Just figure out what it is each of you want, and your non-negotiable points. Once you have those down, you can move forward without almost certainly putting a foot wrong.

And remember that you ostensibly love each other. Neither is the enemy. Neither wants to hurt the other, or keep them from what they want. You need conversation, not conversion.

-CK
 
Anne Miller
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To clarify, I am not against a "Food Forest".  I feel it would sound better to a non-permies being called a plant guild, food canopy or a just plain ol' "garden".
 
pioneer
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I have a couple of apple tree guilds that are beautiful.  Even people that really love the perfectly uniform, wide-expanse of grass-type of yard enjoy them.  They are quite simple and everyone here probably knows how to make one.  I have an apple tree in the center, a thick double ring of daffodils around it spaced a foot or two apart (the rings, not the flowers).  I have a double ring of tulips also, and among them garlic chives and a few other nice smelling herbs.  Furthest out I have a large ring of comfrey, with more comfrey closer in to the tree.  It has really pretty flowers that the bumble bees adore and it's growth pattern makes it very easy to mow around if you want to have grass around the guild.  As long as the ring of comfrey is big enough, your mower can go all the way around in one pass.  The daffodils bloom first as the comfrey is coming up, and by the time the daffodils are done blooming, the comfrey is large enough to cover it and the tulips are blooming.  The garlic chives have pretty flowers and I love the smell.  The mint plants smell wonderful when you step on them.  I have lots of wood chips within the guild and it adds a cleaner look to everything.  Maybe something like that would work for you?  Those guilds have expanded for me and have become my favorite areas.  They are peaceful and calming and just walking into them makes me happy.  
 
pollinator
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I second the need for a real conversation about each other's desires for the space.

Boundaries and constraints are also very useful in decision-making.
When forced to solve a problem, or work within a limit, you can narrow your focus, and often come up with more creative solutions than if given free rein.

As a serial starter of projects... I suggest keeping the scope to a manageable scale, and once that is complete and functional, expand on it.
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
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There's also "edible landscaping" which can fit more easily into a suburban mindset than some permaculture examples.  Using decorative landscape design with permaculture principles could be the best of both worlds.

https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/edible-landscaping/7986.html
 
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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My husband still thinks I'm nuts and I've been doing this ages. Mostly so long as I don't spend too much money or make him get too involved he doesn't care what I do. He does have opinions about some of my ideas and I listen and take them into consideration. Then I dig a hole. I dig a lot of holes. My husband should be sainted.
 
master steward
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I'd definitely go the Edible Landscaping route. Here's some pretty edibles that come to mind:

Garlic chives
normal chives
pansies
violets (not the african violet type)
hostas
daylilies
borage
fushias
calendula
nasturtiums
rosemary
lavender
currants (clove currant is pretty and smells lovely)
roses that make big hips
cherry and peach trees make pretty flowers
kiwi vines
passion fruit vines
lilacs
 
James Jackson
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There are some incredibly thoughtful suggestions here and I'm going to try several. Thank you all, what a wonderful community.
 
gardener
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My wife enjoys what comes through the back door, particularly when it saves money.  So like many here have suggested, I first started with just a few trees and edible landscape plants.  Artichokes look amazing, and taste even better once you begin to harvest them.  Our lemon tree brightened a bare corner of the yard, and soon was filled with yellow orbs.  Herbs make a nice ground cover, and after only a couple of months, they began to make their way into the kitchen.

I think what really convinced her was when I weighed all the navel oranges that came off our tree the first big harvest year.  It was something like 50 lbs. of fruit.  I paid $23 for that tree way back in 2000.  It's still producing today --- but this year we must have picked 150 lbs. and there are still a few oranges out there.  Now when she goes to Costco, she does the math in her head  --- its easy to see how much money we are saving year after year.

So if your wife is at all motivated by saving money, take that angle with her.  I did the same thing with the chickens when we first bought them: I counted every egg they laid for as long as it took them to finish an entire bag of chicken feed.  One bag, 16 dozen eggs.  She was selling them for $6 a dozen to her co-workers.  That convinced her.  It was something like a 500% return on investment.

Today, we've got about 60 trees and a massive veggie garden scattered throughout the orchard.  Probably 85 to 90% of our fruit and veggies come out of the garden (with the exception of bananas, celery . . . a few other things).  It tastes better and my wife notices that as well.  

One other thing I did: I started to plant flowers as well and she really liked that.  I've got them growing all over the place.  I'll cut her a bunch of flowers and she'll arrange them in a vase.  I collect the seed heads throughout the summer and plant them again the following spring.  Best $5 I ever spent (years ago).
 
Posts: 38
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I was inspired by this topic to create a picture thread over in the urban forum. We have a few pictures posted here of (conventionally) attractive permie plantings. Let’s see some more!

https://permies.com/t/108608/urban-suburban-permie-picture-thread#888663
 
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Oh, I thought was a discussion about converting them to biochar or something
 
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