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Opportunity to help a community

 
Posts: 6
Location: SW Washington
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Hello Permies from the Northwest!

I wanted to get some opinions on possibilities for a project I've been presented with. My family has been living in a second story condo for the last three years and it's been an interesting challenge gardening and practicing sustainability in our limited space. Recently, our homeowner's association has been hiring landscapers to come "take care" of our bark dust, small lawn, and bushes. They've been spraying pesticides and herbicides all along the sides of the building and under the bushes where our cat liked to go lay in the hot days. Behind our building where there had been a think layer of moss which was providing habitat for little salamanders and all kinds of benign bug life, not to mention holding thousands of gallons of water in the soil under the evergreen behind our window -- and just being beautiful to look at -- they raked it all up under the umbrella of "debris," leaving a scared sterilized expanse of dry dirt.

Now, I talked with one of the HOA members who is a little more opened minded about my dis-satisfaction with the job the landscapers did, and told him I thought we could do the job better ourselves with some good ground cover species and some time on the part of some home-owners (we of course would volunteer with much of the help). He sounded like he liked the idea, and so now I have the opportunity to come up with some permaculture alternatives to petro-chemical and destructive practices we're currently relying on.

The problems we're facing which we would like to address with a change in the landscape are:

~ Ground-cover: right now this consists of ivy and bark-dust. Both are a nuisance, and they're providing habitat for flees, creating dust which clings to the buildings and gets in eyes and causes slivers in pets and kid's feet, and ivy is of course is taking over the raked back areas.

~ Erosion & runoff/landslide prevention: The whole property is lined with a steep hill along the East and North ends. Water runs off the hill and pools on several parts of the property, plus the bonus risk of loosing the whole hillside if it looses too much vegetation.

~ Fire danger: the reason sited for the need to rake up all the water retaining mulch was that much of it was dry and the pine needles and leaf litter were creating a fire hazard. I debate the validity to that claim, however I feel like it would also be mute if the mulch was staying moist from ground cover. This being said, we can't have anything too close to the buildings themselves, and nothing the residence would perceive as a fire danger.

~ Pests: the bark dust has made great flee territory, and the standing water grants us big plumes of mosquitoes in the spring. I've never seen it myself but I hear lemon balm, lavender, and lemon grass are some good mosquito and flee repelers as well as sweet smelling and nice to look at -- not to mention aroma-therapeutic.

~ People: Maybe the biggest problem we face are the people. This is not a progressive community of gardeners by a long shot. We've been hassled about our porch and (though they don't enforce it) reminded that the rule for porches is: 1 chair, 1 potted plant, 1 shelf. Most of our neighbor will probably not be interested in the environmental reprocussions of the landscaping techniques, and anything that sounds like extra work, or hippy-crap, will probably get thrown out. I've got to figure out how to present this as no-nonsense practical stuff, what we obviously should be doing because it is genuinely the most advantageous.

I'm really looking forward to some brainstorming! I don't stand to profit anything from this project other than keeping my family's home healthy and poison free, while hopefully taking care of our pests and making it prettier and healthier for everyone. This could be a cool opportunity to introduce some more stuffy-minded people to the practical solutions permaculture has to offer.

Thanks for the help and I hope you're all having a fantastic weekend!
 
pollinator
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Location: Anjou ,France
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One Chair one potted plant one shelf...........................................

This is the land of the free ? wow

scarey.

Good luck with your efforts I suspect the finantial aspects of this will carry the most weight .

David
 
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Location: Carnation, WA (Western Washington State / Cascadia / Pacific NW)
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Hi Rachel,

I was in a similar boat when I lived in a condo. I joined/started a landscape committee to tackle almost exactly the issues you listed. We started with cutting costs with garbage and irrigation, used a volunteer crew to paint a peeling eyesore of a fence, and were just starting to build that kind of goodwill, before tackling the trickier topics, when I moved away.

I started collecting photos of places that were mulching, and/or composting and amending the soil with the plant materials available. In Vancouver, B.C., at Stanley Park, there was a lovely perennial woodland planting that had been mulched with copious amounts of maple leaves. The leaves were all raked or blown off the lawn and walks and into the trimmed garden bed. I thought it looked awesome. At another fancier planting right in downtown Vancouver, bird-of-paradise and other gorgeous flowers and shrubs were growing in some very obviously compost-enriched soil. You could see bits of leaves, twigs, needles and other humus building things as part of the soil underneath these thriving plantings. I took pictures of both, but alas, never quite got to a point where we discussed it with the HOA people.

--ground cover - with lots of pine needles it sounds like it could be a bit woodland-esque there, yes? oxalis / wood sorrel is a nice ground cover, looks great, and it can be edible, too!
--fire danger/mulch - pine needles are a great mulch; and by holding in moisture, I would think they would lessen the fire danger - perhaps there are some studies on this somewhere?
--erosion/run off/pests - simple swales filled with rocks, pine needles, or other mulch are amazing at reducing pests in standing water - we witnessed this first hand with standing water that was attracting yellow jackets; after we built a swale to manage the puddling, the yellow jackets decreased by almost 100-fold
--people - check out the work of Sightline Institute for research to convince people, they did some particularly awesome stuff with clotheslines, which are typically banned in HOAs

If you've already had complaints about your balcony, perhaps use extra care to make it as beautiful and attractive as possible. For example, in a permaculture system, we see brown, dead plant parts as a valuable biomass, even seeds, but others often see it as untidy. If there is a way to compromise on this, and trim away or hide the brown dead parts (if any) so that others don't see them and your neighbors see something more mainstream attractive, you'll likely have an easier time convincing folks of your ideas.

Best of luck to you! (Unfortunately, you're going to need it!)
 
Rachel Brooke
Posts: 6
Location: SW Washington
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Thank you so much! We just got internet hooked back up at home so now we're hoping to tackle these things soon, especially since this is going to be the best time we could lay down some sheet mulch if we can get everyone to go with it. The wood sorrel looks beautiful and like people around here would probably be willing to adjust to some of that. While I am going to be preparing most of what I can submit to the HOA in an email, I'm much better at convincing people with presentations so I was hoping to make a very short one for the up coming HOA meeting, as well.

More-more-more-research!

Thanks again!
 
Posts: 4
Location: Comox Valley, British Columbia
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Hi Rachel,

I lived in a housing complex for years, and so can sympathize a bit with your situation. People do tend to get all up in each others business a wee bit too much .

Sometimes there is more common ground than might be obvious at first. I am thinking even "conventional gardeners" have a love of plants and planting things...maybe not so crazy on weeding...? Native plants have a tendency to take hold and not need much tending. Might be a practical sort of easy care solution for some spots?

I am just recently having a chance to grow whatever I like, and so do not have a ton of knowledge to share here unfortunately. Hope all goes well for you though, and whatever the outcome, don't be discouraged, no step is wasted on the path to growth.

Best Wishes
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