Updated: Nov 30, 2021
Ecological Horticulture, or EcoHort, is a sustainability-focused garden design technique. It’s an approach to designing and maintaining the environment that mimics and supports the ecosystem services of natural systems while maintaining and improving the quality of human life.
The word "ecological" has several meanings in gardening. But, in its simple definition, it entails the environmental footprint of the garden, The system of interactions between the garden and the environment that creates and maintains it. Ecological systems, like those found growing naturally, not only provide for human needs (food, shelter, etc.) but also for other wildlife (pollinators, predators), as well as beneficial microorganisms. They require no water to grow and no fertilizer to thrive. They provide multiple yields of food and other useful products.
The structure of the Ecological Garden
Ecological gardens can be built on a large or small scale. Meaning that the area can be as small as a few square meters or as large as hundreds of acres. The most important aspect of an Ecological Garden is the structure. The structure is the interaction between all living and nonliving things. It is much more than a collection of plants. It’s a community of plants, birds, pollinators, and other wildlife (including those in the soil, water, and air) that work together to form a cohesive, balanced system.
Plants have been selected over time by nature based on their ability to work with other plants in a given environment. EcoHort uses this knowledge to "benefit" to the plant community and creates a structure of plants that will work together sustainably, not just in terms of growth, but also for human benefit.
Why start adopting the Ecological Garden design?
Adopting the Ecological Garden design model shifts the focus from one that emphasizes individual plants and their production, or their "sale value" in the marketplace, to one that focuses on the longevity of each plant and the community of beneficial species and microorganisms. Here is a list of its benefits:
Ecological Gardens use local materials. Rainforests are not being cut down in order to provide wood for products being shipped around the world...e.g., plywood, charcoal, and furniture.
Ecological Gardens produce a wide variety of useful products...e.g., compost, mulch, cover crops, food, fiber, not just one crop.
Ecological Gardens use existing relationships...e.g., the relationship between rhizobia and legumes in nitrogen fixation. Legumes (such as soybeans) grow well in soil with a nitrogen-fixing microbe, such as rhizobia. This is because the legumes convert atmospheric nitrogen into usable organic compounds that encourage the growth of their host plant, which provides shade and support for their growth.
To learn more about how important sustainable gardening is for our future in urban life, read another one of our articles that best explains that!
The EcoHort approach is not new or unique. It is, however, an environmentally sustainable alternative to conventional gardening techniques. The Ecological Garden design model has been around for some time, but its usage has diminished with the introduction of new garden design methods that emphasize individual species and their production over things like seasonal cycles, beneficial interactions between plant species, etc.
Ecological Gardens are sustainable by nature. The EcoHort approach does not depend on the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or irrigation. No fertilizer is required because all food needs are met through naturally occurring processes that rely on healthy soil and an ecological structure.
The EcoHort approach does not depend on a specific type of garden fertilizer or pesticide. Many types of organic and natural fertilizers can be used in the Ecological Garden system. So can organic and natural pesticides.
The practical side of Ecological Gardens: How they are made and maintained
Acidification of the soil from over-application of lime, compost, or other amendments can be prevented by adding manure to the soil along with a balanced fertilizer to the top few inches of soil around the base of plant root systems, between planting rows.
Organic pesticides may also be used in small quantities for beneficial insects if necessary. As in all organic gardening practices, no synthetics may be used in EcoHort gardens.
Organic fungicides may also be used if necessary. As in all organic gardening practices, no synthetics should be used in EcoHort gardens.
Ecological Gardens do not require irrigation or significant amounts of water to survive and thrive. The EcoHort approach relies on giving each plant the water it needs based on seasonal cycles.
Starting your own Ecological garden
If you are starting with a new garden, the EcoHort design process is best if started in early spring. You should not start building an Ecological Garden at the same time as other gardening projects, because you will need perhaps two seasons to adjust to the changes in soil structure and uptake of nutrients by plants, as first-year plantings become established.
During the first season, companion planting techniques should be used so that only one type of plant is planted together with another type of plant at any given time.
For example, if you are starting a vegetable garden, plant one crop of beans with another crop of beans. Plant one crop of peas with another crop of peas. Then alternate these crops with two or more other crops in order to prevent pests that are common in certain areas, such as black cutworms.
By planting in this manner throughout the summer, you will have a wide variety of vegetables to harvest at the end of your growing season. With this variety, you will avoid many pests and diseases that plague the same sort of crops when planted all in one place.
Ecological Gardens are more sustainable than conventional gardening methods, particularly in terms of greater life expectancy for plants. The need for more Ecological Gardens has not yet been fully realized, but it soon will be. Ecological Gardens are everywhere on the planet, in all regions of culture and geography, on every type of land. They are slowly growing in popularity as people start to realize that they can bring back life to their local environments with little or no cost.