Let’s Put Those Lawns to Work
Permaculture Transforms Lawn Landscape
What if we stopped growing lawns and instead nourished our precious patches of earth with composted yard and kitchen waste? And grew food for ourselves, for pollinators and other creatures? To follow Diana Liga through the gardens surrounding her house on half an acre in Spring Branch is to glimpse what life in Houston and other cities, so transformed, might be.
With a horticulture degree from Texas A&M University and a certificate in permaculture—landscaping based on principles of ecological sustainability—Diana’s expertise shines in the design and productivity of her gardens, which she began in 2002. A key element in permaculture is “stacking,” imitating the multiple stories of forests instead of growing a single plant in rows or clusters. “Use vertical space,” Diana emphasizes.
And so fruit trees and banana plants rise amid lantanas, roses, irises, cardoons, kales, lupines, milkweed, herbs and other understory plants. A small pond and several birdbaths reflect another key element: creating water features for aquatic plant and animal habitats and for sustaining birds and insects.
“Everything has more than one purpose,” Diana explains, “water, sure, but also plants. For example, milkweeds feed monarchs and other beneficial insects, and parsley and fennel, bronze fennel especially, feed both people and beneficials.”
Twenty-eight fruit trees grow in her front gardens, 37 in back. The varieties range from the familiar to the exotic—persimmon, pomegranate, kumquat, peach, lemon, loquat, fig, pear, apple, orange, grapefruit, Satsuma, olive, prickly pear, jujube, mandarinquat, calamondin, feijoa, pitaya, carambola, grumichama, jaboticaba and ujukitsu.
“Something is always ripening,” she says. “Once established, fruit trees are easiest to grow, then perennial herbs, then vegetables.”
She grows many vegetable varieties each season, most of them in raised, backyard beds and interspersed with herbs and flowers. Also in back, she maintains a compost pile and keeps hens in a pen shaded by figs, bananas and a partial roof. Since Diana, her husband and two young sons are vegetarian, they need little to eat beyond what grows outside their doors.
What do the neighbors think? “A couple have complained that it’s not neighborly of me to keep the front yard in food and habitat gardens,” Diana says. “But only a couple, and neighborhood kids often knock and ask to pick kumquats and other fruit when they see it ripening.” Diana loves this, loves the lively world her gardens open to her boys and other children. Along with nurturing her home gardens, she coordinates gardens at Bendwood Elementary, her older son’s school, and occasionally designs gardens for private clients.
She enjoys re-creating for others something of what her grandmother’s garden in Durango, Mexico, created for her. “Growing up, I spent every summer with her,” Diana says. “She kept chickens, a pig and cow, and grew herbs and fruit trees and edible weeds. Her garden was wild, peaceful, purposeful and beautiful.”
Gardening such as Diana’s is gaining ground in Houston and many cities. With climate change, minds change, and lawns may fall to more fruitful uses of land.