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News / Clark County News

Clark County tour touts benefits of natural gardens, sustainable techniques

Gardeners can learn how to minimize impact on environment during Green Neighbors event

By Shari Phiel The Columbian
Published: June 12, 2024, 6:04am
7 Photos
Composting at the 78th Street Heritage Farm plays a key role in creating a sustainable garden. Residents can learn more about composting during Clark County Green Neighbors&rsquo; gardens tour June 23.
Composting at the 78th Street Heritage Farm plays a key role in creating a sustainable garden. Residents can learn more about composting during Clark County Green Neighbors’ gardens tour June 23. (Photo contributed by Maul Foster of Clark County Green Neighbors) Photo Gallery

If you’ve been wanting to learn more about sustainable gardening practices, Clark County Green Neighbors has just the ticket. This year’s garden tour, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 23, is all about natural or sustainable gardening. The tour will feature nine gardens, some public and some private.

Perhaps the most popular of the tour locations will be the 78th Street Heritage Farm in Hazel Dell. The 79-acre farm dates back to the 1870s and has 88 diverse community garden beds. All community garden plots will be featured on the tour, each showcasing natural gardening techniques.

“Heritage Farm is a massive resource for our community that we’re really excited we get to showcase the various things we do there,” said Bethanie Collette, environmental outreach coordinator for Clark County Green Neighbors.

The self-guided tour allows guests to visit each of the nine sites at their own pace. Volunteers will be on hand to explain gardening practices used.

While there’s no official definition, the goal of sustainable gardening is to minimize the impact on the ecosystem. It’s gardening without the use of chemicals, such as those found in many fertilizers and pesticides, and relies on practices that preserve natural resources and reduce waste.

“Sustainable gardening, as we see it, is gardening that includes the use of native plants, various pollinator species and does not use any kind of synthetics chemicals,” Collette said. “No herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, things like that.”

Collette, who is also the tour coordinator, said there are many reasons to use natural or sustainable gardening techniques.

“First and foremost, it is better for the environment. Synthetic chemicals can kill any insects that are traditionally beneficial to your garden, including pollinators,” she said.

One example would be ladybugs, which feed on aphids. Aphids are a common pest for gardens because they feed on a wide variety of plants.

“It also reduces your garden’s ability to fight off those pests,” Collette added.

Using natural gardening techniques also keeps chemicals from entering streams and rivers through runoff, keeps pets and children from being exposed, and protects local wildlife.

“There’s also the added benefit of native plants being easier to grow,” she said. “Plants that are supposed to be in this area are better fitted for this area so they often require less resources than plants that aren’t native. … And they’re better suited to our environmental and climatic conditions.”

Collette said sustainable gardening is more accepting of flaws and imperfections, unlike traditional gardening practices, which can waste resources trying to obtain perfect results.

If you go

What: Clark County Green Neighbors Natural Garden Tour
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 23
Where: Nine locations
Information: Download the map at clarkgreenneighbors.org/natural-garden-tour

“There’s lots of other facets, too, that can make a garden sustainable — like intentional water usage and whether they’re collecting rainwater to use rather than relying on any other source; doing anything that provides ecosystem benefits,” Collette said.

Composting plays an essential role in sustainable or natural gardening. Clark County’s Composter Recycler program will have a composting demonstration site at Heritage Farm.

“People can get the 411 on all things composting, vermicomposting — which is composting with worms — and lasagna gardening,” she said, adding that lasagna gardening is called that because it uses multiple layers, much like a pan of lasagna.

Heritage Farm is one of several hubs countywide for the We Compost program, a partnership between Clark County Public Health and Waste Control to offer free food waste disposal to reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill. Collette said the program is a great resource for those living in apartments or condos, or outside curbside composting areas.

Collette said there’s one other really good reason to have a natural garden.

“It’s less work overall, not to mention they look beautiful,” she said.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.