by Connie Oswald Stofko
It’s like visiting a home out in the country–depending on what side of the house you’re on.
In front, the home of Denise and Don Freedman has a typical suburban landscape.
In back, it’s more natural, with fruit trees, a rain garden and trees that were there when they bought the land.
They’ve been using permaculture techniques before they ever heard that word. What does permaculture mean to them?
“It’s using your land to your advantage,” Denise began, and Don finished: “Without destroying it.”
I visited the Freedman landscape during the Grand Island Garden Walk in 2019. Although that garden walk won’t be held in 2020, you can see the garden walks and Open Gardens that will be held this year here.
Get your guide to the Open Gardens now. See details here.
Living with nature
Twenty years ago when they bought the lot and built the house, Don had a vision to keep the large backyard as natural as possible. It is certified as a wildlife habitat.
The area farthest from the house is being kept as a wilderness area. You’ll see large, mature trees including oak, hickory and black walnut. (Some ash trees had to be removed because of the emerald ash borer.) There are also hawthorne shrubs. A huge variety of wildflowers grow there, too, and Denise picks the flowers and places them in arrangements.
Closer to the house is an area with fruit and nut trees.
In the sunny area closest to the house are gardens with vegetables, herbs and flowers.
What is a pest?
The Freedmans try to coexist with wildlife.
The Freedmans have raccoons, deer and rabbits. What do they do about the pests?
“What do you consider a pest?” Denise asked.
“There is a coyote in the park behind us. Grand Island has coyotes,” she said, shrugging.
There are lots of birds in their yard. The birds get the house dirty and eat their cherries, but the birds aren’t pests, Don said.
Despite having to compete with the birds the previous year, “we had cherry jubilee, cherry jam, cherry everything,” Don said.
They find a balance with the wildlife, Denise said. They don’t spray any pesticides, even on the fruit trees.
But they do take some steps to protect their food plants. When they found rabbits nesting in their vegetable garden, they built raised beds out of discarded pallets.
To discourage the raccoons, they splash ammonia on the grass where they think the raccoons are approaching from. The raccoons don’t like the ammonia and it doesn’t damage the grass, Don said.
To discourage deer, they hang little bars of fragrant soap in the fruit trees.
The Freedmans hung signs to let visitors know what they were growing.
In the raised beds they grew beans, red cabbage, Swiss chard, cilantro, ginger, lettuce, basil, radishes, beets, onions, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, parsley, dill and microgreens.
Apples, cherries and grapes have been their most productive fruit over the years. They have 13 fruit trees and shrubs, including pear, peach, plumcot, plum, mulberry and blackberry. A fig tree is overwintered in the garage and a lemon tree and banana plant are kept in the house.