This Grand Island landscape is suburban in front, natural in back

lawn in yard using permaculture
The area closest to the house is the place for people. Farther back are fruit and nut trees, and still farther back is a wild area. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

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.

suburban front yard by Stofko
Denise and Don Freedman don’t use pesticides on their lawn so it’s safe for kids to play on. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

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.

raised vegetable bed by Stofko
When they found rabbits nesting in their vegetable garden, the Freedmans built several raised beds out of pallets. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

What is a pest?

bug hotel in Grand Island
A log is labeled “Bug Hotel.” Another sign on the log explains that the log is fulfilling its final destiny as food and shelter for wildlife.

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.

rain garden in Grand Island
A Bartlett pear tree grows in the vicinity of the rain garden. A rain garden aims to collect and soak up precipitation so the rain doesn’t run overwhelm the sewer system. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

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.

potting station of pallets by Stofko
This potting station was made of discarded pallets. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

5 Comments on “This Grand Island landscape is suburban in front, natural in back

  1. Hi Deborah and Mike, I’m glad this article gives you inspiration. Yes, deer can be voracious eaters. A couple of overall strategies are to avoid planting things that deer love and to fence off plants and shrubs that you want to protect. See lots of ideas here.

  2. What a wonderful article. We have over an acre with the grass on at least 1/2 of the land. The tree in the back are wonderful and wild.

    One of our biggest problems is the neighbor on one side, who like to mow and blow each week and dislike our more natural goals. We have only been here a year, but this article has given us hope.

    We can photograph the progress of our journey to return this land in compliment to the natural environment and animal habitat.

    But deer are a Huge problem in our yard. They eat everything,

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article and seeing the photos of the Freedman’s lovely home and backyard gardens! Wildlife is also abundant in our area so it was interesting to read of their ideas for keeping the deer and rabbits away from tender crops. Keeping newly planted shrubs and young trees from being nibbled on is an ongoing battle! Hi Denise and Don!

  4. Thanks, all that was so informative. We just purchased a half acre to the left and behind our property. Planted 14 green giant arborvitae, 5 trees and 4 fruit trees,YES WE GET DEER TOO, we will use their ideas on keeping deer away. We too are on the open gardens, Fridays, 10-2, 6670 Bear Ridge Rd. Pendleton NY, Thanks for your great articles Connie and all you fellow gardeners. Keep safe and healthy. Happy gardening. Tom

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