Sustainable, organic farming has been the standard practice of nature-conscious gardeners for decades.
But there’s a new/old approach to landscaping and gardening in town, and it has a just-opened home on Powell Boulevard in Southeast Portland.
Regenerative ecological gardening, which takes the sustainable mantra of “do no harm” and advances it to “do no harm and also do good,” has been around since ancient civilizations began the practice, and it’s still used in many Indigenous communities around the world.
It’s only recently that the practice has started to become more mainstream, though, and SymbiOp Garden Shop, which opened Oct. 1, is a vocal champion.
Almost everything about the garden store is consistent with regenerative gardening and design practices.
There are books on the subjects, a huge selection of native plants (180 and counting) and local, artisanal items such as soaps, lotions, salves, tonics and edibles.
JT Yu, the computer system engineer turned business developer behind SymbiOp (short for Symbiosis Cooperative), which is run as a worker co-op, said the business has what he calls a “triple bottom line” when deciding what to carry in the garden store.
“Does it make financial sense? Is it socially beneficial? Is it good for the environment,” he explained, adding “not necessarily in that order.”
“We are worker-owned, value-led and mission-driven,” he said. As for that mission, the company’s mantra is “For people and planet.”
What people will find in the 10,000-square-foot garden store reflects that, time and again.
There’s the extensive native plant selection, with all plants grown within two hours of the center; a larger offering of house plants; handmade gardening tools by Red Pig Tools of Lake Oswego; biodegradable nursery pots; livestock feed, tools and bedding; and countless items, Yu said, “you can’t find anywhere else.”
THE REGENERATIVE APPROACH: A BRIEF EXPLANATION
Sustainable gardening and design, Yu contends, is based on the premise the best people can do is not harm the planet, but, he said, “We can and have been beneficial to nature.”
The SymbiOp website lists these examples of how the regenerative approach applies:
— Planting materials that are both less toxic and provide health benefits;
— Products that both break less and can be easily fixed, upgraded or decomposed;
— People who both do less harm and more good.
In addition to the garden center, SymbiOp also offers landscape design (https://symbiop.com/landscaping), installation and maintenance services.
Designer Nutmeg Minneboo, who has more than 10 years’ experience in ecological design, said regenerative landscaping uses fewer fertilizers and produces the nutrients the plants need to thrive, replenishing and reproducing their own sources of energy.
Once established, SymbiOp explains, the gardens not only emit less carbon, but can actually remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Don’t look for any manicured rye grass lawns, though. Instead, SymbiOp installs eco-lawns, consisting of clover and strawberry ground covers that fertilize the soil.
Yu and the other 20 workers at SymbiOp have big hopes for the fledgling business’ future.
It starts with a fundraiser the day after Thanksgiving for the Native American Youth and Family Center, with 10% of all sales going to the group in what Yu envisions being the first of a series of fundraisers for nonprofits.
And SymbiOp is seeking grants to get electric trucks for deliveries and the landscape side of the business to eliminate what Yu said is “our biggest source of carbon.”
There are also plans to offer classes and workshops on ecological gardening in the coming year.
Said Yu: “We are all looking forward to spring.”
SYMBIOP GARDEN SHOP
What: A business dedicated to a regenerative approach to gardening and design.
Where: 3454 S.E. Powell Blvd.
Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Tuesday, 12-6 p.m.
Some of what you’ll find there: Ecological gifts, native plants, indoor and edible plants, animal feed, organic soil and tools.
— Dennis Peck, for The Oregonian/OregonLive