Six Sustainable Gardening Tips from Lee and Bernadette Carlton

Lee Carlton is the marketing director at THINK Global School. Bernadette is his four-year-old daughter and occasional marketing assistant.

This year instead of celebrating our earth for just one day, Educator Chelle Marshall had a thought: Why not extend the celebration to a full week? And that’s exactly what we did. For the first time, THINK Global School celebrated an Earth Week -- seven full days of recognizing how we can make the world a more inhabitable place. TGS community members Jess Pegram, Chelle, Elyce Tunbridge, and Rowena Speed each set forth initiatives for community members to select from (with the additional option of creating your own). The initiatives were:

I, along with my four-year-old daughter Bernadette, decided to focus on Elyce’s initiative of planting and growing by focusing on the sustainability efforts we were doing here at our home in the great state of Texas. Here's Bernadette during one of our recent hikes, who'll you be seeing more of below.

Once we sat down and started looking at our current efforts, I was pleasantly surprised by just how much we are already doing towards making the world a better place. To be honest, I worry about the world that Bernadette and her generation are inheriting (especially given the rampant demolition of standards and regulations here in the States over the last four years), and I hope that a Green New Deal is reached at some point. I do have faith though that the youngest among us are more inclined to take care of the world, given that they are growing in a time when facts are irrefutable and polar bears, sea turtles, and ringed seals are literally crying in their faces. Enough doom and gloom, though — let’s get back to the positive! Here is what Bernadette and I came up with for our Earth Week initiative and some stats I found on each. Hopefully, they are something you can apply in your own neck of the woods.

Initiative #1: Rain Barrels

If 100 houses in a neighborhood installed three 50-gallon rain barrels, 15,000 gallons of water would be saved after just ¼ inch of rainfall; enough to run the average sprinkler for over 62 hours!

The first thing we are doing from a sustainability perspective is using rain barrels to capture rainwater. We have two 50 gallon barrels installed currently and use the water to nourish the plants in our back yard, typically with a watering jug. It gets really obnoxiously hot here in the summer, so the rain barrels definitely help when we don't have any rain for weeks on end. My plan is to raise the second barrel up higher and create greater pressure so I can attach a soaker hose. Speaking of soaker hoses...

Initiative #2: Sprinklers and Soaker Hoses

Soaker hoses are a great way to water perennial beds, shrubs, and trees.

The second initiative we are undergoing is really limiting how much we are watering our lawn and using soaker hoses to conserve water as well. We only run our sprinkler system twice a week and use soaker hoses in our flower beds. The soaker hoses are covered in little holes, so they look like they are sweating in a way, but it's an efficient and practical way to evenly distribute the water. I also have terracotta spikes that you can place a wine bottle in to evenly water plants like hydrangeas or herbs over time. Those are really cool -- I actually found out about them from AOC when she was talking about how she waters her own New York garden while away at the congress.

So what's next.... oh yeah:

Initiative #3: Raised Garden Beds

Raised beds help keep out critters

Our raised garden beds have seen better days, but they are still serviceable (think we'll likely replace them next spring). There are a ton of benefits to raised garden beds, but chief among them is you can start growing your food earlier, you don't need to till them, and they drain better than planting things directly in the ground (our soil here is pretty alkaline as well, so we're way better off having things contained). Right now we are growing basil, arugula (it's pretty much the only leafy green I want to eat at this point...I love it), rosemary, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and dill. I enjoy pickling as well and the cucumbers we grow definitely taste better than what we get at the store. Pickle yourself? Highly recommend grabbing some of these pickling granules: makes all the difference in terms of crispiness. Just sprinkle a little bit in with your brine and they'll be so crunchy.

Moving on...

Initiative #4: Succulents and Cacti

Texas has four seasons: drought, flood, blizzard, and twister.

So a lot of you seem to think us Texans wear cowboy hats, still ride horses everywhere, drink at cantinas, and I don't even know what else. Of course, there are people here who do all of that, but most of us are not like that. I live in Dallas, but it isn't the tv show Dallas at all. One notion about Texas that is true though is that our summers are scorching hot, no matter where in the state you are. Like 105 degrees in the summer during the day and about 88 at night. I am not a fan of that.

What I am a fan of now though are cacti and succulents -- plants that don't need a lot of water to exist but do need a lot of sun. Whereas we used to have azaleas and other blooming plants, we've switched to cacti and plan on planting a lot more. Native species just do better as well, so I would recommend no matter where you live, plant what's indigenous, and let it thrive. Looking forward to planting a creeping ground cover succulent that resists weeds next. Score!

Now that we've covered cacti, how about

Initiative #5: Planting Trees

Three trees planted in the right place around buildings can cut air-conditioning costs up to 50 percent.

So true story, while I was in Europe for last year's TGS graduation, a thirty-foot tree fell on my house during a freak storm (Texas weather is not for the light-hearted). I got to rush home from England after seeing my grandma for about two hours. Good times. We ended up having to completely re-sand all of our wooden floors due to water damage and live in a rental house for over a month. Good times.

That being said, we are going to plant an awesome ginkgo biloba in its place (slow-growing trees are now my thing).

We've planted quite a few other trees around our back yard and in front of the house, and they definitely improve the quality of life. I particularly love Japanese Maples like the one Bernadette is standing in front of. One cool thing the city of Dallas does is give away free trees to anyone who wants one. Score!

Since we are talking about things growing, let's move on to the final initiative:

Initiative #6: Using Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers promote natural nutrient storage mechanisms in the soil. It helps microorganisms to grow in the soil.

So the last thing that we do in our garden is use organic fertilizers for everything. It's better for everything in the garden (not to mention I learned my lesson the first year we moved into the house when I killed two Japanese maples with Miracle-Gro).

I also try to support smaller nurseries as opposed to big box stores like Home Depot whenever I can. We have an incredible nursery here called North Haven Gardens that was destroyed by a tornado last year, but they are already back on their feet and operating. They are definitely my go-to.

If you've made it this far, Bernadette and I would like to thank you for reading!