There’s a permaculture concept called “stacking functions.” It refers to choosing strategies that have several benefits or accomplish multiple goals.
Take, for example, a strategy I’m fond of: smothering lawn with fallen leaves to create new planting beds. I have done and will continue to do this in different parts of my yard over time to create my new garden.
The leaves that I use were delivered to my doorstep free by a lawn and tree care service. In my city, there is a limited program for collecting yard waste for compost/mulch, so they may otherwise have been taken to a landfill.
They sat in my yard in plastic bags until I was ready to use them. Yes, it is sad that the bags were plastic rather than paper, which could be composted in place right along with the contents. Better yet might be delivering in bulk with no bags at all. On the other hand, bagged materials are easily portable. I could thus use them in different parts of the yard during different times of year, and they were ready when and where I needed them for the next garden project.
Finally, and most importantly, these cast-off materials make amazing soil. The bags include a mix of dry brown leaves, pine needles and cones, fresh grass clippings, and small twigs. It’s a perfect mix because of the variety of nutrients and minerals.
As any gardener knows, soil is accumulated wealth. It is not easy or cheap to add if not already present in the garden. And crucial to good soil is a thriving and diverse community of soil organisms. These relatively lightweight materials are the cheapest and most effective way that I have found for making new soil and attracting all manner of beneficial soil organisms.
So to recap, I am stacking functions by piling leaves to smother a lawn. I am transforming a waste product into a valuable component of my garden, getting a resource free (not counting my labor, of course) in a portable form, and adding a diverse mix of nutrients and minerals that will infuse my soil with life and boost the health of future plants.
For some with finely tuned aesthetic preferences, this strategy can be hard to stomach despite its many benefits. My parents were touring my new garden just after I spread my bagged treasure across an area that may become a little meadow next year. She assured me that the future meadow was quite exciting, and he commented, “It looks like a dinosaur came through here and pooped all over the place.”