Working with Nature: A Gardener’s Pledge
Have you noticed how tidy landscapes and gardens are these days? While I appreciate my neighbors keeping up their yards, I’ve noticed that many are just too tidy. By this I mean the shrubs are neatly pruned (sheared) into strange round objects, chunky wood mulch (often dyed) is piled in the beds, and the lawn never has the opportunity to grow beyond a few inches. In the winter, every dead part of a plant has been cut back to the ground leaving a bare surface. Heaven forbid if an errant leaf drops on the lawn, much less in the beds! I equate this kind of tidiness in the garden about the same as walking into a home that is pristine. I can’t help but wonder if anyone really lives there.
When you suffer from OCD of the garden variety, life forms of all kind suffer. I know of a public butterfly garden whose caretakers suffer from garden OCD. The garden is spotless in the winter. All of the perennials have been cut back to the ground, the vines have been cut back, and the beds have been neatly raked of any debris. Ironically, what the caretakers of this garden do not seem to understand is the number of butterflies that they have probably killed during their cleaning process.
I am not advocating for garden chaos or mess. I am telling you to relax a bit and put down those shears, pruners, and rakes. Allow your garden to take on a softer, more natural feel. Take a walk in the wild. Do you hear anyone ever say, “Gee, it is so messy out here!” Nope. Most people see the wild as a very beautiful place. We use words like pristine. That hardly describes nature as being a hot mess!
This winter, as we sit by our firesides dreaming of spring gardens, let’s think about how we can work more productively with Mother Nature instead of how we can control her. <laughing> In that same vein of thought, let’s get rid of the term garden chores. Gardening should be pleasurable beyond measure. When we work with nature instead of against nature, it is just that. There are no chores involved. Sure, there is some hard work to do occasionally, but gardening itself shouldn’t be hard to do.
Pledge to garden with nature.
It is not lost on me that this statement sounds really crazy. Gardens and nature are one in the same; however, if you take a close look at many neighborhoods, you would never know this.
What can you do to be a more natural gardener?
- Go organic. Put down the fertilizers, weed killers, fungicides, and pesticides. Think it can’t be done? I have been gardening for 30 years. I keep one unfriendly item in my garden shed…fire ant bait and mound killer. Other pesticides? I don’t need them. Nature has an incredible way of balancing itself if you have a healthy environment.
- Start composting. Use your lawn clippings, leaves, and kitchen scrapes to create all the fertilizer you will ever need. Using compost is one of the best ways to build soil. Healthy soil grows healthy plants and healthy plants are more resistant to disease and pests. This is garden goodness and you can easily have all you will ever need. Just get in the habit!
- Use your fallen leaves. Fallen leaves are the gold at the end of the garden rainbow. Shred them with your lawn mower or leaf blower and use them in beds for the best mulch money can’t buy. (learn more)
- Prune judiciously. Put down those shears! Pruning should be down at the right time and with careful thought. Not all plants need to be pruned, and unless you maintain a formal garden with hedges, your plants never need to be sheared.
- Plant natives. A multi-layered garden of many species of native plants supports a variety of wildlife, requires less water and fertilizer, and staves off pests and disease. Why would you not do this? Want to know more? Then read Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home about the vital role native plants play in our ecosystems. (learn more)Photo: Source unknown
- Plant perennials. Perennials offer a wide variety of flowers and foliage that support a large number of insects. (think butterflies!) These beauties are often overlooked as many homeowners seem to gravitate more toward shrubs. Add some perennials to your beds for year-after-year color. I promise you’ll get hooked!
- Reduce the size of your lawn. Why? Because it is a non-native plant that requires copious amounts of chemicals, time, and money; and chances are you use very little of the lawn. Lawns are chemically dependent and offer no benefits to wildlife. (with the exception of your children) If you have to use chemicals of any kind to maintain your lawn then put it out of its misery! (learn more)
- Provide habitat…food, water, and shelter. When you provide a healthy habitat for wildlife, you create healthy living for people as well. Choose your plants with wildlife in mind. The berries, nectar, and seeds produced by many native plants provide a valuable food source. Add some birdbaths, a pond, or other water sources for wildlife. Nesting boxes, wood piles, and evergreen shrubs and trees all provide shelter. (learn more)
- Educate yourself. The more you know the healthier we will all be. Share your knowledge about the benefits of gardening with nature with your neighbors and your homeowners’ association. Don’t limit your schooling to books…get out there and observe! You and your family will learn more about the workings of nature…our earth systems…than you will ever learn from a book just by going outside and getting involved.
The reward? Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…
What will you do differently in your garden this year?