Why do gardens matter?

In this age of hyper-technology and a corresponding increase in nature blindness, why do gardens matter?

This is the question I’ve pondered all spring as I work in my own garden.

The garden seems to be the only thing that soothes my soul this spring, and yet, in my career, I, like many of you, work on a computer writing and then sharing on social media.

Still, I’ll be the first to tell you social media doesn’t satisfy the longing of one’s heart.

Still, I'll be the first to tell you social media doesn't satisfy the longing of one's heart. Click To Tweet
[Click on the photos in the galleries to make them larger and see the full captions.]

Instead, being away from the computer, outside tending to plants, animals, and my new honeybees are what fill me.

Why do gardens matter? We know they matter to the pollinators and other creatures who visit them. In a world that is getting smaller and smaller and more connected, we seem to have left our natural friends behind.

Why do gardens matter? Well, we know they matter to the pollinators and other creatures who visit them. In a world that is getting smaller and smaller and more connected, we seem to have left our natural friends behind. Click To Tweet

Our lawns are covered with grasses that are many tiny plants of the same genus and species. In Oklahoma, it’s mostly Bermuda grass, Cynodon dactylon, and tall fescue, Festuca arundinacea (syn., Schedonorus arundinaceus, and Lolium arundinaceum.) While grass can be pretty, it doesn’t feed pollinators or the predators that feed off of them. Grass also doesn’t offer cover for animals like birds, lizards and, snakes.

When the garden bloggers were in Zilker Park in Austin for the Garden Bloggers’ Fling, we had a delicious lunch sponsored by High Country Gardens and American Meadows where David Salman, founder of High Country Gardens spoke about nature and the plants he is continuing to discover and nurture through his nursery. He gave an inspiring and uplifting talk about how humans can make real change by planting gardens full of layers–trees, shrubs and nectar-rich perennials and annuals. He discussed how inspired he was from a talk by Doug Tallamy on biodiversity and the layered landscape. I heard a similar talk by Tallamy in Oklahoma a few years ago and wrote about my efforts to create a pollinator buffet.

For further reading on this topic, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded and The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, by Tallamy and Rick Darke are both excellent books on the subject. Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West is also superb.

After our lunch and tour of Zilker Park, I sat across from Salman on the bus and discussed various Oklahoma snake species with him. It was refreshing to talk about an animal with someone so knowledgeable and also, not afraid. Whether people like them or not, snakes are an important part of the garden ecosystem. They are not a fuzzy pollinator like a bumblebee, or a Monarch butterfly, or a singing bird, but they are important. That’s why I don’t kill every snake I see. I try to relocate them–even when they are in my house.

Yes, that happened this weekend. I do live in the country you know.

Salman’s talk reminded me why gardens matter. Since I read the above books and listened to several talks including Tallamy’s, I’ve further changed how I garden. While I still love my roses and other cottage-garden plants, I’ve adapted my English-cottage-style garden by investing more in natives and cultivated or selected natives–sometimes called nativars–trying to ever improve my garden for the creatures who live here. There is controversy about nativars, but I’m not going to dive into that here. I do grow both, along with pollen and nectar-rich cultivars from other parts of the world.

Saving the pollinators, birds and other creatures are one reason gardens matter.

Another is that humans, especially children, are becoming increasingly blind to nature. This is frightening because we were born in a garden and as living creatures ourselves. gardens provide us with downtime. We’ve read about how soil bacteria can work as well as SSRIs to increase feelings of happiness, but I think it’s more complicated than that.

Gardens give us permission to play in the dirt.

As a child, perhaps you made mud pies—at least I hope you did. Gardening is permission to get dirty from head to toe again. I am amused by the latest fad on Instagram and other social media platforms showing people in ephemeral clothing, like dresses of the lightest floral linen—planting and hoeing. The truth is gardeners get dirty, and dirty is good. I am often covered with soil, mulch, and sweat when I crawl back inside to rest for a bit. The garden is the one place in life where I have permission to be a child again, and a dirty child at that.

Gardens provide experiences.

There’s a lot of talk about Millennials wanting experiences over things, and I believe that after watching my own children grow into adulthood. They love adventure and will travel the world to find it. So will I for that matter.

Well, there is nowhere more adventurous than a garden. It is filled with scents and sights and wonders to behold, but you have to slow way down to see them. Life and death play out in a hundred small ways in the garden every day. Pollinators sip nectar. Caterpillars chew plants. Spiders grab slow or distracted pollinators. Birds and wasps eat caterpillars and worms. It’s a constant battle out there amongst the beauty.

Sometimes, I take a glass of iced tea out in the garden and just sit in the rock path watching fat bumblebees steal nectar from the too-small flowers of Salvia hybrida ‘Wendy’s Wish.’ If I’m quiet, the pollinators go about their business and even let me take a picture or two.

I think gardening sometimes suffers from a frumpy and superfluous image.

There are days when I get down about my career sharing everything I know about gardening here on the blog and elsewhere. I begin to think it doesn’t matter to anyone anymore. It’s then that I have to go sit in the garden and partake of its reality. It isn’t superfluous. It’s vitally important.

Every garden no matter how large or small feeds us in so many ways. Vegetable gardens give us imperfect tomatoes that ripen on the vine or just indoors on a windowsill. If you lose a plant to a tomato hornworm at least the hornworm will turn into a moth afterward unless it is first killed by braconid wasps. Dill plants not only create fronds that grace our fish dishes, they also feed the caterpillars of Swallowtail butterflies, those large, winged beauties that float over the garden flowers and sip from tall garden phlox.

Why do gardens matter? Because they feed all of us mind, body and soul. There’s not much more important work than that. You don’t have to plant in a large garden like mine. It grew over thirty years of planning and expansion. Just plant a border with vegetables, fruit, and flowers. Try to grow high nectar plants for pollinators. Go ahead and plant old-fashioned roses, daylilies and iris, but also incorporate native plants into your design.

The earth will thank you and reward you with your heart’s desire, peace of mind. Trust me, I know.

 

 

36 Comments

  1. spicejac says:

    For me gardening brings me peace and an opportunity to get closer to this beautiful planet we live upon. Thank you for reminding me again of the importance of it.

  2. Laura Wills says:

    Great post. Gardens become more important all the time as habitats disappear. Your comments about children not being connected to nature makes me so happy that my daughter has an appreciation for it. I remember her sending me a text from bus stop with a picture of an antelope horn milkweed, asking for identification of the beautiful plant.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Laura, I think that my children knowing about gardening and the outdoors are two of my greatest achievements in life. They know so much, and I didn’t even realize they were listening. I am so grateful. It was lovely getting to know you better at Fling this year. Fling is another thing I’m really grateful for.

  3. Ronda says:

    I just found your wonderful blog in my search for information regarding Blue Moon Wisteria vs Amethyst Falls Wisteria. I have a 10’x17′ pergola and am trying to make a decision. Do you have a preference between the two….color, aggressiveness, raceme length, scent…? Any suggestions are much appreciated. It is in full sun over a brick patio. I have been told by one person Blue Moon sends out underground runners like Chinese…is this your experience? Thank you very much in advance! Ronda

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Ronda, I have both types of American wisteria. By far, in my garden, in full sun for both, ‘Amethyst Falls’ is much more aggressive than ‘Kentucky Blue.’ However, neither ‘Amethyst Falls’ didn’t become aggressive until it grew here for five years or so. Also, ‘Kentucky Blue’ doesn’t have as many blooms as ‘Amethyst Falls,’ although it is very pretty on an arbor here. ‘Amethyst Falls’ sends out runners that run just along the surface of the ground, but they are pretty easy to cut back. I would grow both of them again, and neither is as aggressive as the Asian varieties. Hope this helps, and thank you for your kind words about my blog!~~Dee

      1. Ronda says:

        Thank you so much for your quick response! I love to hear “actual user experience” 🙂 because that can sometimes differ greatly from what you read online! Thank you for sharing with me and others. I’m so excited to start reading more of your blog in the future as I can see you really have a wealth of knowledge about a wide range of plants! I am especially keen to learn more about different clematis and perennials. About 15 years ago I had started a small collection of old garden roses and then lost them due to the dreaded RRD, same as you. I have avoided roses until last year I decided to try again and bought the ‘Pretty in Pink’ Eden Rose. It’s a sport of the Eden rose from and very pretty ….time will tell if it stays healthy.
        So, if you had to choose based on beauty alone with the wisteria, which would you pick? This pergola is attached to one side of our garage over top of a dry laid brick patio – kind of tucked between our house and garage so it is very front and center to the landscape. Interestingly, what little I seem to read online about ‘Blue Moon’ is that it has 3 flushes of blooms with sprinkling throughout the season which is more than is claimed about ‘Amethyst Falls’. That’s why I would much rather hear from a gardener’s experience although I know environment plays a key role sometimes too.
        Thanks again! Ronda

        1. Dee Nash says:

          Hi Ronda, I’m glad to help. If you go down to the bottom of the blog and type a topic into the search box, you’ll see I’ve written a lot about perennials and vines, including several posts on clematis. I’ve been blogging almost 11 years now so there is a lot of info.

          As for the wisteria, I would go with ‘Amethyst Falls’ myself. My ‘Kentucky Blue’ looks nearly the same, and isn’t nearly as vigorous. It just doesn’t bloom as much and both are in full sun. Now, having written that, I realize I cut down a large shrub near ‘Kentucky Blue’ this spring. Who knows? It may turn out to be just as vigorous after all. To me, though, the blooms look nearly the same. I think you’ll be happy with either one.~~Dee

  4. Gardens matter! And your words matter. You have an impact growing more gardeners, as we all hope that we do. I’ve just finished yet another piece touting Tallamy’s work. But I also stated that whether it’s natives, or a mix of natives and ornamentals—whatever it takes to get people to turn their head towards plants and cure that blindness. 🙂 love your post. -MBS

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Mary Beth, I completely agree about whatever it takes to get people outside and in the garden. I grow all types of things. Tallamy’s talk did change how I look at the garden. I’m fortunate to live in an area with so many natives trees and shrubs that I can plant a lot of what I want. It is a big rural property and a big garden. I hope that my words matter. We all want to leave something behind before we go. Love you lots.~~Dee

  5. Anonymous says:

    What a great article, Dee. Thank you.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much!

  6. Lisa Wagner says:

    Gardens do matter, as we craft sustainable alternatives to lawn and non-wildlife friendly perennial plantings. I loved your post.

    We can make such a difference in our small (or large) landscapes, in terms of restoring habitat (and beauty, too) to our places in the world.

    I’m a keen naturalistic gardener, as is my gardening companion; we’ve created lovely natural landscapes twice, and we’re off again for a third, I think.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, I hope you enjoy building that third wild garden. We do make a difference in the world, one garden at a time.

  7. This is one of the most beautiful posts I’ve read, Dee. Why do gardens matter? Why do garden bloggers matter? I think you’ve provided beautiful answers to both of these questions. Bless you. 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you very much, Beth. That means so much to me. Bless you, too my friend.~~Dee

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Gosh Dee, you have been through so much the past year or so. I am happy for you that you still have your garden to console you, inspire you, to take you into.
    Along with your line of thinking that we can be children in the garden a quote I ran across lately that really hit home with me is “Gardening is the last outpost of being able to do exactly what you want to do. So why conform to ideas from 50 years ago or 500 miles away?” – John Brookes
    I too think we should do as much native planting as we can tolerate in our gardens. A cottage style garden makes it perfectly easy to do so. Of course I have both native and exotics. I try to get natives when I have a place for them. After they are established they seem to be invincible. A good thing in my garden.
    Wishing you Peace and Love.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Lisa, I love that quote! I think that’s true of cooking too. Julia Child said something similar, “Remember, you are alone in the kitchen and nobody can see you.” I think about that a lot when I’m cooking, or gardening. I’m here alone, and I can do what I want. Thrilling, isn’t it?

      Cottage gardens may be high maintenance, but they also hide a multitude of ugly plants and planting mistakes. ~~Dee

  9. Pam/Digging says:

    Beautifully put, Dee. Gardening is an adventure, a source of refuge, a banquet for the senses.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Aww, you said that so well yourself, Pam. Much love.~~Dee

  10. patch405 says:

    Thanks for sharing! I agree, wholeheartedly!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much!

  11. You’re a garden and gardening evangelist! Thank you for your red dirt ramblings. I always learn something, this time my take away is about the Tamukeyama name meaning. It’s one of my favorite Japanese maples and I was clueless about the name.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh wow, Hillary, I didn’t realize I was a gardening evangelist. What a nice thing to say! I adore Japanese maples in general and ‘Tamukeyama’ in particular. What a fantastic tree! It even grows in full sun most of the day. Can’t ask for more than that.~~Dee

  12. Right on every count! I think we have let ourselves think that it is only the great places like Yosemite that are nature and that count. In fact, it is our gardens that can have the greatest effect on the ecosphere. I am in favor of staying home and creating paradise in your own yard — with little or no grass.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I love what you wrote here Linda. Yes, our gardens, large and small, all add up to something much bigger. I love my garden so very much. It’s like painting with plants. Here’s to a happy spring and summer in yours.~~Dee

  13. Gardens matter, you matter, keep digging and blogging… please!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Ginny, thank you for the encouragement. I hope you’re continuing to dig also my friend. Have you also thought about updating your blog? I’d love to read it. I find that I enjoy reading blogs again so much. They take their time. ~~Dee

      1. Well Dee, I just retired a week ago, so I might consider it. I stopped because I lost my good camera, and at the same time my computer started having some serious issues. If I can resolve those items, I do have the time now! Perhaps…

        1. Dee Nash says:

          Oh, Ginny, I hope so! I often just take photos with my phone these days. The quality isn’t quite as good as my DSLR, but often it will work in a pinch. Maybe that’s something you could do? I’d love to read your blog again.~~Dee

  14. Layanee says:

    There is such peace in a garden. I am happy you find it in yours. Lovely post.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I thank God for my garden each and every day. It makes me get outside and wander. When are you coming to visit?

  15. So many people divide their life into compartments and think being outdoors is optional. I’d rather get my exercise gardening than in a noisy, crowded gym. I’d rather get my food from a garden than a grocery store, even though that’s not always possible. But it’s really sad and alarming how the disregard and even fear of nature has been passed along to children. They are told we need to save the planet, but they are also told don’t go outside, you might get dirty; don’t go outside, someone might kidnap you; don’t go outside, you might get a mosquito or tick bite. We’re sending mixed messages.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      That we are Kathy. That we are.

  16. Carol Michel says:

    Well said, my friend, well said!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much Carol! I love that you’re standing next to me in the Fling photo too. 🙂

Comments are closed.