The Discerning Gardener
There are many lessons to be learned in a garden, one’s personal sanctuary in nature. Time spent in our gardens helps us get back to basics: feeling a connection with the earth, the cycles, and the healing powers of nature. This time spent in observation and contemplation may teach us to appreciate the moment, perhaps by allowing us to capture the perfect moment of a blossom, that was only a bud yesterday and will be gone tomorrow. Or, we may contemplate the transformations that we each have and will undergo, as we watch the flitting about of a butterfly, the symbol of metamorphosis and the transitory nature of happiness and everything.
We can closely observe the life and death cycles in nature – when one organism dies, it nurtures another. Winter, time of muted colors with life in dormancy, waiting just below the surface, teaches us patience. (Although, I must personally confess to more than a little impatience as frigid winter returns again and again, with only teases of a spring day in between.) Spring, with new life and burst of fresh colors, reminds us of the constant cycle of growth and change. There are little dramas going on all around us, at all times, if we only take time to notice. Our gardens will allow us to do that, if we have put some thought into creating them and being with them.
My own explorations started years ago with gardens that, unfortunately, more or less, followed conventional horticultural “wisdom” Then I, myself, began to grow, exploring and creating first organic gardens, and then natural gardens, and wildlife gardens, and then expanding on those to explore holistic, sacred, meditation, and healing gardens. I found, of course, that they all work together, and that those explorations were part of a life long learning process.
When I started my garden design business long ago, and even in my own garden, I did follow conventional practices, and what I had learned in school, and practiced them to perfection:
There was an ideal standard for American home gardens: large, manicured chemical-dependent lawns that required considerable amounts of water causing chemical run-off from the lawn “care” companies; controlled, and disease and pest-prone shrubs, and disciplined beds of seasonal color, requiring annual replacement and alternating with bare brown spaces for half the year. Yard waste was carried off in plastic bags, with no thought about composting. Each of these typical “ideal gardens”, or squares of earth required a cycle of perpetual “care”, and the work was very unsatisfying at every level. (Hard to believe, but this standard continues to this day in many areas where new communities pop up too frequently, the only difference being, that now more attention is paid to recycling.)
I knew this was not right – It necessitated a constant battle against nature!
I found myself, under client pressure, spraying those amazing cicadas that rise out of the ground after 17 years to eat and mate! It was a big event in the Mid Atlantic that year! I was disgusted with myself – that was it! I soon went all organic, doing all work naturally and teaching people a different way, through my business, as well as my organic vegetable and wildlife garden on a major city street. There were a lot of old, beautiful trees on that street. I also had a side business there, Garden For Flavor, that I would open up on the weekend, selling organic vegetable, mostly heirloom, seedlings that I had grown. These were just not available elsewhere, at that time.
I began to do natural landscape/garden design and create “Natural Gardens” that were in harmony with nature. In a natural garden, a respect for the character of the land, and the environment, is nurtured. It is a garden that invites nature in and works in harmony with it. A natural garden creates a space where this process will begin. In this type of garden, our physical work, mental analysis, and spiritual appreciation become one – this is the basis for our working in harmony in our gardens.
When we recognize the sacred in nature, we’re going to feel the sense of the sacred in a natural garden, not in a controlled, typical, sterile garden. The idea of killing anything becomes abhorrent, so we must work with nature.
Gardening organically over time will allow a natural balance to establish itself. There may be an increase in pests initially, but soon there will be an increase in predators, or beneficial insects. I experienced an interesting illustration of this balancing, and it occurred much sooner than I expected:
I had several plots on the edge of a community garden that was reclaimed from a field of tough Johnson grass. Mine was the only organic garden, and I was again being pressured into spraying for pests by fellow gardeners. I very reluctantly went to my garden one morning, almost ready to do the dirty deed, but overnight, my garden had become a gathering place for thousands of ladybugs (beneficial and delightful bugs), so, of course, I could not, would not spray. All of the other gardeners used chemicals to some degree, so mine was a safe haven for all, including the beneficials, and did provide plenty of food. It was quite a large space, so I was able to plant a wide border of native plants and wildflowers that served as a buffer against chemical drift in the air. The point is, that within a year, that harsh plot of field became a harmonious garden space, with beneficial insects, butterflies, hummingbirds, and bluebirds! And worms were returning to the soil! It was a healing garden. – Transformation can occur in any environment. - Ruth T Hill
PS – This is a long time later, just last week – I just went to one of those big box stores for something for my floor, and I happened to walk through the garden department, prestocked for the spring (It will still be a couple of months here)- It hits you! The toxic, overwhelming air, with the shelves fully packed with chemicals. This is what gardening means to too many people – a battle against nature with weapons of mass destruction, pesticides and herbicides. Is it any wonder that bees are in danger and we seldom see butterflies anymore. This is NOT gardening!
See my “Harmony With Nature” Pinterest board for more information, ideas, and sources: http://www.pinterest.com/rueth/harmony-with-nature-wildlife-friendly-gardening/
and “Natural Gardening”: http://www.pinterest.com/rueth/natural-gardening/