Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Journey Gardening - A Symphonie Fantastique

Sophie is focused. Early this summer, she decreed we would maintain our backyard habitat / garden so we can truly enjoy it. And so we have.

CadMur Manor hasn't seen a better summer since we began our outdoor project, in 1999. The weeds aren't winning, and for our nurturing efforts, we have a multitude of happy butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, wrens, goldfinches, chipmunks, garter snakes, toads, field mice, garden spiders, caterpillars and scores of other species of birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and arachnids. The ubiquitous rabbits and deer are especially grateful for our generous helpings of salad -- we call it our hydrangea, phlox, iris and blackberry mix. (Why can't they learn to like bind weed?)

The idea of creating our wildlife oasis on our tiny 50-foot by 100-foot urban lot developed from my desire to reduce our lawn footprint to almost nothing. Why? Because lawns are evil, an unnecessary invention:
  • They require harmful chemicals, fossil fuels and lots of water and labor just to make them look acceptable by most "community standards"; many a suburb has a handful of residents who overdo it to the ridiculous degree, trying to replicate a putting green in their front yard
  • Lawns hold water only little better than pavement, and they contribute to overloading our storm sewers, causing overflows and forcing raw sewage to dump into our streams and lakes during heavy rain events
  • Much of the fertilizers and pesticides we apply to lawns (usually in quantities that far exceed the need) simply get washed off during a rain event and carried to our local streams or sewer-shed, where they make their way into Lake Erie, from which most of us in Greater Cleveland draw our drinking water.
There is no good reason there should be any lawns, other than, perhaps, on a golf course. (As a recovering golfer, I am reluctant to criticize the golf industry. I leave it to others to debate their usefulness or necessity. There are, however, proven methods to minimize the courses' deleterious impact, and many club managers are to be commended for working toward more sustainable maintenance methods.)

In our tiny oasis, we use virtually no pesticides and we go easy on the fertilizer. Rain water soaks into our permeable landscape rather than streaming toward the storm sewers or nearby Mill Creek. Many of our plants are drought-tolerant, so we water less than we would otherwise. And yes, it does take a fraction of the time to mow and trim the sparse lawn area.

Still, our garden doesn't take care of itself, much as I might wish. All that time I save not mowing is more than applied to cultivating and caring for the rest of the yard. We weed, thin, trim and mulch, spending at least as much time keeping it up as we do sitting in and enjoying it from one of our three outdoor "rooms" -- on the stone patio, under the gazebo or around the fire pit.

But we don't garden so we can sit on our butts. (Ask Sophie, the decreer.) As in life, we try hard not to focus on a final destination -- a peak moment where everything blooms at once in a weedless world where the sun shines just so and the birds sing as a chorus dedicated solely to our enjoyment. Even when we may experience a moment like that, then what? Is that our destination? What happens after that? And after that?

There is only one final destination for any person, so far as I know. Much better to attend to our journey and enjoy the ride, day to day, moment to moment and the moments within the moments. Gardening helps us do this. As we travel on our journey, we may choose to perform life-affirming acts, watering, planting, mulching, weeding and fertilizing where we can, when we can. The journey unfolds as we tend to our garden, not so much when we stop and watch.

Even as we toil and tend, there are other forces at work that are beyond our control, beyond our understanding. Only with those forces do our flowers bloom, does the rain fall or the sun shine, does gravity work and life flow. Those forces have their own rules, their own way, and they may not care much for our plans, one way or the other. How then do we work with or against nature and continue to enjoy our journey?

Our experience is that not everything grows as we want. Some plants wither. Others don't grow at all. Like troubles, new weeds pop up in new places, their seeds germinating tirelessly, without end. If we're dedicated, we continue tending while traveling on our journey, doing our part as best we can. We accept nature's verdicts, live with them, experience them as they occur.

As we become seasoned gardeners and live in harmony with nature, learn from it, take its cues, and become familiar with our capabilities as well as our limitations, we come to enjoy our journey, whether dripping with sweat while pulling weeds or sitting calmly on the patio in the early evening and imagining the call of a nearby screech owl and even closer chirping crickets, creating their symphony just for us. Because they do, if we let them.


Donna said...

Very nice Steve - the pictures and the sentiments.

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