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E-Garden Almanac: New Ideas on Garden Making

E-Garden Almanac

The E-Garden Almanac is the push-button, real human journal of Kelly D. Norris. All errors, grammatic grievances, and opinions are that of the author. Kelly is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from southwest Iowa. His passion and obsession with horticulture, plants, and gardening embodies nearly every function of his life. The E-Garden Almanac serves as the web extension of his columns, articles, and lectures.
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Friday, February 16, 2007

New Ideas on Garden Making

I would like to first start off with a thank you to the attentive audience of the Ames Garden Club last evening. I hope you were able to take away some ideas about making gardens from last night's presentation. As an addendum to that lecture I decided to put together a short essay on my Heinz-57 concept of garden making, complete with spices!

When discussing new naturalism or this so-called new movement in making gardens (notice how I stray from potentially pretentious terms like garden or landscape design), I think it is important to distill the discussion into a few salient points.

First, garden making should employ a sense of sustainability. Notice that as a precursor to the defining noun I use the word sense. I do so to avoid sounding absolute and principalian which would exclude the peripheries where certain actions might not fall into a discrete category. I am not a purist. I don't believe in prescribing to a single anecdote to solve a problem or a situation that might arise in my garden. When making gardens I am conscious of how the life form that I'm creating will persist into the future. Will these plant materials continue to thrive as they have been sited? Will these plant materials contribute different attributes throughout their life to the overall scheme of the garden? Will that structure I erected withstand the blizzards and the storms? A garden should be sustainable but doesn't necessarily have to have a lifespan. Many of the finest gardens of the world stand as relics to their creators who have long since left us for a more bountiful garden, I hope. Many though have not been gems to behold through their entire life, often falling into and out of neglect depending on who the steward is. The bottom line here is that gardening is simply a form of tending the small patch of soil we call our own. That small patch of soil is part of a much larger globe that we have to take care in order for our race to survive. Obviously I have explored this bullet a little more than what the normal gardener would (be glad your normal). Remember, a sense of sustainability is most important.

In the last bullet I started to segway into the second point of discussion, a sense environmental awareness. Despite all of the scare tactic pieces you might have read in leading horticulture publications, gardens, lawns, golf courses, and any other large expanse of "managed" landscape (broad definition I know) do not pollute the groundwater or do dire harm to aspects of our planet. Research from notable public universities says it's not true. If you want to know more, email me and I'll guide you to some insightful articles. However, if not managed properly gardens and landscapes can work against the processes of functional ecosystems. They should be complementary to the world around them, not superimposed. Did you know, gardens are ecosystems too? Think of all the life that abounds in your backyard. Insects, birds, and maybe even small mammals (or deer in the Midwest) function in and around the garden you've made. Don't forget though that in our history of tending the Earth, we've created scenarios that can't always be solved "organically" (I hate that term...another story) or in the absolute best way possible. Yet if we don't counteract these situations we might do further harm to the environment. A small risk comes with many things in life. If you have to spray for some nasty pest in your garden, don't wince in pain as you do so. A sense of environmentalism is important but don't become a zealot for the sake of purity.

Third and finally is experimentation. Put plants together that wouldn't normally grow together. It's fun! That's what gardening is about is concocting ideas and manipulating plants into a way that further ornaments the world we live in. While natural areas can offer endless ideas and suggestions (such as going against the grain and breaking the rules) it doesn't have to be the only template we use. A garden should be expressive of its creator and often is without any additional effort on the creator's part. We are who we are and it tends to come out in the gardens we create. Take in ideas and don't worry about originality. Gardening is selfish and personal. Those of us gifted with a green thumb are in the minority in this world. Don't feel the need to justify yourself to the latest author or the traditions of old.

Be mindful, be smart, and more importantly be creative and free-spirited in the garden. No restriction can be placed on the realm of imagination and innovation. The great gardeners of this world, who are too numerous to mention, all have something in common. They weren't afraid to stand up against the paradigms of the modern day. Sure there is often a right way to do something, but how did it come to be the right way? Find a place in the world of gardening that makes you comfortable and allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

How's that for salience?


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