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E-Garden Almanac: Horticulture & Conservation Biology

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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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Horticulture & Conservation Biology

I recently penned a reflective essay for one of my classes on why I was a horticulturist and why I held such strong convictions about the environment. Here is what came out:

I am a horticulturist, which I suppose in some skewed way also reads plant biologist or plant ecologist, at least to me. In fact many would likely disagree with this assertion citing my confusion over exactly what I wanted to do with my life or more accurately my plethoric and renaissance interests. The fact is though that my basest instinct as a horticulturist is driven by my love and appreciation of the natural world. Isn’t that true of all horticulturists in some way? Whether it’s an artist’s approach to beautifying space for aesthetic enjoyment or elucidating the physiology of crop plants grown for sustenance, any horticulturist is synonymously a biologist.

My love for plants began at a very early age. When I was four I helped my grandmother plant squash seeds in her garden and tend them throughout the growing season. When I was nine I spent my summer walking up and down the road by our house with my elderly neighbor Janet, exploring the diversity of wildflowers that grew in the ditches. I learned to recognize plants that were poisonous and to recognize which ones might be nice to have in the backyard should my yearning to enjoy them persist further. I also learned about edible plants and basic botanical terminology. Janet was a botanist and had raised a daughter to be one as well. Janet’s primitive and simplistic lifestyle sparked my puerile fascination. She and her husband were people who lived almost solely off the land, but were dubbed old-fashioned and outdated by others who knew them. Aside from early exposure to the meaning of sustainability and small scale farming, something this farm kid was largely unaware of at the time given John Deere combines and tractors in the driveway, she taught me how important it was to love the natural world, especially that which was around you wherever you were. It was this synchronous rhythm of daily walks, often two miles or more total, that made a permanent impression in my mind of the importance of conserving and respecting natural resources.

Even after we moved to the farm where I spent the rest of my childhood, and where my parents still reside and operate our nursery, this instinctual rhythm continued to fester. We were blessed with ten acres of oak and hickory timber where my botanical curiosity was allowed free reign. I’ve now walked the same paths in that woodland for twelve years, ritualistically in spring and sporadically in summer and fall, unfortunately only when time permits. I often refer to myself as a vernal gardener, one who is fascinated by the ephemeral and rejuvenative disposition of spring. Spring’s annual process of renewal nearly founds my other ten months of work. Plants like spring beauties, dog-tooth violets, false rue anemone, bloodroot, and ladyslipper orchids are harbingers of an ephemeral season of enduring afflatus. A recent walk in my timber revealed a solemn and retired nature on the verge of reposal for yet another year. In a few short weeks crunchy leaves will gave way to tenuous flowers and the joys of my childhood will once again cover the understory of the woods.

The biologically imbued world I grew up in is not easily accessed by all. The majority of our population lives in urban environments where the best example of nature is a trash-strewn park. Slowly though horticulturists and city planners are awakening to the need to increase the green space in our living environments. Our understanding of living in accordance with nature grows with each new tree we plant, each child who is exposed to fuzzy caterpillars, and each tomato we harvest from an organic community garden. If the question must be answered simply, this is why I am a horticulturist, a biologist, an ecologist. Aside from statistics, fancy computer models, gadgetry, and well-conceived experiments, we have much to do to increase awareness. Any Joe on the street with a void of appreciation for the natural world around him will care even less about the arduous efforts aimed at its conservation if he is not first exposed to its joys. I don’t know what kind of a person I would be like without those ritualistic forays of my childhood summers. I don’t know what kind of professional I would be if I hadn’t paid attention to the wise counsel of my grandma as she schooled me in the ways of home gardening. But I do know what kind of professional I won’t be if I don’t extend the same enlightening opportunities to the world around me.


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