Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gardens Must Have Ecological Merit in the 21st Century

I had to respond to this insightful piece by Michael King, especially when he says at the very end the following:

"Gardening is not landscape architecture nor nature conservation. It is a form of aesthetic self expression and any attempts to afford it greater worthiness by applying unnecessary credentials of ecological merit are dishonest. Of course gardens benefit the environment and native wildlife, but first and foremost they are for human enjoyment and that is as true today as it ever was."

My reply, edited and extended a bit here from I left on his blog:

If gardens are just an aesthetic, human navel gazing, doesn’t that perpetuate all the ecological, social, and cultural problems we have? We are disconnected from other life thanks in part to industrialization, and in a post industrial world we will need to know our place more in order to sustain ourselves. What knowledge of life on this earth have we lost, past and future? Gardens should be 50/50 -- aesthetic design and serving an ecological purpose. Gardens should be exposing us to the larger issues in larger ecosystems outside the garden wall — for me, living in Nebraska, the grasslands of the Plains are the least protected ecosystem on the planet. If we encourage using native grassland species, we create awareness for the loss of biodiversity going on right now in the 6th planetary extinction.

If vegetable gardens are acts of protest and awareness and healing of our broken systems that erode life, why not ornamental gardens? Art has often been an act of provoking awareness of larger social / cultural issues and enacting change, why not gardens? Why must gardens be limited to simple aesthetics beholden to old ways of thinking? (And here I mean the pastoral that subdues everything in its path for a bucolic and momentary high.) Are we afraid of facing all the facets of ourselves, of making art larger? Are we afraid of knowing our world, and knowing that we have direct influence, both good and bad, and taking responsibility for that influence?

Ecological awareness is not dishonest — not when forbs provide for pollinating insects that are responsible for 70% of our food, not when native plants sustain 35x the insect larvae, not when native bees are native plant specialists (and when one specialist bee vanishes, the lack of bee competition means less fruit and seed set), and surely not when we plow up the remaining grasslands for a monoculture of row crops at a pace faster than global rainforest deforestation. Gardens are an aesthetic and ethical choice -- meaningful art, not momentary artifice. Ecological merit is not an unnecessary credential -- it is the most necessary credential in a time of climate change when species have to move north or up slope 30 miles a day to keep pace with warming (Elizabeth Kolbert) and when up to 30% of plant species will be gone by mid century (Timothy Walker).


Diana Studer said...

30 miles a day? The same constraints I guess on our fynbos. Up slope, but the mountains will break the population down to isolated islands, and the birds and bugs will battle to reach enough plants.

Ilona said...

Well said. I think the key is held in the phrase "old thinking". We must become educated citizenry of the environment, stewards, and not old guard nature imperialists, or tyrants, imposing our will on nature regardless of consequences to its inhabitants (of all sorts).

I have not radicalized into a mass movement mindset, but I believe it is the individual gardeners that will make the difference - changing to nurture nature instead of beating it into oblivion ( like the old thinking so often entailed).

doggirl said...

"Of course gardens benefit the environment and native wildlife, but first and foremost they are for human enjoyment and that is as true today as it ever was."

This quote simply reinforces the anthrocentric nature of humans in general that believe nature is here for our enjoyment and for our own use. This Belief is so antiquted that it indicates how post modern Henry David Thoreau really is. We have to leave this view behind as part of 20th century folklore and get on with living in the 21st century. because This Belief ---if we keep seeing it as truth instead of a myth will be our own demise.

Benjamin Vogt said...

D--Yes, it's an insane distance, isn't it?
I--C'mon, radicalize, do it. Can't save the world sitting back and playing nice -- that's not working at all, and we're out of time according to climate scientists.
D--That was said perfectly! Yes.