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).