It's also been said our managed landscapes -- parks, roadsides, and gardens -- are wildlife refuges; places where a little could help a lot. But in reality, these spaces make up only a small percentage of what can help wildness thrive, and yet they are also the key places that can wake us to the larger changes we can make (agriculture, consumerism), helping us become intimate again with a faltering natural world defined by human estrangement.
Our gardens matter not because they can literally save species, but because they are a call to action. They are living testaments to our wonder and joy, our part of the larger world and the web of life. Gardens matter because they bring birds and butterflies closer to us, they help release endorphins that make us feel happy, maybe even spur empathy as we learn again to care selflessly for other species simply because it's the right or ethical thing to do.
When we learn what our landscapes can do, how they can help directly for wildlife and as symbols for people -- when we learn how essential native plants are, how gardens can sequester carbon and filter water and serve as larval hosts -- then the choices we make after these revelations carry even more weight. Do we choose to garden for ourselves only, for our idea of beauty alone, or do we more fully -- more equally -- integrate a selfless gardening that creates mini ecosystems composed of essential native plants and designs that mimic the natural, wilder areas just beyond the garden fence? Or do we embrace our role as an indifferent species, bent on emotional and physical conquest that will undermine our health, happiness, and peace in the years to come.
Does a large home need all that grass and boxwood parterres? Does that fit the local environment aesthetically and ecologically? What happens when we go against the grain of our home places, when we can't or won't accept the natural beauty and purpose of our immediate world? What happens to a species that sees landscapes as never quite right, never perfect enough, not entirely what we want? Does that species lose any right to be part of the larger world, does it lose its identity and potential to be something better?
Our gardens matter, and the way in which we create them, grow them, and rethink them matters on a level far more important than whether they simply function aesthetically. While we must always find a garden beautiful, and while it will always be a kind of artifice, the truth is the entire world is now a garden we have made. How we tend it, how we honor those species we've ignored, dishonored, and betrayed, will say much about who we are and who we will become. Our legacy won't be how pretty our gardens looked; our legacy will be how gardens and other managed spaces woke us to a revolution of belonging in this world, and a renaissance of ethical thinking that helped us evolve into our fullest potential as stewards of life and as gardeners of our own hearts.