I've been thinking how hard it is to be an activist, community builder, and businessperson all at once. While all three require great passion, it's the amount and type of passion that can be both a turn off and turn on depending on who's receiving the information. While I consider my garden design business part activism, it's also about creating stunning and workable landscapes for lots of species.
It's true that I see garden design as a political and ethical act. Recently an event was held in Pennsylvania, the Landscape Architecture Foundation's New Landscape Declaration: Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future. One of the speakers is quoted as saying "Justice and beauty must be found together in the landscape," and another "landscape architects must coordinate their actions to fight climate
change, help communities adapt, bring artful and sustainable parks and
open spaces to each community, preserve cultural landscape heritage, and
sustain all forms of life."
Needless to say this was stunning to hear LAs speaking like this, and it hit home with my personal and business goals. The main reason I design 100% native plant gardens is because I see it as an act of defiant compassion -- our gardens are wildlife refuges that connect us to our lived places, awakening us to a humble, connected, honorable relationship with other species; species who have as much right to exist as us. And as research continues to come out about urban green spaces reducing crime, as well as the psychological benefits for kids and the environmental benefits (carbon sequestration, mitigating run off, cooling heat islands, cooling our homes, insulating our homes), I wonder why it's taken us so long to shed some of our hubris.
Last night I came home in the late evening to nearly every other house in my neighborhood with underground sprinklers running. Folks mow their crop -- which isn't eaten or even brewed for beer -- one to three times a week. Lawns are selfish. In fact, so many of our plant choices are selfish; if a plant is not a host for pollinator larvae, attracting diverse wildlife that use it, or part of a co-evolved and useful community above and below the soil line, then its primary purpose is simply to look pretty for us. That's not gardening.
How can our landscapes be wildlife refuges and do some good for ALL of us who share this world, who need one another? We are told that planting a tree is not for us but the next generation; shoot, planting a milkweed or aster or mountain mint is not only for us now, but for the many generations of wildlife that will use them this year -- not to mention subsequent years.
Our gardens are a protest for all the ways in which we deny other lives. Our gardens heal our minds and our hearts. Our gardens make us smarter, more creative, more sympathetic, and help us have greater amounts of empathy for everyone, human and avian and insect. What does a thin foundation bed full of boxwood and hosta say about us? What about a corporate campus with acres of lawn? Or roadsides repeatedly mowed so pollinators and nesting birds can't reproduce? How much less money it could take to manage these areas with wildlife-friendly landscaping and maintenance techniques. How beautiful humans and other species would find our world if we stopped declaring ourselves superior through our displaced landscapes.