Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Joy is Fewer Plant Cultivars

Every plant matters. In a time of climate change and mass extinction, when our culture is disconnected from wildness in our ecoregions, every plant holds the power to reconnect us -- to revive ourselves and the world around us. You can see this effect on a smooth or calico aster in early fall, when dozens and hundreds of pollinators cloud the blooms. You can see it on milkweed with bugs, beetles, and caterpillars using it as a host plant. You can see it on golden alexanders right now, their tiny yellow flowers enraptured by drifts of tiny bees.

This time of year folks are celebrating tulips and lilacs, plants which do little more than look pretty to one species. We also celebrate new cultivars of native plants at garden centers without knowing how they compare in ecosystem services with straight species. The beauty of the world is not enough, how it is now is not good enough. We have to have our hands in everything, and that's how I see making new varieties of plants. It is not honoring or celebrating the joy of the natural world, but instead is a continuous alienation of ourselves from it as we profess ourselves superior. Certainly, the act of garden making will always hold some degree of superiority, yet we can humble ourselves in meaningful reconciliation, and in that way find a purpose and connection as profound as sitting still in a prairie or woodland.

The world knows better than us. This realization does not make us small but makes us larger. As we give up our finite wisdom for the larger wisdom of connected species and ecosystems we grow, instead of contracting further and further into our own little worlds. Our culture becomes the culture of others when we garden for life and equality across species. This is the efficacy of native plants, and especially straight species co-evolved with wildlife. We accept, embrace, and honor the purposeful beauty we already deeply connect with -- our biophilia. We don't need to alter a plant's bloom shape or color to feel joy. And in order to provide joy for other species we need to stop altering plants for our aesthetic passion. When you walk into a prairie do you think, "This is gorgeous, I am so moved, look at the birds and the butterflies -- and yet it could be so much better if we moved these plants here, or if that flower was a different color or just a bit bigger."

The world is already perfectly ordered, and all we have to do is let go of our ego to have a more meaningful, inspired, and liberated life. Wisdom, health, and compassion are all around us in bees working the blooms their ancestors have known for thousands of years, and flowers timed for the emergence of insects.

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