Lately I have been bitten by a gardening bug.
Or put another way, the latest speck of dust to fascinate my ADHD-riddled brain is the annoyingly crappy look of our potentially beautiful yard and what I can do to overcome it.
As you may expect, there is a political aspect to this brain fever. I am alarmed by the increasing loss of biodiversity on the planet, particularly the prospect that we are living through the 6th Giant Freakin’ Mass Extinction, mostly the result of global warming, climate change and habitat encroachment. Not that I think this is entirely political — in fact, it’s more about survival and ecological respect — but I live in 21st Century U.S.A. where no one can answer a basic question about evolution without either framing it in political terms or answering it without paying obeisance to monotheism. Where environmentalism isn’t common sense, but a lifestyle choice full of really annoying bumper stickers on the back of your biodeisel car.
Hey, I think I just pissed off half my friends. Sowwy.
Really, it all started with looking at my lawn and thinking, Jeebis Krispies, who let General Sherman through here? The blackberry vines have choked half the shrubs to death, dandelions everywhere, grass has reached meadow height. From a certain point of view, perhaps leaving it alone might be more “natural.” But I have to live here, my wife would like to go outside without screaming, and the kids and dogs need someplace to play. So the first steps were not really very environmentalist: mow, weed, dig up a space to lay bricks for a patio. Then shove the trampoline in a corner so Owen can use it without taking up the whole yard.
Immediately, the dogs were happy. The little one ran around, the older big guy plopped down in a shady spot and snoozed on the nice soft grass. The kids played catch. My wife sighed relief. But I was still not satisfied. Then I heard a Science Friday broadcast on gardening with native plants. Guest Douglas Tallamy, the author of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, argued that using native plants in one’s yard maintains the biological diversity of plant and wildlife native to one’s region, mitigating the harm caused by suburban development and promoting ecological relationships between plants, insects and birds.
I have latched on to this theory because it not only plays to my ecological concerns and evolutionary nerdiness, but it also makes the prospect of gardening a little easier. The City of Portland has been promoting native planting for the very reasons Tallamy has argued, so their website has lists of trees, shrubs and ground covering to use. Sunset magazine has several titles on gardening in the West, so I picked up a copy of their giant reference book, that breaks plants down by region, by type, by attractiveness to birds and butterflies, by how nicely they look next to a swimming pool or a rock garden. I grabbed it at the local Portland Nursery, and now my mind is obsessed with pergolas, arbors, containers, paths, salvage decorations….
It’s like I have found both a new way to geek out and to procrastinate. Hopefully there are side benefits, like fresh air and exercise and putting my finger in the dyke of ecological collapse.