An important aspect of ecological restoration is the private garden. By adding native plants, decreasing the use of pesticides, more carefully recycling and reusing materials, the home gardener can, in aggregate, have a tremendous impact on the landscape as a whole.
In “The Conscientious Gardener: Cultivating a Garden Ethic,” Sarah Reichard (Director of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens) lays out the principles of the garden ethic as inspired by Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic” – that is, being aware of not just the plants in your garden, but the web of interactions with the soil, the sun, the water, and the other plants and life forms. She describes the problems of the home gardener, such as over watering or over use of fertilizers and pesticides, citing both general and technical literature. She also describes many solutions that can work in all areas of the country.
She is a strong advocate for native plants, of course, but does NOT advocate ripping out your entire garden. Natives can be integrated with general horticultural plants to great effect. Using the same horticultural plants can makes gardens look alike the whole world around, but if everyone were to rip out all exotic plants, we’d be left with PNW filled with the few horticultural workhorses. We’d be left with LESS diversity in our gardens, not more. Integrating the gardens with native and exotic horticultural plants is the way to go.
Being aware of the interconnectedness of all gardens, of how they connect to local watersheds, the wildlife that might come from a nearby park or greenbelt, or even the garden next door, can help guide one’s choices. Maybe use a less water hungry plant, or decrease the VERY resource-hungry lawn. Widen the bloom time of your garden to increase food for pollinators. Add plants that will go to seed and provide food for birds. Leave the seed heads for the birds.
Reichard’s book is valuable because it describes things people can do in their home gardens that will have a definite impact on the environment. It’s an important part of a growing body of literature on how to increase the ecological value of the home garden.
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