Sustainable gardening: another little thing

by Caroline Brown

Welcome to my blog—an account of my journey to learn more about gardening in general, especially sustainable gardening methods; my attempt to use this knowledge to begin a different direction in life; and musings about the interconnectedness of people and their gardens with the earth, water, and sky.

I’ll start out by observing that as I grow older, I become more and more aghast at how poorly we humans treat our planet. I’ve responded by trying harder to be an educated consumer and a respectful tenant. For me, like a lot of environment-conscious people, that mostly means “little things” like driving less, consuming less, buying organic when possible, recycling, cleaning up after myself, and in general trying to minimize my impact on the earth.

Recently, my husband and I bought our first house, which came complete with a badly neglected and long-suffering landfill…er, yard. Our 200-year old mill house is in a working-class neighborhood that many people would classify as poor, so the yard has never been anyone’s priority. My husband and I put a lot of effort into changing 7000 square feet of ugly-duckling dirt and weeds into a swan, and for the most part we’ve succeeded.

We now have a small area of grass in the backyard, stone walkways, and loads of bushes and shrubs. We now park our cars in a proper driveway—instead of the yard. But I realized after the fact that we didn’t necessarily achieve all this in the most earth-friendly way. For example, I never thought about the impact that fertilizers or weed killers have on the environment—it’s just something you have to do if you want a nice yard and a pretty garden… right?

Wrong. It’s possible to have beautiful and healthy flowers, trees and shrubs without pumping the earth full of the ecological equivalent of steroids that eventually end up in our water supply. As I’ve learned a little about sustainable gardening, I’ve come to feel that gardening is actually a way to give something back to the planet that I take so much from. A lot of gardeners make the comparison between creating and nurturing a garden and raising a child, and it’s very true. But would you fill your kid full of twinkies or give her a balanced, healthy diet? It’s the same with your garden.

I know, I know….it’s easier to buy fertilizers and weed killers than it is to figure out ecologically-friendly ways of dealing with garden and yard problems. I’m still struggling with this, and sometimes I backslide. But gardening in an earth-friendly way is no different from recycling or driving less—it’s another little thing we can do to ensure that future generations have…well, a future.

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