Do we really want a perfect garden?

self-SeededLambsEar
Lambs Ears volunteer in between Blazing Star and purple leaf sedum – I couldn’t have chosen a better spot myself! This is the pollinator garden – and the bees just love the Lamb’s Ears flowers!

I was thinking about perfection this morning and particularly garden perfection. Besides the fact that we each have our own ideas of what a perfect garden looks like – it occurred to me – as I was about to snip off an almost-finished-blooming Rose Campion – that the few flowers left would mean a lot to the swallowtail butterflies who inhabit my garden. I left little self-seeded patches of it all through the garden this year because I noticed last summer that it was the preferred food for these swallowtails. I find the color a little garish for my taste and was about to pull up all the Rose Campion plants around the garden when I noticed this. I decided then, that if I truly want butterflies in the garden, I would need to let go of my taste in flowers and adapt more to theirs.

Years ago – when it was all the rage to create a Wildlife-friendly garden (and get a sign certifying that it was!), one of the things that was important was a “pile of brush and branches”. This was for the multitude of creatures that would inhabit it – from toads and snakes to butterflies! Nature truly needs a little messiness! Having spent the last few years making hugelkultures and tucking log chunks and twigs in and around plants, I am beginning to actually understand the benefits of these sorts of messiness.

Letting the leaves that fall cover the ground all winter and keeping bare ground covered with something all year – really does create healthier happier plants and soil! I have piled leaves on rock hard soil in the fall and had the worms and the moles who came looking for them and all the busy microorganisms, turn it into soft usable soil by spring! Now that we are learning more about the bacteria and fungi in the soil we are discovering that it is this “messiness” that feeds them – and they in turn make food available for the plants they live around. Allowing the oak leaves to stay on the ground under the oak trees and fig leaves under the fig, etc., feeds, we are finding, the particular bacteria that each of those trees need to thrive. Our tidiness can disrupt this natural process. Yet another reason to let go of our obsession with neatness…

OverTheHillFoxgloves
Waiting for this year’s Foxglove to go to seed before it gets composted

Another consequence of our over-tidiness is that we disrupt the natural process of plants going to seed and reproducing themselves. Of course, there are many plant that we purposely “disrupt” because we don’t want them spreading themselves willy-nilly around our gardens – plants we think of as “garden thugs”! However, for the rest, I find myself learning to relax around waiting for my favorite foxgloves or collard greens or lettuce to finish the process of setting and ripening seed, so that I can remove their scruffy-looking remains to the compost – AFTER I collect the seed. I now have so many re-seeding and spreading plants in my garden that I was able to give away dozens this spring! I so enjoy doing that, that I leave plants growing in pathways and on the edges of veggie beds, knowing someone may come along and take them home!

LambsEar
Volunteer Lamb’s Ears and Woods Strawberry in pollinator garden.

Another aspect of letting go of the need for perfection is learning to tolerate some bug and critter munched fruit and veggies. I have lost lots of stuff to bugs and larger furry and feathered creatures over the years – but have accepted that that is part of gardening, I guess. If something gets destroyed by insects every year no matter what I do — I let it go. If it’s something I really love and want I will see it as a challenge to outwit the creatures in some way… plant at different times, cover with row cover cloth, feed the soil and feed the plants to make them strong enough to survive attack. I have dealt with spider mites attacking my beans the last few years and it seems that keeping things sprayed down with water when it’s hot and dry, really helps. I just never see spraying with poison as being an option. It’s never been in my bag of tricks and never will be. And now I have lots more reasons for not going that route than I did 50 yrs ago. I think if we DON’T see this as an option we will find alternatives. We are creative beings, we humans, and I believe that we will find alternatives that will help us restore balance on this planet. But first we have to let go of our version of perfection and embrace more of Nature’s version…

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7 comments

  1. Hear hear! I’m so glad that lamb’s ear is good for pollinators, having acquired some from my sister.

    How do you stop the leaves from blowing away? Now I have strawberries, that helps in part of the garden.

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  2. We are fortunate that we get more rain than wind in the winter so we don’t have too much trouble with the leaves blowing away because they are wet and soggy most of the time… I’m not sure what you could do to stop that… maybe lay branches here and there on top of the leaves?

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  3. Very wise words, I leave Ragwort every lawn manicurers nightmare weed, also called stinking willie and the gold finches go mad over the seeds in autumn. Remember Barb animals sometimes eat plants for medicinal reasons too one of my research interests. Think of cats and grass. The more manicured your garden the more sterile. Kind regards.

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    • Thanks, those also are wise words. Another good reason to be observant and work WITH nature. There is so much we can learn if we stop needing to be in control of it all…

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  4. This has been a fascinating read. I too let nature ‘be’ as far as possible and have reaped the benefit of an increasing number of avian visitors over the last thirty years – no matter how unkempt some neighbours think my garden is!

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    • Thanks Anne. I understand about the birds. When I first moved to this land I rarely saw a bird, but each year more and more varieties show up and many are now raising families here – right in the midst of the garden. I can only guess that the variety of plants I have introduced attract new varieties of insects that they feed their young. New dragonfly species now show up as well. Our neighbors with tidy, carefully controlled, sprayed and maintained gardens probably never have the pleasures of these sorts of evolutions.

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