Month: October 2017


Yes, they are almost all some shade of green, and yes, they generally have a certain “ferniness”—soft texture, narrowly triangular, pinnately compound fronds coming from a clumped or creeping underground rhizome—but ferns are also beautiful, undeniably alluring, and truly a calming and unifying presence in the garden.

In many ways masses of ferns do for the shade garden what grasses do for the sun, harmonizing and uniting disparate colors and textures in a perfectly natural way. In fact, a shade garden without a good complement of ferns is simply incomplete.

~William Cullina–Native Ferns, Moss & Grasses

A Gut Reaction

The concept of pest is entirely a human notion. There are no pests in nature. For humans, pests get to be pests when they teeter out of balance with their environment and do things we don’t want them to do…
Gardeners tend to be fairly level-headed folks, but when insects threaten, the garden gloves come off and the boxing gloves go on. It is a gut reaction…
When these sorts of insects come to call, as often as not the gardener will first seek out the quick cure (whether mechanical or chemical) without thinking too much about the consequences of the action. This is a self-taught, cultural response, which is basically out of sync with the way a garden ought to work and all of nature, in fact, tries to work…
Unfortunately, when we haul out the pesticides we not only must face the battle, we usually end up prolonging the war we meant to end.

Eric Grissell–Insects and Gardens: In Pursuit of a Garden Ecology

New Landscape

We don’t have to—indeed, we neither can nor should—each provide all habitats, every sort of food. You plant nut treees and I’ll plant spruce, you keep a berry thicket and I’ll do the tall grass, or the bog, the woodlot, the crowds of fruiting shrubs and beds of wildflowers. But let us weave them together into something big enough to matter by connecting each patch with others at the corners and along the boundaries. This is the rich, new landscape; this is the new kind of gardener who asks not whether he should plant this ornament or another but which patch is missing from his community, how he can provide it, and how animals will move from his patch to the next.

This is the ark.

Sara SteinNoah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards

Our Hubris

Lately we have begun to recognize that we are poisoning ourselves with our lawns, which receive, on average, more pesticide and herbicide per acre than just about any crop grown in this country. Suits fly against the national lawn-care companies, and interest is kindled in “organic” methods of lawn care. But the problem is larger than this.

Lawns, I am convinced, are a symptom of, and a metaphor for, our skewed relationship to the land. They teach us that, with the help of petrochemicals and technology, we can bend nature to our will. Lawns stoke our hubris with regard to the land.

What is the alternative? To turn them into gardens. I’m not suggesting that there is no place for lawns in these gardens or that gardens by themselves will right our relationship to the land, but the habits of thought they foster can take us some way in that direction.

Michael Pollan–Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns, The New York Times Magazine, May 28, 1989

The Easy Part

The easiest part of the gardening year, at least for many of us, is winter. There are books on winter gardening, and I politely chose to ignore them altogether. There is little I can or want to do in my freezing garden between November and March. All the same, a good garden should provide shelter for all overwintering insects. A good basic design might interweave the entire garden with dwarf conifers and evergreen shrubs… These plants provide numerous protected places such as twigs and dead leaves on the ground to serve as overwintering sites for all those insects we so desperately want to keep in our gardens. And we especially need to have the predators and parasitoids ready to spring forth to feast on all the plant-feeding insects. The worst possible scenario we gardeners create with our bare-earth policy is that of decoupling the predators and parasitoids from their prey. We don’t want to race into gardening season having to battle the tides of imbalance, there is enough to do already.

Eric Grissell–Insects and Gardens: In Pursuit of a Garden Ecology


Plants that bear fruit in the summer generally dole their berries out as though by prior agreement, sharing the planting season so that each gets its turn and customers are fed from June through August. Each speaks to the locals who have time to learn where and when to find it. Raspberries, like strawberries, waft a fragrance. Blueberries and serviceberries speak in three colors. Green fruits are toxic and not yet nourishing. A rosy blush signals impending ripeness (resident animals monitor blushing berries like children watch cookies browning in the oven). The blue ones say “Eat me” very clearly. We don’t have to attend to these details. It’s like buying groceries once and watching meals prepare themselves for years.

Sara Stein–Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Back Yards

Yellow Vitamin

In the rain forest, no niche lies unused. No emptiness goes unfilled. No gasp of sunlight goes untrapped. In a million vest pockets, a million life-forms quietly tick. No other place on earth feels so lush. Sometimes we picture it as an echo of the original Garden of Eden—a realm ancient, serene, and fertile, where pythons slither and jaguars lope. But it is mainly a world of cunning and savage trees. Truant plants will not survive. The meek inherit nothing. Light is a thick yellow vitamin they would kill for, and they do. One of the first truths one learns in the rain forest is that there is nothing fainthearted or wimpy about plants.

Diane Ackerman–The Rarest of the Rare: Vanishing Animals, Timeless Worlds

Our Lifeline

I saw that animals were important. I saw that plants were even more important. I was also to learn that compared to many of the other species, we weren’t important at all except for the damage we do. We do not rule the natural world, despite our conspicuous position in it. On the contrary, it is our lifeline, and we do well to try to understand its rules.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas–The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons from the Natural World



To such an extent does nature delight and abound in variety that among her trees there is not one plant to be found which is exactly like another; and not only among the plants, but among the boughs, the leaves and the fruits, you will not find one which is exactly similar to another.

Leonardo da Vinci

Wild Pollinators

Man is more dependent on these wild pollinators than he usually realizes… Without insect pollination, most of the soil-holding and soil-enriching plants of uncultivated areas would die out, and with far reaching consequences to the ecology of the whole region. Many herbs, shrubs, and trees of forests and range depend on native insects for their reproduction; without these plants many wild animals and range stock would find little food. Now clean cultivation and the chemical destruction of hedgerows and weeds are eliminating the last sanctuaries of these pollinating insects and breaking the threads that bind life to life.

Rachel Carson–Silent Spring