Oh to have a magazine garden; A professionally designed landscape with flagstone paved paths meandering through bountiful and established plantings, both kept miraculously free of weeds by unseen hands. The view usually seems to go on forever unless it's stopped short by a gorgeous custom made fence or a restored bungalow or cottage. You won't ever see a prominent garage or driveway in a magazine garden either, despite the fact that the majority of homes today have them.
Most gardens, on the other hand, are bravely planted by a single dreamer with any amount of sunlight at her disposal; be it in a windowsill, on the balcony, in a trailer park or behind a generic suburban tract house with zero privacy. If you've taken a chance and purchased even the smallest houseplant, you deserve praise for trying and for your desire to bring a little bit of nature into your life. I'm dead serious about this; taking that first leap is scary and you deserve a pat on the back.
Environmentalists would like to save the world by protecting the world's riches of ecosystems and curbing global warming, but it is you and your desire to experience nature that will ultimately do just that. If more self proclaimed 'black thumbs' kept at it, our cities would become greener and more diverse. We would eat healthier, get in better shape and have better mental health too. (See for yourself)
|My garden reflects my own tastes and personality. Let your garden represent yours!|
You deserve praise for your curiosity, determination and adventurous spirit, and I encourage you to keep gardening however you choose without fear of criticism from others for your unique style of gardening. Clash your colors loudly like cymbals and shear those hedges however you want because it brings you joy! When we bought our house last year and I got to start a new garden from scratch, I was torn between sticking to mostly either edibles, natives, flowers or my beloved tropicals that led to this blog's name, the Rainforest Garden. I also wanted to get rid of most of the lawn, but liked having enough front lawn to blend with the neighborhood and some out back for my newborn to enjoy in later years. In the end, I've arrived at a happy balance between different styles and different plants like most gardeners do.
|Organic strawberries harvested from my front yard garden|
There are lots of movements in the gardening world today, and proponents want you to do anything from going completely organic by banishing all chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides from your garden shed; planting only native plants that originally grew in your area before the Europeans arrived; or growing nothing but edibles so that you can be self-sufficient and won't have to rely on 'big ag'. Within each movement, there are even more stringent guidelines such as 'you should only grow heirloom vegetables' or 'you should only grow plants native to the ecosystem on which your house was built' or 'you shouldn't use organic products sold by companies that sell chemical products'. Mention 'Round-Up', 'GMO's' 'Monsanto' or 'Scotts/Miracle-Gro' to a garden writer and you're likely to hear a passionate speech resembling a born-again Christian's account of the coming armageddon. There are valuable lessons to learn from each viewpoint, but the all-or-nothing approach can alienate the very people who are on the fence about gardening in the first place.
|A dragonfly rests on a bromeliad planted in one of my trees|
|A green anole enjoys the shelter of my potted miracle fruit|
The truth of the matter is that you're making the world a better place regardless of what you grow or how you grow it. Every single garden bed is a vast improvement to our satellite imagery of rooftops, lawns and pavement for the very same reasons that natural areas are valuable. That little garden patch harbors wildlife, produces more oxygen, casts more shade and more importantly, provides physical and mental health to you, the gardener. The little lizard in the photo above doesn't care that his home is a non-native plant in a pot - he's just happy for the leafy green hiding place. Activists have good intentions and noble causes, but it's not really necessary for them to insist their way or the highway. As you discover that birds and butterflies are attracted to your native wildflowers, you'll choose to grow more of what works. Once you experience fresh 'fast food' from your own backyard and the excitement it adds to your kitchen, you'll start seeking out unusual heirloom vegetables for the sheer joy of it.
The other day I committed the gardener's deadly sin. I bought a bottle of Round-Up and and sprayed it on the weeds that have been pushing up through the cracks in our driveway since we moved in. I anxiously waited to see the dying lizards and bugs crawling out of the carnage with pleading eyes, but the truth of the matter was that there was no carnage whatsoever. After four days, all the Round-Up did was kill some of the exposed foliage and new leaves have since opened up. I got better results with my string trimmer and a bottle of vinegar. I will never use Round-Up again because in addition to the fear of accidentally spraying my garden plants, it doesn't even work well in the first place. I suspect that other gardeners are smart enough to make their own informed decisions.
|I'm slowly chipping away at my front lawn with flowers, veggies and herbs!|
There's a well-meaning movement to replace lawns with wildflowers, vegetables, or native plants, but it's difficult for the majority of us to dig up all of the grass, design a garden, buy truckloads of plants, install them and figure out how to keep them alive without the knowledge one earns through years of trial and error. A real gardener also knows that gardens take time and are never finished. Plants grow faster each year, structures begin to wear down, shrubs need pruning and perennials require dividing. Weeds are inevitable, so pulling them and tossing them on the compost should be as enjoyable as harvesting veggies. I garden because I actually like to have the satisfaction of creating something from nothing. If it didn't take any work, how would it be any different than playing a video game? The results of my labor are enjoyed every single day as I harvest veggies for my meals and enjoy the view from my living room.
|Weeds and pests are worth the trouble.|
Which reminds me... it also takes a lot of time and work to get a whole garden looking halfway decent. Those makeover tv shows make it look like your home and garden can be remade overnight, but where's the fun in that? I prefer to enjoy the little things in the meantime. The ripening heirloom tomatoes pictured above look pretty enough, but here's what happens when you zoom out and see the big picture:
Yup. Pretty nasty, huh? The previous tenants had a doghouse built like fort knox and I've finally set to destroying it with a reciprocating saw and a crowbar. The doghouse is surrounded by weeds and dilapidated fencing too. Did I mention that this is where I'l be planting a vegetable garden?
In front of that mess is the veggie patch I've dug up so far, and even that keeps sprouting new weeds every day. It isn't the most attractive garden, but it serves its job well by keeping us fed with cucumbers, green beans and even Mizuna mustard greens right in the middle of a Florida July. What could possibly beat that? Gardening can be rather frustrating if you're obsessed with its many inherent faults, but it's a joy when you zoom in close and focus on the miracles.
|Miracles like this oddly branched inflorescence on a boring bordergrass|
|or the novelty of growing a record-breakingly scalding hot ghost pepper|
|or savoring the ephemeral surprise of randomly planted rain lilies|
|or finding that even when veggies like this radicchio bolt and become bitter, they get gorgeous blooms.|
|Outside the boundaries of this photo are weeds and rotting fences. but I've stopped noticing.|
|Yes, I planted things too close to the water feature. For now, I'll enjoy it the way it is.|
No matter how many chemicals you use or however much your neighbors disapprove of your front yard wildflower prairie, I believe that gardeners of all sorts have the potential to make the world a better place if we put aside our differences and use the garden to bring ourselves happiness. My mom used to like a song that went as follows: "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." If you garden because it brings you peace, then you're then able to extend that goodwill to others. If you're too busy judging the floral faux pas of others and trying to change their ways for the sake of aesthetics or the environment, then the garden becomes a joyless pursuit. Garden for your own happiness and let it teach you about patience and perseverance, and I promise that you'll make the world a better place in the process.