The Unromantic Gardener: A Practical Guide to Gardening, Landscape Design and Sometimes, Life

We all want to do the right thing.   Green Living, Heal the Bay, Save the Whales, Recycle, Compost, Buy Local, the list never ends.   In Real Life, it is difficult to do everything.   The Unromantic Gardener provides information about organic, sustainable and low water use landscapes, as well as nature in general.   It takes into account people's busy lives, budgets, and the fact that not all of us are avid gardeners.  The periodic newsletter and plant section deal with a variety of topics, from specific plants to garden problems and design suggestions.   Mediterranean, South African, Australian and California Native plants (also called "California Friendly") are emphasized.  We can all do our part whether we have acres to plant, a small pot on a condo balcony, or just enjoy visiting public or private gardens.

smallerkathleen"To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves"  Mohandas K. Gandhi




What the Heck Happened?!

                                                                                                By Kathleen Irvine

When did gardening become more about the color of your tools matching the shade of your shirt, than how easily they could be found beneath the rosebushes?  When did we decide that the soil in the landscape should be as smooth and spotless as our hardwood floors?  Why did we begin to believe that only attractive insects, such as ladybugs and butterflies, were “beneficial”?  Who told us that all trees should have a perfectly round canopy?  And most of all, when did the care of our precious, personal outdoor spaces become a drudgery done by minimum wage workers?

In our obsession with safety and cleanliness, we have equated life that is not movie-perfect with dirt and harm.  No one tends the forest, yet it grew and flourished for centuries before we decided we needed a Bureau to manage it.  As the Bible so poetically states, “Behold the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these”.  There is a balance of plant, mineral, insect, and animal life in nature.  Everything has a job to do.  Even the tiny ant contributes, moving organic matter through the soil, creating drainage and bringing new soil to the surface.  If, in our infinite wisdom we decide that one aspect of an ecosystem is either “bad” or to be used in a disrespectful or wasteful manner, the balance is upset.  By giving over the stewardship of our gardens to uncaring labor, we no longer see the rhythms of nature, how incredible the dance of life and death.  smallferg

Make no mistake, this is not Disneyland.  In a garden, things die and decay and stink.  The praying mantis bites the head off her mate, the caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly strip the leaves from the milkweed, and compost happens.  In nature, all things contribute to the health of the soil – everybody eats somebody.  The detritus of carcass, excrement, and rotting foliage improve soil structure and provide food for the various fungi and bacteria that help plants grow – the first step in the chain of life.  By removing some aspect of this process, for instance by using the dreaded leaf blower, the soil is not healthy, the plants are not happy and neither are you. 

If art is the reflection of the emotional state of our culture, then surely our landscapes are defined by our approach to the care and maintenance of our corporal selves.  In our perpetual search for outside methods of achieving physical beauty, we neglect the inner care of the emotional and physical.  In the garden we add lots of “amendments” and look to “experts” in magazines and on TV to tell us how to create a beautiful landscape.  Although all this information can be helpful, the answers do not lie there.  Listen to your heart, observe nature, participate in the care of your plants and your garden will thrive.  It truly is that simple.





unless otherwise stated, all photos by Kathleen Irvine or James Danno
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