Gardening with the More than Human World
I became an avid gardener more by accident than intent. On impulse I signed up to take a master gardening class. Somewhere in one of the lessons I became deeply interested in exploring concepts like companion planting—putting plants together that liked each other --so I went farther and deeper studying permaculture and started thinking about my yard as a mini ecosystem.
Now the backyard is part sanctuary and part science experiment. Before adding a new plant to the yard; I identify at least three benefits it will bring: food for us, nitrogen fixing for plants, wildlife or pollinator habitat, aromatic pest confusers; the list goes on. If a species doesn’t take after a couple tries; I give up and move on. Most, but not all plants are native. Some, like echinacea and columbine, reseed and move about on their own changing location from year to year. I make sure I have flowers in bloom from early spring to late fall not just for my pleasure but for the pollinators as well. I weed, I divide and transplant. I create compost to rebuild the soil. And my mini-ecosystem responds.
I co-exist with chipmunks, moles, voles, etc. as long as they aren’t destructive.The big spruce in the center of the yard shades out much of my vegetable garden, but it’s a high-rise apartment for birds full of nests and song during g during the summer. In the winter it’s beautiful when the snow falls decorating the branches.
Partnerships lead to new possibilities. Last year the monarch butterflies came to my yard for the first time and I saw the caterpillars grow. I watched one form a chrysalis and another emerge stunted with short wings and a fat body as it completed its final transformation. It joined with other monarchs in the garden flying from flower to flower and then left on its journey to Mexico.
This year we have more songbirds than ever. When the first flowers emerged in April, there were a half dozen different kinds of bees scrambling among the blossoms in search of food. I have learned to appreciate the earliest part of spring watching a world bereft of color and vitality transform.
Friends know I garden and ask how to solve their problems. Often, when we talk, we realize they are asking their garden to be something it doesn’t want to be. Some plants hate clay, or shade or too much sun. We share ideas about how to move from being a garden dictator to becoming a garden partner.
I often think about how that partnership could be expanded. Is it possible to discover how to give up our culture's perception of superiority and enter into a truly equal a partnership with the more than human world? What would that even be like? The only way to find out is to try.