Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Sense of Purpose

A couple of weeks ago, in the grip of a sudden whim, I signed up for a special Meeting of the Field Botanists of Ontario. It was last weekend, and I mostly enjoyed it. The speakers were all terrific and it was a buzz to be in with a group of actual botanists.

The reason I mention this, is that I came away with what I think may be a Useful Insight.  Practically every speaker mentioned making field collections, and they all talked about the importance of herbaria. The point they all made, is that samples of plants are collected and preserved not so much to answer current questions, but to be available to answer possible future questions. Herbarium specimens are regularly consulted decades after they were collected in order to answer questions that weren't thought of until much later. Today's collectors now also save a bit of the green plant material for drying and saving for possible DNA work later. So the point of the herbarium specimens is not to have a snapshot of the plant at the time of collection (although it is that too), it is to have the plant available for possible research many years later. I think this same idea can be applied to the making of a native plant garden.

I'm one of those people who tends to want to have a purpose for things. I understand perfectly doing something just for the sake of doing it - such as lying on the beach in the sun - but you notice I don't do that an awful lot. I enjoy things far more if I think my efforts might actually add up to something.

As a result, I have been more than a little bothered by the simple question of 'Why?' as applied to my garden work. Why make a native plant garden? Why go to lengths to grow, say, Chimaphila umbellata, from seed and then spend time trying to get it established in a suitable area? Why study the plant, document it, protect it, weed around it, start all over again when the slugs eat all the plants, and so on? Why spend hours and days working in the heat and bugs to make a garden at all?

The answer is.... I don't need to answer that question! I'm making my native plant garden, both the actual 'garden' part and the natural area around it, not for today but for tomorrow.

The chance that my garden might be of use sometime in the future is purpose enough.

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