Friday, July 1, 2011

Garden Thoughts

Somebody said gardening is a matter of pushing back the wilderness. I was reminded of this just now when I read a post on one of the lists I read asking if it was alright to make something in the garden which would be good for the plants she wants to grow, but which wouldn't look very 'natural'. Given that the wilderness around her is already well pushed back, I don't see why not!

The idea of 'pushing back the wilderness' really resonates with me, on many levels. For one thing, I really am. My place is smack in the middle of forest which has never been cleared. It is mainly a rocky ridge, with a large marsh on one side and a stream, now beaver pond, on the other. No pioneer was ever dumb enough to try to clear it. It could not have been plowed anyway. Some of the trees were burnt in the great fires of 1860-1890, but that has quite a different long-term result from clearing. Clearing means cultivation, and cultivation changes the soil and the drainage patterns. So my spot is still wilderness.

The bear that came and smashed my bird feeders (again) is at home. I have to remember that.

The sumachs, maples, horsetails and other wild things that keep coming up in my garden want their wilderness back. I get no chance to forget that.

Areas that are in the sun today won't be in a few years when the trees all around them grow tall enough. Another thing to remember.

The driveway keeps getting narrower and narrower - the brambles and shrubs have as their job the task of colonizing new openings to get them ready for the trees to move in. It takes a large bulldozer and huge truckloads of crushed stone to push back simple shrubs. The wilderness is a worthy opponent.

On another level, we humans have a deep need to push back the wilderness. We need to create areas of safety and comfort for ourselves. Even in a City, we make gardens to satisfy our impulse to improve on the wilderness around. A precise bed of hostas and begonias, carefully mulched with purchased bark chips, edged with a metal surround, and needing daily watering, gives us a feeling of security against the wilderness of streets, buildings, cars, jobs, and other people.

The expanses of open front lawns that define the American and Canadian city garden are a visible (but polite!) way of thumbing the collection nose against the wilderness.

Which we need to do, to keep up our courage.


  1. This really resonated for me; I have written before about my sense that I am in always "holding back the forest."

    I just discovered your blog in the past few days, and I'm very much enjoying it. I do a monthly "Garden Blog of the Month" feature on my blog, Jean's Garden, in which I highlight some garden blogs that I think my readers would enjoy. Your blog is one of three I am reviewing this month. The post just went up a few minutes ago, and your blog will be featured on my sidebar throughout the month. -Jean

  2. Very nice blog. Jean's picks are always great. I'm zone four Ontario as well. We live in the country and my perennial border is backed by a creek bank. So I know about 'holding back the forest'. I'm trying to learn about native plants at the same time as keeping the poplar seedlings out of my perennial phlox. ;)

  3. Don't you think it's somewhat of a stretch calling the street, people, cars, and jobs a wilderness? hugh..maybe concrete jungle. chaos. technology. to some people the wilderness is a sanctuary.

  4. Hi there. I agree with much of what you've written. I have often said there is not much difference between an early settler carving out his or her own piece of order on a new territory and today's gardeners doing the same on their acres, their suburban yards, or their urban terraces. Also, congratulations on your being highlighted on Jean's Garden blog!

  5. Just dropped in from Jean's blog. We're only managing 7 1/2 acres...I can't imagine 30! I'm quite envious that your forest has never been cleared. Although we live in the middle of a woodland here, and are keeping the majority of the property wild, this entire area was clear-cut at the turn of the 20th Century. You almost couldn't tell now, but I do always wonder, in my mind's eye, how tall the redwoods would be now if they had not been cut. We still have some old growth stumps on the property, relics of the past, but everything else is second growth. Having pushed back the wilderness in previous places, I'm now trying to encourage some of it to return.