With every new year comes a renewed sense of optimism about a whole host of things like fitness and health, relationships with loved ones and friends, your occupation, and maybe your garden. In the book The Earth is Enough by Harry Middleton, there is a paragraph that resonated with me, as a horticulturist and a lover of plants, about the struggles of gardening, but also the hope we have in plants. Here it is:
Emerson (one of the old men) believed in plants, though he never completely trusted them. After all, nothing could turn on a man with such cold, merciless indifference as a plant. A curious blight, a virulent plague, a sudden storm, an unyielding march of insects could sour a man’s agricultural fortunes with woeful abruptness, lance his emotions, eviscerate his always desperate accounts.Harry Middleton
Gardeners need to be eternal optimists. We garden hoping to get something from our efforts, be it a vegetable to eat, beauty to enjoy or shade to rest in. Sometimes that happens but sometimes we fail. As we approach spring (yes, it is coming) and we start thinking about our own native plant gardens, I know that there will be holes to fill in our landscapes because of struggling or underperforming plants. We try to make perfect plant choices for our landscapes, but we are not always successful. Plants have so much to offer to us and the environment around us. Just because there are a few plants that succumb to our harsh climate or pests doesn’t mean we stop planting and believing in plants.
In particular, I believe in plants that are native to Kansas, because they:
- beautify the landscape – with careful design, your garden can have flowers year round
- nurture pollinators and other wildlife
- provide food and shelter for birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators
- save water
- thrive in our local climate if properly matched to a site
- are adapted to our natural cycles, responding to cool, wet winters with lush growth and slowing down during the hot, dry summers
- prefer our soils or can grow in just about any soil type
- do well in our native soils and do not require soil amendments or fertilizers
- reduce pesticide use
- typically have fewer pest problems than non-natives because they have co-evolved with native insects (unless there is a new introduced predator or pest)
- minimize your carbon footprint
- reduce maintenance over time in a well-designed garden
- can easily be started with smaller sized plants, saving on installation costs
- cool the environment
- play an active role in the water cycle, adding cooling moisture to the atmosphere
- harmonize with diverse garden styles
- create a sense of place within our prairie state
Just Keep Planting
Some plants are going to let us down. Or maybe we let them down by trying them in an ill-suited location in the first place. Whatever the case may be, keep believing in plants. They are good for you and the environment. Try to find joy in the beauty around you even though it is not always perfect or ideal.
Each and every year, we struggle with plants here at the Arboretum just like you do. But we are rewarded by our imperfect efforts time and time again. The journey of tending a garden is not an easy, straight line. It is a winding road of highs and lows. Keep believing in plants anyway.