Today my mind wanders back to Earth Day 1990… The 20th anniversary of Earth Day.
I was a young college student then, wishing to become an environmental writer. A local environmental group was hosting a bucket brigade from the Trinity River to City Hall in downtown Dallas. Bucket by bucket the water was passed from one to another, until it reached City Hall and was dumped in the fountain outside. My 30-year-older self now reflects back on how young and naive I was then. Have we made progress since that April day three decades ago? I would like to think that we have. I see gains. I also see setbacks. But, just as we passed those buckets of river water from one to another in 1990, I hope we have passed from one generation to another that desire to do what we can – no matter how big or how small – to save our planet.
I have grown and matured a lot since that April day, but I still want to grow up to be an environmental writer and I am still passionate about saving the Earth, even if my acts are just one small piece of a much bigger need.
Following are just a few of my favorite gardening tips for a healthy planet.
1.) Compost your household and yard wastes, including your leaves in the fall. Build up your soil first and foremost and the rest will come.
“If healthy soil is full of death, it is also full of life: worms, fungi, microorganisms of all kinds… Given only the health of the soil, nothing that dies is dead for very long.” ~ Wendell Berry
I love this quote above. It reminds me of “the rotting log” science experiment that we did several times when my son was younger. Have you ever looked under a rotting log, either in your backyard or at a nature preserve? That dead log is so full of life! It is the perfect cycle of life, just as Berry said.
2.) Plant native plants and well-adapted plants. Avoid non-native invasive plants. Native and well-adapted are easier to grow, less prone to pests and drought conditions, plus feed native wildlife. A few of my favorite natives…
Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) is not a true grass, but is a beautiful native wildflower with grass like foliage and light blue flowers.
Winecups (Callirhoe involucrato) is a sprawling native perennial that blooms in the spring.
Penstemon tenuis grows to roughly three feet tall and is attractive to pollinators. Here, it has seeded itself at the base of a holly tree and has grown up through the holly.
3.) Plant flowers, shrubs and trees that are beneficial to pollinators, birds and other native wildlife. Feed the birds! Research your local area and try to have a buffet available year-round. Plant a tree (or three) on your property. Avoid junk trees such as Bradford pear and opt for natives, such as oaks or redbuds. Research which native trees are best for your property. There is a tree perfect for any yard, whether large or small.
Below, just a few berries remain on the native shrub Beautyberry. The berries form a beautiful (!) purple cluster, which remain from summer until they are eaten by birds in winter.
Below, holly berries on a small tree.
4.) Garden organically. Invest in a good insect guide book for your region and research insects before reaching for the insecticide. The majority of insects are harmless. The few that are harmful (such as aphids and hornworms) can generally be treated organically. Always try organic methods first and foremost. In our 26 years gardening on this property, I have yet to find a pest that I couldn’t eliminate easily and cheaply via organic methods.
I snapped this photo a few night ago of a tall bearded iris with this insect on it. Harmful? Nah.
Avoid pesticides, insecticides and herbicides whenever possible. Research what weeds you have in your garden and look at natural remedies for them, if you can’t stand them. But know that even the hated dandelion (though not native) is a great food source for humans and a good source of nectar for bees and butterflies.
5.) Plant extra for those few “garden pests” that you actually want to attract. People are always amazed that I plant extra for caterpillars to munch down on, but planting host plants is the basis of a great butterfly garden. Last year, we had over 50 caterpillars of the swallowtail butterfly on the fennel in my front garden. Decide what wildlife you want to attract into your garden and then plant for them. Plant it and they will come!
6.) Reduce your lawn size. Expand your garden beds. In general, lawns are the biggest consumer of water and fertilizer in the world. This is the topic for a whole ‘nother post at a later date! Ditch the gas powered mower for a reel mower, which adds a zen-like ambiance to mowing. We have used the same reel mower for 26 years now! We have the blades sharpened every few years, which is the only upkeep it needs.
7.) Allow wild areas on the edges of your property whenever possible. This area is the perfect habitat for wildlife of all kinds. I leave the stalks of coneflowers, penstemon and turk’s cap up through the winter, as songbirds use the stalks to land on them and feed on the seeds. I allow these plants to reseed along our back fence line as they are good cover for small mammals, birds, lizards and insects.
I will close with this pre-Earth Day quote…
“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people” ~ Franklin D Roosevelt
I hope that each and every one of you can (safely) get out into nature this week.
Those are just a few things that I do at the melodious garden to lessen my impact on Earth. I hope that I have inspired you to look for options that you can implement on your own piece of Earth.