Everybody has a soft spot for at least a few plants, for me it’s Impatiens. When I was younger my mom would plant them all the way up both sides of the walkway that led to our back porch. It would amaze me how small they were when she planted them, and within a few weeks they would completely fill out creating a neon mound of color that would last until frost. Still today when I see Impatiens it immediately takes me back to my childhood and makes me think about catching bees and waiting for hummingbirds to visit the colorful flowers. From this point forward I vow to have Impatiens in my garden every year for the rest of my life, if for no other reason than the fact that they remind me of my mom and make me feel good…
You see, the last couple of summers while I was building and maintaining the urban farm on the street I found myself spending all of my spare time studying data sheets on crops and pests, and basically immersing myself in agricultural research. I still do this, but it has made me realize how easy it is to take something that is meant to be peaceful, relaxing and enjoyable, and make it a daunting task associated with work. When your goal is squeezing as much food out of every square foot of garden space you have, aesthetic qualities tend to go out the window.
Gardening is a spiritual and physical connection to the earth that one could not understand without actually doing it, but the earth does a lot more than just feed us. Over millions of years our planet has developed an incredibly diverse bouquet of plants and animals, some feed us, and some simply blow our minds. Ssome things exist out of necessity, and some things are here as one of mother natures vulgar display of power. With all of the attention we currently invest in growing food, I sometimes feel we are forgetting that part of creating a diverse ecosystem also involves growing ornamental trees, shrubs, and flowers… both annuals and perennials.
Over the past several years I have met some of the most incredible gardeners and urban farmers, people who do things that could blow your mind. But they all seem to be focussed on food… if asked a question about growing tomatoes they could answer you in a second, but if asked a question about normal every day annual flowers they are clueless. Are we so caught up in growing food that the art of growing an old school flower garden like our grandparents used to have is getting lost.
The lack of pollinating insects has gathered a lot of attention lately, wouldn’t it be funny if it turned out to be something simple like a lack of people growing petunias and geraniums. Next time you are buying tomato or pepper plants pick up a pack of petunia or marigold plants and intermingle them around your tomatoes. One of my all time favorite mistakes was a bunch of volunteer petunias growing in my corn patch… It was truly a beautiful combination…
I’m not trying to say that I am done farming as I am just getting started, I have big plans involving multiple urban lots that is becoming a reality much quicker than anticipated, but I am trying to get back in touch with the side of gardening where happiness is not measured in yield, but in aesthetic beauty. I love vegetables and farming, but I also love my ornamentals, and whether you can admit it or not there is a symbiotic relationship between food crops and ornamental plants that goes deeper than science will ever be able to truly explain.
I understand that gardening is a way for people to feed themselves, but it can also bring beauty and lift spirits in a way that little else can. This year as you plant your garden, don’t just fill every square inch of space with food for yourself, remember the bees and birds that make our vegetables possible work up quite an appetite as well. If you plant 3 tomato plants for yourself, then plant a petunia just for the bees. If you plant a few apple trees, then plant a serviceberry just for the birds. Consider it a sacrifice of space that may seem to hurt your personal yield but in the long run will increase the overall total yield of the earth as an ecosystem. Just as people should count compost into their overall garden yield, insects and birds that are attracted to your garden could also be considered yield… If for no other reason than the presence of these animals will increase your gardens yield as well as contribute to the quality of your life and your surroundings.
I don’t normally share this with people because it makes me feel like a dork but every fruit tree, bush or bramble that I have planted for my personal consumption over the last 3 years has a flower from my garden under it. I consider it a sacrifice to the plant gods, I feel if the plant is going to sacrifice its energy into producing food for me than I can sacrifice one of my flowers to it. Just my nerdy planting ritual that helps me personally connect with the earth and how I sculpt my surroundings.
plant impatiens and question everything – chriscondello
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