This is a blog about becoming a sustainable gardener. When I started my garden 30 years ago, I quickly found that there’s a big difference between environmental principles formed in a warm house on a winter evening and realities of sustainable gardening when you’re outside with your rake and shovel. How-to books by experts make it sound simple. I’m writing this blog to chronicle what happens when you try out expert advice at home.
Here’s where I’m coming from: I’m a suburban weekend gardener in Newton, Massachusetts, USA gardening on a third of an acre lot (pictured above in May). My main interest is in ornamental gardening, although I have a small vegetable plot. Over the years I’ve struggled with such questions as how to compost yard waste without making it a full-time job, what’s the most convenient and sustainable mulch, how to kick my peat moss habit and shrink my garden’s carbon footprint, what to do about my suburban lawn, how much watering is needed and environmentally acceptable, whether to resort to pesticides when insects like winter moth attack, how to react to invasive plants, and how to incorporate native plants into a garden that’s already stuffed with a majority of nonnatives. I plan to share some of my stories with you, hoping they'll help clarify your own priorities.
If you’re like me, you started gardening to feel close to the earth and natural processes. Then you find that almost every gardening decision involves an environmental dimension. Although each of us knows our environmental impact is small, we realize that cumulatively our choices add up to significant positives or negatives for the natural world around us. In the last five years, with a wake-up call from Douglas Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home, I've given up the idea that I'm the boss and decision-maker for my garden. I've switched to seeing myself as a member of my garden community. That means that other inhabitants--from mammals to insects and soil organisms--share the work, but also that my smallest actions affect the garden ecosystem.
Most people who aren’t professional gardeners can't be purists; they choose a middle path between convenience and sustainability. If you aim for sustainable practices, love gardening, but have limited time and energy to devote to it, you and I are probably facing the same challenges.