Last Monday I went to Plantorama at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a sort of jobs fair, symposium and reunion all rolled into one that is a must for any horticulturist in the New York area in January. Serious gardeners – whether novices or veterans — are also, of course, welcome. I don’t mean to discriminate against the more casual practitioners of our field, but they probably would be bored by the chatter about the latest floral discoveries and the boutique nurseries that are offering them.
What struck me most forcefully was something Kelly Norris, the Director of Horticulture at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden said. Morris is a rising star in the horticultural world and with good reason. He gave a stemwinder of a talk about “Planting for the Future” that focused on the changes he believes we gardeners must make in how we perceive and use plants in the times we are entering. What struck me most was one sentence, when he said that we must remove the word “maintenance” from our business descriptions and replace it with “management.”
That is, we have to learn to let go. We gardeners must stop making pictures, “compositions” that we then try to keep from changing by our weeding, mulching and clipping. We have to recognize our domestic landscapes as living things and treat them as such. If we borrow our design principles from ecology, we can make landscapes that are not only attractive but also functional.
It reminded me of things Larry Weaner had said when we were writing Garden Revolution. He encourages gardeners to study their site and figure out what could be growing there had the area not been disturbed by our clearing it to build a home (this is a several step process that includes looking for remnants of native vegetation, and matching the characteristics of topography and soil with similar but still-intact ecosystems nearby. To plant not in menageries (as we gardeners so often do) but in communities of plants that naturally associate with each other. Then expect the garden to evolve: welcome volunteer seedlings, encourage the plants to propagate themselves and knit into a design of their own making.
Manage, in other words, not just maintain.