Fellow garden enthusiasts, rejoice! For we have less than a month of winter left according to the puppy and kitty calendar hanging slightly askew on my office wall.
Whether or not the weather pays any attention to said calendar is anybody’s guess, but we’ll worry about that another day. The point is that — in theory — winter is drawing to a close, and it’s time to start planning our gardens and deciding which plants are worth our sweat and loving labor this year.
Some of us are vegetable gardeners, some of us favor landscaping and aesthetic, while others dabble in whatever strikes their fancy, be it herbs, fungi or edible flowers.
I admit, in the beginning, my love of gardening veered sharply toward the aesthetic. I liked veggie gardens and I loved growing my own herbs, but I only grew these plants sparingly, in part due to their less than magazine-perfect appearance.
But as I’ve lived and learned, I’ve discovered two things. One, I found that my idea of beauty could change drastically when I wasn’t being dazzled by Photoshopped pictures of hydrangeas at peak bloom and lilies planted so close together you can’t even tell if they’re growing on actual stems or not.
Two, I realized I value a number of things above beauty, particularly when it comes to gardening. Usefulness, practicality, sustainability and joy are my new keywords when planting a garden.
This translates into a number of things.
To start, I have a strong preference for plants that serve at least two purposes. Fennel, dill, cilantro and caraway not only attract ladybugs, they are delicious herbs that can be used in a variety of dishes. Honeysuckle and lavender don’t just smell good and look pretty, they also attract pollinators.
Garlic, chives, leeks and many of the allium cousins aren’t just delicious food items; in certain climates and conditions, they have been shown to deter many pests, including the dreaded aphids. And the more I’ve embraced this ideology, the more it makes sense.
I’ve also been slowly letting go of concerns about what my neighbors think. I have lovely neighbors, and many of them have lovely yards with beautiful plantings and put a lot of love into their gardens. However, worrying about whether or not they think my yard is pretty enough is something I’ve wasted far too much time on.
I still struggle with the impulse to impress people with my beautiful home, featuring a beautiful yard and beautiful blah blah blah. I understand the psychology behind it, but honestly, life’s too short to spend so much time deciding what kind of boxwood to use for a hedge when I don’t even like boxwood and would rather turn that part of the lawn into a naturalized herb garden anyway.
And finally, I’ve been worrying not only about what I want, but what the ecosystem that is my yard actually needs. I think we’ve gotten to a point technologically and intellectually that we can actually afford to keep the soil, the bees and water conservation in mind when choosing plants, where we’ll plant them and how we’ll take care of them.
Do we really need more lawn when we could plant a native pollinator garden in that area? Do we need to use commercial pesticides when small infestations can often be deterred with garlic oil?
Ultimately, these sorts of questions can only be answered by the individual. Everyone has their preferences and their priorities. But I invite you to consider what you value and what you love when you’re deciding what to plant in your garden this year.
If you can, try not to fall into the trap of planting to please others. And when possible, see if you can’t plant things with multiple uses. Get creative with it! You might be surprised how rewarding a practical approach to gardening can be.