More on gardening v. environmental activism


Meet our newest garden coach – Emily Ogrinz in Montclair, NJ.  She contacteEmily250d me for ideas about how to get started, we had a nice long chat, and I posted all the ideas I thought we’d covered to the Gardening Coach Blog. Then I sent her the link and asked if I’d forgotten anything.  Apparently yes, and she had so many meaty points to add that I posted most of it here.

But her last point was the most interesting of all and speaks to the distinction Eliz made the other day between activists and horticulturists. 

I used to be an environmental educator, and I got turned off by the environmental movement because there is so much negativity and hopelessness in it.  Environmental problems seem so overwhelming, how can one person possibly make a difference? I’ve found that gardening is a positive act I can do for the world, by creating wildlife habitat, growing organic food locally, composting and minimizing the waste stream, and most of all by creating beauty. In my garden I feel like I am a part of the great force of nature, and I can actually see how I am making a difference. When I see my extra plants beautifying my neighbors’ gardens, and see my neighbors becoming more engaged with their gardens as they become more beautiful, I sense an outward flow of positive energy into the world. I feel energized and excited by the thought of all these people throughout the country passing on their knowledge and extra plants, and creating beauty. There is an ever expanding networks of gardeners and gardens and it is making the world a more beautiful, more engaged, and more positive place.

Like Emily, I find that focusing on problems and fears puts me in an agitated state of mind.  While grateful that somebody’s doing it (and as Eliz noted, the activists sure get things done), I’d rather be in the garden communing with nature and creating beauty.  And as a coach I try to turn people on to gardening, for all its benefits to the environment – and to the spirit of the gardener.


  1. But one person CAN make a big difference:) By inspiring and engaging others, a few can “start the ball rolling”…

    One person had a vision back in the 60’s; now we have a 120 acre prairie restoration that is one of the two most popular parks in the area!

    Someone persuaded a cemetery association to trade land…the 3 acre prairie that was saved is now being tripled in size by the donations of others inspired to restores a bit more of our original garden world…

    Gardening has a wonderful and positive effect, and I often retreat to my own green fortress! (I tell folks that they should stop by and borrow a cup of wildflower:)

    We have had a “Master Gardener” program for a number of years…

    The last two years we’ve added a “Master Naturalist” program that is now producing a bunch of folks who are monitoring frogs, fish, and flowers, pulling alien weeds, planting wildflowers… and enjoying gardening on a grand scale! A lot of people have just found out that they can make a difference!

    It’s true that sometimes the environmental news is a bit on the depressing side… But spreading the “environmental word” IS effective. A lot of people are just waiting for the knowledge and for the inspiration!

  2. I feel the same way as Emily and Susan do. The most effective message is the one delivered by example. Using our gardens as a poitical statement takes from the joy and peace that we seek from nature. I don’t like negetive connotations being associated with it.

    While other horticulturalists may feel comfortable playing the role of activist, I prefer to tackle the situation from another angle- by inspiring people to love nature. I’m with Emily.

  3. To each her own. We need both, surely. Someone’s got to put pressure on politicians, I think; even Bush is actually saying now that we need to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons. But not everyone need feel obliged to lead those movements or even to join them. Cultivating peace of mind, cultivating a garden, are also ways to change the world (and to keep one’s sanity). So the problem, I think, is the idea that we must choose, and that if one way is right, the other is wrong.

  4. Anything to silence environmental activism is fine with me. Just think of the carbon foot prints that would be saved if they stopped their silly protests and actually did something productive.

    I do not subscribe to the whole global warming theory anyway. Thirty years ago it was global cooling and melt the ice caps to save the world…..and now…..

    By the way chance of thunder storms today and some may be severe (heard that one before?)

    I will be in the garden and will come in from the severe storm when the sky gets real dark the wind blows real hard and Dorothy and Toto coma flying by along with the rest of Kansas….

  5. Dear Greg-
    I must take point with your disbelief of climate change. By all means, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I’d like you at least confront the science you so summarily dismiss as though a passing fad.

    If there is one realm of science, and one report that has more review, debate and high bar set for accuracy, it would be climate change. In particular, the International Panel on Climate Change. Their latest Report IPCC 4, is available here, and, really, why don’t you visit the site then come back with your viewpoint, if it’s open for change:

    I’d recommend reading the Summary for Policy Makers found in PDF here:

    It’s short. Then come back and maybe we have a starting point for a real discussion.

  6. Still Cuckoo


    I subscribe to the theory that the actions and behaviors of the six billion human inhabitants of this planet have an impact on the environment just like every other biological organism’s actions and behaviors affect their environments. At this point in the earth’s history, the environment, plant and animal species and even tracks of land need a lobbyist to speak up for them. Lobbying for the environment and it non-human inhabitants does as much good for us as it does for the environment. Activism can actually accomplish things. The Nature Conservancy comes to mind.

    Emily Ogrinz should be applauded for her chosen way to impact the environment in a positive way. It just isn’t the only way.

  7. I’d have to say, on the topic of activism and gardening- it’s difficult to separate the two. While not an activist, I am immersed in the research of environmental problems.

    Gardening is a release, an escape, and an inspiration. It’s an excellent moment to ponder the deeper questions of evolution and natural selection, while at the same time catching a glimpse as though my flower bed was painted by Monet or a view of a rare, full double rainbow (like yesterday!). The rich history of tulips tells us as much about human preference as the variety of bulbs. Pondering a future climate is a must when planting a long-lived tree. Am I disrupting nature or merely participating in it as I alter the future every time I pull the encroaching mint away from the tomatoes? With a head full of science, philosophy, art and wonder there are so many different angles to be found in the garden… So many different ways of viewing the same space…

  8. I have read some of the information overtime and I am sorry but I do not buy into global warming being caused by mankind. The climate changes on it’s own and that is in my opinion (and it is my opinion). I am a hoticulturist in upstate New York and I can tell you last killing frosts around here are coming later not earlier. Autumn shows up in early Sept just after Labor Day with cold not just cooler nights. Three of the last five years (within 100 miles of my home) record snowfall occurred. The biggest problem with proponents of the global warming is that they tell me my climate in NY will be either like Gerogia or Alaska within the next 100 years. For all the so called scientific proof thats quite a spread between Alaska and Georgia.

    Now last year was supposed to be a record year for huuricanes. “Experts” mad etheir predictions based on “GLOBAL WARMING” Then as soon as the season ended with a hardly a named storm another “expert” said the lack of storms was due to…..GLOBAL WARMING.

    I do my part. I recycle, compost, turn down thermostats and turned up and off air conditioners and am going solar. I also grow a lot of my own food and in my garden center have placed organic products right next to the regular chemical lines and went to greateffort to designate through siganage and banners which products are organic.

    Since we are on the suggestive reading thing look up Cold Climate Gardening Blogs review of a univeristy professor of horticultures take on the green movement. It is eye opening. Vineyards in Italy are suffering from toxic soils due to sulfur build up. Sulphur is an organic fungicide and miticide. It would take destroying 50% of the remaining forested land to grow enough feed to support the 4 billion additional cows needed to supply organic nitrogen. Regular nitirogen fertilizer is processed from the atmosphere!

    So there is my pitch. I cannot and will not due a thing for the spotted owl in Oregon and I really don’t think many people in Oregon care about an endangered turtle (Blanders) here in NY.
    So yes I do the green thing. I beleive and love the term and practice of LOCAVORES. It’s about time people started worrying about their own back yards and neighborhoods and helping each other start gardens start and run local business and get back to the day when every town had a butcher baker and candlestick maker. My plan would be to close down the interstate highway system. That has done more damage to local economies than anything in my opinion.

    So if I am allowed to give my opinion I will listen to yours. I will not get into a shouting match or name calling melodrama. After call the atmosphere does not need anymore hot air or carbon dioxide. Al Grore’s home and private jet provide enough of that (talk about a hypocrite)
    And I do not want to hear about carnbon credits. That is a joke and just spreads the blame else where.

    The (look and live like a treehugger but I am not)Troll

  9. passing fad……………
    Remember Global Cooling. Front page Time magazine April mid 1970’s
    “Scintists Predict New Ice Age Planet in Peril”.
    that was the jist of the front cover headline.
    The track record on junk science is right there.

  10. starting point for real discussion maybe?

    You have already dismisssed my opinion with that statement and cdeemed my discussion of my opinion less worthy than yours.
    So no I will not continue to deabte since it is my opinion based on what I believe to be true.
    Simple as that. I respect your opinion but must disagree.
    Now I have to spread some compost on my tomatoes.

    THE (does not want slamonella so grows his own tomatoes) TROLL

  11. It sounds to me, Greg, as though you do a lot for the environment, whether you believe in global warming or not. I do wish, though, that we could have conversations about things like this in this country without getting so angry with each other. We’ve lost the ability to have what used to be known as a “good argument” and then go out for a beer together. The result, too often, is that we only talk to people who already agree with us.

    I take issue here with the title of the original post, “More on gardening v. environmental activism,” which sets up gardening and activism as adversaries. Deborah Tannen’s book The Argument Culture talks about the US slide towards devisivness, and the way we constantly pose complex issues as simple dichotomies, either/or propositions.

    It doesn’t seem to me that gardening and activism are “opposites” in any meaningful sense. True, time spent gardening is time not spent on activism, but that’s about it. Maybe that’s enough; if one’s activist friends look down their noses at their gardening friends, gardeners might well feel argumentative and adversarial.

    One tangential question for Greg: you mention “Cold Climate Gardening Blogs review of a univeristy professor of horticultures take on the green movement.” What professor? When was the post? I can’t for the life of me find what you’re referring to hear, and I’d like to read it. If you dig this up, I’d be grateful.


  12. Kate, I agree, and comments here have reminded me that there’s LOTS of ways to make a difference that don’t involve working for an environmental organization with a vibe that feels too toxic.
    And Greg, just click “permalink” on Cold Climate, then copy and paste that URL into a comment here so we’ll know what you’re referring to.

  13. Sorry to not get back, sooner, Greg- but I hope to make it worth your while. It’s obvious you’re trying to “do your part” on the environmental thing, and I imagine you’re a great gardner as well, so hopefully I can provide useful information here. Because the release of CO2 in the atmosphere is already affecting how we garden.

    To address the issue of human’s contribution to climate change, let’s put it this way: it’s easy to measure CO2 emissions- and we’ve been actually able to go before current measurements by analyzing bubbles in ice cores, tree rings, historic documentation, etc. Anyways, so the main greenhouse gases (GHG) are CO2, Methane (CH4), and Nitrous Oxides (N2O). Since the industrial revolution, those 3 chemicals have increased in their ratio in the atmosphere by 35%, 150% and 18%, respectively. Not all GHG traps warmth at the same rate, but that’s a different topic and we’ll just focus on CO2. When we burn 1 gallon of gasoline, weighing 19.564 pounds, we produce 22.384 of CO2– most of the hydrocarbons in gas are converted to CO2 in the combustion, and the fire pulls O2 out of the atmosphere, so when you add the 2 oxygen molecules to the Carbon, you get a heavier weight than the gas itself.

    Anyways, for the time period between 650,000 years ago and the industrial revolution, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were between 180-300 parts per million by volume (ppmv). Currently, we are at 380 ppmv. So the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere haven’t been experienced in the last 650,000 years. As a benchmark, homo sapien sapien didn’t evolve (us today, essentially) until roughly 100,000 years ago (exact time is being debated).

    The rate of increase of CO2 into the atmosphere is 100 TIMES faster than has occurred in the past 650,000 years. And the projection is the current 380ppmv level go to 700 ppmv or so by 2100.

    So what? One of the more interesting effects, in which the research is still new, is the effects of elevated CO2 on soil microorganisms. Apparently, research shows the the mix of microorganisms is changing and does indeed change under experiments in forest ecosystems with artificially inflated levels of CO2.

    (I have links to all of my stats if you want to follow up on one of them).

    There’s also the change in plant behavior with increased CO2 levels. Looks like plants do better– especially plants that utilize the C3 chemical pathway for nutrients. It appears that the C4 plants- like grasses, grains, etc. have a competitive DISadvantage over the C3 plants in elevated CO2. A new theory is that the drop in CO2 levels thousands of years ago led to the rise of the grasses, as they were able to utilize the lower levels of CO2 more efficiently than C3 plants.

    The changes I mention above are only impacts from the NON-WEATHER changes increased CO2 will do– you’ve probably heard plenty about the climate change impacts- temperatures and precipitation dictating new bioregion development, etc.

    Anyways, I am not able to address all of your comments at once, but wanted to provide a glimpse into some of the interesting research going on right now that has gardening implications– I choose less-known items for hopefully higher entertainment value (it’s more fun to read something new). However, on thing about the Global Cooling– as I understood it, the article in Time was based on a couple of research documents, and if you look at the trend data in the IPCC report, you can see the slight dip in temps for a couple of years in the 70’s. CLimate science was pretty new back then but that analysis was obviously wrong. We now have decades of data, supercomputers, ice cores, and a hell of alot more ways to sense our environment.

  14. Oh, Greg- one other interesting topic you touched on was the nitrogen balance issue. I don’t know if you’ve read any of Michael Pollan’s books, but he goes into the nitrogen accounting in Omnivore’s Dilemma. To grow all that corn to feed all those cows, we use Natural Gas to derive the Nitrogen. Our whole food economy sits on a pool of natural gas! Nitrogen is important, as we all probably know from the benefits of a N2 fixer as a cover crop or mixing white clover into our lawn seed…

  15. Hey I make beer too! As well I am all for a good argument and debate. I am not “MAD” at anyone so just let me get that straight.

    To: DJ I know nitrogen is important. However too many gardeners wantthe quick fix from Miracle Gro or farm grade 5-10-5. The amoniacal nitrogen there is released immediately into the soil
    whether or not the plants are ready for it as opposed to organic sources that break down as the soil warms and the plants begin feeding. Amoniacal N passes right by the plant roots and into the water table.So it is the form of N that is the issue not N in my book.

    I will look up the exact link to the cold climate gardening entry and post it soon for you tou look over.

    As far as doing my part for the environment that is not why I do it. I do it becasue it is the right thing to do. If it benefits someone else hey more the better.

    to the manic gardener i will get the link in a post coming shortly. I am not good with html but can get it for you

    THE (OMG he is a tree hugger)TROLL

  16. FOUND THE BOOK REVIEW ON the Cold Climate Gardening Page

    Copy and paste the addy above and it will bring you right to the article on the review. I tested it and it works! (You must listen to my speech before it lands there though LOL)
    He is Jeff Gilman hort professor. He is an organic proponent but gets to the point that sustainabiltity may not be sustainable on an international front but more so on a local level

    Which is precisley why I say I will not do anything for the snail darter or spotted owl. As well people in California and Oregon when you get down to brass tacks don’t give a rats A** about the Blanders turtle here in NY. Nor should they they have their own problems and we have ours.

    OLD SAYING: Charity begins at home.
    How can I criticze the speck in your eye whilst there is a plank in mine.
    Me an environmentalist: NO WAY DUDE: LOCALIST: YES (but please do not call me a protectionist)

    Gilman cuts through the “NOISE” and looks deep into what is really the point and the effect of going organic. It is not all a bed of roses. NOr is it just a pile of manure either.I just wish more people would look at it rationally.

    I teach a class on organic gardening at my store. My point is if you are just switching to natural pesticides from the dinosaur derivatives YOU ARE STILL APLYING PESTICIDES. I get quickly to the point that organic gardening is harmonius with the growing conditions you have which means right plant right place
    I will step down off my recycled soap box for now…………

    THE (what am I getting myself into TROLL

  17. What does a garden coach do….
    I think I already am one. Answer thousands of questions each week from gardeners (not customers or traget market) then ask them how there garden is next time I see them. I teach garden classes, appear on radio and TV and write (but not type too good) about the subject and have a twice monthly column in a weekly paper.

    So tell me if I add “Garden Coach” to my business card can I then double my salary to $200K ?
    Garden Consultant just doesn’t say “play” like coach does

    THE (farmer,brewer,poet,radical revolutionary,COACH) TROLL

  18. Greg – how did you guess my income from garden coaching? (Not LOL, but a knowing chuckle.)
    And if you put “Gillman” in the GardenRant search engine over in the right-hand column you’ll find he’s a regular here – as an author whose books we review, as a guest blogger, and as a commenter. We love Jeff.

  19. I find his book “The Truth About……engaging. When I get back to a normal five day forty hour work week I will read it. But for now I have a fourth of July BBQ to get ready for.

    THE (uncle sam i am) TROLL

  20. On N2 – I don’t dump much in the way in my garden or on the lawn. If your soil is good, and you have the right things going on, you shouldn’t need too. True- growing veggies or flowers and removing biomass means you’ve got to replace that somehow but I use manures, compost, etc.

    Organic gardening certainly uses some toxic materials, but aside from the copper, most of it is breaking down rapidly. It’s like anything- Joe Homeowner goes to Home Depot to buy a bag of chemicals to dump on the lawn 3 times a year. It would be better if the stuff he was dumping wasn’t screwing the Chesapeake Bay.

    Have fun on the 4th!

  21. Thank you all for ranting for me. Seriously, my fingers were twitching and the keyboard called, but I waited, and it got more interesting than I could have made it. I *heart* Garden Rant.

  22. If i ranted for you you owe me ……….let’s see…uhm, food , beer , drinks etc and wear and tear on my keyboard………..

    47 cents oughta cover it

    The (anything for a nickel) TROLL

  23. Thanks for getting back with the review info, Greg. When I was hunting around for your professor who “takes on the green movement,” I decided it coudn’t be Jeff Gilman, because it didn’t seem to me that that was what he was doing. He’s examining things, he’s applying critical thinking rather than just assuming that organic is good. I suppose that could be perceived as taking them on, since some organic gardeners don’t want to hear that manure emits a greenhouse gas or creates major problems if it washes into streams. That’s closemindedness, pure and simple.

Comments are closed.