“We have come to see ourselves as being outside of nature,” says Prince Charles in this month’s Vanity Fair, and although I’m not a huge fan of his RH, I see plenty of signs of the alienation to which he refers. Not just when it comes to global warming, either, which is the context of this particular interview. I don’t have to peruse the glamorous pages of VF to find fear, confusion, ignorance, distaste, even hatred when it comes to the relationship between humans and growing things—often when many of these humans consider themselves gardeners.
If you really want to explore the last bastions of bad garden talk, you have to check out call-in radio shows. We have a couple of them in Western New York. Both hosts are fairly knowledgeable and have good credentials, but their advice can only be as interesting and/or useful as the questions they get. After listening to their shows over a few weekends, I can see where it might be possible for a veteran host of such a program to become utterly jaded. (Many of you may have local radio gardening shows—do you listen?)
On the Saturday show, most callers were adamant that they needed to dig up their tulips immediately after blooming and store them in the basement. One listener was told that her jasmine was an obscure plant and that she would never be able to get rid of the scales infesting it. Listening to the Sunday show, I heard one caller explaining that she had a dead—or at least she was almost sure it was dead—hydrangea plant that she wanted to give to her friend. I’m not sure what advice she thought would help with this.
Finally, at a live appearance at a bookstore I happened to catch, the Saturday host was answering the questions of people who felt they should cut back their ferns to the ground so the plants could survive a summer under a damaged shade canopy, or who wondered whether spraying mouthwash would get rid of aphids.
The sad part of all this is that these people are the ones who actually care enough to tune into a gardening show or attend a live event. These are the gardeners.
For many people attempting to deal with their exterior surroundings, there is a big disconnect. Their yard is something that is happening to them. The domestic landscape is not so much a friend as a really messy, obnoxious roommate you can’t kick out, so you just have to live with it and try to impose some modicum of control. (No wonder many who can afford it are simply paving everything over, roofing it, and turning the yard into an extension of the house.)
This is one of the functions of Garden Walk; we’re trying to demonstrate how enjoyable gardening can be, even in tiny urban yards. Most of us aren’t going to win any prizes; like the Rant manifesto above says, we’re gardening our asses off and having fun doing it. I guess we’re hoping our visitors during the Walk will too, but now that I’ve been listening to these shows, I wonder how many others are sitting home nursing grudges against dead plants.
How to bridge the gap, bring nature (and by implication) gardening closer? On both the micro (domestic gardening) and macro (fighting environmental catastrophe) levels, humans will need to feel a bit friendlier toward embryophytes. Sit down with them, spend some time, have a drink—maybe not kill them and then give them away to friends …
I have not yet read the VF green issue, but the table of contents looks interesting, perhaps worth the purchase of a mag I seldom peruse.