One of the virtues of gardening is that it brings its practitioners into intimate contact with natural systems. As I discovered as a young gardener many years ago, and a practitioner of the “better living through chemistry” school of my craft, you cannot long ignore and abuse the living aspects of your soil without causing its collapse. I remember how, in a matter of a very few years, through a reliance of chemical quick fixes, I reduced the good loam of a rose garden I tended into an impoverished clay.
Likewise, I think that the most exciting gardening I have experienced was the response of my Californian colleagues to the cycle of droughts in the late 1980’s, when they re-invented their craft. From landscapes of irrigation-dependent exotics and Anglophilic lawns, the best of the Californian gardeners moved to plantings that emphasized native plants grown in pattern that mimicked the local flora. In this way, those gardeners turned a crisis into a new departure and a triumph.
Given this history, I have been deeply disappointed by American gardeners’ overall failure to address climate change. For the most part we have gardened on through recent years, planting the same kind of landscapes as if the world was not changing around us. What’s more, in lectures that I have given, I have found audiences often resistant to even discussing the matter. Ignore the problem, has been the too-common attitude, and perhaps it will go away, or at least not precipitate a crisis until our grandchildren’s day.
This is why I was so impressed by a talk that Ken Druse gave last Saturday, for the Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Winter Lecture. “The New Shade Garden: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change” was the title of the talk, and Druse began by directly addressing the scientific issues. With a mix of fact, humor, and enticing photographs of what could be, he very soon had the audience on his side and receptive to his message.
I think what Druse is advocating as a response to our present challenge, the creation and beautification of shade, is just a beginning. I believe that revolutionary, fundamental changes in our definition of garden beauty must come. But I admire Ken for making a persuasive start, and I urge readers to take a look at his book, The New Shade Garden.