Polarized is a word I’d never thought I’d hear as much as I’ve heard it over the past two years. “Fake news” is a term I’d never heard before 2017. (I prefer the terms “disinformation” and “propaganda.”) That was then; this is now. Seeing issues in black and white extremes is the norm. But I think we can do better. While gardeners are seldom known for their harsh rhetoric, I have noticed a certain strain of us vs. them thinking—even some fanaticism—in gardening-related topics. Like:
Native plants: I was an early interviewer of Doug Tallamy, the author of Bringing Nature Home. Even then, I noted that I would not give up many of my tropicals and other nonnatives, and needed to find a compromise; Tallamy and other scientists who promote natives have always said compromise is possible. There are even some studies that show nonnatives can be beneficial. But the debate has hardened and some viral posts promoting natives leave little room for subtleties.
Lawns: The debate over lawns has to do with natives, in part, but there is also a debate about whether lawns just suck, period. The fact remains that many homeowners enjoy a grassy space of some type on their property. If so, then it’s really a question of lawn care. Lawns aren’t evil in of themselves; it’s what we do to keep them up that can be harmful. For gardeners, this should really be about lawn care, not lawns. But that discussion too, is getting to an us vs. them polemic—though it’s not as bad as others.
Leaf management: This discussion has been even further degraded by some ultra-silly pronouncements from the White House. Leaving that aside (please), my post last week caused a lot of back-and-forth here and on our Facebook page. My rant against sweepingly general advice about leaf management led to a lot of sweepingly general condemnation. I saw myself painted as a selfish plant-lover who doesn’t care about helping wildlife. (I quote:Your article is just a long way of saying “my pretty plants are more important than the wildlife that uses the leaf litter.”) And I learned a new term: “virtue signaling,” that would fit that kind of rhetoric. Kind of like “holier than thou,” I guess. I agree completely with Carol Reese’s advice to skip a lot of the fall cleanup/cutting back, but, for me (and many others), leaving unshredded leaves in place is not an option. That still leaves plenty of room for helping wildlife. There’s always room for compromise. I hope we can remember that as gardeners.