Maybe I’m a control freak. Maybe I’m just not very smart. Quite possibly, I’m just too far down the tracks to back up and switch to another set of rails. Fact is, I’m finding myself more and more infatuated with gardens in the city. I halfheartedly tried to break out from gardener to naturalist, but quickly found that isn’t where my strengths lie.
Don’t get me wrong. I love nature, and have paid good money to tour it, but sometimes it’s just too big to grasp. It’s not bite sized, and I just can’t wrap my frayed mind around it. So I’ve decided, don’t. Just don’t. When I find myself in real nature, I tend to gaze a lot. My mouth hangs open. And some times I drool! I drool and crave Gerber’s banana baby food. So there I stand, soaking it all in, unable to understand all of everything–all the plants and animals that I see, their associations with each other, the purpose of anything, why the sky is blue, how in the hell some people got famous, and simple instructions my wife is shouting at me.
But in the garden, I’m not so mesmerized. I can digest what I see, and I function reasonably well. And with little to no slobbering. I know most of the plants. I can see what the designer intended. It organizes itself in my mind into art. And, in that I can start to think about what it all means. And, I believe, it means we must live in cities but we need nature. In the city, gardens are nature, and nothing has as much value as a scarce commodity. These city gardens are worth every penny we can spend on them.
Many small city gardens might be even better than one or two big ones. Each offers respite for people and creatures alike. A chance for sustenance a few feet away from all the motion, noise, bustle, stress, and speed a city can muster.
City people are busy people, and we compromise much for the sake of haste. We all know that eating in your car is not a particularly acceptable alternative to eating at a table with friends and a bottle of wine, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. None of us have enough time. All of us need to eat. Likewise, we might not choose to enjoy plants from a speeding vehicle, but, hey, when the city presents you this gift, why not? It still beats enjoying just another naked concrete bridge. Using annuals for such plantings means the scenery change sfrom year to year.
The need for plants is one thing, but on a purely artistic basis, I just get off on the contrast between city gardens and all the stuff we build. It’s like that splash of lemon you need in your tea, or vinegar with your oil. Mint for your julep. It just grabs your attention and says, “Check this out.” You can almost feel the fun invade your chest. Your muscle fibers relax and your heart slows down. The simple elation of just being able to breath brings a smile and calm.
Like the line from Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.” No matter how deep into the machinations of a big city you garden, wildlife will find it.
Let’s work harder to plant more gardens in urban environments. We can build our own gardens, volunteer with nonprofits, or bother politicians until they bump gardens up the list of priorities. We write checks to buy and conserve land around the world, and that’s important, but it’s indicative of our tendency to think that nature is “out there” somewhere. Meanwhile, we live in busy streets of glass, steel, and brick while perfectly good ground goes untended. Gardens and plants, let’s put them right where we live, work, eat, drink, and breath. It’s almost spring. Why not this year?
I like city gardens and my suburban garden, but personally, I don’t think that “in the city, gardens are nature.”
Nature is often defined something like: The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.
I sort of see urban gardens like zoos for plants. We can view animals in zoos, but they aren’t doing much in the way of natural things. Neither do urban gardens truly act naturally. I do like what many golf courses are doing these days since there is a greater land mass to work with: https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/golf-courses-across-us-step-save-monarch-butterflies , but, in my opinion, there’s nothing like spending time in a reserve. If gardens encourage people to spend time in true open spaces rather than as a substitute for them, then that makes me happy.