Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shopping Mall Gardening

“A person who undertakes to grow a garden at home, by practices that will preserve rather than exploit the economy of the soil, has set his mind decisively against what is wrong with us. He is helping himself in a way that dignifies him and that is rich in meaning and pleasure. But he is doing something else that is more important: He is making a vital contact with the soil and the weather on which his life depends. He will no longer look upon rain as a traffic impediment, or upon the sun as a holiday decoration. And his sense of humanity’s dependence on the world will have grown precise enough, one would hope, to be politically clarifying and useful.” Wallace Berry, essay “Think Little” from collection “A Continuous Harmony”

One of Berry’s biggest complaints is how Americans expect “abundance without thrift”. One of his gardening commandments is to put back more than you take. Gardeners eventually learn that secret ecological rule. If you just put more ammonium sulfate on the flowers each Spring, your yard eventually may take on the Disneyland appearance of fakeness with swaths of colors God never intended, banks of bright disposable flowers. And they’ll last long enough for you to take a picture to post on your blog, demonstrating your gardening expertise. Good on you.

But this isn’t seasonal gardening so much as it’s what I call Shopping Mall Gardening: replacing hundreds of 4” plants at least four times a year on those tiny patches between the parking lot and the stores. Amid post-Xmas white sales last month, the mall gardeners were tossing out the bloomed-out poinsettias for begonias who always look embarrassed to be following the bright red pointsettias with their meager faded reddish and white flowers. Soon, when the begonias have done their gelatinous best, they’ll be rewarded by being tossed into a dumpster, and replaced with geraniums in shades of Pepto-pink, just in time for the Spring Sales.

The hundreds of 4” plastic pots the geraniums came in will be tossed on top of the corpses of the begonias, as will, presumably, the empty plastic bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizers. Instead of being returned to replenish the soil, I imagine that the begonia garbage will be barged to Indonesia along with mountains plastic drink containers and dead computers and cell phones with their poison and radioactive parts.

I am far from a careful expert farmer, nurturing the soil generation after generation. But I am a novice composter – putting kitchen waste and shredded junk mail in a small tumbler, and forking it into bottomless plastic garbage cans when it’s halfway ripe. A Master Composter would point out that my compost often smells like rotting garbage, and we all know that’s not right. But compost forgives all sins, eventually turning into my homemade version of “black gold” shot through with shiney short ribbons of non-degradable plastic windows that are all that’s left of the junk mail envelopes.

My garden doesn’t care about that, or about the frequent volunteer tomato and pepper seeds that I sow along with lovely wormy compost. I don’t waste, and I don’t consume mass-produced “color-packs” of short-lived flowers, or potted mums that have been forced within an inch of their life to bloom profusely and to collapse and die in exhaustion. A professional horticulturist I know once told me that Miracle Grow stuff, apart from poisoning the soil with salt, acts like, and I quote, crack for plants. That’s a temptation I – and my garden – can resist.


tina said...

I try to put more back into my soil than I take out of it and practice good garden habits, but oh how I love the colors and the bright flowers this all brings, if only for one season-sorry!

chaiselongue said...

I agree with you about shopping mall gardening. Gardening is a long-term year-round commitment and you get back what you put in. As one of our garden neighbours says: if you give to nature, nature gives back to you. Quick colour doesn't last, following the seasons and harvesting and enjoying each one lasts year after year after year.

walk2write said...

When I first started gardening on my own back in the early 80s, I longed to plant only perennials, but the price was more than our newlywed budget could afford. Besides, we never stayed more than a few years in one place, and at the time it was hard to justify spending the money and effort just so the homes' future owners could benefit. It was sweat equity for sure. But when we would drive by former residences after years had passed, and I could see some of the same trees and shrubs and flowering perennials gracing the landscapes I had so lovingly tended, I was grateful that I had left something beautiful and long-lived in my wake. Don't misunderstand, though. I added some annuals to the mix then too, for quick color and appeal, and still do. A lot of them now, though, are edible, "hardy" annuals, or reliably self-seeding.

greeny said...

I am afraid until it's too costly for companies to spend that money on flowers for each shopping season, that kind of waste is going to happen. I can't change that.
I would like to replenish MY garden with more than I take and it actually needs a good dose of lovin this year to produce better. I just need to find that soul who will let me use his truck to transport some amendments.
I compost too and I suppose I need to put the barrel method into practice since my "pile" is drawing a friendly, outgoing and apparently daylight-lovin opposum the neighbors are none too happy about. I can't not compost since I love the crumbly wormy stuff I end up with at the backend plus I like that bait supply.

Annie in Austin said...

For me one of the plants that have to be bought in packs and replaced each year are the native, iconic Texas Bluebonnets - darned stubborn flowers which refuse to germinate and establish themselves in my garden. I only need a few, but it seems disloyal to have none!

Weeping Sore - just linked to your Archimboldo post at the Archimboldo post by Pam of the Microbial Lab. If you haven't met before, please consider yourselves introduced.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

TC said...

We really are close to becoming a "fast food nation" of gardeners I wonder if Eric Schlosser will soon write a follow up? He should.

oldcrow61 said...

oooooh, I like what Wallace Berry said. I also like what you said.

Julia said...

Something we get a bit too much of in our garden centres over in the UK is "Buy for colour NOW" displays. Most people who shop in the high street garden centres (rather than the nursery-based ones) are looking for an instant fix, and while the notable exception is probably the roaring trade in bulbs, no one is prepared to buy a plant out of its flowering season. Witch hazels and magnolias are only available to buy between December and March, when they're in flower, even though they could be sunk in the garden much earlier, or containerised all year round.

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.