After 10 years, what is left to write about gardening?
My first Roots and Shoots column, “Soil: It’s What’s in the Dirt,” was published in what is now The Current in March 2013. I broke down three bad ideas about soil, which can be summarized as:
- Don’t till because it disrupts the soil food web.
- Instead of adding amendments to change the soil, put in plants that will thrive in that environment.
- Add organic matter to build soil health.
My columns have followed my development as a gardener. I realized that if I’m observing something in my yard or trying to solve a certain problem, other people must be, too.
I’ve learned that everyone loves a list of recommended plants for specific conditions. A trip to a garden center can be a journey of discovery for some gardeners and an overwhelming spin of indecision for others. Like most people, I have brought home plants and then walked through my yard trying to figure out where to put them. Yet I still know that a good plan saves time and money.
What has changed
Me. As I’ve evolved as a gardener, researching, attending conferences and classes, reading books and gaining experience, I’ve had to question my own ideas and practices. My attempts at hugelkultur didn’t move forward but my “you’re-on-your-own” attitude toward plant survival did, and I have loved watching my yard change from year to year.
Since 2014, we’ve experienced the eight hottest years on record for the planet. Local temperatures are rising and the weather, in polite terms, has been wacky for plants. Last season, the precipitation was 50 percent to 60 percent lower than normal in the last half of the year. (I wrote columns about drought conditions in 2015, 2017 and 2022.) I could layer on statistics that go along with “worst” and “record-breaking.” Being a gardening columnist in a warming world means there will always be a challenge to write about.
In my yard over the past 10 years, we’ve lost dozens of trees to storms and pests. Several ash trees succumbed to the emerald ash borer and became so destabilized that they had to be brought down. At this point, my ratio of planting trees to losing trees is unbalanced. This winter, the wetter, heavy snow particularly affected smaller trees with dense branching systems, like our crabapple and black cherry, which both sustained major damage.
I also see more impact from the spread of plant species that aren’t native to this ecosystem, both in my own landscape and open spaces all around. While more gardeners and naturalists are trying to manage barberry, mugwort, phragmites, knotweed and other introduced plants, it’s just a really big problem and more are coming. The warming weather is making the Hudson Valley more hospitable for plants like kudzu and pests like pine beetles. Many resources are focused on this.
Even while the landscape situation can feel dire at times, I see a lot of hopeful signs that people have, well, hope for the future. We’re in a critical period for determining the balance of the planet and slowing and halting the forward motion of warming.
As gardeners, we can tap into comprehensive expertise and many programs and groups that can guide sustainable landscapes. Social media have become ways to reach large audiences to promote programs like the Pollinator Pathway and the Homegrown National Park, for example. Both advocate adding native plants to home landscapes and ending the use of pesticides and herbicides to create conditions that support insects and wildlife.
A garden writer’s job is never finished, just as the garden is never finished. In spite of crafting 750-word columns two to four times per month for 10 years, I’m not out of content yet. The dynamic nature of gardening and a constant quest to learn more will keep me with a flow of information. While growing plants can be anything from a hobby to a vocation, it survives because of research and science with creativity and curiosity as the momentum behind the data.