A couple of weeks ago I asked my favorite-niece-named-Thea how she’s doing. Okay, she said. Tired, busy. Not sure what to do to offset climate change.
That’s big. I sympathize with how she feels. She’s still in college and I remember how magnified issues were in college; current events stomp onto center stage in classes, among friends and classmates, in your post-college planning. And climate changes continue coming at us from every direction, affecting millions of people, animals and plant life.
I told her one of the things I’ve done for decades is to grow a garden wherever I live. I put in flowers beds at each house I rented before I got married, and I’ve planted more than 300 flowers, trees and shrubs on this property over the last eleven years. I surround myself and my spaces with plants. Sure, lots of natives, but also cacti and succulents and funky tropicals and at least three dozen houseplants. All of this might have been micro-level improvements for the planet at first, but I noticed an increase in the wildlife visiting our yard, how it subsequently elevated my mood, and I wanted to share all the love of it with others.
I studied horticultural therapy and began working with women in transitional housing. Some of them have garden experiences with grandmothers, moms, or their own kids. Some have never seen the orange shoulders of a carrot bursting up through the soil. Most haven’t felt a bumblebee’s fuzzy body, held a praying mantis or witnessed a butterfly eclose from its chrysalis. When they experience these wonders it’s moving to watch. And when they send pictures of the gardens they go on to create, I feel proud, excited, and always, always reassured that we all do create changes to help the planet with every garden, every windowsill pot.
“I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”Henry David Thoreau
Our property abuts a golf course that is constantly being mowed, or sprayed with herbicides, pesticides and growth inhibitors. Most of the beautiful older trees have been removed or are currently dying. The ponds aren’t filtered or cleaned and it’s not uncommon to see a few wrong-side-up fish along the edges. It’s sometimes enough to make a person feel frustrated and hopeless.
But every spring I fling seeds and every fall I divide plants and every year my garden grow bigger, fuller, buzzier. I observe all the flying, hopping, fluttering and crawling life, looking for ways to do more. Better. The maintenance strip of pea gravel and the fill dirt that came stuffed full of yew bushes and no worms have been replaced with goldenrod, asters, henna, obedient plant, joe-pye, hellebore, a seven sons tree, witch hazels, buttonbush, sweetspire. The worms are fat and happy, the woodpeckers and squirrels zip along our sycamore and hickory tree branches. There are ecosystems full of life, from the microbes in the dirt — did you know some of those microbes activate the serotonin in your brain which helps alleviate stress? — to the insects, birds, and animals that make their homes in these little worlds I plant. Our two little ponds have residents frogs, our bushes have bird nests, and our flowers have every manner of insect feasting, resting, or mating among them.
It’s late August in a very strange weather year and I’ve been thinking for weeks that I should have seen a luna moth around here by now. I could’ve assumed the chemicals or lawn equipment were to blame, but I kept looking, appreciating the myriad other life forms bustling about. Keeping that faith in a seed and my hands in the mood-lifting soil.
This morning I dragged the hose out to water some new additions, and there she was. Swollen belly, strong wings, beautiful. Proof that this garden is working. Even up against a golf course determined to keep life from growing, it is thriving. Her eyespots mesmerize. Long twisty tails on each hind wing add to her mystical, ethereal beauty. I loved her instantly.
She hung out all day, her silky green wings catching a slight breeze every once in a while. I checked on her, whispering praise and taking closeups from every angle. Sometime around midnight she disappeared to lay her eggs, contributing her own micro-level improvements to the world. Her life’s purpose served, she’ll soon become part of the food web for a bat or another nocturnal predator.
The circle of life, the interconnectedness of all of it, is so complex and vast that it can be hard to feel important to a luna moth. But her 200-ish eggs are out there, as are thousands of monarch eggs, earthworm eggs, frog eggs and bird eggs. So many lives depending on the soil and shade and water and nectar they find here.
Grow one thing. Or grow 200 things. Fling seeds, hug trees, be barefoot. That’s how we honor our planet, how we fall more deeply in love with it, how we will save it. For the next generations of people and animals and insects. For my niece’s nieces, and for all the lunas yet to fill you with wonder.
Some of the friends I’ve made in my garden: