September 6, 2011

Gardening is a form of land management


In his introduction to Mathew Tekulsky's The Butterfly Garden (1985), Robert Michael Pyle urges butterfly gardeners "to realize that gardening is a form of land management" (emphasis in the original).  Conversely, is gardening the umbrella term for managing different types of landscapes? 

Natural areas managers might not consider themselves gardeners but they perform tasks such as planting and vegetation suppression and removal associated with the common garden.  Of course, the ecology and scale of natural areas are different from the common garden and thus require additional management strategies (example: "regeneration cutting") as well as different site assessment and planning.

Although Pyle is writing about the butterfly garden, his observations are applicable to more traditional garden spaces like yards, street tree gardens, and neighborhood parks.  More from Pyle:
We might like to manage the bits of land that are "ours" to care for them through benign neglect: a bit of butterfly weed here, a carrot patch over there, a milkweed pod crushed and cast to the wind--and the rest all left to time, rain, and nature.  If I did that, my old Swedish homestead with its century-old oaks and odd hybrid ecosystem would be so quickly engulfed in brambles and coarse grasses that scarcely a path could be walked or a butterfly spotted.  The parnasians' bleeding heart would wither from competition, the heath and wild pea-patch where I hope to establish Silvery Blues and Brown Elfins would disappear.  The least possible interference may well be the best, in some cases and places.  But for most gardens, management decisions make them what they are, or are capable of becoming....If you are lucky enough to own a piece of undisturbed wildland, by all means keep it that way.  The native species will not benefit from your ministrations to any great extent.*  But most of us occupy city lots, suburban plats, or rural realms of weeds and wildflowers mixed so as to resemble the native landscape little or not at all.  To all these brands of cultivated countryside, we can bring a measure of butterfly numbers and kinds that would not otherwise exist--through appropriate garden management, aimed at the specific needs of these delicate visitors.

Many large, contiguous patches are rare within the boundaries of most cities, while smaller patches are more common.  Therefore, you are likely to find more gardeners than conventional land managers.  We know from research that "even urban agglomerations with gardens have nowadays become biodiversity hot spots" (Jakub HorĂ¡k 2011 in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 10, 3 (2011) so let's follow Pyle's advice and garden for wildlife and other environmental services.

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* If your undisturbed wildland is surrounded by city, suburb, country, you might have to interfere to keep it "wild".

2 comments:

  1. I guess any manipulation of plants in a given setting could be considered gardening, perhaps it is just a matter of degrees. But to me gardening implies on ongoing manipulation throughout the year.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Les, glad you added Among the Ancients to your reading list.
    You make a great point about the temporal scale of gardening!

    ReplyDelete

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