It’s the Fourth of July, a chance for all of us to come together in our red, white, and blue and agree that despite all of the divisiveness that’s got us down, we love this country and are proud to call it our home.
The spirit of today has got me thinking about our garden, as usual, and dreaming of what it might be like if everyone celebrating with juicy watermelon and good beer and patriotic songs and parades small and big would have that same pride and sense of place when planning their home and community landscapes. Often when we talk about our natural heritage, the conversation centers around how critical it is to protect our national and state parks. But what sense does it make to stop there? If you believe that gorgeous and diverse forests, wetlands, deserts and prairies are part of our identity, why not promote that same message through your own ecological restoration efforts?
“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
I find it funny—and sometimes sad and often frustrating, depending on my mood—that we hang flags and talk about who and what is un-American, and then we rip up, replace, or pave over our natural areas with little thought about what it means to strip the country of this incredible part of our past.
Take a minute to dream about what your piece of land might have looked like before past generations replaced it with composed gardens meant to mimic the places from which they came. Imagine that 40 million miles of hard-working, air purifying, wildlife-supporting natural beauty we paved over with cement.
Now that’s not to say that there’s a single specific pristine time to go back to. Native Americans transformed the land for their needs long before the Europeans began dismantling the massive hardwood forests that covered the East Coast and plowing over the prairies of the Midwest. And prior to all that, there was a mile-thick ice sheet just a little ways north of our little town. But the scale of the transformations of the past 100 (heck, even 60) years have left our ecosystems reeling.
If that mental exercise of imaging what was and what is today brought a sense of calm quickly replaced by panic, take comfort knowing that you can actually do something about it.
How cool would it be if everyone waving American flags, donning patriotic outfits, and parading down Main Street today took a little time to learn more about how they might help preserve the United States’ natural beauty?
As with any movement or area of interest, there are the fanatical: those who don’t believe in planting a single seed that would not have been here without our help. And while I respect that, Tim and I suggest and practice a less strict approach that simply requires you to research what plant species were once prevalent in your area and plant them in a design that makes you happy. Keep it neat and tidy if that’s your thing.
I love the wild look. It makes me happy. I drive around wishing I could turn all the strips of useless turf grass and overly manicured spaces to lush, green, gorgeous landscapes, which is why I’m so proud that New Jersey recently passed a bill requiring three major statewide transportation agencies to use only native plants when landscaping.
All of that said, we’ve still got a ways to go here at home. We have time and budget constraints that have made it necessary to plant from seed or plugs, and do what we can every year rather than what we want to do all at once.
Start with a few plants if that’s all you can do right now, and be proud. You’ll be joining fellow citizens from across the country coming together to restore, protect, and conserve America, the beautiful.
Image: Cole Thomas’s The Course of the Empire: The Arcadian or Pastoral State, 1836