If you are reading this you are probably a gardener, or at least interested in gardening. Good on you, we need more people like you! Gardeners are pretty good people, sure, but that’s not why we need more of you. Gardeners are more likely to be environmentally aware and make sustainable lifestyle choices thus helping to care for our planet.
In the developed world we have very high resource use lifestyles. We live in air conditioned homes, drive air conditioned cars to air conditioned shops and air conditioned offices. It is easy to see why reducing our energy use and thinking about living more sustainably might be difficult for us – our lifestyle has separated us from the natural environment. It is simply much harder to value something we have no connection to.
Gardeners are a little different. In most cases, our gardens are outdoors, in the dirt, living spaces. We spend time outdoors, in the weather and noticing the weather, and noticing the living things around us (other than people and pets!). The simple act of caring for a plant is an act of environmental kindness.
In our cities and urban centres, population pressures are putting pressure on available green space. We are losing that space to new developments at an alarming rate. We are also losing our gardens. Subdivisions into smaller lots with larger houses, and the increased use of hard surfaces in landscaping for entertaining and to reduce maintenance all contribute to less green space in our cities. I recently read that in 2010, London lost an area of green space the size of 2 Hyde Parks through the loss of private gardens – a significant loss not just of green space, but of gardeners too. Have we forgotten that in order to stop and smell the roses, we first have to plant the roses?
In Dunedin, private gardens account for approximately 50% of the city’s urban green space – that is a big contribution from a lot of people doing a little bit each.
These days urban planners are far more aware of the value of public green space and, although the exact value is not easily quantifiable, we are very aware that green spaces increase physical activity, reduce stress and depression, reduce air temperatures thereby offsetting the urban heat island, absorb pollutants from the air, increase social cohesion, mitigate storm water flows thereby reducing the impact of flooding, sequester carbon to some extent and have even been reported to reduce crime through creating healthier happier communities. Phew! All that before we even talk about homes and food for wildlife, biodiversity or simple aesthetics.
But as the urban planners are increasingly valuing green space, it seems the average household is not. We certainly lead far busier lives than our grandparents did, and we no longer need to grow our own food, so the role of the garden has changed. Children seem to play outdoors less, and if they do it is likely to be at organised sports on public sports fields, rather than in the backyard.
How many of us remember our grandparents garden? I remember my Pop very proudly showing off his latest supersized vegetable every time we visited. When the cats whiskers in my garden flower, it always reminds me of him as it was one of the only flowers he actually grew. When they were gardening they did not rely on books and television, nor did they have the same access to nurseries and specialists to help them know how to garden. Back then, part of leaving home to get married was taking a bunch of cuttings from their parent’s garden to plant in their new bit of dirt and start their own garden. From there, they swapped cuttings with friends, family and neighbours. They knew what to do because their parents knew what to do and they had to help out, so picked it up as they grew up. Gardening used to be a basic life skill, much the way cooking and cleaning are. Sadly much of that old knowledge has been lost and our children are no longer the children of gardeners. You are reading this because you are a gardener, and your household probably all know the difference between a tomato and a pansy, but I’ll bet you know plenty who don’t.
Stories abound of how much happier we all feel when we garden. Every time I plant a new plant, I feel a tiny buzz of satisfaction at giving something back to the world. No matter how small the plant, it is a little more life being nurtured, and the air almost feels cleaner for it. I know, that is being a little overdramatic but you know what I mean. If I remembered to water things more than twice in summer, they might give a bit more even.
There are plenty of things we can do as gardeners to improve our green star rating, and most of the time we are very willing and even eager to do just that. I think this is because as gardeners we see the bees and butterflies disappearing, and we notice them come back when we stop spraying poisons. We are outdoors and notice the heat and lack of rain, and we see what a difference a shower of rain can make. We are outside as the sun is setting and notice the sunsets and the way the evening light highlights the colours in the flowers.
Whenever I am worried about the state of our environment, I go and plant another plant. When someone admires my garden, I give them some seeds or cuttings. I hope to encourage and inspire them to also become gardeners. Where ever possible, I give plants as gifts, and take the time to help plant them as well to give them a better chance of success in the hands of non-gardeners. I hope that by encouraging more gardeners, I am helping to make their lives a little healthier and happier, but also that by becoming gardeners, they will become better environmental caretakers as well.