November 28, 2023


Taste the Home & Environment

Hands off my ‘au naturel’ garden, you surly bureaucrats!

I’m creating a haven for plants, pollinators, birds and beasts. It’s the way of the future

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Current Politician/Bureaucrat, thank you for your note berating me for allowing nature to take root on my property, and demanding that I employ machinery to exterminate it. Instead I take my stand with nature.

If the anonymous rat who complained does not enjoy looking at my garden, they’re welcome to avert their gaze and hold their tongue. But since you wield the enforcement machinery of the state I shall try to explain to you what this “environment” is that the kids keep going on about.

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It’s a diverse, dynamic system involving native plants adapted to our climate and thus not requiring large-scale artificial intervention from excess watering to chemicals to mechanical devices to keep it “natural.” And it’s the way of the future.

For instance, your note insults my lawn as “Long Grass/Weeds.” But actually part of the genesis of my holistic gardening was that where a sign prevented mowing, the grass grew to its natural height, seeded, and a delighted child asked me what plant it was. I find a world where kids don’t recognize grass unhealthy ecologically and spiritually. You by contrast call grass au naturel a blot on the landscape.

As for weeds or, bilingually, “mauvaises herbes,” I’m not sure how you tell a weed from a plant, or detect méchanceté in an “herbe.” But I say if it establishes itself naturally, looks nice, sustains other organisms and isn’t an allergen like ragweed or an irritant like poison ivy, it’s not a “weed.”

Speaking of natural, this spring a cracked sewer pipe obliged me to summon a contractor whose huge ingenious machine scooped out garden, soil and bank account simultaneously. Then they added infill that, following your regulations, contains things like broken glass, covered with a thin layer of “topsoil.” Both are certified sterile. Nature isn’t.

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On the contrary, healthy growth requires a subsoil “rhizosphere” rich in fungi and bacteria with a symbiotic relationship with plants. Also, given a dry summer the lawn grass they seeded was struggling, so I let native plants dominate (while adding some store-bought) to provide shade and avoid relentless irrigation, while creating root networks that open up the soil for bugs and help it retain what moisture there is.

Incidentally, the road and sidewalk near my property are pitted with cracks and potholes, so you might usefully attend to your business instead of meddling in mine to exterminate a “meadow” you can’t even recognize. Or not, because I note that your war on nature includes turning Dow’s Lake from a quasi-natural urban refuge with a tree-lined horizon into a puddle surrounded by steel and concrete towers.

Some day, between lectures on how capitalism wrecked nature, you will wonder how this former Ottawa gem became nearly as depressing as your Carling “Avenue.” Which I place in scare quotes because “avenue” by definition means lined with majestic trees whereas Carling is a soul-destroying expanse of asphalt and cement.

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If you were to visit my garden with open eyes, ears and mind, you would discover that it is “unusual” in modern urban terms in two important ways. First, it is chirpily noisy, instead of the tomb-like silence of the typical monocultured lawn. Second, it supports many bees and butterflies.

If I were to replace all the living things with rocks, or astroturf, I would be in compliance with your rules. Especially since your French notice objects to “Herbe” regardless of length. Instead I’m creating a haven for plants, pollinators, birds and beasts including bunnies. But while those zany “environmentalists” may be acutely concerned with “habitat loss” for such species, especially in cities, you sternly order me to carry it out.

In stubbornly seeking to intrude the wonders of nature into your sterile, air-conditioned, fluorescent-lit cubicle warren where meeting-bred memos swarm, I will also mention that since beginning this urban “rewilding” experiment five years ago I’ve experienced the bewitching unpredictability of nature. On which please read Isabella Tree’s Wilding.

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I don’t always know what something is, and sometimes get fed up with a plant and remove it. But by letting one unfamiliar bush grow, for instance, I discovered it produced a great lattice for cucumbers (yes, I also grow vegetables, sue me) and late-season yellow flowers that sustained a host of “metallic green sweat bees” I never saw coming.

Also, last fall I encountered a Helianthus laetiflorus where conventional sunflowers refused to grow, in soil that conventional lawn practices had left too barren for anything but moss. Though I hesitate to mention that this hardy variety is now flourishing because being tall it might be “mauvais.” As well as lovely and natural.

No amount of central planning could have produced such wonderful surprises. But it certainly can suppress them. So if a work life of petty rules has made you surly, please take it out on potholes not plants.

National Post

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