Share and Share Alike
I expected gardening to be about plants; I didn’t expect it to be quite so much about morality. Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice describes morality as the struggle to balance the needs of the self against the needs of others. A variant on the idea of loving your neighbor as yourself, it brings the occasional (frequent?) tension between the two into the foreground in a way that I find rather a relief.
I had originally planned my garden as something approaching a potager, with native fruiting bushes and Mediterranean herbs in a semi-formal design, and vegetables grown in containers. I live in a new, urban infill development which, when I moved in, was still surrounded by vacant, weed-infested land. I was the first of my neighbors to plant anything, and that first summer, every leaf-roller, aphid, potato leaf-hopper, flea beetle, and cabbage moth in the neighborhood descended gleefully on my fledgling garden. My infant trees were leafless by July, every tomato had withered with curly top virus, and the vegetable greens were all eaten away to the midrib. Only the native plants and herbs survived. (You can pretty well bet that any plant native to New Mexico does not need a lot of coddling.)
I read more widely about organic forms of pest control and, at my sister’s recommendation, came across Sally Jean Cunningham’s Great Garden Companions. Cunningham suggests creating a welcoming environment for garden beneficials by including habitat plants, introducing water at ground and (human) waist height, and interspersing nectar-rich flowering plants among your edibles. This attracts beneficial insects (and other wildlife like toads and birds), which will then keep the pests down to manageable proportions.
Since then, I've tried to apply Cunningham's principles, which are partly about attracting, but essentially about sharing. The bird and bugbaths are always filled. The portion of my garden given to flowers and habitat plants has grown, and the part devoted to edibles has shrunk. I grow vegetables primarily in a 2’ x 4’ “micro-garden” (the main planting area is about 15' x 15'), and while I still have fruit bushes and herbs, the rest of the garden is “beneficial” planting. The air hums with honeybees and bumblebees. Mr. Jackson overwinters in my potted mint. Finches maintain a running commentary from the tree branches. And I have seen hoverflies, orb weavers, lace wings, praying mantises, lady beetles, and parasitic wasps enjoying the flowers, the water, and the aphids. The pests are minor irritations rather than plagues (though the leaf hoppers still get to my tomatoes every year, confound them!).
In “sacrificing” growing space to foster an ecosystem, the ecosystem has given back to me. In giving more of my garden over to nurturing the urban wildlife, the part I have reserved for myself has flourished. My harvests have increased (and the headaches have decreased) as I have learned to balance my own needs against the needs of the creatures in my environment—even the pests among them.
Is this morality? Enlightened self-interest? Good karma?
Or is it just the way things are supposed to work?