|Spring leaves with last summer's fruit|
You wouldn't believe how long I debated which of those titles should come first. A disclaimer, though—no actual chickens (or eggs) were involved in the making of this post. We're in metaphorical chicken-and-egg land, thinking about priorities in general. My desert olives have been blooming, you see, and for some reason, those trees always make me think. (Just wait until I start pruning them—then the philosophical excitement really begins.)
|Desert olive (or New Mexico olive, or NM privet) (Forestiera neomexicana)|
Let's step back a bit. A recent kerfuffle on Garden Rant reminded me of the book Plant-Driven Design, by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden.* The basic premise of the book is that gardens are more satisfying when plants, rather than hardscape, are the starting point of the design—an idea most gardeners I know would agree with, but maybe not (some) landscape designers. I certainly have a number of books on small garden design that go nuts about expensive brickwork, expensive water features, and theatrically expensive lighting designs, and then describe the plantings only as "mixed borders." The Ogdens focus instead on landscapes where each plant is allowed to showcase its strengths, where its character is given a chance to shine. At one point, they talk about facing a choice in their own garden about whether to prune a tree drastically to make room for a path, or to move the path to allow the natural character of the tree to develop; they chose to move the path.
My very first plantings in the garden were three desert olive trees, two of which have turned out to be female, and one male—the optimal mix. Today, several years on, even without the fruit as a guideline I can see the difference: the male tree's blossoms are more golden, and they open before the leaves do. They have a faint scent—one book describes it as honey, but I would describe it more as "proto-honey," maybe just the scent of nectar—which the bees love. The female trees have (so far as I can tell) scentless, greenish blossoms that open with the leaves.**
I can't help wondering what I would have done, though, if all three trees had been female (or male). Would I have uprooted a perfectly healthy tree and killed it, replanting in the hope of mixing the genders? (It's a small garden—planting more isn't an option.) I certainly enjoy the trees on their own merits, but half the point of planting them was to provide food for songbirds. What is the threshold of choice, between what I keep and what I discard? What do I prioritize? What comes first, the tree's life (a tree! not some measly annual!) or the birds' winter food? I don't have a ready answer, and fortunately I don't need one this time around. But I can't help wondering what I might have done, or how others have solved these problems; what kinds of choices you've made, which "small" lives you've prioritized, when it comes to the habitats you've created in your own gardens.
What comes first?
* I understand (deeply) what the critics say about the authors' self-righteous tone. But for a westerner (or for anyone from a climate that's light on medieval ruins and mossy statues of Greek deities, and heavy on drought-tolerant grasses, sunflowers, and their ilk), it's a fabulous book. Its photos show actual western gardens, none of which feature a stark but brightly painted adobe wall, yards of gravel, and a single sculptural yucca. The photos (and descriptions!) instead show lush plantings that actually grow in the west (i.e., that 50% of the U.S. that is completely neglected by 98% of American gardening books). When you're used to extracting only general principles of design from a book while discarding all the actual information, it's a pleasure to be able to use the information, too. (Diana @ Elephant's Eye in South Africa—you might enjoy this one.)
A disclaimer that is not about chickens this time: I have not been paid a blessed thing to review this book, gosh darn it. These are my own (all too freely expressed) opinions, independent of the influence of filthy lucre.
** Both genders have what can only be described as insignificant blooms—I promise I'm not obsessed!***
*** But wait until I get going on the salad burnet!