I am, when you get right down to it, a fairly frivolous person. I wander about having odd notions about dragons and potato salad and then scribbling them down, and largely in defiance of logic, money exchanges hands for this service. It is fortunate that this line of work is available, because I would be a great danger as an air traffic controller.
And when I walk into a room, the odds of my remembering why I walked in and for what purpose are slim. It generally takes me two or three trips to remember where I have left a book and that I was going to go get the book, presumably for the purposes of reading the book, and then I have a sudden thought about chickens and the book vanishes for three months and turns up again under a pile of old bills and a mug full of drying nasturtium seeds.
This is why my entries here at BWG tend to be about wandering around the garden and shaking my fist at asters. It’s not that I don’t have serious thoughts about, oh, native salvias (ask me about S. coccinea! Go ahead! Do you have ten minutes?) but such thoughts never seem to last very long, because I am immediately distracted by the notion that I could put a large metal stegosaurus right there and it would be completely legal and no one would be able to stop me.*
Wildlife gardening, frankly, is a great boon to me. If there was no wildlife to garden for, I would be quite bereft. What would I grow? Why would I grow it?
I would garden anyway, because I am a gardener, which is not a curable condition, but presumably I would be forced into all kinds of peculiar excesses.
For example, I am utterly incapable of creating a formal garden. I would get bored drawing straight lines and begin doodling chickens in the corners and anyway I have a beagle, and the more formal your garden is, the worse it looks once the beagle is done with it. And while I vegetable garden out of a kind of mad enthusiasm—and occasionally there are tomatoes! And squash! And basil! And a few beans that my boyfriend is hoping will vanish in the night before he has to figure out how to cook them!—I am not good at it. Vegetables strike me as prima donnas. “I watered you yesterday!” I mutter to the tomatoes, the eggplant, the summer squash. (A wilting summer squash is a tragic sight, with its massive umbrella of leaves suddenly folded up and looking like soggy paper towels.)
I don’t give up, but the seed catalogs may give me more pleasure than the veggies themselves.
Wildlife gardening, though, gives me a purpose—or at least an excuse…
Did I need a frog pond? Not for myself, certainly. I am living in dread of the day I go to snatch a handful of oak leaves out of it and fall in. (It’ll happen. We both know it.) But you add a water feature and the wildlife shows up in droves. I see doves and thrushes bathing in it, frogs doing…things unrelated to bathing…in it, snakes and hawks appearing for the frog buffet. And if anybody asks why you are out there with a mattock doggedly chopping holes in clay and muttering about liners, you can explain this to them. Most of them will go home thinking you are a bit crazed, and one or two will go home and begin digging their own pond.
Is that serviceberry necessary? Oh, probably not. I won’t eat the berries and it’s in a weird little spot and I occasionally despair for its survival. But if it ever gets around to flowering and having berries, I am told that birds will fall upon it like starving wolves. Absent actual starving wolves in the vicinity (the two teenagers in the house may or may not count) I’ll make do.
Did I really need three more asters? Well…can’t hurt. Asters are great late-season flowers for pollinators—arguably the very latest season! The goldenrod is no longer gold, the mountain mint is lurking in short green mounds, but the asters go on forever.
Six Shrubby St. John’s Wort? Isn’t that excessive? Not if you’re a solitary wasp or one of the other handsome insects that likes to roll around in the golden powder-puff flowers. I am not a solitary wasp, and have the ID to prove it, but I take a great deal of pleasure in watching them wallow on the St. John’s Wort. They look as if they are enjoying themselves enormously. This is undoubtedly anthropomorphizing, but if I were a wasp, I bet I’d enjoy the heck out of that.
Am I required to own every kind of mountain mint found in the continental US? Yes. Obviously. Why are you asking?
Are six-foot-tall Virginia irises really necessary? Look, if you can even ask that question, I don’t know if there’s anything to be done. It’s a six-foot-tall native iris! How does that not make your heart sing and your toenails quiver? (It is a variety called “Contraband Girl,” available via mail order from a fair number of places—like many I. virginica it will be a thug in a moist area, so plant where you want a lot of it.) Incidentally, Virginia iris was used by the Seminole Indians as a treatment for—I quote—”Shock following alligator-bite.” If that doesn’t make you want to go plant a dozen, I don’t know what will. At any rate, when an alligator bites you and you don’t have any irises to help cushion the emotional blow, don’t come crying to me.
My point—if I have a point—is that I am fundamentally rather frivolous and if I did not have the great work of wildlife gardening to temper my goals, I would probably be growing things based on whether you could treat alligator shock with them, or trying to collect hybrid tea roses named after Moorish architecture or something equally obscure. (There must be a hybrid tea named after Moorish architecture. There is a hybrid tea named after everything.)
But fortunately, there is wildlife gardening to be done. So instead of obsessing over any number of weird and useless goals, I have weird and useful goals instead! I’m constantly trying to provide more and better habitat and higher-quality food and random larval hosts and pollinator snacks. (Seriously, tell me that this particular plant is a larval host for anything and I will buy three of them. I am a sucker for caterpillars. Except tobacco hornworms, which I just typed as “hornpipes.” I believe that is a type of dance. If the hornworms would perform hornpipes, I would probably deed them a tomato plant. Then I would have people over and insist they come look at my dancing caterpillars and it would all be very awkward, so it’s probably just as well the braconid wasp larvae are on the job. Also, I have completely forgotten what I was talking about.)
Anyway. Wildlife gives me a reason to be out there in the garden, to take part in something bigger than myself, to do a little bit for some small creature who won’t be grateful and probably doesn’t know I exist, but which makes the world a better place by virtue of itself existing.
And there’s nothing frivolous about that at all.
*There is just such a stegosaurus at a shop down the road and I have been eyeing it with fear and longing for some weeks now.
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