Native-plant gardens aren’t museums!

A chapter of native-plant society posted that the “pollinator garden” they had set up a few years ago in a nearby state park needed some care. The implication seemed to be that it had gotten too “messy” (also I gather some plants were damaged by last year’s hurricanes). And the park staff are all set to mow it down unless it gets “tidied.”

From the post:

“If no one steps up to begin to restore the pollinator garden … which still has unique plants, butterflies, bees and now two residents gopher tortoises, park management is ready to mow it all down!”

Some of my thoughts:

• I remember when the management of state parks and national parks etc. actually knew about their park’s native plants, and it was part of their job to inform visitors about native plants, and they seemed to enjoy that aspect of the job. Not threaten to mow the native plants down.

• It’s a state park. It’s for public access to nature. The public already has plenty of access to mowed ground. Way too much, everywhere.

• Why is park management so bent on mowing? Why can’t the native plants just be allowed to thrive? Funny how we (societally) are always willing to spend money to mow things down. Even in a nature park. CONTROL. It’s all about control.

• We need to get away from this idea that a native-plant garden is this static, pristine museum of plants and needs to be constantly trimmed to the same standards as a manicured suburban landscape. In real life, landscapes pulse. I see it every day walking down to the beach at the end of my street. The dunescape is always in flux, the gorgeous red-and-yellow blanket flower dominating for a bit, and then the pinky-purple beach morning glories taking over for a while, and so on.

• Park staff are paid. They are paid to educate as well as maintain a natural environment. People who are “allowed” to set up native-plant gardens, on the other hand, are typically members of native-plant societies. Strictly volunteer. Mainly older, women, retired, relatively well-off. Basically it’s a luxury and a privilege. It shouldn’t be. It sends the wrong message — this idea that native plants are an optional extra or some powdery province of the Mayonated Republic of Caucasia(TM).

• Possible gender dimension: I’m betting the (paid employees) threatening to mow are men. Where is the people trying to nurture the plants are (unpaid) women.

• “It looks too messy” is the rallying-cry of a nature-phobic society. We need to do all we can to dismantle this toxic mentality within ourselves.

• Professionalism: Volunteer or no, people who have attained the expertise to set up and maintain native plant gardens have often spent years and in many cases paid for courses and conferences to attain said level of expertise. Diligence study and practice are involved. It has often occurred to me that volunteerism is a dual-edged sword. 1) Although volunteers do much good in the world, there is always the risk that our work is devalued. And 2) We are not creating long-term jobs that would give young people a good livelihood while also helping the planet.

• The would-be flower-mowers are voicing a baser instinct of death-dealing industrial society. Having to bend over backwards to try to get these people to please refrain from destroying an immensely valuable work, is a weak position. I wonder how we can avoid keeping ourselves in this kind of position. I wonder how we might maneuver ourselves into a more favorable position.

• Helping to reset our society’s default settings regarding neatness and tidiness in the great outdoors is one of my top ambitions. I have made some inroads in my neighborhood, and also by posting outstanding examples of gorgeous yet “untidy” landscapes on social media. Are you engaged in similar efforts to move the needle about our deadly obsession with tidying the great outdoors? If so, what are some ways that are working for you?

• Maybe the entire concept of a pollinator garden or native plant garden is, while well-meaning, outmoded or misguided? Maybe instead we just need to plant native plants here and there. Signage can just as easily be placed next to each plant where it is, as it can be in a garden. The showroom mentality may just fuel our HGTV type of aesthetic reflexes, which are just not good for nature.

• If you find yourself at the wrong end of this story arc, and Brandon and Caden’s Mow N Blow Bro’s have already driven their armored tank over your native-plant landscape, don’t despair; all is not lost. If there’s one thing that mowing is good for, it’s dispersing wildflower seeds! You may notice more wildflowers sprouting up than ever.