Record heat and drought, unprecedented wildfires, record low snow packs, increased destruction of forests worldwide, records destruction from storms – the plant world took it hard on the chin in 2015. But for all the bad news available (and there is no shortage of disturbing reports from each and every country), I find small but persistent glimmers of hope and optimism from home-gardeners I encounter or read about. And this optimism is backed by tireless, creative, intelligent work from these gardeners – young and old alike, experienced or novice.
More homeowners are growing their own food now than in recent decades past; and accompanying this trend is an increase in organic methods of gardening. Interest in, and understanding of, soil health has increased among homeowners, again with a focus on organic practices of maintaining gardens of both food crops and ornamental plants.
The Arbor Day Foundation provides encouraging information about the number of trees planted in communities throughout the U.S. in recent years and the benefits derived from those trees (increased home value, increased shade and reduced air-conditioning needs, absorption of carbon dioxide, etc). 2015 saw an increase in cities participating in street-tree plantings. Many city and neighborhood dwellers are learning the importance of choosing trees appropriate to the site when deciding upon a tree to plant. This new understanding, that the need to top trees around utility lines can be completely avoided by careful selection of trees, brings increased value to neighborhood and city streets.
An increase in the amount of lawns being replaced with carefully chosen shrubs, perennials, and annuals brings greater food sources for pollinators, and increases habitat for native and migratory birds. During 2015, just on my (3-mile) exercise route, I watched 4 front lawns completely removed and replaced with wildlife-friendly plantings – many of these plants are native to the PNW. In addition, these landscapes will decrease the need for water in coming years – and this is crucial as PNW summers are increasing in length, dryness, and heat slowly but surely.
It is easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged by the preponderance of bad environmental and climatic news. We are bombarded – almost daily – with announcements of climate records broken and new records set, of negative environmental milestones reached or exceeded. The temptation to withdraw and/or give up on efforts to improve our world is great. But, I find that the desire to increase efforts to heal our world is alive and very healthy in the gardeners I encounter. Whether these people own their home and garden, maintain a P-patch, or tend container-gardens on a terrace or balcony, their enthusiasm is encouraging and contagious.
There are many ways to view 2015, but in all honesty, I see reason to be optimistic.