I remember the sweet satisfaction of pushing peas into the slowly warming spring soil of my first garden “plot,” a tiny strip of dirt on the back side of our fence. I was six. I don’t recall the harvest that year, but the love of gardening and plants has been deep in my marrow ever since.
Now, I bury little seed treasures in the soil with my own kids; we marvel as they unfold into edible delights and exquisite flowers. This chain of wonder and hard work has been passed down from my mom, from her mom (who grew up on a big, real-deal farm in Manitoba, no doubt working the land beside her parents), and so on ….
Sowing seeds is not only about the harvest; it’s also about tethering ourselves in some way to the intricate web of life on this planet. The plants of today are growing in a world changing more rapidly than ever before. This year’s sprouts will emerge in a wilder, harsher climate than those in any back (or front) yard that preceded them.
Natural habitats that support biodiversity are becoming increasingly scarce. The earth’s topsoil is disappearing; pollinators are in decline. Wetlands and many other ecosystems are being destroyed at alarming rates. The situation for humans and our fellow living species is now critical—and will continue to get worse, unless we make very big changes. As pressures from human activity persist, and severe and unseasonal weather becomes the norm, urban gardens are more important than ever.
This can all feel very overwhelming, to say the least. However, it has never been more important to overcome apathy and to participate in activities that help us take steps in the direction of a whole and healthy world. And, of all the things we can do to build resilience on our planet, gardening has to be one of the most joyous.
Over the past few years, my perception of the patch of land surrounding our home has shifted away from being solely a pretty place where I plant and harvest. I now see it as an ecosystem that I have the privilege to support. My role has evolved from gardener to steward. I no longer view the garden and all its inhabitants as my own, but as a little slice of the earth resting gently in my open hands. (It’s still pretty, though. Thanks for asking.)
We started by designating one wild section to be our “butterfly garden.” Watching the birds, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, snakes, frogs, and more—not to mention the time and energy we saved on weeding, watering, and fussing—convinced us to be more hands-off throughout the yard.
Even a small backyard garden can play a role in escorting species like bees, butterflies, dragonflies, snakes, frogs, soil microbes, and fungi between wild spaces—and provide them with a place to live, grow, and reproduce.
To support biodiversity and planetary health, we need to consider all the life around us (not just the plants). We play a critical role in supporting this delicate web of being.
By wilding your garden, you’ll be supporting habitat, helping soil and plants sequester water and carbon, and cooling your neighbourhood. As if that wasn’t enough, I’m confident you’ll improve your well-being, and connection to life, in the process.
HERE ARE FIVE EASY WAYS TO BRING THE WILD INTO YOUR GARDEN SPACE THIS SPRING AND SUPPORT BIODIVERSITY IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.
DITCH THE CHEMICALS. The days when it was considered okay to use heaps of chemicals for a perfectly manicured lawn and garden are over. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides contribute significantly to eroding topsoil and kill much-needed soil microbes and precious pollinators. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and have no place near our homes. Instead, improve soil naturally: try leaf mulch, mushroom manure, or organic compost. Don’t spray your weeds; stay on top of them by hand-pulling regularly. Another pro tip: boiling water kills weeds without any toxic effects!
WATER … A LITTLE. Drought is a new reality for us all, so we need to think about it year-round—not just in summer. It’s possible to have a glorious garden that plays its vital ecosystem role of providing food, habitat, healthy soil, and shade without using a lot of water. Plant drought-tolerant species (ask at the nursery or call a nerdy garden friend—they’ll both love being consulted). An efficient watering system, used sparingly in the cooler hours of night or early morning, is the best way to keep plants and soil healthy without overusing this precious resource.
COVER THE EARTH. Without mulch or living cover, soil quickly loses nutrients and water. So plant stuff everywhere! And not just in rows—think about layers, groundcover, tall plants, trees. The more shapes, heights, and colours in your garden, the better the foraging for all the critters who benefit from it (including you). And/or wherever dirt shows, mulch, mulch, mulch. Be sure your mulch is organic—some brands of bagged mulch sneak in harmful chemicals.
THE JOY OF STRESS. Gardening in a wild way can be stressful for the plants, but tastier for us. Did you ever wonder why nothing tastes as amazing as the tomatoes and basil you pick from your garden in bare feet? Well, partly because you taste the joy of connection, I’m convinced, but also, and importantly, you taste the effects of the plant’s struggle to survive. Heat from the sun, UV rays, and straining to find water and nutrients are what makes food nutritious for your body. Allowing the plants to work a little harder makes them taste better and builds resilience for our bodies and the environment.
START SMALL. If you want to try aligning your garden with the needs of nature—but aren’t ready to shake your love of tightly clipped lines—find one place to let loose a little. Try letting the grass grow long until May; this gives insects and pollinators nesting in your lawn time to hatch. Or plant wildflower seeds in one corner of the yard.
FEATURED PHOTO: DETAIL FROM WILD GARDEN, ACRYLIC ON CANVAS