Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Some People Don't Garden

I've been thinking lately about people who aren't interested in gardening.  (Yes, they're out there.  Lots of them!)  I read an interesting post on Garden Rant several days ago about planting meadows on the standard quarter-acre lot.  The post dovetailed with something that's been on my mind for several years now: the disconnect between the gardening aficionado and the  typical owner of a front yard.  Now, I'm sure this gulf exists between the hardcore fans of anything and the more mundane citizen.  I notice it when people talk to me about certain TV shows.  I'm just not interested.  I don't know, I don't care, I don't have the first clue.  And I know in my heart, I would never pay money or spend my time to find out.

(Photo: Native Texas Wildscapes, Houston, Texas)

I bet non-gardeners feel the same way when garden people recommend hort-trendy stuff like bogs, meadows, wildlife habitats, rainwater harvesting or replacing lawns with vegetables.  I'm thinking now about bloggers, writers, Master Gardening groups, garden clubs, etc.  I talk to average people who are concerned about the environment and who want to "be green," but they have no idea how to do it.  Sometimes the answers coming from the horticultural community are completely insensitive to the ability and interests of these folks.  Take native gardens, for example.  There are some fantastic gardeners doing wonderful things with native gardens in Texas.  But it is not a project for someone whose prior gardening experience was paying the lawn guy.  It takes specialized knowledge, hard work and lots of time to get "front yard" results.

(Photo:  Michelle Christman)

Personally, I'm very attracted to the idea of the front-yard vegetable garden.  I love those Edible Estates people. Nothing would please me more than thumbing my nose at my local HOA and planting cowpeas on the front yard.  I'd be sued into the middle of next week if I tried it, though.  Likely couldn't get away with a meadow either, or native grasses or a wildflower garden or a wildlife habitat.  And I'm interested!  I have the time and the interest and the knowledge to do all these things (and I do them in my tiny back yard) and I can't pull it off in the front yard.

(Not my house!)

So what are we going to recommend for people who don't garden for fun but work in the yard because it came with the house?  They need a place for the kids to play and they need to stay out of trouble with the HOA. They aren't interested in devoting all their free time to gardening, but they love the Earth as much as the next guy and would like to "be greener."  Can we just start with some baby steps, please?  Like how to manage a St. Augustinegrass lawn with fewer chemicals?  Or how to properly operate the sprinkler system that came with the house?  Or simply not to dump chemicals into the storm drains?  Does it all have to be so esoteric all the time?


  1. Yes, some help in this area would be greatly appreciated. I love flora as well as fauna, but I'm just not much of a gardener.

  2. This is so well-said. I think American culture, in particular, tends toward either/or, black/white thinking -- so we're not good at shades of gray or at thinking of positions in between totally uncaring and 100% green, organic gardener. And I think your insights into what non-gardeners need is right on target. Do you think your local county extension would be interested in following up on these suggestions and perhaps creating a few one-page sheets along these lines? -Jean

  3. Thanks, Grandma Barbara and Jean. Appreciate the support -- there are some garden people out there who think I've gone over to the dark side!
    Good suggestion about the extension. I've been talking to them off and on for several years about this, but we have a new Horticulture agent and it may be time to talk to them again.

  4. Please explain HOA to me? Housing association? It comes across as very American to insist on freedom. Freedom of choice. But if the HOA says, do this, don't do that - you all do.

  5. Hi Diana,
    HOA = Home Owner's Association. In different parts of the USA, they area more or less powerful. Here in the Houston, Texas area, they are very powerful indeed. Because we have no zoning, often the deed restrictions of a property, enforced by the HOA, are the only property use guidelines in effect. I think, sometimes, we believe in everyone else's freedom to do exactly what we want!

  6. aloha,

    i love the sign, yard of the month...haaa! i like your idea also about a front yard veggie garden, thanks for sharing

  7. Hmm... Elizabeth, could you give a talk at your next HOA meeting? Not saying "we must do this" or even "I want to change the rules," but just providing some basic info and some beautiful photographs of the possibilities out there and why it's good for the Earth? I understand these are powerful organizations, but they are made up of one's neighbors, I assume, and so many now want to be green, as you point out yourself.

    Sometimes I think it's really simple -- but we're so used to thinking of HOAs as such powerful, unyielding entities, without a heart, and that creates difficulty. Just start viewing the HOA as neighbors, and converting them with friendliness and an open mind -- plus maybe some homegrown vegetable goodness from the backyard. Don't assume obstacles or defensiveness, but assume people want to do the best for each other and their children and the planet, if given the information and the chance. :)

    And if that doesn't work, just hold on because eventually we will be forced to change our ways and attitudes in the United States, whether we are willing or not. I'd rather not wait until circumstances press us in hard ways, though, and I cringe to think of what future generations will think of us if we just wait it out passively. Bravo to you for taking steps!

  8. What a great post. Thank you for putting this into words. We must remember that for most folks their lawn is their garden and they want it to take up as little of their time as possible for the most possible enjoyment. There's nothing wrong with that and in fact a lawn can be the most versatile choice for a lot of families. Providing greener choices in maintenance and education to these families would make more sense than villainizing them.

  9. Thanks for your comments, Marguerite. I appreciate your support -- and that's exactly right, "villainizing." That's the feeling I get sometimes when I read horticultural advice to would-be gardeners. I see you are a former zone 9 gardener -- anywhere around here?

  10. Random thoughts came to me, most not helpful to your situation.

    In our county's rules about overgrown yards, the 12" rule does not apply to bahai grass. Bahai throws up 18" seed heads immediately after mowing, the grass stays near the ground. Looks terrible; within the rules, though.

    The thought when I saw the 'yard of the month' pic was Kathy in Texas who dug up her front yard and commenced planting to the dismay of the HOA. Within a few short months, she had a Yard of the Month sign in her yard. Everybody on Cottage Gardening at Garden Web applauded.

    My final thought is that many non-gardening persons are on Facebook playing games.

  11. I find the majority of people tend to be "all or nothing." I think we're that type of society, or perhaps humans in general. Not just with gardening, but with everything.

    Also, I find around our neighborhood that people DON'T GO OUTSIDE. I'm not kidding, and I also include both front and backyards. I have never seen our neighbors outside, unless they are walking to the mailbox. If you don't go outside, why would you care about the yard?

    I'm one of two that I know of on my block (about 40 houses) that does their own yard work. Everyone else uses gardeners, and most of them use the same crew. The gardeners want to accomplish two tasks: 1) put in something that needs weekly maintenance (lawn) and 2) don't put in antything complicated (will die easily without constant care). The yards tend to all look the same. Same plants. Same lawn. Same hardscape.

    And, like I said, when people don't come outside, why would they care what the outside looks like?

  12. Excellent post! I noticed more eco-friendly products at the big box stores this year. Most average folks get their supplies in such places, so that's a beginning. You are right. Let us not condemn people for taking baby steps instead of giant leaps. There was a man in a nearby trendy neighborhood who turned his front lawn to a vegetable garden. He did it so well that it won awards. But my own veggie patch is behind the house, and I wouldn't want the world to see it!

  13. Hi Nell! It bugs me how those people are farming or gardening on Facebook all the time. I thought it was just me! And Turling, you're right -- people don't go outside. Even when it's nice. I think these are folks who can be lured into the garden (maybe) but they're not going to install a wildlife habitat in their spare time. Thanks Deb! I think things are changing but slowly. I'd like to see your neighbor's garden. I wish I had the nerve to do it!

  14. Not in your area, although boy I'm jealous of some of the plants you are able to grow. My former zone 9 was coastal British Columbia, Canada. In and around Vancouver (where the 2010 winter olympics were held).