Roots and Shoots: Dig Deeper in 2017

By Pamela Doan

The challenge of a new administration in Washington that says it wants to gut environmental protections, denies the science of climate change and has the power to enact dangerous and devastating policies puts the idea of “resolutions for the garden” in a new light for me. The idea of puttering around raising tomatoes, composting and planting flowers seems less than enough to counter the impact.

Pollinator oases of native plants aren’t going to save the food system when there may not be an Environmental Protection Agency empowered to regulate the chemicals used to spray crops. I could plant my yard with milkweed and the monarch butterfly may still go extinct. Without funding, the research needed to track the impact of climate events will stop and we won’t have data to understand what’s occurring.

The forest on a winter morning (Photo by P. Doan)

But I can’t stop what I’ve started. Gardening involves accepting that you can nourish the soil and plant the seed but nature has its own plan. The bush gets taller than you thought it would and starts shading the perennials. The deer eat your deer-resistant plants. A viburnum leaf beetle arrives and defoliates your cranberry bush overnight. The rhythm of gardening is to live with setbacks and keep trying because you love seeing things grow.

So this is a year to dig deeper. Dig in and dig out, plant where nothing grows, and create a space for new things to flourish and be nourished even when nothing else seems right. Move those sun seekers and think about how to create a plant community that can live together.

Instead of outlining my usual New Year’s resolutions for gardening, I went bigger.

What I can do in my yard

Understand more about ecology. Forest surrounds me. A stream runs through it and sometime in the past, a dam was built to form a pond where frogs and crayfish live and ducks pass through in the spring. There are seasonal marshes in the woods and up above the house there’s an open field that was grass until we decided mowing it was a waste of time and resources.

Around the house, there are native plant flowerbeds that I planted by reclaiming turf from invasive Japanese barberry. Each year I’m delighted to see more bees and butterflies. I’m going to learn more about how these distinct features interact and how to better support them.

What to do in the community

Volunteer. I’ve been a Master Gardener for four years and enjoy teaching about gardening, especially as it relates to adapting to climate change and shrinking your carbon footprint. Using the networks and resources from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, I can do more on this subject this year.

Find a community project. Philipstown does pretty well in this area. The schools have gardens and environmental education. CSAs are popular. The farmers’ markets are crowded. Managing water wisely is going to become more important, though, and as a community, there are things we can do better. I don’t have a plan yet but more to think about.

What to do in New York 

Connect with local legislators. It’s time for big, bold action. On a state level, there are many ways we can make progress in reducing New Yorkers’ carbon emissions. There are elected leaders who seem to understand that and they need to hear that it’s a top issue. I don’t love political work but sitting out the game isn’t an option. Switching to renewable energy is a priority but it may not be supported on a federal level.

What to do nationally

National organizations are critical to large-scale action and legislative challenges. Donate, get action alerts, sign petitions and show up to protest. The Standing Rock Water Protectors are an inspiration for the kind of organizing that needs to be done. They won that battle, at least for now.