Interwoven Wild: An Ecologist Loose in the Garden
Saskatoon: Thistle- down Press
2007, 168 pages.
Of all the possible definitions of a garden, I like Don Gayton’s best: “A garden is a gift, a celebration and a reve- lation.” Gayton’s idea applies equally well to his own efforts, as an ecologist land- scaping his suburban yard, as to the more political and activist agenda of guerrilla gardener David Tracey. Both use their trowels to cultivate broad connections – Gayton’s to the ecology of the land, Tracey’s to the social ecology of community – and both have written deeply wise books. There’s plenty of fertile, nurturing mulch in these two works – and loads of sly, humble humour.
“Have you ever been walking down some gray and dreary street, feeling gray and dreary yourself, when you spotted a flower growing out of the pavement and it changed your whole day? Me neither,” writes David Tracey in Guerrilla Garden- ing, setting the tone for his “manu- alfesto” (equal parts manifesto and manual) on gardening in public spaces with or without permission.
There’s a rogue attraction to such guerrilla action, but Tracey makes a convincing appeal to instincts that go well beyond the simply subversive. He argues that guerrilla gardening is all about taking an active role in preserving and improving our shared environment; planting a tomato in an abandoned lot may be a small local gesture, but it has profound connections to questions of responsibility and choice. Who decides what our communities look like and how they function? Every one of us, so grab a trowel.
Even the most hesitant guerrilla will find the many wise nuggets in this book inspiring. Some of the most useful include: cities are alive; wilderness is within; growing things is easy; miracles happen all the time; think like a plant; design for diversity; and, finally, get up and grow.
Instead of penning a political call-to- action or how-to manual, Gayton in Interwoven Wild approaches the garden with an ecologist’s eye, describing his garden beds as “microecosystems in training.” Building from his own experi- ences on his 12-metre by 30.5-metre suburban yard in BC, Gayton explores key ecological concepts – everything from the microbial life of soil to climate change and wildlife – and their relation- ships to the garden. His essays mix philosophical rigour (what is the garden but a “split Eden,” part cultivated, part wild?) with down-to-earth musings (“The ideal gardening personality is probably a mix of hippie, planner, and military strategist.”)
If the garden is a gift, celebration and revelation, so too are these two books. Read them and grow.
An avid guerrilla gardener, Lorraine Johnson recently published a collection of essays, The Natural Treasures of Carolinian Canada, about the flora and fauna of Southwestern Ontario.