Sunday, June 11, 2017

It's Complicated (Or What My Garden Has to Do with the United Nations)

The worst thing about the internet--to me, anyway--is that it reduces any issue to two sides, usually the two of them as diametrically opposed in every way possible. It's annoying as hell to me, because life isn't really like that. I'm usually interjecting in the middle of discussions, on the internet and off, "It's more complicated than that!" and wishing I had the speaking skills to explain how incredibly interrelated everything is, or can be, if you resist the urge to reduce every argument to A or B, yes or no, this or that, pro or con. In reality, everything has a lot of moving parts.

Take, for instance, my bees.

When I moved into this house in 2011, the garden was mostly weeds and broken concrete chunks, and lawn that I hated (and still hate) mowing.

Every year I've tried to add a little more to my own little piece of planet--digging into the dirt, trying to get more good things out of it. We're about at this point, as we were when this photo was taken last June:

Even six years ago there had been years of spreading alarm about the bees--honey bees, and really, all the types of bees, wasps, and other wild pollinators that support the reproduction of plant life. Many things--colony collapse, pesticide use, loss of native habitat, and climate change-- have been deemed responsible. Even with years of frantic scientific research, there is much experts still need to learn. But just like I said about internet arguments, the understanding and the solutions won't come with the simplistic generalizations, but with the hyper-specific-- learning the intricacies and details of the problem, from all the angles, with all the data we can gather at hand.

But being hyper-specific doesn't mean that I personally should become an expert entomologist, even if I could (and I can't). It just means that if I'm concerned, I believe it's my responsibility to learn as much as I can, and bring my own talents or actions to at least one aspect of the problem.

That's where my garden grows, literally and figuratively.

I can't stand generalizations, intellectually. I know I alone can't grasp any global problem presented in big gloomy simplistic weighty boulders without getting overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed. I think that's why the news is so often too much for me-- a collection of too many massive problem-boulders piled into the narrow thought-space of black/white thinking.

So I planted flowers instead. A little more every year, picking ones that extension and garden guides said that pollinators especially liked. I avoided using pesticides.

And the bees came back.

Did I single handedly rescue the planet from its bee problems? Of course not. Not even close. But here in my large front yard perennial border, bumble bees especially have made a big comeback. Left to their work, they're surprisingly gentle garden companions, and I often weed nearby while they're quite active. Honey bees too, have returned, though in worrisomely smaller numbers.

My attempts to bring bees back to my yard was a tiny thing in the grander global scale of environmental problems. But when I did that one thing, other things besides bees began to happen.

Lots of other pollinators-- flies, beetles, and wasps, most I've yet to identify-- arrived in my garden. They each have their own little niche, some with the lilies, some with the flowers that have centers, like daisies, some with the roses.

I read that letting the garden go a bit, not being so tidy, also had advantages for pollinators, so I did that, too (always looking for a good excuse to be lazy). Not only did birds show up to feast on the dried seed heads, chickadees and goldfinches, I had plant visitors that arrived from other places, and decided to stay, including Missouri primrose, joe-pye weed, and two kinds of milkweed, both asclepias tuberosa and asclepias syriaca.

Those visitors, most importantly the milkweed, were responsible for the butterflies showing up. Specifically, monarch butterflies, though others have as well, like swallowtails, sulphurs and skippers.

Monarch butterflies have had their own survival struggles, much like the bees. Now that I've got milkweed in my garden, healthy and established for the first time this summer, I've seen monarch caterpillars aplenty.  I'm thrilled, and looking into getting my garden designated a Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch, a conservation effort supported by the University of Kansas (link HERE.)

I'd started out just wanting to help bees. I did, just a little. But when I did that that one or two things to help bees, a whole bunch of interconnected things I didn't even think about (other insects, birds, plants, and butterflies) also found habitat in my garden. That was a far more powerful effect than I was expecting. It makes me realize that "it's more complicated than that" can work both ways, positively as well as negatively, and want to do more.

By now you're probably wondering where the United Nations comes in. This is where I get to that part. It's old news that the U.S. has decided not to participate in the Paris Climate Agreement. (you can read a handy and brief explanation HERE.) As a citizen of this country, I strenuously disagree with this decision, and it's obvious many others do as well, since mayors of major cities and state governments have pledged to meet the terms of the treaty without official U.S. participation. Corporations have pledged the same. And the economy, chugging along without the say-so of our country's elected officials, has decided that the renewable energy sector is one of the fastest growing job markets globally (you can find a little background about that HERE.)

The point is this: if I, acting alone, can intend to move the needle on just one small thing (getting the bees back to my garden) and end up improving not only that but other things that I didn't even think about (birds and butterflies), think of the rippling positive consequences of the actions of 196 nations committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as the citizens, companies, and non-profit groups in the U.S. that support it. That's a basis for hope, even with all the negative things heard in the news.

I'm going to take that basis for hope and run with it. In the meantime, I'm going to keep planting flowers, and spend time with all my fuzzy bees.


  1. I planted a few more flowers today and spent a little time deadheading the spent Rhodies, which had bees aplenty working away at the remaining blooms. It was a good way to spend this day of feeling blue, getting my hands dirty and tending to home. So much these days feels complicated and overwhelming. I appreciate these reminders to tend my own garden. Yours is lovely, and your words are inspiring me to do more with mine.

    1. I've definitely spent more time at it this year. It was good (and relatively cheap) therapy. Now gardening with wine? Even better!

  2. Is the bee sanctuary in the third photo down? What you got planted in that lovely area? I have a newly claimed area, formerly home to arborvitaes, gak, just the right size to copy that.

    1. Yes, that's my bee sanctuary! Here's a short list of stuff I've got in that bed, roughly front to back: asters, perennial geraniums, lamb's ear, coreopsis, missouri primrose, blue salvia, hyssop, bee balm, purple coneflower, asiatic hybrid lilies, Joe Pye Weed, iris, black-eyed susan, milkweed, and shrub roses.

  3. I love every word of this post. Kept nodding my head and smiling as I read.

    There was a meme going around earlier in the year ... something that suggested that we not fret about the world's issues and that we plant flowers instead. Those of us who do this appear to be happier, more peaceful individuals. I can't influence the global problems, but I sure can make a difference on our little nine acres ... which feeds my psyche and creates a place of calm. Sounds like you and I are in complete agreement on this.

    1. It is a mindset that has definitely come in handy in regards to current events, but I find as I get older it's even more rewarding in ever more complex ways. I'm so glad I discovered gardening as a young woman.