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May 10th, 2011

A Misguided War on Chlorophyll

dougAs long as I’m griping about sustainability, here’s something else I want to get off my chest: I’m tired of sustainability being used as an excuse for creating landscapes that are heavy on the paving, light on the plants.

This weekend I picked up a new book that advocates an approach to home landscaping and gardening that the author labels “sustainable.” That’s an admirable goal. But the photos of gardens filled with rocks, pavement, walls, and gravel were depressing. Plants were an afterthought in these gardens, and used sparingly. Somehow the author had decided that living sustainably means eliminating water- and nutrient-using plants from our surroundings.

That’s not my vision of sustainability. Plants aren’t the enemy. The wrong plants, perhaps—plants that are incapable of thriving without regular irrigation, chemical sprays, or maintenance involving power equipment. Instead of paving the planet, let’s plant gardens that provide us with oxygen and food and beauty without guzzling resources.  —Doug Hall

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February 16th, 2011

Nature's Eraser

dougAt this time of year I have to remind myself to notice how beautiful snow is. I’m not talking about the filthy, salt-splashed chunks that have been plowed into mounds along the streets of Emmaus, but the unblemished blanket of pristine white over my garden. Eager to get on with the pleasure of gardening, I wish it away. But before it melts, I should pause to admire.

Snow is nature’s eraser. It blots out the fussy details of gardens and landscapes, leaving only the bold strokes drawn by walls and hedges and tree trunks. Winter is the best time to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a garden design, as Gordon Hayward wrote in his column “Winter Bones” in the current issue of Organic Gardening. In winter, there are no colors to distract, no veil of lush foliage to blur the lines.

In my garden, a 40-foot picket fence serves as a backdrop for perennials. In past years, I’ve left many of the plants standing after frost—sedum and coneflower seedheads, grass plumes, Siberian iris stems, the twiggy tangle of baptisia and gaura—for the sake of “winter interest.” This year, in a fit of fall tidiness, I clipped everything to the ground. You know what? I like it better without all the brown stuff. The clean and orderly look of white pickets against snow is a minimalist counterpoint to the lavishness of the same border in summer. Swept clean of past glories, my garden is poised to sprout again.  —Doug Hall

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