When I was a younger, idealistic college student, I participated in Earth Day activities every year in the Southern California city where I lived. I don’t remember thinking I was making a big positive change to the environment. It seemed more like something I should do, and it was fun, and made me feel good about myself and my community. There are so many things that were not in my control. Planting a tree, picking up trash, or pulling weeds in a butterfly preserve were environmental things that were in my power, along with recycling, composting and conserving water, things I, and many others of you I’m sure, did throughout the year.
All these many years later, I still don’t think I have that much power over things that affect the environment. But I enjoy participating as a supporting business for the City of Visalia’s annual Earth Day festival at St. John’s Parkway. I enjoy watching the young people and families come out to do projects meant to beautify the public natural environment in some way; planting native trees, spreading mulch or creating wildlife cover zones with plant vegetation. Perhaps many of you celebrate Earth Day, or Earth Week, with some kind of volunteer action.
The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, after a proposal by U.S. Senator Nelson of Wisconsin, and was mostly held on college campuses in major cities in the U.S. The non-profit Earth Day Network estimates that one billion people worldwide will participate in an Earth Day or Earth Week event this year. The early Earth Days were meant as large-scale grassroots environmental education events. These days, Earth Day is more of a way for organizations to gather volunteers at small events that impact the local area. Senator Nelson and other organizers wanted to force environmental action onto the national stage. Even today, international leaders often use the day to sign environmental treaties or agreements.
I read a magazine article recently about the often discouraging culture we seem to be living in. The magazine author made a startling comment, “…and a planet we’re not sure we can save…” Golly! I’m pretty sure we can and will save our planet, and are doing it everyday. So maybe I am still that idealistic student of a few decades ago? And yet, I know that many of you work hard to practice environmental stewardship and sustainable practices in the garden.
Sometimes in the hustle of commerce and garden-chore lists, it’s hard to slow down and
consider the positive consequences of our gardening actions. There are many benefits to using native and other plants that are suitable to the climate, but sometimes we overemphasize the benefits to humans, such as lower maintenance. Or we stress that the native plants “aren’t that different than non-native ones.”
This week I invite you to think about how native plants are different, and about the benefits to the environment your garden provides. The popularity of pollinator gardens and especially of monarch butterfly-supporting milkweed shows that we still want to help nature and the environment with gardening, and that we believe we can. It still feels good when we provide a home for a native song or migratory bird, or a place where native bees can nest and reproduce safely, or when we think about the carbon sequestration that little oak tree seedling will provide for hundreds of years.
I don’t think I’m making a huge change with my small garden, or even with the many gardens we’ve helped design and create with the landscape business. But I think we have, along with our dedicated and inspiring clients, made many positive, small, changes. And perhaps by making a lot of small positive changes, we have been practicing the principles of Earth Day all year long, helping our planet, one garden at a time. So I invite you, sustainable and native plant gardeners everywhere, to celebrate yourselves today. Happy Earth Week!