Noah's Garden by Sara Stein

   Way back in January I read a review of this book here, at a garden blog that I follow. I am I glad I took her advice and read it. Even though Stein wrote it seventeen years ago, it still has relevance today. It’s maybe MORE relevant today, considering the state of things.

    From chapter one, where she “unbecomes” a gardener, you know that the woman who wrote this book loves her land. And not really just the land that she and her husband own properly, but the American landscape as it used to be before everyone decided they needed English gardens surrounding their homes. Her attitude is one that New England should look like New England and California should look like California - it’s what made our country so appealing in the first place.

    If Stein had her way, the only foreign plants that would be allowed would be the ones who could get along with the natives and be contributing members of their habitat. And that’s where the unique part of her recollections lies: her yard isn’t just a place for a flat of emerald grass, some roses, and a shade tree or two - it’s a place for the entire circle of life to take place under her interested and caring gaze. The lowly aphid is just as welcome as the ladybugs who eat them and the birds who then feast on ladybugs.

    Like Pollan’s approach, Stein arrived at her present opinion through a series of trial and error. She didn’t set fire to a woodchuck’s home, but she did take part in the wholesale spraying of trees which led to the destruction of more than just the pest she was trying to save the trees from. Now (well, seventeen years ago) she doesn’t preach that you completely let your lawn go wild - what appears will not always be what you want to see - but that you understand the stages at which things happen, plant judiciously and with a vision of what it will look like in seventeen years rather than seventeen days (or months, even) and know that once you’ve restored the habitat to the balance it knew before the developers had their way with it...well, then you can sit back and watch the party. (By the way, I found the chapter in which she used the “Lawn As Party, Gardener as Host/Hostess” metaphor particularly charming.)

    It’s not quite “Zen” gardening because even that feels like it requires more maintenance than Stein’s garden probably needs today. But it is certainly more relaxed in its upkeep (though not in its establishment) than what my house is currently surrounded in and I am truly inspired. Unfortunately, as renters, we can only do so much; no prairie grass will grace our front lawn...but then, that wouldn’t have been what graced this valley when it was inhabited by Ohlones who embraced it’s natural resources.  I can say that the snails will live in the succulents so that the birds can have something to feast on and their shells will disintegrate to enrich the soil with minerals. I also have a new respect for our compost heap.

    PS: I tried to google to see if I could find a picture of her garden now, but to no avail. I would love to see how it’s grown.

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