On Good Friday many Christians observe the hours of darkness of the crucifixion by turning off lights and electrical appliances. This accords well with Earth Day’s environmental agenda and so the coincidental timing of these two occasions, brings a rather poignant intertwining to the themes of sin, death, resurrection and salvation.
I rather shy away from publicly boarding the bandwagon of world environment issues, not least because the topic is emotive and the cause so seemingly mammoth. Nevertheless my tribute to Earth day is a personal and rather long-winded retrospective on the shaping of this green gardener.
Evidently I’d been born with a love of nature so that wild places were the happiest of playgrounds and long after seeing the film ‘Thomasina’, the vision of a house in the woods was my perfect idyll. Yet even whilst I was blithely enjoying the plethora of little beasties that filled playtime with fascination, Rachel Carson published her lyrical but seminal vision of DDT’s decimation of wildlife. “Silent Spring” was a book I did not read until many years later when newer pesticides were still making her projections a foreboding reality
“all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings…Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change…On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of scores of bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh” 1
A few days before my 17th birthday, the awesome beauty of our blue planet was beamed back to us with the Apollo 11 mission. This completely novel, cosmic perspective of Earth had such a personal impact that I kept a postcard of the image as a bookmark for many years.
What followed was the era of flower-power when we baby boomers looked back disparagingly at the generations who had gone to war with each other as well anything and everything that despoiled crops and gardens. With proclamations of love for mother earth, our generation perversely set the trend for acquisitiveness and waste in peaceful prosperity. It was the beginning of the cheap and cheerful disposable age when natural materials were replaced with what Mailer aptly called “excrement of oil” and Guthrie had long since prophetically sang that “Everything’s gonna be made out of plastic”.
Fortunately the austerity of the post-war fifties and an upbringing that abhorred waste left me with a natural propensity to make-do and mend, recycle and re-home. Such words were of little significance to previous generations other than as a way of life but then they did not have the indisposable pollutants of plastic and nuclear waste that we are now faced with.
Back in our gardens though there has been a marked progress, with declining demand for herbicide and pesticide that had made our green spaces so hygienically devoid of pests and their natural predators. As gardeners we are far less solipsistic, and much more aware of the wider network in which our plot belongs. I confess however that even with my organic agenda, it took me a while to convert to peat-free compost until I read that peatlands only ‘grow’ by only a millimetre a year and 69% of this UK resource is used merely for amateur gardening. 2
The seemingly xenophobic current trend for only growing native plants appears out of sync in a multi-cultural society but the triffid-like invasion of species such as Japanese knotweed has rightly made us wary. The potential for cross-hybridising and biological invasiveness of alien species pose a threat to the genetic purity and ultimate existence of native plants. Personally I tend to grow flowers that pollinators favour – often these are the resident species to which they have adapted over time but to watch bees feeding on Mexican Salvias or even Indian Balsam raises many questions as to where we need to draw the line.
Instead of a house in the woods, Central London is home so my gardening ethos is simply to maintain a green and wild space amidst the concrete. The result is not pretty – there is no grand design nor remarkable plants to admire. Instead common-or-garden flowers mostly bloom here, self-setters are given free reign, and I especially like the wildflowers which bring a whiff of the countryside into the city.
Looking suitably Pascal lily-like, Allium Triquetrum or three-cornered leek, along with the aniseedy Sweet Cicely are just two of the edible flowers that I now use in the kitchen. Rather shame-facedly I am starting to learn what our forefathers already knew about foraging for wild food.
For all our love and care of environmental issues and the well-intentioned downsizing of our greed for the earth’s spaces and resources, there remains the issue that dare not speak it’s name – population growth. The maths is simple but the solution seems a world away. Nevertheless as long as we humans continue to expand exponentially, it is inevitable that all other life forms will hang in an increasingly precarious balance. And then Robbie Burn’s words will take on an even greater impact than he ever intended: “I’m truly sorry man’s dominion, has broken natures social union”. 3
“And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” Mark 15:33
The Earth is indeed a bountiful planet. I hope and pray that it does not become a sacrifice to human folly and that as in the spirit of Easter celebrations, there is ultimate salvation for us all.
Other Earth Day Blog posts: I was prompted by a fellow blogger to participate in Sage Butterfly’s Earth Day Reading Project but as I could not choose 3 books, I’ve chosen instead a trio of environmentally friendly posts for Earth Day:
Experiments with Plants – Bluebells
Polkadot Galoshes – Coffee Buzz for a Green Planet
The Physic Blogger – The Reason I am a bit narked about Mr T