2020 was an unusual year in the garden. Or should I say, a more observant one. The more people stayed home, the more they noticed their surroundings. In my business, that meant people’s attention shifted towards their landscape and the joy plants can bring to those sequestered at home.
Staying home meant slowing down and, for some people, also taking greater stock of their environment. This was the case for me. As the months passed, I found my powers of observation increasing. Driving by a cluster of bare trees, I suddenly noticed their architecture with a new sense of clarity. At another time, the shock of a red cardinal on mottled grey bark left me speechless.
This summer, I read an interesting article on how most of us view the landscape as a pleasant backdrop, rarely taking time to observe its individual components. As such, we distance ourselves from its true impact. I realized this in the fall when, driving down a Virginia parkway, the changing leaves of the Blue Ridge Mountains suddenly appeared to me in their individual colors. This totally transformed my experience of my surroundings.
Old house in Roanoke, VA/Photo: The Old Major for shutterstock.com
And things only grew from there. Using my new-found powers of observation, I began noticing more and more. On my weekend walks along the Potomac canal, individual trees popped out of the landscape for my appreciation, wildflowers blooming out of season offered a surprise, and tiny insects revealed themselves to me as I sat on a decaying log. All of these things served to heighten my awareness and draw me deeper into nature.
So I have decided that 2021 will be a year of observation, of quieting down and really noticing what is going on around me. Here are eight things I resolve to do in 2021.
1. LEARN ABOUT TREES
Trees are all around us and are appreciated for their beauty and the shade they provide us. But while most of us can tell an oak from a maple, can we also identify less common species? The National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Trees is a great source for learning about trees, or you can become your own tree detective and learn using dichotomous keys.
Flower panicle of Ohio buckeye/Photo: Gerry Bishop for shutterstock.com
I resolve to learn about 10 new trees and add them to my repertoire.
2. KNOW WHO’S CALLING
Last year, I began observing that the same few birds seemed to have made their home in my garden. According to Nancy Lawson, author of The Humane Gardener: Nurturing A Backyard Habitat For Wildlife, birds and animals rarely stray far from their chosen home, (which is why you have to be careful when removing birds and animals.) In fact, generations of families may have taken up residence in your backyard.
A purple martin/Photo: shutterstock.com
I resolve to identify some of the birdcalls in my backyard, then without even looking outdoors I will know who has set up residence in my garden.
3. PLAN A CUTTING GARDEN
There’s no doubt that bringing flowers indoors restores the spirit while adding color and fragrance to indoor spaces. Even better than buying flowers is growing your own! I’ve learned a lot this year from ButterBee Farm owner Laura Beth Resnick, who grows amazing cutting gardens.
ButterBee Farm owner Laura Beth Resnick in her cutting garden
I resolve to plant a cutting garden of dahlias, zinnias and other easy-to-grow flowers to populate the vases in my home.
4. GET TO KNOW SOME BARK
This goes hand in hand with tree identification – if you really want to know your trees, learn to identify them in winter. And that means getting to know their bark. Believe me, once you em’bark’ on this quest, you’ll be noticing bark everywhere.
I resolve to learn how about the bark of 5 additional hardwood trees.
5. RECOGNIZE MY VOLUNTEERS
This is a fun aspect of gardening. Every garden has its plants that pop up in places you never expect them. Whether dropped by birds from other gardens, or simply blown by the wind around your own, they offer new design perspectives while providing a resource of fresh plants.
Below is a maple seedling, one of hundreds that self-sow in my backyard. I don’t recommend saving most of them, but I did nurture one into a bona fide tree a decade ago.
I resolve to honor my volunteers and incorporate (most of) them into my garden.
6. EXPAND MY VIEW
A borrowed view is an important aspect of garden design. It can ‘increase’ your visible landscape by including distant ones in the picture. Borrowed views can be horizontal or vertical, and can include sky and water (as well as neighbor’s yards.) When considered, each can have a profound effect on your garden’s composition.
The stone cottage and redbud are borrowed from the neighbor’s yard.
I resolve to look beyond my own garden to find aspects that can contribute to my composition.
7. TAG MY POLLINATORS
Last summer my boyfriend came in from the garden full of excitement over the amount of insects he had observed toiling in the flowers. This was significant since he is not a gardener, per se. Since then, he goes out regularly to see what he can find and declares it is one of the most satisfying parts of his day.
By now, we all know the value of pollinators, but do you know which ones go with which flowers? They have preferences just as humans do.
A monarch butterfly on butterfly weed.
I resolve to learn more about the pollinators that frequent my garden.
8. WEATHER THE STORM
Why do we huddle inside when it’s raining? There’s so much to observe in our landscapes in all kinds of weather. I found this fall that some of the best walks I took were in the woods when it was just lightly drizzling. Not only was I able to experience the muffled sounds of wildlife stirring around me, but I also could savor the sweet smell of the decaying leaves, while padding on the soft carpet they formed beneath me.
And, in my opinion, nothing beats the fresh smell of rain drops splashing on water.
You don’t get to experience this if you’re inside!
Wishing all of my readers a healthy and happy 2021. As we are finally released from our quarantine, let us not forget to take a breath and notice the life teeming around us. It will make a difference.