Year-End Assessment


We’re on day 5 of a brutal cold snap that reaches across the northern U.S.; it’s expected to last for another week or more.  It’s -13º F right now at 12:30 am.  With wind chill, the last few days have felt like -30º F.  It’s a cold that has to be experienced to appreciate; a cold that can cause frost bite if bare skin is exposed for more than 10 minutes.  And it’s still December.  We generally don’t experience this level of cold until late January and February; and usually a couple of days at a time – not for a 2 week period such as this one.  It’s very hard on the wildlife, and beats down the spirit of humans as well.

I escape into my seed catalogs and gardening books for solace.  It’s also the cusp of the new year, so it’s my time for reflection.  Part of that reflection inevitably involves what worked in last year’s garden, what didn’t, and what do I hope to accomplish with this year’s growing season.

I wrote awhile back about the influence that Colette O’Neill’s Bealtaine Cottage blog had on my way of thinking about gardening.  I’ve also written several post about permaculture.  Lately I’ve been reading about restorative ecology, indigenous methods, and native plants.

As a result, my approach to gardening continues to shift and develop. Although I love the aesthetic of a well-maintained ornamental garden, and I eagerly devour my Gardens Illustrated and English Garden magazines when they arrive in the mail each month, I find myself consciously moving away from this labor intensive, overly controlled method of gardening; a way of gardening that contributes to our environmental issues, especially if done in a non-organic manner.

I garden for several reasons that are important to me.  First, to reconnect with nature and its rhythms and cycles.  Second, to create a habitat that serves as a haven for wildlife and assists with the preservation of pollinators.


Third, to live more sustainably by growing some of my own food so as not to be a full participant in a food system that is contributing to the destruction of our ecosystems.  Lastly (and certainly not least), because the creativity and beauty of gardening feeds my soul.

With that in mind, below are some goals for this year’s garden:

  • Plant only native trees, shrubs and perennials to encourage the development of a more robust insect and bird population.
  • Continue to plant shrubs and trees to encourage a more bio-diverse, balanced ecosystem.
  • Allow parts of the back lawn that borders the current wood line to go “wild” and revert to a young forest.  Plant willow and dogwood in the boggier areas and allow the wildflowers and brambles to creep in until the area become a part of the forest.  There is simply no point in maintaining these vast sweeps of lawn in the back yard; it does nothing to encourage the wildlife and is a time and gas sink to maintain.
  • Allow grasses and wildflowers to grow in the orchard rather than maintaining lawn.

“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”
― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

4 thoughts on “Year-End Assessment

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  1. Yes, I don’t expect it will be easy, but thankfully there are quite a few native trees and shrubs available in the northeast. I’m able to buy saplings fairly inexpensively through the NY DEC – every year they seem to offer an increasing list of natives. I think the effort worth it if it will improve the habitat for the local insects, birds and other wildlife.


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