What better place to self-quarantine after a transatlantic flight than in a house with a garden? There no shortage of work outdoors to prepare this year’s crop of vegetables and herbs. My domain is the vegetable garden. The flowers I leave to the Master Gardener who has created this island of biodiversity in the midst of the pesticide-drenched lawns of suburban America. This summer I am an apprentice, keen to learn the names of all the non-edible plants that never caught my interest before. The word columbine probably makes most Americans think of a school shooting, but before the late nineties, it simply referred to the flower shown above. The root of its name is the Latin columbinus, which means dove-like. The flower is supposed to resemble a group of five doves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if school shootings stopped and future, more plant-savvy generations of English speakers only associated a flower with this word?
The scent of lilac lilting in the air, fan-like leaves of rhubarb concealing vibrant red stalks of sour delight, Cassandra calls of beloved blue jays warning of birds of prey: clues that it is late spring. The next generation of Chippy Chipmunk chirps outside my window every morning at 6:15, greeting the new day.
Most importantly, I have found a good spot to read on the patio, a spot rarely used before COVID made socially distanced meetings de rigueur. Finally I can plumb the depths of the public library and work through my reading list of English language books. What better subjects are there to read about against the backdrop of a lush garden than animals and nature? Helen Macdonald’s Vesper Flights and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s World of Wonders are both books of essays, each of which is marvelous in its own way and reflects the unique perspective of the respective author; Macdonald is a historian and naturalist while Nezhukumatathil is a poet.
In one of her essays, Macdonald writes, “Outside is a tumultuous world teeming with unexpected biological abundance, and we are standing in its midst.” That sums up how I feel looking out on this oasis my mother has created. It teems with insects, birds, mammals, and plants. This landscape deserves to be preserved in order to counteract all the environmental destruction going on today. Through the modest daily work of watering, weeding, planting, harvesting, arranging, balancing, and making space, we are shaping a future rich in beauty and biodiversity.
May you work to encourage beauty and biodiversity!