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In a previous essay, I speculated that, a couple of centuries into the future, there may be no truly natural world. Instead, I said, “nature” may consist mostly of areas such as municipal parks.
But perhaps a better example of “nature” in the future is my Garden of Contemplation. This garden is just my back yard in rural Oklahoma. Every evening that I can in May and June, I sit in it, sometimes grilling meat, sometimes just drinking and listening silently, trying to ignore the loud pickup trucks driven up and down the street by men whose entire significance of life consists of making fumes and noise.
My son-in-law made this sketch of my Jardin de Contemplation.
This “garden” is certainly not natural. The original ecosystems where I live were tallgrass prairie and cross-timbers forest. No species from either of these natural ecosystems exists in my “garden.” All the plants are adapted to the moist conditions that have come with urbanization and fire suppression.
Furthermore, it is not really a “garden,” hence the quotation marks. I really do not do very much to it. I let “nature” take its course, for the most part, except:
- I mow the grass.
- I pluck up or cut down the seedlings and saplings of trees that squirrels planted too close to the house (water oak, red oak, pecan).
- I try to force the plants to play nicely with one another. That is, I take action against bullies, mainly by cutting back the most aggressive vines.
All of this, of course, is unnatural, especially my action against bullies. But I have planted very little. It is a managed ecosystem that formed from plants that happened to find themselves associated with one another. Here is a little more detail about it.
- The largest tree is a huge sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), and the second largest is a water oak (Quercus nigra). A squirrel planted the water oak about 2002, and today it fills a large part of what was once a grassy area. Both are species native to Oklahoma, even if not to my precise location.
- A male Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) has grown near the carport since 2001. Recently, it began spreading clonally, and now there are about five sprouts.
- A pyracantha (not native) dominates the corner of the fence.
- I planted a couple of redbuds (Cercis canadensis).
- A barrier of privet bushes (genus Ligustrum) protects my yard from the stupidity of the road. Privets are not native; indeed, they are one of the dirty dozen of Oklahoma invasives, and if I lived in the country I would feel obligated to cut them down (only to watch them resprout).
- But it is the vines that celebrate my hands-off approach. Wisteria, from Asia, is very aggressive, but so are the native mustang grapes (Vitis mustangensis) along the side fence; the muscadine grapes (V. rotundifolia) along the alley; the catbriars (Smilax bona-nox); and the snailseed vines (Mennispermum coccineum). All of these vines want to smother my pyracantha and redbuds and even my water oak.
- Shady microclimates have Geum canadense flowers (not very showy, but quite natural) and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
- Birds are always planting mulberries (Morus alba) and sugarberries (Celtis laevigata). These trees like to destroy fences, so I spend a lot of time clipping them back. The wind blows in seeds of Asian lacebark elms (Ulmus parvifolia) from across the street.
- In spring, two species of daffodils, lots of weedy sedges, the hairy species of speedwell (genus Veronica), Hustonia, and both of the Lamium species that real gardeners despise (L. amplexicaule and L. purpureum) fill the yard while the grass is still dormant.
False dandelions (Krigia) fill large areas of my front yard, suppressing grass in the spring. I mow the Krigia like grass, getting milky sap on my flipflops. But I left them as long as I could. The little corner of yellow composite-flowers that opened in the morning stood in contrast to the well-mowed areas around it, and I hope this let people know I deliberately left the Krigia. I also have one of the biggest crape myrtles in town, and a lot of Vinca.
Is this a view of biodiversity in the future? A minimally-managed spot where even the guy who lives there can be surprised at what he finds. And the animal life seems to like it also. Even without a bird-feeder, I get the mimid trifecta (mockingbirds, brown thrashers, catbirds), and cardinals. “Weed” birds such as grackles find my yard too wild and never visit it. As for insects, I have lots of lightning-bugs (lampyrid beetles). The cat is a visitor, not a resident.
It is nothing like natural biodiversity. But there is enough biodiversity that, someday, my granddaughter can explore it and keep asking, What’s this? What’s this? Enough biodiversity, at least, that she will not grow up thinking that a tree is a tree is a tree.
Of course, if civilization collapses—and there are many ways this could happen—then a lot of biodiversity will return in its absence.