Gardens for Humanity: Developing a strong ‘sense of place’
Usually I take a walk in my garden to get inspiration. My garden tells me what to write about. This summer, by seven or eight a.m. it is almost too hot to stay outside communing with the plants and critters. I could write about how to garden in the heat, but that basically just comes down to shade, mulch, water, and heat-loving plants.
Instead, I reflect on the miraculous adaptation of the plants and animals that inhabit this place and continue their lives without air conditioning! Humans are ill suited to an active life in such a high temperature climate. Yet, I watch birds, reptiles, and insects being active throughout the day. Birds nest in our yard, and raise their young. Lizards scurry around, keeping some control over the active insect population. Winged insects radiate their incandescent colors as they visit flowers seeking nectar and pollen.
July 1982 began our life in Sedona. With two young children we chose an undeveloped community at the end of Jacks Canyon Road as our home, escaping an increasingly congested and polluted community in southern California. We started our first garden on Fourth of July weekend. At that time we just needed a bit of chicken wire to protect our plants – there were no javalina living here, since they had not yet moved this far north of the Sonoran Desert. With drip irrigation and some mulch, the native soil energized the seeds we planted, and our garden thrived.
We experienced our first monsoon season with clouds building throughout the day until the drama of lightning and thunder punctuated the afternoon, followed by a cooling rain. The cool evenings and smell of wet earth and breathing vegetation invited us to dine outside, and sleep with open windows. Our first garden did not require so much water, thanks to the regular monsoon showers.
To further get acquainted with our new environment, one of my first acts was to purchase an illustrated guidebook of native plants, and to learn their names, properties, and indigenous food and medicinal uses. This really connected us to our new environment.
Raising our children on the footprint of a Sinauga campsite at the foot of the Munds Wilderness was their introduction to our abundant and diverse ecosystem. We shared it with the nature that became our home, and with the spirit and knowledge of prior indigenous and pioneer inhabitants.
Although we did not survive by hunting and gathering, or by herding range cattle, we did learn to forage and enjoy many wild foods. At that time the Village of Oak Creek was basically a food desert, and our garden supplemented our trips into Sedona for provisions. An added bonus of learning about native plants was that our children enjoyed browsing for berries on hikes, and we experimented with concocting foods and beverages with “lemonade berries,” prickly pear cactus, and mesquite pods.
The acts of gardening and getting acquainted with native plants are ways of developing a strong “sense of place.” This is a real feeling of belonging to where you live. They are ways of fine-tuning with the weather, climate, and all the life adapted to our environment. It increases our appreciation for the many lives that adapt and share our home.
As gardeners, we may add to the natural environment, although we need to recognize its needs, and learn from it. Gardens for Humanity’s mission is “to develop and share our relationships with Humanity and Nature through gardening, art, and education.” This recognizes that we also can add to the vitality and adaptability of the human environment through regaining balance with the natural world, as we awaken and tend the gardens of the human spirit.
Our current projects in Sedona and the Verde Valley include assisting in the development of home and community gardens, school gardens, art and environmental education and being a resource for the development of local agriculture and sustainable food systems. In all these areas we strive to help people of all ages develop the skills, awareness and desire to grow food and care for the environment and each other. To find out more visit https://gardensforhumanity.org/
Richard Sidy is president of Gardens for Humanity, a founding member of the Sustainability Alliance and a member of the Verde Valley Food Policy Council. To reach him, email president@ gardensforhumanity.org .