Thinking Aloud

Non-grumpy thoughts about stuff other than writing and gardening.

Eating Earth blog header

Misanthropic Musings

In my recent post about some small irritants of life, I stayed away from human behaviour, because that’s more than a small irritant. It warrants a post of its own, which has been brewing for some time. Here it is. Rant warning issued!

We are literally eating the Earth, even though we understand only a fraction of how it works and see its mysteries only as challenges to our cleverness. If you don’t believe that, read this: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/understanding-extinction-humanity-has-destroyed-half-the-life-on-earth-1.5324721

I have come to think our species should be called Homo destructor rather than Homo sapiens. Wisdom takes a long, wide view. Wisdom values thought before action. That does not describe us.

We destroy wilderness to satisfy our endless needs. We glorify explorers, adventurers, disrupters, and exploiters. We’ve left footprints and junk on the Moon, and are keen to set foot on Mars, having already sent machines there. We’re looking feverishly for Earth-like planets — more worlds to conquer mess up. We tell ourselves this is as it should be, because we are by nature clever, curious, and inventive. Why shouldn’t we strive to know and control?

But why can’t we learn to value observing and contemplating more than utilizing and exploiting?

We pride ourselves on our inventiveness, always finding a way to adapt our environments to ourselves rather than accepting that evolution adapts us. Because the pace of evolution is too slow for us. We spent too many millennia in the stone age, and aren’t planning to go back there.

We want everything to be bigger, faster, cheaper. Short-sighted, greedy, and destructive — that’s us, as a species. We congratulate ourselves on our achievements in discovery, invention, and artistic creation. But consider this: almost none of that benefits any other life form. The Earth doesn’t care about books, the stock market, religions, or even the music of Beethoven.

And yet, we see ourselves as the pinnacle species. After 4.6 billion years, a life form on Earth turned and saw itself in the mirror of its intelligence and imagination. It split the atom and decoded life and gave itself license to manage the planet.

We pride ourselves on Knowing, on our self awareness, our god-like capability to stand outside ourselves and observe. If we used that capability with a broader purpose, it might benefit both the Earth and ourselves.

I’ve tried to convince myself that we are just another force of nature, like the asteroid that created the Chicxulub Crater, ending the age of the dinosaurs. We should be what we are, with no more regret for our effect on the Earth than that giant chunk of rock.

Science tells us the only life forms on Earth for its first couple of billion years were microbes. Compared to that, the present human-caused extinctions seem trivial. The planet will survive our depredations (even if we don’t) and life in some form will return. What’s wrong with that?

I’ve tried to convince myself of that, but I can’t. We are living creatures, made of the stuff of Earth and utterly dependent upon its life-supporting qualities. So why do we continue to do things that threaten those supports?

We humans need to develop and express a reverence for the Earth.

OK, enough ranting. I could go on, but I think I’ve made a few points, or at least fired off some wildly random shots. For a more positive and hopeful view, read this post from Anima Monday: https://animamonday.wordpress.com/2019/10/21/you-are-not-powerless/ (BTW, I heartily recommend the Anima Monday blog for its unique perspectives on humanity’s relations with the natural world.)

So, fellow Pressers of the Word — are you hopeful or despairing about the immediate prospects of life on Planet Earth?

Mouth image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay. “Eating Earth” image created by Audrey Driscoll with Canva.

gargoyle grumpy

Ten Little Things That Bug Me

A while ago, I wrote a post complaining about parking lot design. It was going to be the first of a series of grumbles. Since then I’ve realized that writing a string of posts whining about “first world problems” isn’t the best use of my blogging time. So I’ve bundled all the small things that bug me into one post.

This one.

These are low-level annoyances that regularly make me say “Why…?” They’re things — poorly-designed physical objects, not human behaviour. Many aspects of human behaviour (individual and collective) bug me, and many more sadden and enrage. Maybe I’ll get into some of them in future posts. For now, I’m sweating the small stuff.

Such as…

  • Noisy yard machines. Sometimes my corner of suburbia sounds like a war zone with competing roars from lawn mowers, string trimmers, and leaf blowers.
  • Scented dryer sheets and laundry soaps. Nose-twisting synthetic “perfumes” with names like “April Fresh” and “Mountain Breeze” wafting from dryer vents in the neighbourhood. And I’m not even allergic!
  • Pants (trousers) without pockets. Women’s pants, specifically. Oh, right — women don’t need pockets because they always carry purses for their keys and kleenex. Even while vacuuming, gardening, and cooking.
  • Containers sealed for my protection that need a knife to remove the seal.
  • Fitted sheets that don’t quite fit and need brute force to muscle them onto a mattress.
  • Right turns on red. Whether I’m driving or walking, they make me nervous.
  • Glue that fails even when instructions for use are adhered to.
  • Lack of hand grips on big furniture and appliances. Just try moving a washing machine or sofa. Weight isn’t the real issue, but nowhere to get an effective grip. Surely designers could build in something graspable by the human paw.
  • Overly bright LED street lights. I look out the window to see the full moon and get blinded by the light on the pole.
  • Gifs and other online visuals (often in ads) that jump, flash, wiggle, and jiggle. Again. And again, and again, and again… Screeeeeeee… (That’s me running away.)

That’s it! I’m done griping. What about you, WP bloggers? What irks you? Here’s your chance to complain. Or not. (And I still have no idea why parking lots are designed to annoy. If anyone knows, please add a comment!)

Image from Pixabay

blog, stars, eastern north america, northern south america, blue, purple, green

A Little Discussion Spices Up a Blog Post

After nearly 10 years of writing blog posts, reading blog posts, and commenting on blog posts, I have a pretty good idea of what I like in a blog post: an interesting (to me) topic, well-written, and relatively short. Good comments by other bloggers are a definite bonus. They can elevate a post from statement to conversation.

What are good comments? Ones that add something to what the blogger said, even by arguing disagreeing a bit. Remember what we’re always being told about our fiction writing — conflict adds interest. No one likes vitriolic troll-spew, but when every single comment is blandly positive (Great post! Thanks for this! Got to bookmark!), or there are no comments at all, the reading experience falls flat.

For example, a while ago, I read a reblogged post advising writers to use “sensitivity readers.” I knew from elsewhere that this topic is controversial; some writers see it as bordering on self-censorship. Several bloggers “liked” the post, but no one had anything to say about it. I’ve seen this happen often enough to wonder. Did all these readers just think, “Oh, okay,” and move on to the next thing? (And did I put in my 2 cents’ worth? No, actually. Being in the Far West of the world, I’m often among the last bloggers to read a post, and there’s not much point in formulating a comment only the original poster will see.)

Some posts lend themselves better than others to discussion-type comments. If someone is announcing a new book or sharing a milestone of some sort, no discussion is needed. On the other hand, posts offering advice to writers, or strongly worded screeds taking a particular position on an issue, are vastly improved by comments.

I’m not advocating flat condemnations or being argumentative for the sake of it, but sometimes I wish people wouldn’t appear to swallow all advice with a bland affirmation. If you have reservations or questions about advice given or opinions expressed in a post, articulate them! If you’re a published writer with any measure of success, you have a ground from which to comment and question.

Perhaps bloggers are reluctant to differ with or question opinions in a post because they fear being labelled as negative. In the culture of “positivity,” an apparently negative attitude is perceived as a major flaw. I agree that whiny, bitter screeds full of self-pity, or personal attacks are never acceptable, but a bit of civilized discussion can add dimension and interest to a post.

We’ve all heard this piece of advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” I suggest modifying it to: “If you don’t agree with something, turn your disagreement into an opportunity to discuss.”

So, fellow bloggers, what do you think? How do you feel about a bit of civilized quibbling? Feel free to disagree!

Rocks: pink striped, two-tone, multicoloured, green, black with white specks

September 16th is Collect Rocks Day!

Collect Rocks Day is a day to enjoy and add to your rock collection “

I can relate to this pseudo-holiday, because I’ve been collecting rocks all my life. My house is full of them. I’m the only person I know with an actual pile of rocks on the dresser in their bedroom. There are rocks on my kitchen windowsills and rocks in special spots in the living room. There are even “book rocks” on the table where we eat our meals.

I suspect the point of this day is to encourage kids to start proper rock collections of identified specimens. I tried that when I was a kid. I put my rocks into chocolate boxes, which were neatly divided into squares just right for labelled specimens.

Cover of Rocks and Minerals guide (H.S. Zim, c1957)
I pored over this little book a lot while trying to identify my rocks.
Page from Rocks and Minerals guide on hardness testing
A page from the Rocks and Minerals guide. Note the cute mnemonic; maybe girls didn’t collect rocks. Too busy flirting and doing queer things, no doubt. (I can’t remember what I thought of this notion as a kid.)

The trouble was, the rocks I picked up were really hard to identify. They didn’t look like any of the pictures in Herbert S. Zim’s guide to rocks and minerals. Despite my efforts at determining hardness, doing tests with vinegar, and peering at my specimens with a magnifying glass, most of them remained unidentified. The closest I got was declaring them to be sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic. I had a feeling many of my rocks were metamorphic. Their constituent minerals had been tortured into unidentifiable (at least by me) substances by heat and pressure. But they were pretty.

I gave up on scientific rock collecting, but I never gave up picking up rocks. Almost every visit to a beach or creek resulted in a pocket full of pebbles and sometimes a cobble or two carried in my hands. Nowadays I do a rock review before leaving the site and discard all but the best specimens, usually keeping only one or two.

So what makes a rock keep-worthy? For me, it comes down to colour, contrasts, smoothness, and peculiarities of shape. Or general weirdness. The eight rocks in the featured image at the top of the post display all of them to some extent. There’s a smooth, uniformly green rock and a smaller one that’s light green with dark green stripes. There are a couple that feature different rock types welded together. One is composed of thin layers of light and dark pinkish material. The little white one is a piece of what looks like marble, polished to exquisite smoothness by who knows how many years of wave action.

One piece of advice: rocks always look great wet. Beach pebbles are often wet when picked up. Let them dry before you decide if they’re worth keeping.

Colour and smoothness

White quartz, bright red rock (jasper?) and bright green rock (nephrite?) with darker green stripe
A pure white rock (quartz, I’m pretty sure), a dark red rock (maybe jasper?) and a bright green rock with darker green stripe (maybe nephrite?)

Contrast and weirdness

Black rock with white inclusions
Black rock with white inclusions that look like alien hieroglyphs.

Many colours

Multicoloured metamorphic rock
Multicoloured rock that looks like the map of an unknown world.

More weirdness

Weird sedimentary rocks, two with possible concretions
Sedimentary rocks. The bigger one (from north central BC) looks like a tiny hoodoo. The eyeball-like features in the smaller ones (from Saskatchewan) may be concretions.

Sheer beauty

Pebbles from Ballenas Island, BC
A handful of pebbles from Ballenas Island, BC. The biggest one is about an inch (2.5 cm) long, the smallest less than 1/4 inch (1 cm)

These Ballenas pebbles found their way into one of my novels. In Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey, Francis Dexter collects a few pebbles from a place rather like Ballenas Island. Later, he looks at them while brooding about how his life has turned out.

I have before me a handful of pebbles under the light as I write this. Some are the colour of bruised flesh, others dark green or black, or mixtures of colours impossible to describe, veined like the finest capillaries. Each was torn from its matrix, millennia ago, and polished to a degree I find astonishing. When I first studied them, here in the lamplight, I thought: here is perfection without design, proof that the world works upon things and incidentally brings them to goodness without an artificer’s hand. … The black pebbles with the white stars are the most beautiful. They are made of the hardest substance and are the brightest, but must be subjected to the longest ordeal to achieve their perfection. How much of themselves must they lose to the lathe of the world?

It’s Alive! (Sort of)

Back in May, I heard a rather intriguing and disturbing story on radio. The nub of it is that researchers at Yale University were able to induce brain activity in detached heads of pigs obtained from a slaughterhouse four hours after death. They accomplished this with a technology called “BrainEx.” A system of pumps, heaters and filters perfused the dead brains with an artificial blood solution. After six hours of treatment, the brains showed cellular activity. At least one scientist commented that if the treatment had been continued, some level of consciousness may very well have been achieved .

Here is a link:
https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/how-late-is-too-late-to-revive-a-brain-pig-brain-study-raises-questions-1.5119913

My first thought: Fans of Frankenstein and Herbert West will love this! My second thought: I wonder what’s in that artificial blood. What colour is it — lurid green? Or maybe purple?

Seriously, though, this experiment raises a lot of disturbing questions, about time of death, when it’s okay to “harvest” organs for transplant, about animal experiments, and when is the spark of consciousness finally extinguished. The scientists took measures to make sure the brains did not attain full consciousness and stood by with anesthesia, just in case. (That was nice of them.)

The intent is to use the results of this study to learn more about post-mortem brain cell death and how damaged cells may be repaired. But there’s always the possibility that the unscrupulous will cite the experiment to prey upon the desperate, promising a form of immortality (for a large fee, no doubt) by hooking up brains to a pump full of magic solution. (This actually reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Whisperer in Darkness.”)

Fiction is a give and take between speculation and reality, the point where they intersect. These brain experiments may furnish material for ethicists, doctors, scientists, and for writers of speculative and horror fiction as well.

Pig Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

Brass sundial, back garden, kale tree, arugula and lavender in bloom, May 2019

Retread #6: Gardening and Original Sin

This post from February 2012 (with highlighting and strikethroughs added) gets another outing while I strip old paint, sand freshly exposed old wood, and brood over paint colour chips. (“Window Pane” or “Rainwashed” for the walls? “Morning Fog” for the trim?) The garden has received 40 mm (1.58 inches) of rain in the past two weeks, something for which I am thankful.

When I was young and brilliant, it occurred to me that agriculture was the original Original Sin. I was studying archaeology at the time, specifically the origins of agriculture in the Middle East 10,000 years ago. Some of the earliest sites with evidence of early crop domestication are in the Zagros Mountains, which are in the same region where the Garden of Eden may have been. Aha! Two plus two equals… whatever you like, if you have enough imagination. At the time (the ’70s) I was also an environmental idealist aflame on the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. (Better to be an inhumanist than a misanthrope, perhaps. But that’s another topic altogether).

When human beings began to manipulate their environment in order to favour the growth of particular plants, I reasoned, they broke a contract with the earth. They no longer simply took what was given to them, but thought they knew better and wanted to make things for themselves. Once begun, that process had its own logic. The initial improvements to species of grain-producing grasses and the environments in which they grew demanded further improvements and changes — permanent structures for storage, water diversion for irrigation of crops, roads and vehicles for transportation — civilization, in effect, which led to the internal combustion engine and the consumer society. Onward and upward, and look where we are now!

Human beings managed to exist as hunter-gatherers for many millennia, their tools made by bashing stones with other stones, and with fire a fickle servant, sometimes an enemy. Stones, fire and a way of life that changed very slowly. A mere ten thousand years of agriculture-based civilization has had a profound effect on the earth. And it all began (my youthful self reasoned) with the first gardens.

Why were the first ornamental gardens made, I wonder? I’ll bet it was when someone thought to arrange the plants grown for food in a visually pleasing way, or to include among them plants whose only purpose was to be beautiful. The grape vine in the mud-brick courtyard, with the perfume of roses and the sweetness of ripe figs — we who garden now can still appreciate that ancient image.

The present-day ornamental garden, some will argue, can hardly be blamed for environmental destruction. Suburbs were not built so that people could make gardens around their three bedroom bungalows. Many gardeners are keen to be green, especially if they also produce some of their own food. True, but what about all the chemicals and fertilizers dumped on that suburban feature, the perfect lawn? Not to mention all the drinking-quality water used to water it, and the gasoline-consuming, pollution-generating lawn mowers used to maintain it. Then there is the issue of invasive plants growing rampantly in ecosystems where they don’t belong — purple loosestrife, for example, which was brought to North America as an ornamental. We gardeners cannot consider ourselves collectively blameless, especially since most of us are also consumers and involuntary participants in the civilization that resulted from those first gardens in Eden.

Now that I’m older, things seem less neatly black and white than they once did. Original sin may indeed be a metaphor for agriculture, and by extension for gardening, but working the earth (as distinct from exploiting it) is a human activity with nuances of the sacred. The first farmers wove into their cultures ceremonies and sacrifices to appease the divine powers offended by their presumption. Our religions retain traces of these practices, and if cultivation of plants once set us on a path that distanced us from the earth, real farming and gardening may be ways to return.

tires or tyres

Retread #3: Only now…

I originally posted this somewhat quirky set of thoughts about the word “only” back in June of 2014.

In the fourth of H.P.  Lovecraft’s stories serialized under the title “Herbert West, Reanimator,” West tells the narrator that a traveler collapsed and died while asking for directions at his door — presenting him with an opportunity for a really fresh specimen for one of his reanimation experiments. When the fellow comes back to life, he reveals to the narrator that West murdered him. But before that, the first words he utters as life returns to him are “Only now.” Unfortunately, with the return of full consciousness, the subject remembers his murder and never completes that intriguing sentence. Only now… what? Since H.P.L. was an atheist, it was probably not a secret of the afterlife. But “only” is an interesting word.

1. Only I can help you now.

2. I only can help you now.

3. I can only help you now.

4. I can help only you now.

5. I can help you only now.

Five sentences with quite different meanings. The wording is identical except for placement of one word — only. A slippery little word, sometimes redundant, occasionally powerful, as in #1 above. (Sentence #2, in my opinion, is problematic, but I included it for the sake of completeness). A warning before you read any more — I am no grammarian. Like a musician who doesn’t read music, I write by ear.

“Only” is an adverb, derived from Old English “anlic,” meaning “one-like.” But it’s also used as an adjective (“This is my only chance”) and a conjunction (replacing “but,” as in “I wanted to do it right, only I failed”). It can even be a noun, as in “You are my one and only.”

People are often careless in their use of “only,” especially in conversation, tossing it into sentences without much concern as to where it lands. “I’ll only be a minute,” one says, when “I’ll be only a minute” is more precise. There is a tendency to put “only” near the beginning of a sentence, often immediately before the verb. (Makes sense when it’s an adverb). The verb is the action word in a sentence, and “only,”  intended here to convey brevity or insignificance, is applied to the action word rather than to “minute,” the word that really conveys brevity.

This use of “only” is as a “softener,” a word that tones down the impact of a sentence, turning it from a demand to a request. In such a situation,  you may wish to use “just” rather than “only.” “Just” is a kind of throwaway word, and often a sentence is improved by throwing it out.

If you want a rule, it might be this:  put “only” right before the word it applies to. Move it around until the sentence conveys your intended meaning.

“Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” Indeed she does.

“God only knows.” He isn’t talking, but someone else might, unless only God knows, in which case prayer is your only option.

 

Remember The Ice Cream Truck from Hell? That serial story is almost ready. Part 1 will roll out on May 1st!

It’s really coming!

Images from Pixabay

View looking north east from Mt Erskine area, Salt Spring Island, March 5, 2019 near hydro transmission line

Finding “Mossy Mountain”

“This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,” whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. “Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!”
Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows

A while ago, I wrote a post about a special place that made a big impression on me when I was a kid. My name for this place at the time was “Mossy Mountain,” because of the (you guessed it) mosses that grew all over the rocks and added a kind of magic to the area. I still love moss.

On a cold and sunny day early in March, the Spouse, the Dog, and I took a delightful day trip to Salt Spring Island. Right after getting off the ferry, we drove the island’s narrow, winding roads to a nursery that sells rare and unusual plants, where I bought three hellebores and two blue poppies. Then we turned southward, toward the quasi-urban central part of the island, where I lived in the late 1960s. In many ways, the place hasn’t changed that much. The school I attended is still there, and the layout of the streets was familiar.

We followed roads I had noted on my virtual visit via Google Maps and Street Views, aiming for a major electrical transmission line I remembered. (It’s visible in the image at the top of the post, a view looking northeast across the north half of Salt Spring Island toward the distant Coast Mountains on the B.C. mainland.) There was only one problem — the snow that fell in mid-February hadn’t left this area. In fact, there was still close to a foot of it hanging around — hard, icy, crystalline snow. It certainly made the place look different from my memories, which were of sunny May or June weekends.

Salt Spring Island near Mt Erskine, March 5, 2019
No walking up this hill!

Nelly Salt Spring Island snow March 2019
Nelly the Newf thought the snow was just fine.

But the topography and vegetation were much the same. So was the conglomerate bedrock, which I had forgotten all about, until I recognized it underfoot in spots where the snow had melted. The mosses were still there too, as well as the arbutus and fir trees, the ocean spray shrubs, and the leathery leaves of salal. I heard hummingbirds making their sizzling sounds and other birds singing. In an encounter with a fellow who lives nearby (now that’s new — in the ’60s, there were no houses up there), we heard a cougar had recently killed a deer, a chicken, and a duck. I actually thought this was encouraging. Even though development has crept up the mountain, at least there is enough natural environment left to support a cougar, deer, and wild birds.

Mossy bluffs and arbutus near Mt Erskine, Salt Spring Island, March 5, 2019
Moss-covered rocks and arbutus trees.
Salt Spring Island near Mt Erskine March 5, 2019, Holodiscus, Salal, Arbutus
Typical vegetation: salal (evergreens in foreground) and ocean spray (Holodiscus) bushes, with arbutus and firs in the background.
Conglomerate rock and mosses near Mt Erskine, Salt Spring Island, March 5, 2019
Conglomerate bedrock and mosses.
Arbutus trunk peeling bark, Salt Spring Island March 2019
Arbutus (A. menziesii) trunk showing typical peeling bark.

Because of the snow, it wasn’t possible to explore beyond the road, but a return visit is in order, most likely in May or June.

A Virtual Visit

Fifty years ago (Fifty! How did that happen?) a school friend and I discovered a marvellous place, quite literally in our back yards. Well, somewhat beyond our actual back yards. We started out at the house my family lived in then, an old, rambling and somewhat decrepit place we were renting while my parents built our new house nearby. With bottles of water and apples as provisions, we crossed a hayfield behind the house and entered a wood in which vanilla-leaf plants were in bloom (it was May).

We emerged from the wood onto a road leading uphill, following it to where it turned away in a switchback. Leading in the opposite direction was one of those magical little nameless roads — two wheel-tracks with plants growing down the middle. It led uphill too, taking its time.

After several kilometers and one or two steep climbs, we came to a place typical of the southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia — a hillside sparsely treed with Douglas firs and arbutus, and scattered clumps of juniper, hairy manzanita, and bearberry. Moss was abundant on the rocky outcrops and cliffs, with licorice ferns growing from it. The place was completely natural but looked landscaped. No, more than that — it looked magical, as though inhabited by nature spirits. And indeed, we heard an unfamiliar sound at times, a distant, rhythmic wheezing, like someone sawing wood with a hand saw. I now suspect it was made by male grouse flapping their wings as part of their spring courtship routines. Every now and then, we heard the strident double whistle of a pheasant, but we never saw anyone else there, either human nor animal.

I can’t remember how many expeditions we made to this delightful place. At least three, but probably no more than half a dozen. By June, my annual pollen allergy (which has since vanished, one of the benefits of growing older) made outdoor activities miserable. Then summertime holidays and activities took over, and for whatever other reason, we never went back.

I’ve made a couple of tourist-type trips to that island in the past few decades, showing the sights to visiting friends, but until now haven’t made a systematic search for this special place. Recently, I revisited the area by way of Google Maps and Street View, zooming in on the locale, navigating by names of roads I remembered, finally switching to satellite and Street View. I followed various roads, floating along like a ghost, turning this way and that, looking for the familiar.

It was a weird and dreamlike experience, and ultimately not satisfying.
Although invisible, I couldn’t trespass on private property or go beyond the point where the car with the cameras stopped. Any number of inviting little roads had to remain unexplored. Frustrating but compelling. Eventually I stumbled on a photo someone had taken that looked a lot like the terrain I remembered.

Now I’m planning a real life visit. It’s not that far from where I live, and would make a pleasant day trip. I’m telling myself to temper my expectations for such a sentimental journey. Because what I really wanted to do on my virtual visit was to zoom in, press a button, and be back there, half a century ago, a child of twelve or thirteen, enchanted by the beauty I had discovered. But the eyes and brain are different now, shaped by the experiences of fifty years, and that means any new experience will be different as well.

Image from Pixabay

Twelve Truths About Gardening

I’ve been a gardener for thirty-five years, during which I’ve learned a few things. These thoughts recur regularly as I work in the garden, so I decided to write them down, in case other gardeners may find them helpful.

One

When in doubt, clip the lawn edges. Nothing spruces up a garden (at least the lawn-plus-perennial-beds kind) faster than this. Even a “yard” with a lawn and a few sad shrubs can be made to look like a garden in the making by defining some edges and fluffing up bare soil. Spreading compost around is the finishing touch.

Back garden beds, freshly edged. (This was in 2010. Sadly it doesn’t look this good now.)

Two

Before stepping into a bed or planting, decide exactly where to put your feet. Those size 8s can snap and squash innocent plants. Pick spots where they’ll do the least damage, both to plants and your body, especially if you need to hold a position while tying, digging, or pruning. Balancing on one foot while twisting yourself into a pretzel shape is not recommended.

Three

In summer-dry places, delay watering as long as you can, to encourage plants to grow deep roots. Once you do start watering, make a schedule and water each area regularly, abiding by local watering restrictions. Keep a record of what area was watered and when.

Four

Learn how to deadhead the plants in your garden and do it regularly. Deadheading extends bloom time and prevents excessive self-seeding. It also forces you to pay attention to the forms and structures of your plants.

Results of a heavy deadheading session

Five

Learn how to propagate plants from seed, cuttings, and divisions. These are cheap ways to increase desirable plants, and doing this stuff is a great way to really know plants, way more than buying nursery-grown specimens.

tomato seedlings
Tomato seedlings

Six

Learn how to prune. It’s not brain surgery (since plants don’t have brains, and you do). If in doubt, cut less. You can always cut more, but once you’ve cut something, you can’t stick it back on. When in doubt, stop, look, and think.

Pruning tools

Seven

If a newly-acquired perennial or shrub shows suckering or vigorously spreading tendencies (I’m looking at you, Mahonia aquifolium!), decide right away if that’s okay with you. If not, either remove the plant and get rid of it, or make an effective management plan. Hoping the plant will change its ways isn’t an option.

Mahonia aquifolium “prunings,” up to 8 feet long!

Eight

Don’t try to change your garden into something it isn’t. You’re stuck with the fundamentals (climate, soil, topography), so you may as well live with them. If you’re determined to turn your sandy seaside garden into a mountain meadow, be prepared to labour endlessly. (Gardening involves enough labour as it is.)

Nine

Accept that the garden will change, no matter what you do, and not always as you intend. That 2010 picture at the beginning of the post is a good reminder of this truth. Some plants will die out and others will thrive. Not always the ones you want, of course.

The Path Behind the Pond

Ten

Don’t believe all the advice you read, even this post books and articles by writers you esteem. Every garden is different, and gardening is a hands-on business. Learn by doing. On the other hand, reading about other gardeners’ thoughts and experiences can be a comfort and a joy.

Eleven

Keep in mind that your garden is a place in which to engage in gardening (i.e., digging, planting, weeding, deadheading, edging, watering, and gazing in wonder). It’s not a status symbol, contest, or race. But your garden is also a home for various creatures — birds, squirrels, insects, etc. Think about that before making drastic changes, such as tree removal.

Surprisingly Elegant Arugula Flowers

Twelve

Cultivate the habit of noticing beauty, no matter what happens in your garden. Even in the bleakest, deadest, driest seasons, even after the windstorm, there’s something beautiful to be seen. You just have to find it and recognize it.

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) and Lychnis coronaria foliage.