December 5, 2020

My #1 Gardening Suggestion: Go Deep and Small for Large, Lasting Life-Changing Impact.

by christopherabdo

In the 2 square feet you could grow some water-demanding, fussy lawn...you could grow a Moringa (speaking to Austinites here): 

So, what does a Moringa tree do in my garden?

1. It slows down the strong winds that beat down the seedlings on my plot

2. It fixes nitrogen in the soil for other plants to grow and enjoy. 

3. It provides shade during the worst of the Texas sun and heat. 

4. It's considered one of the most nutritious plants in the world. 

5. It's one of the few plants that needs next to no care in the Texas heat. 

6. It produces edible, delicious pods. 

7. Its seeds can be used to purify water. 

8. Its simply pretty. 

9. Its leaves can be chopped and dropped on the ground to turn to compost to feed other plants. 

10. It holds onto water in the soil with its roots. 

11. Its deep taproot gathers subsoil nutrients to bring up to other plants. 

12. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees love the edible blooms of the Moringa (that taste like mushroom when stir-fried. 

13. I'm sure I've forgotten something here, but that's a start. 

After touring several different gardens, backyards, front yards, greenhouses, indoor gardens...


I keep running into the same thing: 


Someone who hadn't tried growing a single plant in a few years, outlines a huge swath of the backyard about a hundred feet long to create a planting bed. Little do they know, that in their DIY efforts, they will spend at least a few thousand dollars, work tirelessly to create a landscape dotted by a few plants sitting at the back of their yard that they would have to walk over to enjoy. Imagine those few thousand dollars and all that physical energy invested in just a 5x5 foot spot right outside their patio door, where they actually spend the most time. For the same energy and funds, you could produce a very small garden that has a much more powerful effect on you on a daily basis. The bigger your scope, the less of an impact you'll have. 


I had indoor plants scattered across several rooms. Many of those rooms, I really didn't spend much time in. So it was an extra effort to think about and remember to care for all those plants outside of where I actually hung out. I got overwhelmed by the scope, under-whelmed by the impact. So I took 90% of my plants, and moved them all into the living room...where I actually spend the most time when I'm home. Instantly, I felt embraced by plant life, all the while making it less work to remember to care for the plants I had, and enjoying them more all the while. 


So if you're starting an indoor garden, growing microgreens indoors, getting into an outdoor garden, working on a landscape, etc. I would encourage you to pause and see if you can go as small as you can, as close to where you hang out and making the biggest impact you can over the smallest space. The cost to cover 500 square feet with lawn, if concentrated and focused over a small balcony, could include a pond, fragrant plants, edible fruits, vegetables, bird feeders, butterfly habitats, flowers, colorful plants, a tree, a whole ecosystem. So what I would love to see more of, is this idea, of going big by going small and dense. 


As I'm approaching the end of the 30 posts in 30 days challenge, I'm seeing how broad my scope could be. I took off all limitations as to what I would cover here, and its been a blast. Luckily, a big scope of content isn't nearly expensive as clearing out a huge swath of land that's waiting for weeds to take over any minute. 


But now, I want to begin to narrow my scope, so I can go small, but make a really deep, lasting impact. 


This reminds me of a lawn vs a tree. There is a context and good place for both, but think about the magic of what a tree can do, yet how small it seems at the start. When you put down a lawn, you get a big swath of land covered, it seems big. The reality underneath is that those grass roots, for a while, are shallow. So you get a seemingly big impact that's fragile and easily killed off with drought, weather, insects, et. Here in Texas, lots can go wrong with that lawn. A tree though, barely covers just a few square feet when first put in as a sapling. It's simple, you just water all around that spot and the drip line. It's totally manageable, but not impressive, yet. The tree though, will act as the maternal force for a huge swath of space. Its responsible for creating shade, forming deep roots and/or a deep fungal network (the internet of the soil) that can stretch for miles wide, hundreds of feet deep (let's ignore that Tx limestone for a moment for this analogy 😉 ).  Then that tree attracts birds, squirrels, homes for all the beneficial insects and other wildlife and even attracts the rain by holding onto and slowing down the rain with its roots and leaves. 


Once you succeed with a lawn, its impact, although at first having a seemingly large scope, is actually quite small. A tree, although at first having very little observable impact, develops depth and momentum until its impact not only spreads farther than that lawn (there are now scientists discovering that trees can actually, through a fungal network, transport nutrients for miles) but it also goes deeper and higher. 


So right now, I'm looking for a physical place to plant a tree, yes. I'm also looking for a place in the social ecosystem I live in, to plant a tree. What will outlast me in its social impact? How can I set very deep roots of resilience, pragmatism love and inspiration in the world I live in, so that others are empowered to model nature, bring some life into their life and do it in a way that makes everything better? 



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