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You might say that any garden is an ecosystem garden — after all, bees and bugs visit the flowers (if any) and earthworms dig tunnels in the soil. Isn’t that an ecosystem? Yes, a traditional grass lawn is an ecosystem. But the kind of simple ecosystem that exists in a typical suburban garden is a pale imitation of the wonderful diversity that is possible. A true ecosystem garden (ecogarden) is way more than just a collection of plants in the ground. It is a vibrant, resilient community of plants, animals, and other living things. It is not just about beautiful flowers, or even about beauty alone. It is a genuine contribution to the health of our planet. In a way, it is even a spiritual statement.

most modern gardens are not ecogardens

It is a great tragedy that modern civilization has idealized the sterile, neatly clipped sort of garden seen in millions of private and commercial properties across the world. Boxy green hedges and perfectly flat, unmarked lawns, maybe even with a carefully aligned white picket fence. Rectangular beds of flourescent, massively enlarged flowers, hyper-stimulated into a one-time burst of cancerous abundance by purified, chemically activated super-fertilizers.

Any deviation from the desired “perfection” is quickly cleaned up. Noisy, exhaust-spewing air blowers are used to remove “ugly” fallen leaves, restoring the pristine bare dirt under the bushes. Other powerful, noisy, polluting machines are used to trim the grass and hedges. It’s all very easy to do with our Great Modern Technology. Thousands of small and large companies have made this kind of “gardening” into a highly profitable line of work.

It’s the Western Civilized Dream, born in the Victorian era. We conquer nature and create a tamed, predictable, neatly edged landscape around our homes. It’s like a big outdoor room, an extension of what is found inside our houses.

a return to our roots

An ecogarden is nothing like that. In its deepest heart, it is a return to our ancient prehistoric roots. It’s a way of creating a tiny chunk of real nature, no matter how small. It is more than just a beautiful work of living art. It is a powerful way to help the planet preserve its troubled ecosystems. All around us, species are losing the fight against toxins, pollution, climate change, and habitat destruction. By creating even the smallest refuge for diverse life forms, you help preserve Gaia. This is our responsibility as the caretakers of the planet.

untended nature is not an ecogarden

As beautiful as a natural mountain stream, seashore or prairie might be, it is not an ecosystem garden. It is an ecosystem, but not a garden. To be a garden, it must be tended by a human being, maintained in some way.

However, untended nature is definitely the inspiration for all kinds of ecosystem gardens. In order to nurture many kinds of life forms, an ecogarden has to provide situations where these life forms can be comfortable, healthy, and able to grow and reproduce. An ecogarden can contain many such environments, or be entirely of one sort or another.

Whether it is a flowering meadow, a shady forest floor, a shrubby thicket, a quiet freshwater pond, or a coral reef, an ecogardener tries to create a close resemblance to the natural conditions for the garden’s inhabitants.

that perfect balance

Ideally, an ecogarden is the perfect mix of nature and garden — it is a collaboration between a human and nature, controlled in some ways by the human for a high level of diversity, vigor, and beauty, but also very much its own creation, growing largely on its own.

An ecogarden is supposed to have a natural look. It looks like it grew right there, because that’s (almost) exactly what it did. It is a chunk of nature, a semi-controlled wilderness, yet it is still pruned and maintained by its human caretaker for maximum beauty.