is your panorama ‘undergrown’? with nancy lawson

AS SHE OFTEN DOES, naturalist and nature author Nancy Lawson—maybe recognized higher because the Humane Gardener after the title of her first e-book—caught my consideration the opposite day.

“My yard isn’t overgrown and neither is yours,” Nancy wrote on Instagram. What she went on to say is that phrases like overgrown are the sort which are typically utilized negatively to landscapes that don’t match the manicured mannequin, the one dominated by the mindset of the Nice American Garden.

However Nancy Lawson takes exception, countering with the thought that the majority landscapes are actually undergrown, as in missing range and life.

Naturalist Nancy Lawson is writer of “The Humane Gardener,” after which additionally of the e-book “Wildscape” (affiliate hyperlinks). When she and her husband purchased their Maryland residence nearly 25 years in the past, it was something however a wildscape. And she or he vividly remembers that the two.23 acres featured, in her phrases, “nearly 2 acres of mowed turf and just a little tiny, sickly rose bush.”

Not anymore.

What does the language we’re utilizing about our landscapes say—and are we actually utilizing the very best phrases?

Plus: Enter to win a replica of her newest e-book, “Wildscape,” by commenting within the field close to the underside of the web page.

Learn alongside as you hearken to the Jan. 29, 2024 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant under. You may subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

the language of the panorama, with nancy lawson



Margaret Roach: Hi, Nancy. How is it down there within the wildscape in Maryland? Good?

Nancy Lawson: Hi, sure, it’s wonderful. The birds are all of their heated chicken baths exterior.

Margaret: [Laughter.] Yeah, a lot of birds this yr. We’ve had simply had a chilly snap and boy, some days simply mourning doves alone, there’d be 40 or 45 mourning doves apart from everyone else, there’d be over 100 birds at a time visiting to drink—I hold water accessible as nicely—and to feed.

Nancy: That’s great.

Margaret: Yeah, it’s enjoyable. Makes all of it make sense just a little bit or one thing.

Nancy: Yeah. I really like to observe them lining up, taking their turns on the chicken tub [laughter].

Margaret: And the literal pecking order; some species are bossier than others [laughter].

Nancy: Sure. That’s true.

Margaret: Who’s in cost? Yeah. In order I stated within the introduction, your current submit on Instagram is the place I had initially seen it, however it’s in your web site in additional depth. It actually caught my ear. And I wish to first set the scene for individuals who could not have learn it. And also you begin with: “My yard isn’t overgrown and neither is yours. The truth is, if you happen to’re like most People, I’d enterprise to say that it’s extra seemingly undergrown.”

So how did this subject come up proper now, and inform us just a little extra about what you wrote about briefly.

Nancy: Yeah. Nicely, I’ve been fascinated by these sorts of phrases for a very long time. And I feel I reached my breaking level with the phrase overgrown when my sister was going via her HOA case, the place they had been coming after her for her pollinator backyard [above], which she ultimately managed to save lots of and assist get a state legislation handed.

Margaret: And so this was her house owner’s affiliation; different folks complained, and this was a case in Maryland that grew to become a take a look at case, a extremely vital case. Sure?

Nancy: Yeah. Yeah. Our state delegates in our county took it on, and drafted some laws to forestall this from taking place to different folks residing in HOAs, and it handed. So yeah, so it was an effective way of creating lemonade from lemons. However I feel throughout that point, definitely a variety of the citations my sister had been getting known as her backyard “overgrown.”  And at any time when folks contact us about citations they get both from their HOA or from weight inspection businesses, that’s usually one in every of these combating phrases, I name them, which are used [laughter].

And so I simply began to consider what’s a substitute for that, by way of how we are able to reframe this dialogue, as a result of it’s nearly like folks use it as a default. And as I famous in my article on my web site, when “The New York Occasions” did their every day electronic mail digest that week that they wrote about Janet’s case  a few yr in the past, the individual writing the e-mail described her that she gained the combat to maintain her overgrown backyard or one thing like that. And he’d by no means seen it. He’d simply most likely given the article a cursory learn. And it simply struck me that it was a method that he had chosen to write down his little teaser. And it’s not even the best way that the reporter, Cara Buckley, who wrote the article, described her backyard. Nevertheless it’s simply so embedded in our minds {that a} garden is a “tidy and regular and fairly,” and that anything is overgrown. So, yeah.

Margaret: Proper. So it obtained me pondering, your submit,  each the Instagram and the longer one on the  Humane Gardener web site. It obtained me pondering actually of how difficult the topic and the language round gardening has change into. And also you and I’ve talked about this offline just a little bit, however I wish to speak about it out loud just a little bit, too. Particularly within the final decade.

I’ve been gardening for most likely 40ish years or one thing, and I’ve been writing about it for 30-something of these years, I suppose. And the strain between our one-time picture of a “backyard”—which was once taken or derived from the English fairly image books. It was a spot the place management was a advantage, and it was all a few fairly picture-perfect place or scene that was created.

After which now fast-forward, we’ve realized a lot extra concerning the ecosystems and about creating habitat and the opposite issues that we are able to do as gardeners apart from make fairly photos [laughter]. And to not say that we shouldn’t make fairly photos. I’m not saying it needs to be both/or. And that’s the factor.

And so now as you and I’ve talked about, if I write a narrative about one thing native in “The New York Occasions” backyard column, and even on the weblog, a number of the folks get mad as a result of they wish to know… They suppose it seems to be—the phrase they often use is “messy” [laughter] and so they don’t need one thing messy. After which if I write about non-native issues which are what we used to name decorative, then everyone will get mad who says, “However that’s not native. Why are you writing about it?” [Laughter.]

Nancy: Proper, proper.

Margaret: Sorry, that was long-winded. However you already know what I imply, it’s this pressure. And also you’re proper, the language, there’s a variety of triggering—to make use of a up to date phrase—triggering language, too. [Below, a path in Nancy’s garden.]

Nancy: Yeah. Yeah. And once I posted that submit final week on Fb, there was a variety of response from individuals who had been enthusiastic about possibly having a brand new strategy to speak about issues with that phrase “undergrown.” One of many damaging feedback that I obtained was from a man who was actually upset that I didn’t present substitute phrases.

And the entire level is that we don’t need to see every thing at all times… We don’t need to label every thing. We don’t need to see every thing at all times in such black and white phrases. And so for me, a substitute time period is lacking that entire level. It obtained me fascinated by the truth that there are a variety of renaming campaigns now, like with renaming the Audubon Society, and renaming chicken names.

Margaret: Sure, sure.

Nancy: And people, you do want a substitute. You do want one other phrase for if you happen to’re going to alter the title of a chicken who’s named after any individual from the 18th century, and also you wish to make it a extra human-friendly and bird-friendly species title now.

However these different phrases, a variety of them that I used to be speaking about in that submit, are conceptual phrases. So that you don’t want an alternative to an opossum, you don’t must name that… In case you’re calling that opossum a pest, nicely, he already has a reputation. He’s an opossum [laughter]. In case you’re calling a violet a weed, nicely, the violet already has a reputation. The violet is a violet. And so it’s extra about taking a look at how we categorically lump issues collectively as both good or unhealthy, and simply making an attempt to see if folks can take a step again from that.

Margaret: Proper. As I stated, one of many different phrases that I’m typically assaulted with is that appears “messy.” And I used to be fascinated by, nicely, what do they imply messy? Do they imply child of wildish or do they imply unfastened? Do they imply looser than formal? Do they imply naturalistic? Do they imply full,  bountiful? Are you aware what I imply? Might we free-associate just a little bit [laughter], cease simply slandering each other and yelling at one another?

Nancy: Yeah, precisely.

Margaret: That’s all. And I agree with you that we shouldn’t essentially need to, as a result of a violet is a violet, and opossum is an opossum. However the total scene, versus holding onto an image that just one image—a proper, inflexible, well-mown and manicured to the Nth diploma image—is the one image that’s O.Okay. Might we as an alternative take into consideration phrases like looser and naturalistic and full and bountiful? Might we take into consideration these phrases versus overgrown, messy [laughter]?

Nancy: Yeah. Yeah, for certain. Nicely, people who find themselves utilizing the phrase messy, they don’t even have the naturalistic vocabulary of their head although, do they?

Margaret: No, no, you’re proper.

Nancy: They’re pondering straight traces, flat mode. So yeah, it’s like there’s the absence of it, after which there’s the plentiful presence of it. And when individuals are pondering in these two extremes, these are the phrases they fall again on.

Margaret: Yeah. In your weblog submit, you made an fascinating level, which is that you just say, “In case you have a turfgrass garden on most of your property, your yard isn’t actually, pristine. It’s undergrown.” And then you definitely say, “In case you or your garden service firm apply herbicides, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, your yard will not be immaculate. It’s contaminated.”

Nancy: Yeah.

Margaret: Proper? Both set of language, we are able to have a look at another way, and it’s not immaculate. There’s one other story behind it, which is that we’ve killed off a variety of the life to make it behave that method. Yeah. We’ve subdued it. We’ve subdued factor…into submission, I imply. By that I imply into submission.

Nancy: Proper. And it partly has to do with a few of these issues that if we’re solely taking a look at what’s proper in entrance of us and never contemplating the extra hidden results, then what folks do see is one thing interesting, though I don’t know why that’s interesting to them, only a huge expansive inexperienced grass [laughter], however it’s simply what individuals are used to, I feel. So there’s the sight downside, the place they’re not fascinated by issues that may very well be out of their view, the implications, however then there’s additionally pondering from the attitude of the opposite organisms, the opposite residing beings who need to share that land and the way they could see it or sense it in numerous methods.

Margaret: Which is a lot what your second e-book, “Wildscape” is about, is listening and smelling and touching and tasting and so forth in behalf of all of the creatures, actually letting our doorways of perceptions open up of their behalf.

So that you say one thing else fascinating on this weblog submit, which is that, through the years as you’ve explored these false dichotomies which were arrange language-wise, and also you’ve requested scientists even, “Why do we are saying this? Why do we are saying that?” And one was “pest” versus “helpful insect.” Inform us about that one. How did we find yourself doing that, setting them up as if there’s two units of bugs?

Nancy: Yeah. I used to be struck by that once I did my first Grasp Gardner coaching in 2005, and I had already been working on the Humane Society for a number of years and was very conscious of the harm that the phrases “pest” and “nuisance” could cause in relation to mammals by way of folks’s perceptions of them. After which I took this class and there’s entire sections of the handbook on pest bugs and helpful bugs, and the primary query is, nicely, helpful to whom, and pests to whom? As a result of there have been a variety of bugs in there that we all know are literally helpful to birds and different animals that had been being labeled as pests.

And so I requested a few totally different entomologists once I did my first e-book, the place that got here from, and so they had been identical to, “Nicely, it’s mainly a advertising time period, and it’s to attempt to get folks to love some bugs, however no less than like some bugs, and depart them alone.”

So there was a optimistic intent behind making an attempt to give you that phrase, helpful. However I feel it typically makes folks say, anytime they meet a brand new insect of their backyard, “Oh my gosh, is that this good or unhealthy?” And it units up that binary pondering instantly [laughter]. And in the event that they go look on-line, they could study that it’s unhealthy when it’s actually not.

Margaret: Proper. Nicely, the place’s the road of… Yeah, the place’s the road of demarcation, so to talk, you probably have a black to white, a damaging to optimistic, a continuum, the place do you set the… The place’s the spot the place you go over the sting?

With the “helpful,” I get why they are saying it was a advertising factor, and it’s labored within the sense that in any other case, all the pictures I’ve of individuals are like that scene within the “Annie Corridor” film or no matter, the place there’s a spider within the lavatory and she or he sends Woody Allen in to get it or no matter. However everyone seems to be frightened of arthropods, bugs and different arthropods… Nicely of most animals, frankly.

And so I suppose I’m glad that they put a spin on a few of them, however it has possibly backfired by this level,  sure, sure, as nicely.

Nancy: And as we’re speaking about it, I hadn’t actually considered this on this method earlier than, however, so take it, for instance, a caterpillar. There’s Golden… What are they known as? Golden Guides that had been printed?

Margaret: Sure. Certain, certain. Sure.

Nancy: Yeah. So once I was little, I’d purchase them on the grocery retailer [laughter]. I nonetheless have one known as pests, and it has caterpillars in it, like butterfly caterpillars, and so they’re within the pest e-book. And it’s not that individuals name them now helpful both, however they don’t name them pests anymore as a result of they know that they feed birds and so they’ve-

Margaret: Sure, simply because they chunk holes in a few of your vegetation doesn’t imply that they’re pests. Those that destroy a complete native species of timber, for instance, I feel these deserve to stay within the pest class. Are you aware what I imply? I feel the hemlock woolly adelgid is a pest insect; it’s just a little bit totally different form of animal, however yeah.

Nancy: Yeah. Though the used to the phrase, although, I do know what you’re saying, however I simply take into consideration the truth that, O.Okay., so the place that animal is from, they’re not most likely a pest [laughter].

Margaret: No, completely not. And that’s why I feel once we talk about invasive or alien or no matter you wish to name it, imported, nonetheless we wish to talk about it, it’s vital to grasp that when it’s not in its pure habitat, it will get uncontrolled. It’s not that it’s innately uncontrolled, it’s that people have transported into a spot the place it’s… Talking of that pecking order that we’ve began concerning the birds [laughter], the order will not be right here, and so they’re strangers in an odd land, and it’s gone to hell.

So that you additionally speak about one other actually loaded and complicated phrase, which is “weed,” which is, yeah. I’ve clearweed and jewelweed, which clearweed, Pilea and jewelweed an Impatiens species, vegetation that I really like, and plenty of creatures right here do, bugs in addition to within the case of the jewelweed, the hummingbirds. However their names, their frequent names have “weed” in them.

Nancy: And I can’t bear in mind if we talked about this earlier than, however once I first began gardening right here, I ripped out jewelweed and pokeweed due to their names, and since I’d see them listed as weeds, and I didn’t know any higher. So it’s undoubtedly dangerous for certain to have them of their frequent names. After which through the years, it’s made me… I strive to not use that phrase. I attempt to keep away from it it doesn’t matter what, as a result of I feel it’s so complicated to folks. And so if I’m speaking about one thing like a floor ivy or creeping Charlie, I’ll say a non-native that may push out natives and take over wildlife habitat. Now that’s a protracted factor to say, however no less than it’s extra exact.

Margaret: Yeah. I’m nonetheless again on the “non-native thug.” [Laughter.] My brief model is “non-native thug” for a few of these groundcovers that erroneously, we launched. Once more, a variety of them had been launched both unintentionally or as a result of we thought they had been going to be good backyard vegetation, and so they’ve gotten uncontrolled. So I consider them as non-native thugs. However similar intention to what you stated.

Nancy: Proper. Proper.

Margaret: So I assume that the rationale that you just wrote about it’s that you just wish to speak about this out loud, proper? This is a vital dialog for us all to have fairly than simply condemn “overgrown yards” and suppose that’s going to get us wherever. Yeah?

Nancy: Yeah. And I began doing talks on this vocabulary framework round 2013 or so, and earlier than I wrote my first e-book, after which I used that framing as a few of what I wrote about in there. However I spotted I had by no means actually put it multi function place. And so it’s been bothering me that I don’t have it written down like that someplace. And likewise since then, I’ve added extra phrases to my pet-peeve phrases [laughter]

And yeah, I do suppose we spent a variety of time in my sister’s HOA case dismantling a few of these phrases, each on the hearings and within the newsletters to the group and stuff.

And I do suppose that when folks begin to consider it, some folks get upset, however I didn’t hear from as a lot of these this time as I’ve on a number of the different issues I’ve posted. For essentially the most half, even individuals who have a variety of garden are saying, “Yeah, you actually made me take into consideration this,” or, “I’ve been questioning learn how to body this.” So, I would love to have the ability to simply see these phrases loosen up just a little, if not completely go away, as a result of that’s most likely not real looking. Simply no less than attempt to have folks speaking in a extra expansive method concerning the vegetation and animals round them.

Margaret: Yeah. So I really feel like, once more, I wish to go exterior—when the snow and ice soften [laughter]—and I wish to free-associate about what I’m seeing. I wish to consider the brand new… the totally different adjectives?

Nancy: Yeah. Yeah.

Margaret: Yeah. I really feel like that is an train we might all do. With the giveaway on your e-book, what we’ll do is that the query that individuals need to reply within the feedback to enter to win might be to free-associate about one in every of these phrases with us. So I’ll take into consideration that, but-

Nancy: That’s an amazing thought.

Margaret: Yeah. So let’s get some assist with this. Proper? [Laughter.]

Nancy: Yeah.

Margaret: So within the final minute or two, so what else is in your thoughts proper now? It’s this, you needed to get this down, and what else is prime of thoughts proper now?

Nancy: Yeah. Nicely, I’ve one thing within the works on colour, and the way our tradition is so geared towards the neutrals [laughter], and the historic causes for that. As a result of I’ve been studying some issues about that, and I simply suppose it’s actually fascinating the way it would possibly apply to our standard panorama selections.

Margaret: Oh, not a topic I do know something about. Fascinating. I’ve a variety of screaming gold stuff, so I’m possibly within the different finish of the-

Nancy: [Laughter.] Yeah, I feel you might be.

Margaret: My home is darkish inexperienced with reddish-orange trim, so I is likely to be on the opposite finish of the loopy…[laughter].

Nancy: Yeah, I find it irresistible.

Margaret: Yeah. Yeah. Nicely, I’m at all times glad to talk to you, and like I stated, I used to be actually glad to learn this simply because issues have modified and typically, I’m unsure if I’ve my footing. I see the feedback, like those you get typically, too, that you just had been talking about. And I don’t know, am I lacking one thing? And I wish to open up and suppose extra extensively, and perform a little of this free-associating and so it was provocative to me what you wrote, and I thanks for it.

Nancy: Thanks. Thanks a lot on your curiosity. I really like speaking with you, Margaret.

(All pictures from Nancy Lawson at The Humane Gardener.)

extra from nancy lawson

enter to win a replica of ‘wildscape’

I’LL BUY A COPY of “Wildscape” by Nancy Lawson for one fortunate reader. All you must do to enter is reply this query within the feedback field under:

What phrases as an alternative of “overgrown” or “messy” would you counsel to explain a looser, native-heavy entrance yard, the place mown garden isn’t the primary design aspect? Assist us free-associate for some higher phrases!

No reply, or feeling shy? Simply say one thing like “rely me in” and I’ll, however a reply is even higher. I’ll choose a random winner after entries shut at midnight Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. Good luck to all.

(Disclosure: As an Amazon Affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

choose the podcast model of the present?

MY WEEKLY public-radio present, rated a “top-5 backyard podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper within the UK, started its 14th yr in March 2023. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Pay attention regionally within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Jap, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the Jan. 29, 2024 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You may subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

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