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A New Way to Garden this Spring?

by Victoria Zelin & Jonathan Cloud, Possible Rochester / Possible Planet

A 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization serving NY & NJ, members of Color Brighton Green


At the tail end of winter, it’s tempting to imagine the possibility of a new wave of gardening catching on this spring. Can we imagine streets and communities full of native plants and flowers, sunshine, butterflies and bees? More than almost any other action that individuals can take, gardening has multiple benefits for our own health and that of the environment. And if we do it together it will strengthen community as well. We here at Possible Planet are dreaming of whole neighborhoods coming outside this spring and getting busy in our gardens;

just imagine neighbors side by side, reconnecting with nature in the very best weather of the year!

For some of us, it could mean a complete makeover, while for others it might just mean adding edges and islands of native plantings, while transitioning (we hope!) to an all-organic lawn. Either way, it’s a welcome opportunity to get

outside and get reconnected with the Earth.

There’s a larger purpose to this as well. Many of us are increasingly concerned with the loss of vital pollinator plants and other species that are essential elements in our own food chain. Have you noticed how there haven’t been all that many bees and butterflies around? To prevent further species loss, we need to have our yards and lawns be naturally biodiverse habitats again. And it’s a win-win: Polyculture borders and islands are attractive and are also natural habitats that can help restore our beneficial insect population.

Gardening itself is satisfying, bringing us fresh air and an opportunity for movement, as well as the satisfaction of getting our hands in the dirt and doing something good for the planet. And it turns out that re-greening whole neighborhoods, growing fruit trees and wildflowers on every square inch of exposed soil, is profoundly uplifting for the residents also. It revives both the land and our spirits, at many levels.

A city-wide or town-wide campaign to beautify neighborhoods can also be a campaign to restore natural ecosystems so as to better support life. We can bring back an abundant pollinator insect population, with micro-gardens and micro-forests, if enough of us are willing to make it happen.

Here’s what it will take:

  • If we own property, we undertake at least one restorative/regenerative project

  • If we’re good at sharing the opportunity, we contact our neighbors and friends

  • If we’re interested, we can help organize the neighborhood or the community

  • By joining existing groups or forming new ones

  • Where we can share permaculture garden tips, discuss community-wide shifts, and increase our own resilience

Along the way we’ll want to make sure to share a sense of the joys of nature, of reimagining the world as a garden again, with a new vision of nature-based urban architecture, and of joining and forming new communities focused on “light” and Life.

Healing the Earth is also a way to begin healing ourselves, addressing the traumas (which may be deeply buried within us) of modern history, cleaning the air, creating drinkable rivers, restoring the soil, and refreshing our own sense of meaning and purpose in the world.

At Healthy Yards Monroe County, you can see tips and guidelines for redesigning your yard for the benefit of wildlife, and register your garden. The group’s recommendations, broadly supported by both the town and the county, include:

  • Reducing your lawn area

  • Identifying native and keystone trees (e.g., oak, birch, and cherry)

  • Choosing a diversity of native plants

  • Learning best practices for lawn maintenance

  • Learning to identify and remove any herbaceous and woody invasive plants in your yard

What if we were able to recover our intrinsic harmony with nature—to become fully beneficial participants in the maintenance and expansion of life? Can we see ourselves as overcoming and possibly even redeeming our past, seeing it as simply a stage in our evolution as a species that can now assume its role of

stewardship and service on what Thomas Berry calls “this garden Earth”?

Having a message that resonates with all sorts of people is clearly essential. The

world we want is possible, but only if a great majority of us embrace it, and it becomes central to who we say we are.

This new way of gardening arises from a different way of looking at the world—a way of looking that sees possibilities for self-renewal in the humblest clod of dirt and the smallest window box or roof garden. Grow food, for yourself, for the insects, and the birds—all at the same time.

Along with this, let’s open our minds to new possibilities, and re-engage with our neighbors and friends in a new cause, and re-awaken new experiences of the Earth within ourselves. We have an opportunity, each Spring, to be a part of re-making our world. Let’s get out and plant some native things—some native trees and flowers, some hyperlocal food, and some native visions for a peaceful and flourishing world.

Recommended resources and organizations:

  • Color Brighton Green, a non-profit organization, supports business, municipal, school, and residential energy reduction measures in our town, in concert with climate protection efforts by other towns and cities across the country. The organization sponsors A Pollinator Presentation: Planting Native for a Healthier Lawn and a Happier Family.

  • Healthy Yards Monroe County is a cross-town team of neighbors. We see a pressing need to encourage residents to participate in a fun effort – in their own yards – that will help restore our community’s biodiversity, ecological health, and beauty. The more yards that join, the more connected these healthy greenspaces will become. Our villages and towns can continue the connection by upgrading our public grounds and parks to include native plantings.

  • Patty Love, Barefoot Ecological Design & Genesee Valley/Finger Lakes Permaculture & Resilience Meetup: A critically important aspect of this is also growing some of our own food, says Permaculturist Patty Love, who also lives in Brighton. If we’re talking about what’s good for the climate, buying food at the supermarket is something we should try to minimize. Fruits and vegetables out of season typically travel thousands of miles to reach us, and may have gone through chemical treatments to preserve their freshness and appearance. By contrast, we know everything that goes into the produce from our own garden, including our love for the soil and our appreciation of the bounty of nature.

  • The Butterfly Beltway is a program of the Seneca Park Zoo that works to preserve the habitat of the monarch butterfly. Butterflies cannot survive their multigenerational migratory journey without finding milkweed along the way.

  • The Pollinator Partnership offers ecoregional planting guides that are tailored to specific areas of the United States and Canada.

What do you think of this idea?

Victoria and Jonathan would love to hear from you. For more details, to join the movement—and to share your own permaculture garden photos and stories—visit Possible Rochester or email them at

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