The Serene Peace of the Garden

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Louis Pasteur once spoke of “living in the serene peace of libraries and laboratories.” Author Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, elaborated on this. “Why is peace found there,” he asks. “Because the men in libraries and laboratories are usually too absorbed in their tasks to worry about themselves. Research men rarely have nervous breakdowns. They haven’t time for such luxuries.”

I would like to add to the words of Louis Pasteur and Dale Carnegie by saying that serene peace can also be found in the garden. In the garden, we gardeners are also absorbed in our tasks – the tasks of turning the soil, laying mulch, planting, cultivating, watering, weeding, harvesting, and cleaning and preparing for next year. Plus we have the added benefit of sunshine, exercise, and fresh air, three things that libraries and laboratories do not have.

There are always things all around us to cause to fret and worry, and that is never more true than today. We worry about the pandemic, and whether or not we and/or our families and friends will catch it. We fret over the economy and wonder if we will be able to keep our jobs or, if we’re out of work, if we’ll ever find another one. We worry about our government leaders, and whether they are harming or helping our nation. We fear for our nation as a whole, wondering if we will ever again be united as one people. We feel a profound sense of unease about the damage we are causing to our planet, and wonder if the day will ever come when our wanton wastefulness and careless disposal of harmful substances will someday turn our planet into a barren lifeless wasteland. The load of all of this carried on our shoulders is enough to cause the physical and mental dissolution of even the strongest man, woman, or child.

But there in our gardens we can shut the doors on the world for a while. We can turn our focus to the tasks at hand and find joy in the golden squash, red tomatoes, violet eggplant, and beautiful flowers of various shapes, sizes, and colors that result from our diligent labor. And suddenly, one day, we look up and realize that for those few minutes or even hours, the burdens of our world have been lifted off of our shoulders, and we feel that sense of serene peace of which Louis Pasteur and Dale Carnegie spoke.

So if the world and its troubles have you in a vice-grip that threatens to break you, may I humbly suggest that you become absorbed in the tasks of gardening? Because just like researchers, we gardeners rarely have nervous breakdowns. We, too, have no time for such luxuries.

Birds Do It – Bees Do It – And Fruits, Vegetables, And Trees Do It

Yes, birds, bees, humans, and other higher forms of life, all do it – sexual intercourse, that is. But guess what? Plants are also doing it! Yes, you read that right. The beautiful flowers that delight our eyes and noses, the fruits and vegetables that delight out palates and sustain our bodies, and the majestic trees that provide us with shade and oxygen are all having sex!

Now I’ll leave it to the scientific researchers and philosophers to determine whether or not plants are capable of enjoying the act. But the mechanics of the act are well understood. The diagram below shows the plumbing in all its glory.

Flower Diagram

(source: Fruit & Nut Research & Information Center — http://fruitandnuteducation.ucdavis.edu/generaltopics/AnatomyPollination/Flower_Anatomy/)

The anther (the parts that hold the pollen grains) and the stamens (the long stem-like structures that support the anthers) are the flowers’ male parts. The stigma, style, ovary, and ovules are the female parts. In order for the plant to reproduce, the pollen must come in contact with the stigma. Thanks to the stickiness of the stigma, the pollen is able to stick to the stigma. Once attached to the stigma, the pollen grows a tube down through the style, into the ovary, and then unites with the ovules. This causes one half of the chromosomal makeup of the species to unite with the other half, and a seed, bearing the plants full set of chromosomes is created. In some plants, the ovary will swell after fertilization, turning into the fruits and vegetables that humans and higher animals consume for food.

How does the pollen come in contact with the stigma? In some plants this is caused by the action of the wind (e.g. corn). For others, this pollination occurs before the plant comes into full flower (e.g. beans). But the vast majority of plants are pollinated through the action of insects, birds, or bats visiting the flowers to sip the sweet nectar they produce. This is critical for two reasons – 1) some plants have male and female structures that are on separate plants. If these plants were never visited by pollinators, then these plants would never be pollinated and the species would fail to reproduce and eventually die out. 2) Approximately 80-95% of the plant species found in natural habitats require biotic agent-mediated (bees, butterflies, moths, etc.) pollination. This includes many of the fruits and vegetable plants that produce the foods critical to human health. No pollinators = no plant sex = starving humans.

So if we want to keep the human species alive, healthy, and growing, we need to protect the biotic species that help plants to “get it on.”