Death Enhances a Garden

Death Enhances a Garden

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Death plays a significant role in my garden, and in so many ways, it makes the garden more interesting.

Death provides comfort. I don’t routinely snip or snap off dead flower heads, not even the large dahlia blooms that stand on their stems brown and bedraggled for weeks. I like seeing different life stages on the plants all at once — buds, fully opened blossoms, and dead ones. It is thought-provoking and even reassuring to confront their message that life and death are stages in an ever-repeating cycle.

The cycle of life in a snapshot of one plant.

Death promotes diversity. For mulch, I prefer half-rotted leaves with pieces of sticks and pine cones to an unvarying swath of “wood chips” or uniformly sized pebbles. Not only does it add an appealing, earthy aroma to the garden, but that diverse and nutritionally rich mulch also supports diverse soil life.

Death provokes thought. A simple plane of one color/texture (like a lawn or a bagged mulch) does set off the plants better and make a scene easier to “read,” and such a visually simple scene may evoke feelings of serenity. However, the complexity of a diverse scene holds my attention longer and provides more grist for contemplation.

Death increases fascination. Not to say that I celebrate death, but I do find it fascinating. Yesterday I discovered an enormous dead spider on the path. Today its body is being dismantled by ants. I keep visiting to check their progress. A few weeks ago, I was oddly intrigued watching one of my pond fish eat a worm. The worm trailed from the fish’s mouth, getting shorter and shorter very slowly as it was digested over the course of several hours.

Midway through the meal, half a worm remains to be digested.

Death adds beauty. Yes, dying leaves signal the approaching winter, but I rejoice in their vivid display. Fallen leaves and flowers paint pictures on the garden floor and—like chalk drawings on a sidewalk—their ephemeral nature contributes to their beauty.

Am I alone in my appreciation for death, or does it also enhance your garden?

Posted by

Evelyn Hadden
on September 17, 2014 at 2:03 pm, in the category Ministry of Controversy, Real Gardens.

4 Comments
    • Corner Garden Sue
    • 25th June 2017

    I have never thought of it that way, but do like to let nature take its course as much as possible. I do watch insects that are eating other insects for a few minutes, and took lots of photos of a spider wrapping its bee up. There was a time, though, when there was no spider in site, and a bee was struggling to get free from a web. I thought about it a minute, and decided to give it a little flick, which then enabled it to fly off. I felt a little guilty toward the spider, but hoped it would catch something less beneficial to the garden.

    • Joe Schmitt
    • 3rd September 2017

    You altered the bee’s fate that day, a huge deal since you did so consciously. But what of all the unconscious, unintended acts we perform daily on a whole host of critters from the microscopic to the downright chunky? The consequences of our blundering around in their habitat are to them no less life-altering than your act of kindness to the bee. At this time of the year I roust hundreds of bumblebees every day from the sunflowers I cut, where they hunkered down against the chilly nights. I create vast wonderlands of nectar and pollen that spur a feeding frenzy – until I suddenly mow them down. And we think we have issues with job security? I really hope the rest of critterdom isn’t prone to reflections like these.

    • Evelyn Hadden
    • 6th September 2017

    Joe, I know just what you mean; it can be disturbing (even depressing) to consider our own power to wipe out or otherwise affect the lives of other species. However, I do find it hopeful and important when we contemplate these issues, rather than just going about our lives with no sense of our impact. And I think our small acts of kindness toward other species, like Sue’s bee rescue, do make a difference, if only to our own psyches.

    • Joe Schmitt
    • 9th September 2017

    Absolutely. We’re offering contrition, asking forgiveness. It’s the basis for the ritual slaughter employed by observant Muslims and Jews, for families saying grace before meals, for the Native American apologies to the animals they take as food. What would be completely overwhelming, however, would be feeling that the rest of nature judged us in the way that we judge ourselves. It’s the reason, I’m sure, that we’re so reluctant to admit of sentience in other species.

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