“…plants are living things that thrive without intention, build without blood or brain, move without muscle, summon without self-awareness, and feed the world without intent.
. . .It is important to know how plants achieved the ability to fashion their living from sunlight, how they moved this photosynthetic machinery onto land, painted the continents green fabricated the largest living things that ever existed , and continue to cope with the animals they unintentionally feed and shelter.”
~Karl J. Niklas, The Evolutionary Biology of Plants, 1997
“I garden for a higher purpose than eye candy” ~ Susan L. Taylor
Susan L. Taylor is a visionary gardener, teacher and native plant landscaping consultant in Bellingham, WA. Grounded in both science and environmental ethics/values, Susan teaches property owners about the “ecological interrelationships between soil, vegetation and water quality.” She developed and now teaches classes on sustainable landscaping as a WSU Whatcom Extension Educator, co-owned Wildside Growers Native Plant Nursery & Garden Design Services, and is a certified Master Gardener.
Susan’s passion is protecting sensitive watersheds, and she has successfully motivated citizens in Whatcom County to adopt stewardship behaviors towards watersheds. One look at her own two acre idyllic Garden of Eden shows how much she lives her values, and how beautifully her philosophy translates into a healthy sustainable landscape (click here to see pictures). Susan graciously allowed me to tour her early April garden and discussed why and how this approach really works for the land, the animals and insects, and the humans who live there.
What brought you to care about water management in the garden?
I love gardening and am committed to supporting the environment. So it is about making my decisions based on my values. I garden for a higher purpose than for appearance, i.e. “eye candy.” The major goals of my landscaping are:
- biodiversity & habitat;
- managing water (conservation & storm water) and
- creating amazing outdoor areas that draw my husband and me outside.
You can’t imagine my joy from watching the constant changes throughout the seasons & seeing the landscape alive with birds and butterflies. I realized that people need to be taught science as part of gardening and developed curriculum that helps people make informed decisions when planning their landscaping. People need to know how ecologies work together to make a sustainable landscape. In order to do that, people must understand the importance of diversity in their landscape. Then you can understand how science and gardening go together.
You’ve involved yourself in the political process on behalf of water management issues. What led you to take this on?
I also believe that I can by my actions make a difference in our local and regional environmental issues. Managing storm water is the single most important contribution I can make to protect fresh and marine ecosystems. For example, I have been active in Lake Whatcom watershed issues, especially storm water; including working on:
- “Door hanging” to 100 homes about the Watershed Pledge Program
- Silver Beach Neighborhood plan
- People For Lake Whatcom
- Bellingham Watershed Advisory Board
Through these efforts, I’ve also learned again, just as I learned at Kent State in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, that our joint efforts can produce a cumulative impact and actually change cultural norms.
Most people don’t think that gardening can be dangerous or toxic, but your own research shows a different reality. Can you tell us about that?
Right now, we really need to understand why pesticides for gardens are so dangerous for human and environmental health here in the US. Studies have shown that home gardens use ten times more pesticides than agriculture does. As a result, 100,000 – 200, 000 people get sick from pesticides every year. Sixty to seventy million birds die annually. Scientists have tested the air quality inside homes where pre-emergent pesticides have been sprayed outside, and have found a higher level of toxins inside than outside. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had placed 2,4 D, the most common herbicide sold under names such as Weed ‘n Feed under special review due to concern about chronic health and environmental effects. However, the agency denied the National Resources Defense Council’s petition to cancel all product registrations and revoke all tolerances (legal residue limits in food) on April 9, 2012,
Every year, people use 67 million gallons of pesticides on their lawns in the US. 97% of those pesticides, according to the EPA, are probable or possible carcinogens. British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec have banned many of the pesticides we use, as has Europe.
Coming Next: Susan Taylor discusses 5 common water management mistakes and a plethora of native plant recommendations for northwest Washington Gardeners.