The Conscientious Gardener: Cultivating a Garden Ethic

We are reminded almost daily that the environment is affected by our actions and the decisions we make. Most gardeners understand, at some basic level, the inter-connectedness of the natural world and that what they choose to do can have lasting consequences—both good and bad. Gardeners tend to want to learn more about how to grow things better, about new plants, or about ways to lessen their negative impact on the world around them. Anyone who strives to impart that kind of information soon learns that proscribing certain behaviors is ineffective without offering alternative methods, products, or ideas. Sarah Reichard, has accomplished that task in The Conscientious Gardener. In a series of essays, inspired by the likes of environmentalists Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, we are shown how ingrained gardening habits, driven by years of consumerism and thoughtless consumption, have left many a landscape at complete odds with the environment. The beautifully manicured but mostly unused lawns that surround homes in the arid West come immediately to mind. Reichard’s book offers some alternatives for us to consider.

Each chapter of The Conscientious Gardener covers a specific topic, such as the land and how we cultivate the soil, our use and misuse of water, and our attitudes and responses to pests and weeds in our yards. After showing us how common practices and misconceptions are deleterious to the world around us, Reichard asks us to consider alternative methods and products. For those trying to lessen their own impact on the environment, this book explains how that can be achieved in the garden. The final chapters are a plea to confront climate change; each individual’s response can help mitigate the damage, in part by reducing, reusing, and recycling. There is a glossary and an extensive list of plants considered invasive (including where and in what conditions they are invasive) that will prove helpful to gardeners trying to understand this increasingly bewildering topic.

The author’s passion for her subject is particularly obvious in the numerous exclamation points appearing in the first chapters. The Conscientious Gardener is a thoughtful and timely treatise on how we can improve our stewardship of the land and the life that it supports.

Steve Gerischer, garden designer
Los Angeles, California