It’s been almost 45 years since the first Earth Day, which will be marked tomorrow with celebrations, conferences and lots of educational events. One of the best ways to help the Earth all year is to keep a garden. Gardens reduce waste, food miles, provide habitat for insects, birds and other creatures and they also have a profound effect on the mental and physical health of gardeners.
How does gardening help the environment?
Reducing waste – Compost has a double effect on the environment. Every time you compost food scraps and yard waste, you prevent it from going into a landfill. (One estimate is that 18 percent of landfill waste could be composted.) Even better, your homemade compost adds tilth and texture to your garden as well as nutrients.
Helping pollinators – Concern about bees and other insect pollinators is rising as populations of these vital insect appear to be in decline due to a variety of factors from diseases within hives to loss of habitat to harmful pesticides. Home gardens, especially those filled with herbs and native plants, can be a refuge for bees and other beneficial insects.
Giving birds shelter – Put in a small water feature, some thickety shrubs, a few plants with berries and seeds and your garden will be a haven for birds. Watching birds is fun for youngsters and adults alike.
Reducing run-off — A well-placed rain garden can significantly reduce the amount of water and pollution running off a yard. The plantings slow the rush of water into storm sewers and act as a filtration system to reduce pollutants.
Improving nutrition – Growing at least some of your food — or buying it from a local farmers’ market — means you will have healthy, absolutely fresh vegetables that you know are safe and good for you. It’s good for the earth too.
Saving energy — That big tree that shades your house – it’s an environmental giant. A variety of trees, including some evergreens, planted around your home will reduce cooling costs in the summer and protect from cold winter winds. Even better, trees take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, making the air better for everyone. Planting a tree that will live for 50 or more years is a great gift to future generations.
—Mary Lahr Schier