Top 10: Condon's nature tips for a smart summer

Gardening should not be only about growing a beautiful yard of grass, gorgeous flowers, or yummy vegetables. Gardening should provide pleasure, excitement, and health benefits. Herewith a dozen tips to get the most out of your gardening experiences this summer.


Go hands-on

 Think of gardening as good exercise to keep your body going strong instead of as work that you do not want to do. Pull unwanted plants (I hate the word "weed") by hand instead of employing hazardous chemicals that are detrimental to our environment.


Make connections

 Learn about the connections between wildlife and plants so you can help our wildlife to survive. Allow violets to grow in your lawn, and you will be rewarded later in the season with the sight of large orange Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies– whose caterpillars are absolutely dependent upon the availability of violets.


Love those bunnies

 Never think of any organism as "bad" or "good"– all creatures provide a service that keeps the world functioning properly. If you learn what that service is, you can appreciate why something is happening in your garden and then deal with it sensibly instead of getting angry (and making your blood pressure rise). For example, rabbits eat a variety of plants to keep the world from being overpopulated with plants. Protect your veggies by placing fencing several inches underground and then bent away about two feet from the garden in an "apron" that prevents critters from digging underneath.


Deer happen

 Realize that there are too many deer, and deer eat plants. Learn to accept that there will be deer damage to your crops and flowers, or else put up an electric fence or a very tall fence (about 10 feet) to keep these animals out. Do not wage war with the natural world unless you want to lose your sanity.


Save the leftovers

 Embrace the natural world so its system of checks and balances can keep animal and plant populations at acceptable and necessary levels. Provide a variety of plants to encourage a variety of wildlife to visit or live in your yard. Then during warm weather, goldfinches will eat dandelion seeds and ladybugs will eat aphids, and during the cold months dark-eyed juncos and ruby-crowned kinglets from the north can survive on "leftover" seeds and aphids, respectively.


Spare a snake

 Too many individuals of any kind of organism means your environment is out of balance. For example, an abundance of voles means you have not encouraged their primary predators snakes to live in your vicinity. Never kill animals out of ignorance and/or fear, such as often happens in snake/human encounters. These reptiles (especially venomous ones) are not at all aggressive. Let them go on their merry way so they can control the numbers of rodents and other animals (including birds) around your property.


Hold the salt

 Disregard the horticultural advice so ignorantly given to kill all snails and slugs. These animals break down mulch and decaying plant and animal matter to provide nutrients to the plants you're cultivating. If these useful animals are eating your plants, or there seems to be an overabundance of them, you probably have too much mulch. Thin it out.


Go to seed

 Horticulturists also advise you to never let your plants go to seed and to pull out all dried stalks in fall to minimize the number of over-wintering insects and their eggs. But our birds and small mammals are dependent upon seeds and insects to survive the winter, making this very poor advice.


You're the judge

 Do not be intimidated by society's standards of beauty. Today's world has been very negatively affected because of man's unrealistic expectations of how the natural world should look outside his door. Learn, for instance, to appreciate the natural colors of fall that consist of various hues of brown and yellow. Dried flower stalks display a subtle, peaceful beauty that is increased when you spot birds feeding on them throughout fall and winter.


Love your mother

 Live in harmony with nature by learning as much as you can about the organisms that share our world. Then every stroll around the yard will be an exciting and pleasurable nature walk that you can take without ever having to leave home!


Marlene Condon served as the long-time nature writer for the Daily Progress until quitting last November after the managing editor allegedly threatened to muzzle some of her more fiery opinions– such as her incendiary suggestion that bluebirds may be partially responsible for the decline of grasshopper populations.