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Adapting our gardening practices to climate change offers us the same opportunity that Voltaire had in his

“We must cultivate our garden (We must cultivate our garden).

– Voltaire, “Candide”, 1759

In “The Well-Gardened Mind” (2020), author Sue Stuart-Smith tells a story about the controversial French satirist Voltaire and his short story “Candide”. In 1753, Voltaire’s anti-religious beliefs caused him to lose the favor of his patron Frederick the Great. Voltaire found it best to flee to Geneva, Switzerland, where he decided to make his exile more enjoyable by creating a walled garden in his villa, Les Délices.

While Voltaire was busy in his garden, in 1755 one of the deadliest earthquakes in history completely destroyed the city of Lisbon, Portugal. Amid the utter devastation of the earthquake and tsunami and the fires that followed, people questioned their beliefs in a benevolent god and in the dominant Newtonian concept of the universe as a meticulously efficient and predictable clock.

From his garden in Geneva, Voltaire was enraged by the lack of response to the urgency of the Lisbon leaders, who instead focused their attention on the punishment of heretics who dared to express their disillusion. Voltaire’s archives at the time show that he had two master gardeners and 20 workers to take care of the garden.

Following the publication of “Candide” in 1759, the book was immediately banned and became a bestseller.

At the end of the short story, the protagonist, a traveler named Candide, goes to a small farm where he is taken in by the old farmer and offers him food from his garden. Candide had fallen into deep despair at the atrocities he had witnessed on his journey and by the recognition that he could no longer hide from the ugliness of the world behind blind optimism.

However, the simple but flourishing farm and the hospitality of the peasant lead Candide to finally understand the pointlessness of “chasing after an idealized version of life while turning a blind eye to its problems”. Instead, he realizes, “We must cultivate our garden, we must cultivate our garden.” In other words, as Stuart-Smith writes, Candide realized that “life must be nurtured and that we can do this best by shaping our own lives, our communities and the environments in which we inhabit. “.

Stuart-Smith compares the discouragement of Voltaire and Candide to the helplessness that many people feel today in the face of the unhealthy state of our planet, which the author calls climatic sorrow or environmental melancholy. She writes: “In response to this, we may feel caught between minimizing the problem and hoping for the best on the one hand, or succumbing to despair and paralysis on the other.

For gardeners, this means either ignoring our environmental issues and gardening as usual, or giving up gardening altogether in light of what can seem like overwhelming challenges. Alternatively, we can learn to cultivate our gardens in ways that adapt and even mitigate the effects of climate change.

I recently participated in a webinar offered by the OSU Extension Service titled “Adapting Your Garden to Climate Change”, in which 65% of participants said they are starting to make changes in their garden to meet the challenge. climate change. Over the next few years, gardeners can expect to see persistent erratic weather patterns with rapid temperature changes, prolonged droughts leading to water shortages, periods of extreme heat in the summer, more fires in the summer. forest and aberrant frost and snow patterns, especially early and late. in the cool season.

The good news is that many of the recommended strategies for adapting to climate change are simply effective gardening and stewardship practices I’ve written about all year:

• Plant fire and drought resistant plants;

• Use irrigation systems using water;

• Store carbon in the soil by composting and mulching;

• Use a mulch blade on lawn mowers to keep the grass a little taller, which encourages the grass roots to extend deeper into the ground;

• Replace water-thirsty grass with eco-grass mixes;

• Avoid products made from fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources;

• Buy locally grown plants and seeds (or grow plants from seeds and save seeds);

• Use season extenders to protect plants during extreme weather conditions.

Adapting our gardens and gardening practices to climate change offers us the same opportunity that Voltaire and Candide had in their gardens – a way out of a bipolar state of mind in which we either feel overwhelmed by the world’s problems or live in a perpetual state of denial of them.

During the last 20 years of his life, Voltaire kept his commitment to cultivate his garden. He planted a fruit and vegetable garden, raised bees, and planted thousands of trees. He wrote: “I have only done one sane thing in my life: cultivate the land. He who cultivates a field does a better service to men than all the scribblers in Europe.

Upcoming learning opportunities

The Jackson County Master Gardener Association will be offering its Winter Dreams / Summer Gardens Symposium virtually this year on November 5, 6 and 13. Each day will feature five presentations from 8:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. pollinating plants and native plants in the changing climate of the Rogue Valley, regenerative gardening to improve soils, landscaping for biodiversity, and more. The cost is $ 20 for the three days. For more information, visit the JCMGA website at www.jacksoncountymga.org.

As part of its Growing Oregon Gardeners series, the OSU Extension Service will host the next virtual session from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on November 9. The program will focus on “Healthy soils for healthy people” with Gail Langellotto, specialist in urban and community horticulture. Webinars are free. For more information visit https://extension.oregonstate.edu/mg/growing-oregon-gardeners-level-series

Rhonda Nowak is a gardener, teacher and writer from Rogue Valley. Email him at [email protected] To learn more about gardening, check out his podcasts and videos at https://mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-literary-gardener.


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