In the woodland is a nice place to be. Here in Chesapeake Country we are fortunate to have some beautiful woodland. Sometimes the wood comes close to the house. Deer, birds, squirrels, hawks and other wildlife often show themselves along the boundaries of the woods or over the treetops.
People are far more timid. The common woodlands, in my community, seldom get a human visitor. Neighbors might walk up to the edge of the woods and peer in, but not too often. Once in a while they might go into the woods to retrieve a dog or child, or perhaps to pick some wild berries or flowers along the border. But not too often.
One a mild winter day, as I found myself restless and bored, my wife suggested I walk into the woods behind the house and pick up the fallen branches and twigs blown down by the wind. So began my awakening.
As I entered the woods, I found the deer had made well-worn paths through the trees. I thought that to be enchanting. I found myself wanting to make the woods even more inviting. I started laying the branches I had gathered along the borders of the deer paths.
Thus I became a Minimalist Woodland Gardener. Over the years, the methods and habits I developed in the woods spilled into the formal garden and lawn. Now I just call myself a Minimalist Gardener. In my own back yard, I have found the beauty and peace that are the essence of nature. The minimalist way is about feeling good and having fun. The fresh air and exercise are the bonus.
This technique has reconnected me to the natural world. The first step is to define the paths. Then find plants and natural landscapes as you walk the paths through the brush and around the trees. Use the natural building material that lies all around to control erosion, create habitat and highlight the trees and plant beds.
Minimalist gardening is a way to manage natural debris. Zen, common sense, arms, legs and hands are used to nurture the landscape. Properly stacked and organized forest litter breaks down faster as it provides habitat for plants and animals.
The work is easy. I started by putzing around in the woods with a stick. Soon I realized minimalist gardening was much more. I found myself looking down and inspecting the forest floor. Walking in the woodland necessitates looking down to avoid stumbling on things. I looked around and saw a spot of green. Scratching around with my stick, voila! From under the fallen leaves, I have found a healthy fern plant.
How can I give this plant a small advantage to help it grow? I thought, as I stooped down and carefully pulled the long green fern fronds from under the leaves. The plant appreciated this nurturing and emerged full and green and proud against the forest floor. I had found Zen. I had connected with the fern plant.
Then I saw another and another and another.
While I was having this revelation I was getting a healthy workout to boot.
How cool is that? I thought. I set out to perform a simple task, pick up some sticks in the woods. I ended up with much more.
The minimalist approach to gardening is simply Management By Walking Around (MBWA). The plants and debris will tell you what to do and were they want to be, if you let them.
Our next article in this series will be on the conservative economics of Minimalist Gardening. Remember: To enjoy the woodland you must go in. To reconnect with nature you must open yourself to its embrace.