What is Ecological Horticulture?
When most of us think of gardens, we think of them as areas of nature––they are wild in ways but cultivated for human enjoyment through aesthetic principles. We import plants that we think have the prettiest flowers, we prune trees to meet our artistic preferences, and we’ve even graded the grounds to match what makes us comfortable.
The wildlife that originated in our local areas have spent millions of years evolving to survive in their environment. They used the local landscapes for food and nesting sites, in addition to creating their own systems of interdependence. If we want to see nature in our green spaces, we have to consider what wildlife needs in order to survive.
This year, Madison Square Park Conservancy committed to incorporating ecological horticulture techniques into the daily upkeep of our gardens. Ecological horticulture is the science and art of growing plants that enhance the surrounding environment for the benefit of all other life.
This might mean our gardens are sometimes messy. We will no longer rake the leaves out of our garden beds, instead we will leave them for nesting materials for birds, squirrels, and insects that need them to overwinter. Not every new plant will flower, but by incorporating more native species we will ensure that they hold value in food or habitat for our wild neighbors. We may have to cut back some plants later, to leave time for nesting bees to hatch.
New York City has been paving the way in ecological gardening. By restoring environments and changing our habits to support our native communities, we’ve seen the return of raptors, the reintroduction of hummingbirds, and the preservation of endangered trees. By making small changes now, we can ensure that wildlife can be enjoyed by future generations even in urban environments.