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Legs for Plants

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 9 August 2002

With half our big maple gone, plants below started dying from too much sun (especially in this drought). Two patches of big-root cranesbill had to be moved. Just two years before last they'd finally filled in the space, crowding out weeds with thick, lemony-scented foliage. But this year the leaves were turning brown and shriveling up.

Several hostas which I thought were tough had to relocate, too: a Francee, (two by three feet, deep green leaves with a thin white border), some Gingko Craig (18 by 20 inches, narrower leaves with similar variegation) — even the plain one I found in the spot my husband used to park his motorcycle, and so called my "cast-iron" hosta.

Nestled between those were a sprinkle of hosta seedlings I'd been nursing along for three years. 99% of natural crosses between hostas yield nothing particularly interesting, and it takes five years before they begin to show their adult form — but it's fun anyway, watching them develop. However, I had to give away most of these; I just couldn't find enough places good enough for nursing babies.

Filling the holes wasn't hard: yellow-green lime thyme was spreading too fast from its assigned place beside the irises, into them; now it extends in the other direction. And Pitcher's sage, which for years has been begging me for more sun, finally has it. Will I get more of its sky-blue bloom this year?

In The Gaia Hypothesis, biologist James Lovelock invited us to consider that just as the cells and organs of our bodies make up a larger organism, so we and other entities we think of as separate — plants and animals, mountains and rivers — together make up a larger organism: our living planet, which he called Gaia (the Greek word for "Goddess Earth").

Certain idiosyncrasies of the planetary ecosystem, he observed, make better sense from this point of view: for example the fact that for millennia the Earth has stayed within the narrow range of temperatures that suits its inhabitants, as though there are mechanisms for homeostasis in the biosphere, just as there are in our bodies.

From that point of view I am a mechanism for homeostasis. I provide the legs my unhappy plants need in order to move. I do it consciously, and I benefit from it ... but I'm motivated by their needs, by an urge to balance.

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© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark