The Spirit of Place

Working at TreePeople, if I am going to talk the talk, I felt I needed to walk the walk.

Some years ago I began converting my traditional lawn-covered yard into a more sustainable, climate-ready version. My husband was game, thrilled that he would not have to mow anymore! In addition to removing the lawn, we also redirected our existing garage downspout into a front yard rain garden to capture precious rainwater, planted natives and other low-water-use plants, and added fruit trees (yum!).

Through this conversion, a deeper sense of place emerged for me – a more meaningful connection to the land, my home. It introduced me to a rich biodiversity of birds and animals that now also call my yard home. I truly began to understand the spirit of the place, as the poet Gary Snyder wrote:

But if you do know what is taught by plants and weather, you are in on the gossip and can feel truly at home. The sum of a field’s forces [become] what we call the ‘spirit of the place’ very loosely. To know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and that the whole is made of parts, each of which in a whole. You start with the part you are whole in.The Gary Snyder Reader, Volume 1: Prose, Poetry and Translations 1952-1998

Finding Your Spirit

With the coming of spring, my garden’s spirit is all the more evident. I see it in the plants popping up with new green buds, the flowers blooming, the nesting birds hidden in the foliage and recently even some rain falling!

When it rains, I run outside with my umbrella to see the rainwater from the garage roof make its way through the downspout, across a rock-lined swale and into the rain garden, creating a pool of water that slowly seeps into the ground. Weee!   

Now that it is Earth Month,  there’s no better time to create your own sense of place and spirit of place at home.  

If taking on your entire home landscape seems daunting, try one of these easy things that can help get you started:

Install a Bird Feeder!

Spring in LA sees an array of visiting birds migrating their way back North, including Allen’s hummingbird, sage thrasher, and Western Tanager.

For some tips on how and what to feed these feathered friends stopping by for a visit Audubon’s bird feeding tips page!

Plant a Pot of Herbs!

If you live in a small space, don’t fret, you can still create a spirit of place, by planting an herb garden!  

These can be some of the most rewarding container crops – providing plenty of uses, including beauty and aromas! Consider herbs for culinary purposes (oregano and thyme), herbal remedies (aloe vera and rosemary), moth repellent (lavender), and freshening up drinks (peppermint and lemon verbena).

Get adventurous and try different varieties of your favorites, such as sweet basil, Thai basil and purple basil – each has its own subtle flavoring. My favorite is lemon verbena – squish a leaf and smell – it reminds me of the lemon drop candies of my childhood!

Local nurseries carry pots, potting soil and a variety of herbs to get you started.

Plant a Fruit Tree!

Talk with your local nursery about whether the fruit trees that they are selling are the right “chill hours” for your location. Deciduous fruit trees (such as apples, plums and apricots) need a certain amount of “chill hours” below 45° F to cause the tree to begin sprouting out again. This will ensure a good crop of fruit.

It’s fun to choose fruit trees that ripen at different times. For example, you might choose three types of apple: Dorsett Golden apples are ripe in June – July; Fuji apples in August – October; and Pink Lady apples produce in early September through fall. That is six months of apples!

Create Interest in Your Yard!

Create interest in your yard by adding elements that entice you to spend time in your garden and provide opportunities for connecting with the spirit around you.

Think about adding:

  • A meandering path that leads to a seating area
  • A water feature to provide a calming sound and water for birds
  • Large rocks or artistic sculptures
  • A hammock for reading, resting or staring up at the clouds

“Start with the part you are whole in” and then enjoy Earth Day in your garden every day!

Interested in connecting with the spirit of your place more? Check out our DIY Center on the website!