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The Naturalist: A shared victory through gardening

Coming out on the other side of the COVID pandemic, it’s time to get to know your neighbors — human and botanical. Gardens reveal our shared Shelter Island values across property and social lines.

So start that socially distanced conversation over the hedge or across the street. It doesn’t matter if you only have a few shrubs around the foundation or an established garden.

Talk plants and what makes your family smile when they’re in bloom. Share what makes your kids happy about being outside in nature. Extend that invitation. Walk around each other’s properties with a beer or glass of wine. Apologize for unfinished maintenance. Complain about the deer.

But then talk about your vision for the landscape around you — everyone secretly has one. And that’s the moment to literally find common ground: Could a shared garden design flow from one property to the next?

Would your area be the one known for the cherry trees at every house blooming en masse each spring? Where multiple properties use the same native plants as a connection to sustaining our local ecology? Or the block where everyone built a fenced-in vegetable “victory garden” as a statement of triumph over and memorial for COVID-19?

The whole Island benefits when gardens and landscapes break through old physical and psychological boundaries. Where there is design and ecological continuity and coherence, gardens last the test of time, instead of being ripped out by the next owner.

When we design for each other, we create a shared legacy worth preserving precisely because it’s shared. Reconnect with those neighbors.

Use gardens to plot out a vision of our future together. Not just for your kids. For the kids two doors down and the Island kids two generations out.