Growing up in the Pacific Northwest with parents that loved the outdoors made wildtending a natural for me. We camped in the woods and dad taught me what to eat.
Some areas had been logged and usually that meant clear cut and the clear cut area had to grow back by itself. Maybe it is worse when the lumber companies “replant” because they put in thousands of Douglas Fir or Pine seedlings. What grows up is a plantation, not a living forest.
I don’t know when I started seeding and planting in damaged forests because I can’t remember not doing so. My family members are hunters and fishermen, but I gravitated to trees and woodland plants. My first biome was the cool, wet rainforest on the West Coast.
I do remember crying in my pillow over clear cut areas. Oh no! A tree hugger in a family of lumberjacks and I sure didn’t advertise it around the family. I am glad I didn’t because they also loved the woods and taught me a lot.
In my stealthy way I started wildtending the broken parts. Pretty easy to do because children were not supervised to the point of suffocation back then and we had more room to develop our own personalities. Even little tree huggers. Did I think I was stealthy? Uh huh. Did my family have me pegged? Sure.
So I started seed collecting and distributing. By age 10 I had worked out the system I use to this day. For wildflowers I looked very carefully at the mama plant, where she was growing and whether she was happy. If she was not, I move to a happier mother plant. I collected seed and a spoon (my first tools were spoons from my mother’s kitchen) of soil from the mama plant. I mixed them together in my sack and sprinkled them in their new home, trying to site them in a location as similar as possible to the mother plant. I also tried to do this immediately. I planted when seeds were ripe and dropping off.
As I got older, I transplanted small plants that were poorly sited. I learned that wild tap rooted plants are hard to move unless they are small.
For trees and shrubs, I collected seeds. I brought more soil with them and each seed got buried with some of its mother’s soil. I also realized that new tree seeds or young seedlings grew faster if they were planted at the edge of woodland or other trees. I could see this at the edges of clear cuts or even on meadows. My current project planting elderberries, wild cherries, wild plums, crabapples, all get woven into openings in my woods.
I could see that before I was 10 years old, living in the woods and visiting my plants most days. It lived in the realm of “what is.” When I studied the plant-soil interface at the University, I read about mycorhizal fungi and soil mycelium that feed plant roots and that can connect entire forests into one root system. I realized that by planting tree seedlings close to other trees, they can quickly access this joint food system and expand it at the edges. Plants compete with each other but they also support each other. From study, I believe that teamwork is much more survival oriented than lone shark behavior and is the norm in nature. Apex predators frequently work as teams also.
Clear cut forests are not the only damaged ecosystems, and most people no longer have access to forest land.
Wildtending is needed everywhere. I have planted low growing wildflower seeds in alleyways. In Texas we had long alleys that were neglected. There were a few wildflowers already, so I collected seeds from those hardy little survivors and spread them first behind my own house, then along the entire block on both sides. Watch for dogs! Some of my neighbors realized I did that, some did not. Most were thrilled by the blooms and thought it happened by magic. I never told them otherwise.
I have also wild tended empty lots. First order is usually trash pickup day. I see what is growing already, and add a tree or three. I never added trees in the middle, under power lines, or over potential sewer lines. Front or back yard! My favorite for Texas were Redbuds, Crape Myrtle, mighty Oak, Pecans, Peaches, Plums, Apricots, trees I grew from seed and that people were likely to recognize and value. A few shrubs that I could grow from seed or cuttings, like Oregon Grape, Aronia, Hawthorn, and so on. Wildflower seeds, especially short varieties like bluebonnets and oxalis. I also collected wild edible weeds! For the most part, the city has taken these for back taxes and mows them once a year of someone complains. If you want, it is easy to buy one for much less than tax value. Either way, you can garden on them. If a private owner… your efforts may help them sell the property… so take care to use seedlings over nursery plants. Meantime you have healed land and provided habitat for birds, bees, small mammals, butterflies, etc.
I once took on a bad lot. I only cleaned the front initially. I managed to mow about 10 feet in… then planted a pair of red oak seedlings. One of the neighbor’s came over and helped me pick trash out. A second neighbor came over and mowed it down. He didn’t mind mowing but wouldn’t pick up trash. I picked up trash just fine. An elderly lady down the street offered some flower bulbs and I went down there to dig them up and divide them. I tidied up a bit and the neighbor mowed and edged for her! She made pies for us!
Eased an eyesore for the neighborhood too. I have seen other homeowners start gardening when they see mine. It energized the neighborhood as a whole. My first house had broken windows and needed painting. Fairly poor neighborhood. As I replaced glass and started painting, I put in a garden. Most of the houses were better kept than my former “rent” house. Even so, shrubs and flowers popped up around the neighborhood.
The US still has wild spaces, but many have been harmed. Consider finding out what native species grew there and try a little wildtending of your own. Search online for specifics, for example “pinyon-juniper biome” brought up lists of native plants that are part of my biome. Add what is missing from the list.
Even in cities there are plenty of spaces for wildtending. I took on a neglected city park one time. Not as a city garden, but as a wildtending project. Budgets are strained, they love the help. Wildtended spaces deter crime and encourage neighborhood spirit.