Confessions of a Wannabe Gardener

March 29 2022 – Dawn Rodney


I have a confession to make. I’m not a gardener. At least I don’t think so. I always wanted to be a gardener. Gardeners are some of the best people I know. Really cool words like symphyotrichum cordifolium and etiolation roll off their tongues with ease. They know about Germanification and Stratification, and, without a moment of hesitation, can answer the question “what zone are you?” 

I can’t do any of that.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love plants and trees and shrubs and anything that is green or flowering. I want my yard to look beautiful. I plant. I mulch. I weed. Ok, if I’m being honest, my husband weeds. I supervise. Does that make me a gardener? I don’t think so.

As Chief Innovation and Growth Officer of the National Wildlife Federation, my perspective on gardening has changed over the last couple of years. The Garden For Wildlife social enterprise is a result of the innovation work I led. I had to learn a lot about the horticulture industry, the difference between true natives and cultivars, carbon sequestration, and many other things along the way thanks to many patient and knowledgeable scientists, naturalists and yes, some of my favorite gardeners.   

The plants, trees and shrubs I plant in my yard do matter. It matters to the birds I love to watch in the morning and it matters to the butterflies I want to help save. So now I plant native Blue Wood Asters, Milkweed, Wild Geraniums, Cardinal Flowers and Eastern Columbine with their gorgeous hues of reds, blues, and purples. I plant as many as I can so I can one day convert my typical suburban lawn into a beautiful oasis for wildlife.  

I may never remember the Latin names for all these wonderful native plants. And, I don’t know if I’ll ever consider myself a true gardener. There are two things I do know for sure: you don’t have to call yourself a gardener to Garden For Wildlife, and my husband will always be the one to pull the weeds.

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