Well, duh, of course plants are part of our every day life. They are the beginning of the food chain, making food from the sun. They exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen – pretty handy trick. They clean the atmosphere and help manage water. But, ornamental plants are also an important part of our lives. Nowhere is that more evident than in Europe. Europeans have populated their countries for so long and space is at such a premium, they seem to appreciate plants more. It helps that a bouquet of flowers costs as little as 3-4 Euros, so it is easy to have fresh flowers on the table always.
As I write this column from Brodenbach, Germany on the Moselle River, I am reflecting on 10 days in the Netherlands, Brugges and Alsace and thinking about all the great examples of horticulture I’ve seen. Colorful annuals are simply a part of every city or town’s atmosphere. Overflowing baskets of annuals hang from lampposts or cascade over window boxes in town squares and small alleys. People are paid to care for those plants because it is important to have flowers brightening up the environment.
Restaurants take local produce to a new level. One café in Colmar, France had planters surrounding their outdoor dining space full of herbs, cherry tomatoes and peppers that were picked and used in the dishes they served. More vegetables were grown in a garden outside a windmill at Kinderdijk in the Netherlands, demonstrating how windmill keepers lived back in the day.
And of course, the wine. Living in a vineyard and making wine is not just a job, it is a way of life. A vintner in Geuberschwihr, France describes how the soil, rain, sun, insects, fungi and everything in the environment must be considered to make a great wine. In Alsace, where one side of the mountain range is perfect for wine grapes, every square meter is planted.
We could all learn a little from the conscious appreciation of decorative plantings observed in Europe. Let’s celebrate what plants do for us and enjoy their beauty in public spaces, private gardens and on the dinner table every day!