As the Coronavirus pandemic corrals us into social distancing and self-quarantine, I find myself more and more grateful to the nurses, doctors and front-line healthcare providers who are risking their lives and working tireless hours to care for affected patients.
When I turn to nature and gardening for much needed therapy during this stressful time, I recognize I am also grateful to nurse logs, often described as the healers of the forest. I recently learned about nurse logs from my friend Inta Krombolz, who is a sculptor, designer and gardener extraordinaire. Inta designed a nurse log exhibit for a garden club symposium in North Carolina which captured my attention.
Nurse logs are basically fallen trees which through their death provide a healthy and secure habitat for seedlings to grow and flourish. Starting life as a seedling is harder than you might think, given that many of these tiny plants can’t find enough light or nutrients to grow on the dark floor of a forest. Given the security of a nurse log though, they not only survive but thrive.
Fallen trees are a perfect habitat for insects and small mammals. Insects burrow holes into the wood, which are then filled with water as it rains. Like sponges the decaying logs retain the moisture needed to support life. Fungi are attracted to the moisture and the magical process of decomposition occurs. More nutrients result to enhance seedling growth. Small mammals help out when they leave food remnants and excrement behind to further enrich the soil.
As modern gardeners, we are often overzealous in cleaning up our landscapes. We pick up sticks, remove dead wood, and strive to keep things spic and span. I encourage you to find creative ways to resist the urge to eliminate the dead wood and instead utilize it to create a healing space. In my garden I have lined pathways with fallen logs, left stumps to rot and cut dead trees 20 feet off the ground so they can decay in place. Other gardeners use old logs or stumps as planters for an attractive accent. In whatever way you can, I challenge you to incorporate some nurse logs in your landscape as protectors of your garden and of life.