The Best Gift You Can Give Is a Garden!

Even though I gave up the tradition of gift giving many years ago, I still have fond memories of my childhood Christmases: the tree in the corner, overflowing with presents; the star-laying ceremony; the family holiday singalongs; the plate of cookies and glass of milk for Santa; the cat watching all this and waiting for us to leave so he could eat the glittering icicle tinsel strands that we later found in the litter box.

On the morning of December 25, I would wake up before my parents and wait at the foot of the tree to open my gifts. When they woke up, it only took a few moments to unwrap everything. I would spend the rest of the day in my pajamas playing with my new toys.

Un chat mange un branche de sapin de Noël.
Photo: David Precious.

The Truth About Santa Claus

As I got older, I learned that my gifts were not from Santa, a huge disappointment. I was now an adult of sorts and came the time to give gifts to others. As I was young and impecunious, it was often handmade gifts. I particularly remember the half-burnt chocolate chip cookies I gave to everyone one Christmas.

Years later, I understood the cost of all those gifts. Not just the financial cost but also the human cost: the stress for my parents to find money, to put some aside to be able to buy me these gifts and offer me the magic of Christmas.

Cuillère pleine de terre
It is often said that a teaspoon of soil contains millions of microorganisms.

Soil, the Greatest Gift of All

The earth that sustains us has been giving us gifts for a long time. I say the earth, not the planet earth, but the ground on which we walk, which feeds us, which feeds all life. We all thought that it was Santa Claus who gave us these gifts and that, as if by magic, they fell from the sky (or ground?) But we’re grown-ups now. We have to start giving back to this earth, and not just burnt cookies.

Did you know that soils contain 25% of the known species on this planet? It is often said that a teaspoon of soil contains millions of microorganisms: all kinds of life forms, whether microscopic or visible to the naked eye, from bacteria to earthworms, nematodes and fungi.

But why should we care about the creatures that live beneath our feet? Well, it’s pretty simple: the organisms living in our soils are essential to life as we know it. They are the ones that allow plants to exist!

The nitrogen cycle. Photo: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Importance of Life in Our Soils

The larger invertebrates that reside in our soils, such as earthworms, termites, and ants, improve the structure of the soil by tunneling through it. They promote the movement of gases, water, and nutrients through the soil to support plants. They capture water and redistribute it to the plants. The excrement of these different organisms also contributes to soil aggregation by helping to prevent erosion.

It’s important to remember that a variety of organisms are responsible for breaking down organic matter in the soil. Without them, this matter would not break down and would remain in place. In fact, the mulch or compost we use must be transformed by these organisms to be assimilated by plants. They can even transform pollutants into non-toxic molecules.

Bactérie à l'intérieur du poil absorbant d'une racine
Bacteria inside root hair. Photo:

Symbiosis of plants, fungi and bacteria

Some plants develop symbiotic relationships with bacteria and fungi in the soil. These microorganisms make nutrients more easily available to plant roots. There are even bacteria that live inside the roots of plants with which they exchange nutrients. Fungi do the same thing by creating networks of filaments connected to the roots, allowing them to fetch nutrients and water from further away.

Biodiversity in our soil also allows a balance between organisms that are harmful to plants and the beneficial species that fight them whether insects or fungi.

The diversity of this fauna allows it to perform all these tasks together, for the benefit of the plants. It is this vegetation that feeds and shelters the animals, that produces the oxygen in the air that we breathe, and that provides us with all kinds of materials that we use in our daily lives. Can you imagine life without plants, without forests, without agriculture? Without these organisms, invisible to our eyes, the food chain would collapse: they are the basis of everything.

Feuilles sortant d'une terre couverte de pailli
Leaving leaves and other vegetation in your garden in the fall is a very simple way to feed the pedofauna. Photo: Pixnio.

How to Increase Biodiversity in Our Soils

  1. More green space! Increasing the size of gardens provides habitat for the organisms that live there. So get rid of your asphalt and bring in the flower beds!
  2. Avoid the use of pesticides and fungicides. These products kill insects and fungi that are harmful to plants, but also those that are beneficial to them. In any case, over time, soil ecosystems tend to stabilize these opposing forces themselves.
  3. Stop plowing! Tilling destroys the structure of the soil where these organisms live. Also, by turning the soil over, the organisms that live on the soil surface are buried and die. By allowing the soil’s fauna to work, the structure of the soil will be improved and you won’t have to plow to loosen the soil every year.
  4. Add organic matter whether it’s compost, worm manure or mulch. Keep leaves and other vegetation in your garden in the fall so that the organic matter feeds the soil’s wildlife.
  5. Rotate crops in the vegetable garden to avoid depleting the soil of certain nutrients but also of its biodiversity. Diversifying crops means diversifying life!
Homme travaillant dans un jardin avec une pelle.
Photo: Lara Jameson.

Of course, our individual power is limited. Many of the solutions to protecting soil biodiversity are political. Agriculture, urban sprawl, and pollution are all things that put biodiversity at risk. But we are not powerless. Just being informed about the subject will bring progress. So gardeners of the world, grab your books and shovels! The best gift we can give to the earth and to ourselves is to follow Voltaire’s advice : “One must cultivate one’s own garden.”

Merry Christmas!

Mathieu manages the and websites. He is also a garden designer for a landscaping company in Montreal, Canada. Although he loves contributing to the blog, he prefers fishing.

13 comments on “The Best Gift You Can Give Is a Garden!

  1. On another note: What is a star-laying ceremony?

  2. Ladd Johnson

    I agree, very interesting. For those who might want to know more, I can recommend the book “Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture” by Gabe Brown. We need to restore this planet by restoring its soil.

  3. Merry Christmas!
    This is irrelevant, but some of the best gifts that I can remember were seed or rhizomes from important plants, such as rhizomes from Iris pallida that inhabited my great grandmother’s garden. They cost nothing, but were SO important. In about 2006, my mother gave me a few sticks, which were cuttings from the ‘Schwedler’ maple on the street where I lived during high school. It would have seemed silly to anyone else.

    • Susan Reed

      This is the absolute truth. Some of my favorite plants come from places I’ve loved in the past, including the Queen of the Prairie from my aunt’s garden in Asbestos and lily of the valley from the Carr Cemetery in Compton.

  4. Christine Lemieux

    Wonderful read. Wishing you health, happiness and great gardening in the year ahead.

  5. wonderful Post. Happy holidays

  6. Love this! Sent it to my daughter for my 11 yo granddaughter who learned about Santa this year. Merry Christmas!

  7. Corinne Richardet

    Thank you great post. Thank you for continuing your father’s legacy. Joyeux Noël.

  8. M Williams

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. The living earth beneath our feet deserves ongoing protection and enhancement. I am sending you thoughts of comfort on this first Christmas without your dad. Thank you so much for continuing his Laidback Gardening legacy, from which we all benefit. Merry Christmas, Mathieu!

  9. Jt Michaels

    Agree with Mathieu and the above posts. Thank you.

  10. Thank you for a very encouraging and informative post! Merry Christmas!

  11. Granny Pat

    That’s a lovely, lovely post, Mathieu. Best wishes to you and yours and to your garden and this blog for the coming year.

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