Literary Gardener: Theater group delivers climate-change message

“O, what pity is it, that he had not so trimm’d and dress’d his land as we this garden!”

— William Shakespeare’s “Richard II,” Act III, Scene 4

In this scene, two gardeners discuss the wretched state of England under the weak rule of King Richard II, which lasted from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. The gardeners go into such detail about the importance of pruning away “superfluous branches ... [so] that bearing boughs may live” that Henry Ellacombe, author of “The Plant-Lore & Garden-Craft of Shakespeare” (1896), remarked it “would almost tempt us to say that Shakespeare was a gardener by profession.”

Whether the Bard had much time for gardening, his plays certainly demonstrate that he was not timid about using theater to make political points, often through references to gardens and gardening practices.

More than four centuries later, an Ashland-based theater group called A Muse Zoo is following in Shakespeare’s footsteps by using its original comedy, “An Incoherent Truth,” to make a statement about climate change. A free performance of the play is set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 2, at First United Methodist Church of Ashland, 175 N. Main St. For more information, call 541-482-3647.

The play is part of a leadership training program at the church aimed at raising local awareness about climate change. The program is part of the Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit organization founded in 2006 by former vice president Al Gore after the release of his book “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Alice Glass, an SOU graduate and member of A Muse Zoo (along with Kenzie Bizon, Michael Hays, Sarah Brizek and Mike Dias), said the play is called “An Incoherent Truth” because of all of the conflicting information about global warming and its causes.

“We want people to hear different sides of the story and come away questioning what they think they know about climate change,” Alice said.

In fact, the acting troupe specializes in comedy and clowning as a way to inspire critical thinking and conversations about polarizing issues such as climate change. After their performances in Ashland, A Muse Zoo will take “An Incoherent Truth” on the road to participate in Fringe Festivals in Portland, Santa Fe, Austin, Indianapolis and Washington, D.C.

While the actors take their message about climate change across the U.S., there is much that Rogue Valley gardeners can do to learn about the effects of global warming and how to adapt to and help mitigate these changes through our gardening practices. For instance, Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension provides a free online guide called “Gardening in a Warming World” (2017), which provides basic facts about climate change and useful strategies for growing a successful garden that is focused on environmental stewardship.

A key gardening strategy outlined in the guide is recognizing our gardens as an interconnected system through close observation, journaling and mapping.

The guide’s Sustainable Garden Audit helps gardeners identify and evaluate our gardens and gardening practices. The guide also provides a handy checklist of best gardening practices aimed at developing a healthy garden system: organic material waste management, soil health and nutrient management, water management and conservation, pollinator protection, plant selection and design, and equipment and materials selection.

The Medieval gardeners in Shakespeare’s “Richard II” warn against the “waste of idle hours.” Certainly, when it comes to meeting the challenge of gardening in a warmer 21st century world, activism on the stage and in our gardens has never been more important.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.

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