“This is a great way to spend a cold February day. It has us all looking forward. Ken Burns called it ‘the fond expectancy of spring.’” – Dan Tyler, Garden Expo Volunteer and Speaker
Each year, the Garden Expo brings thousands of people in from the cold to share their love of gardening. We wouldn’t be able to organize this event without the help of dedicated volunteers, folks who are passionate about their experiences and willing to share with others.
I sat down with Dan Tyler, an avid gardener and Madison resident, to talk about his personal experiences and his presentation on maintaining small-scale eco-yards.
What inspired you to start presenting at Garden Expo?
I’ve come to the Garden Expo for years. I enjoy getting a lot of ideas and sometimes pick up a little equipment, but I especially love the opportunity to be on the stage.
I’m a volunteer; I’m not sponsored by anyone or selling any product, but it’s important to me to tell my story. I’m a younger homeowner, and I think it’s part of the American dream to own some land of your own. I always looked forward to that, and it became an enjoyable journey from a quarter-acre of lawn to a quarter-acre of abundance.
You use the word abundance a lot; can you talk more about that idea?
The notion of abundance – and I’m not talking about higher production rate – is the notion that the earth gives so much when you tend to its ecosystem, even on a small scale. Even a small yard can do a lot for you.
A lot of people today, we don’t have a lot of want in our life. We have so much going for us. Some people discover abundance out of need, but the more I study or contemplate it, I see that it’s about spending time on projects that are meaningful. I’m here at Garden Expo because I like to share that with people.
What else do you hope to share with your audiences here?
I talk about knowing your neighbors – sharing with your neighbors. I’m a professional engineer; I design roads. It’s not like I’m a professional farmer, but I don’t think that people deserve to be put in little boxes. Once you dig in, you really find out more about people: what their hobbies are, what their interests are, and what they care about. I don’t have to know everything – it’s about connecting with other people.
When I come here to talk about what my garden experience has been, I’ll be the first to say I’m not an expert. I don’t know everything, but I hope to sidle up to important issues that our gardens represent. I’m not here to try and tell you how to live your life, but I think it’s fair to illuminate issues around clean, healthy eating and about functional, robust communities. The two really go hand-in-hand.
How long have you been gardening in Madison?
I grew up in Ohio, but I’ve been here for ten years and it feels like home. I landed here and don’t have any intention of leaving. Wisconsin’s a wonderful state.
Having four seasons is so special: you have all the joys of summertime and the winters keep us humble. I think that some of us who grow up in this part of the country are wired for winter: to love it or need it, however you think of it. It really helps keep things in balance.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your maple syrup?
I used to think that you could only get syrup from a sugar maple, but many kinds of trees make syrup and they all have a little bit of a different flavor. Box elders, birch trees – imagine how many people might be able to do this on a small scale for their own satisfaction and enjoyment, just by knowing more about what’s available.
I tap a couple of maple trees in my yard, and I tap a few of my neighbors’ trees with not only their approval, but their enthusiastic support. They have a number of kids, and getting them involved with that process is really rewarding. They’ll run out to the back yard every morning to check the buckets, and end up tasting that syrup days later. It’s really exciting to share it with them.
My wife asked me what the ingredients for maple syrup are – it’s a fair question because there are a lot of products out there made to be like syrup – but this really has one ingredient. It comes from a tree. It’s something that people have been doing in this part of the world for thousands of years, partially because it’s so simple, but it also has a history and a sentimentality to it.