Monday, March 30, 2015

Speak Up, Speak Out

I'm going to keep speaking for the voiceless -- those species and organisms who no longer have or never had a voice in our consciousness -- no matter the cost. From grouse to prairie dogs, beetles to milkweed, I draw the line knowing what that means, what I will lose. If you believe in climate change, if you believe in extinction, if you believe we have a direct and powerful hand in this, you know you must speak up, too; as you know your action must follow that powerful voice. Fight for prairie. Fight for the last stand of blowout penstemon. Fight for the last prairie dog. Fight for the last sentence that makes us equal to the beauty and purpose of every organism. Oh, you'll have to develop a thick skin, but the stakes could not be higher. Don't lose face, don't lose sight, sit in the garden at sunset and feel the silent depth wash over you as if you were riding down your own last day on this earth. Dream the impossible dream -- that we all have the equal right to exist, that we all depend upon one another, that we are all beautiful and an imperfect perfection... every stem, every bloom, every burrow, every cloud, every kiss, every touch. Rise up and love in defiant compassion for all that we negate through our closed-off culture.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Blessing of Snow Geese in the Garden

A weekend ago I met with some design clients and secured a job. As we stood in their backyard a line of snow geese slid across the sky. After lunch when I got home I headed out front to tinker on a small bed I'm re-working -- line after line after line of snow geese moved northwest for 10-15 minutes. Two groups were bunched up tight in the distance, as if they were balloons just let go from a lake a mile or two away. As they got high enough into the thermals they began to form lines and pointed themselves toward those groups that had recently passed them above. Their calls don't pierce the air so much as reconfirm the presence of air and wind and distance and time. Are they calling "here, here here" or "there, there, there?" Are they encouraging one another? Does it matter to me, a human, trying to force my shallow terrestrial understanding, beliefs, sensibilities, and cultural language upon? Everything has a right to exist, and we have no right to say or do otherwise if we value who we claim to be in our best moments -- full of love, hope, forgiveness, and equanimity. Yesterday the geese were a blessing and a gift, and I think in some ways a confirmation of who we are meant to be.



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Ultimate Pollinator & Native Plant Gardening Guide

I'm celebrating 2 years of Milk the Weed with the nerdiest, awesome-ist list of links on butterfly and pollinator gardening I can come up with. It's certainly not a complete list, but I hope it's helpful to you as both a practical and philosophical guide. Time to make a profound change in our landscapes; time to connect in a deeper way to our home ground and ourselves through the web of life that sustains us.* Prairie up! 


Milkweed Profiles

12 U.S. milkweeds in depth from the National Wildlife Federation. 

Milkweed species by state as listed by Monarch Watch.

Total milkweed guide -- how they get pollinated, pics, ranges, how to propagate.

Everything you ever wanted to know about milkweed. Period. From The Xerces Society.

Collecting and growing milkweed from seed courtesy of Beautiful Wildlife Garden.

 
Milkweed / Monarch Issues

A rundown of all the key topics, with links.

Conservation photographer Joel Sartore takes action and prairies up his Nebraska farm.

How monarchs use milkweed, from toxicity in certain species of milkweed to butterflies self-medicating. 

Can milkweed be bad for monarchs?

The loss of monarchs is a loss of far more

How the farm bill hurts monarchs via High Country News.


Native Plant Guides by Region -- Go Beyond Monarchs, Feed the Ecosystem

Pollinator Partnership 

The Xerces Society


Native Plant Gardening

The ethics of native plant gardens.

Non native plants may be ecological traps for wildlife.

90% of insects will only eat and reproduce on plants with which they have an evolutionary history. 96% of songbirds feed insects to their young. Songbirds are vanishing at 1-3% per year. Follow the link

How to find the right plant for your landscape.

6 native plants that beat butterfly bush for the wildlife draw.

15 native flowers to help native bees. Further, why we need more native bees and fewer honey bees.

Gardening for climate change.

Many native plants, especially those found in prairie or meadows, will perform worse in rich garden soil. From ASLA.

Where to find native plants in your state.

How to start a native plant garden, from Wild Ones.

Landscaping with native plants, via the Minnesota DNR.


Designing Gardens for Monarchs and More

Native plant garden strategies from Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

Garden by ecoregion, not hardiness zone. 

Butterfly gardens 101.

Creating monarch habitat, from Monarch Joint Venture.

What monarch butterflies taught me about garden design.

Gardens must go beyond beauty and address climate change, wildlife loss.


Books to Inspire Sustainable, Ecosystem Wildlife Garden Design

Bringing Nature Home -- Dough Tallamy

Last Child in the Woods -- Richard Louv

Pollinators of Native Plants -- Heather Holm

Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden -- Jessica Walliser

The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden -- Roy Diblik

Taming Wildflowers -- Miriam Goldberger

Field Guide to Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains -- Jon Farrar


*Your garden is a protest. It is a place of defiant compassion. That space is one to help sustain wildlife and ecosystem function while providing an aesthetic response that moves you. For you, beauty isn't petal deep, but goes down into the soil, further down into the aquifer, and back up into the air and for miles around on the backs and legs of insects. You don't have to see soil microbes in action, birds eating seeds, butterflies laying eggs, ants farming aphids -- just knowing it's possible in your garden thrills you, it's like faith, and it frees you to live life more authentically. Your garden is a protest for all the ways in which we deny our life by denying other lives. Go plant some natives. Be defiantly compassionate.
 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Native Plant Gardens -- Why Are They Sometimes Hard to Embrace?

A native plant landscape is not an attempt to "return to some past, pure nature." That's impossible, especially with climate change (and philosophically it's wrought with ideological problems -- this environmental lit PhD knows). But the wildlife that need native plants and their ecological communities have not gone away -- they certainly can't evolve within decades or even a century to our imported plant gardens. We're doing our best to make the wildlife go away through unprecedented mass extinction, though, and yes primarily in ways beyond our gardens; but our gardens are entry points into those larger ways / landscapes.

I can point to research that shows we'll lose 30% of global plant species in coming decades, that the U.S. has unprecedented losses of songbirds, that kids growing up today will see 35% fewer butterflies and moths than their parents did 40 years ago, that specific native bee species need specific native plant species to complete their reproduction cycle, that one of the most endangered global ecosystems is prairie and that prairie is great at sequestering carbon and creating darn rich soil, yet it doesn't seem to hold sway.

 
Are we too entrenched in what we believe, or where we're from or how we were raised and the inherent values of those circumstances? Are we too far removed from a relationship with nature that doesn't need our hand in it, and thus would redefine our interactions with it? Are we selfish? Are we unwilling or afraid to confront the repercussions of our actions, especially when it comes to private landscapes? In America, are we uncomfortable with gardens having meaning beyond aesthetics or for personal use? How much of our sense of Western entitlement and freedom is at play?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Winter, I Hardly Knew Ye

I'm sad to know the last of the garden's snow will melt away this weekend. I cherish the seasons. I especially cherish winter. There is nothing more profound or connective than sitting outside while the snow falls all around -- it is the most perfect and deep silence that strikes the loudest chord in me. I cherish the cold, the thin air that carries voices and howls beyond their natural reach. I honor the slick ice that glazes berries and seeds. I am humbled by the life that sleeps in every nook and cranny and the life that persists out in the open as I hide in my house. The lesson of winter is lost in the rush of spring and the din of summer -- that to be awake is to live in the echo of every season's glory simultaneously.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Heartbeats and Prairie Wind Are the Same Impulse

Today in two of my English classes we're finishing Linda Hogan's stellar book Dwellings, where she says there are occasions where we can hear the language of the earth -- through water, grasses, etc (but only if we are patient enough to do so). I asked my students if hearing a breeze through corn or prairie grass, or listening to waves on a beach, made them feel peaceful, relaxed, connected. Almost all raised their hands. We watched a video on fractals seeing how every biologic and terrestrial phenomenon is a mathematical equation -- even our heart beats. I wonder if our our hearts carry the same mathematical fractal rhythm as the wind or waves, and if knowing this will make us less apt to harm the world which is us. We are not so separate -- only our desires and misunderstandings make it seem so. Love is simple when you hold still, let go, and fall into life.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bald Eagle o'Rama

Oh, if only I'd had charged ANY of my DSLR batteries this image would be better. Still, we counted about 45 eagles on Branched Oak Lake the other day; others reported nearly 100 in recent weeks as they fish along the ice's edge.


A record 146 nests were recorded in Nebraska in 2014, with 111 active. Eagles were federally and state endangered as recently as 2008. In less than 25 years baldies have gone from virtually gone  to fairly numerous! See what we can do? Go forth and help life thrive.

Monday, February 16, 2015

We Need 40-80 Acres Now! Help!

Do you know of anything around Lincoln or Omaha? Nursery trends are supporting native plant landscape design and plant purchases, and educating the buyer at the point of sale through more sophisticated and innovative layouts, workshops, and display gardens are tops. These are all in our business plan and model. Add on top of that hosting weddings and artist residencies and maybe farming seed as we engage the community on behalf of prairie and its wildlife, and our dreams seem most promising. The biggest stumbling block is the price of land -- and we'd be open to leasing if we had some mutual guarantees. It could take a few years to get this all revved up, and life is speeding by. Prairie up!


In other news, had a packed house of 120 for my talk this weekend at the most awesome Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center in the Loess Hills of Sioux City, IA. We learned about sustainable, low maintenance garden design using native plants for pollinators -- selfless gardening that's aesthetically sweet for us AND wildlife. Many in this inquisitive and energetic audience remained to speak with me for 45 minutes after the presentation! It was energizing and motivating for me, as I'm sure it was for many others -- I love it when that happens. Say it again -- prairie up.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Garden Thoughts on a Snow Melting Day

"The Benedictine monk Thomas Merton said, “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” Merton’s profoundly moral and enactive perspective points to a vision of all of life as interdependent, entangled, and embedded. This vision orients one toward action that is fundamentally unselfish and selfless. This is “principled compassion”; compassion with a clear moral foundation based on courage, love, and positive regard for and respect of all beings and things."

Read more from this powerful piece on living a life of intention that serves our ethical imperatives, and develops defiant compassion. How do we garden in a world of our making? The questions get bigger, as the responses must be, too.  


Sunday, February 1, 2015

It Finally Snowed Impressively!

I am so happy. Being stuck inside a warm home, the wind howling, the trees and stems and spent flowers topped in snow, cardinals dashing from cedar to seed -- it is overwhelmingly gorgeous and energizing. When I get my full measure of each season I feel more complete, more whole, more part of my home. Today I feel a measure of this:

"All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite. We feel what the Japanese call 'aware'--an almost untranslatable word meaning something like 'beauty tinged with sadness.'" — Gretel Erlich in The Solace of Open Spaces

Pictures of Saturday's sticky 1" of snow, then the last image of what is between 6-8" this morning.






Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Ethics of Care and Place

More and more support for the way our relationshops are changing and must change even more in the natural and built environments. And by extension how our gardens play a key role in this change.

"Our moral vision and imagination are tied to the vocabulary we use. Today the dominant ethical language comes from words like freedom, interests, rights, and justice. The meaning of each of these ideas is keyed to principles or rules rather than to relationships. Is this language inclusive enough to allow for all that needs to be said concerning human responsibilities for flourishing and resilient biotic and civic communities?"

This is exactly why it's so hard to advocate for change in landscape design -- our language is so often inadequate to how we experience the world, and even I might add, to how we respond to it based on our own ethical and moral codes (even if or especially if those codes are right on target -- something misfires between thought and action). Our relationships to nature are so much more visceral.


"[...] beliefs and feelings that lead to human behavior are most often rooted in the lived experience of a specific place, one with particular natural and social characteristics, landscapes, and cultures. To change the way one thinks and feels about a place is to change how one uses and relates to it. An ethical vocabulary adequate to the ecological challenges of our time must have the power to do far more than our current language of freedom, interests, happiness, rights, and justice."

If we use our gardens as places primarily for our own aesthetic experience, doesn't that cast ownership over the landscape which excludes other life from the landscape? That may in fact alienate us from the landscape in deeper, unnoticed ways. Aldo Leopold might think so. When we call a landscape "beautiful" we ascribe value based on personal experiences, judgements, and social / ethnic / economic background. Happiness is not freedom when it excludes the well being of other creatures that also, as it so happens, directly contribute to our literal physical well being in the form of ecosystem services. 

Here's a bit from Steven Sullivan's essay Finding Your Own Passenger Pigeon:

"What I am not content with is the fact that we, as a single and supposedly sapient species, are arbitrarily and ignorantly destroying biodiversity at a rate unprecedented in more than 4.5 billion years. Whether you take the perspective that such biodiversity is the conscious product of a deity’s creation or is the happy accident of amazing natural processes, the destruction is unconscionable. If this rapacious consumption were the result of a single individual’s avarice, perhaps this behavior could be seen to have some kind of justification. But our destruction is not the result of a single person. It is the result of collective decisions: decisions made in the home, the store, and the voting booth; decisions we advertise through our behavior and our bellies. These decisions are not solitary. They affect the world. Your decisions affect me and mine affect you. Daily, even hourly, the news reports how such decisions affect us on a strictly economic basis. Few people are attempting to quantify how such decisions affect us on an ecological basis."

Our gardens matter; they mean so much to ourselves and each other. I'm so thankful for the Ethics of Care and Place from the Center for Humans and Nature. There's another longer piece I want to talk about here in another post -- about the psychology behind ethics and our connection to other species; I'm still unpacking it, but it's jazzed me up! 
 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Business Rambling from the Prairie

Our dream is to run a small, boutique prairie nursery with local ecotype seeds (100 or less species). We'll have a 1/2 acre display garden that's highly designed and will be a destination in its own right, as well as idea generating. Out back will be a prairie. We may have a field solely for generating prairie seed. An artist or two will stay in small cabins in residency for a week or two at a time, helping give prairie another artistic voice. All of it will be tied together with events, activities, and technology that brings the prairie home, or brings us home. I have so many ideas I can't contain them -- ways to engage people with plants via approaches seldom conceived of... ways to make plants and gardens part of everyday culture again.

The last few weeks I've been researching trends in the nursery industry, and it all looks good for 2015 and what we're planning for -- if we were at that point (lotto ticket, don't fail me now). We'd be right in line with what's trending and what people are wanting. I'd like to focus on designing gardens and on consults, speaking around the country, writing books. That means I'll need a nursery manager and some sales people down the road.

Then legal issues arise for anyone who visits. Paying a livable wage with benefits to employees. Logistics of plant production that relies totally on winter stratification with minimal assistance from costly and earth-unfriendly heating, fertilizers, or pesticides. Go LLC? Probably, and keep the biz separate from the personal.

The business plan is progressing. Market research being developed. I'll be much more active in promoting Monarch Gardens this spring through new marketing measures and grassroots door knocking. I'm an introvert but I have a passion I can't contain. Prairie is too important. Climate change. Biodiversity. Us. Our home. A meme I saw today: "Activism is my rent for living on this earth." Prairie up.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Images of a Nebraska Winter's Soul

I'm in love with winter. Head over heals. "Brown is a color, too" is something we should hear much more in the gardening world. Summer gardens don't do it for me anymore. Maybe in winter I enjoy the peace more, the cloistered silence that is perhaps the first reason we have to create a garden -- it's an escape from overt thought, the world out there, the din of the mind and the business of life. Winter gardens show me the base structure, the heart of the matter, the absence which is the fullest presence, the negative space that in all art gives more power and resonance to the objects being focused upon. There is little else more elegant than a wash of bluestem rolling in the north wind on open prairie, seed heads of aster and coneflower poking up through drifts of snow, the act of following the tracks of some creature until they vanish inexplicably into the distance. Winter is the garden's soul born out fully, heart on its sleeve, the purest intention of space and place that a gardener can ever know. Spring can wait.

Just west of Lincoln, Nebraska -- a sudden shaft of rain
Footsteps in the garden
The garden path becomes a directing river of snow
Sunlight hits trees at Conestoga Lake

Monday, January 12, 2015

Stages of Environmental Grief -- Deep Love & Loss

In my presentations on the ethics of designed landscapes in a time of climate change and the 6th mass extinction, I make my way to what I consider the heart of the matter: that facing the reality of how we live on the planet is not healthy or sustainable. Immediately, this can become for some an indictment, judgement, or even sermon in the most traditional Baptist way -- which is unfortunate and not my intent. We should be aware of our role on the planet, how our land and fossil fuel use is linked to very disturbing facts about the environment and ecology -- we should not put our heads in the sand and hope for the best (could you imagine what would've happened if "The Greatest Generation" did that?). There is nothing wrong with learning about these issues, but it's not easy, and it hurts. In a way, we have to face the loss of things we love -- homes, treasured landscapes, the idealized hope for our children to live how we've been fortunate to live, and a sense of innocence; this sense of innocence has been lost time and again in periods like the civil rights movement, equal pay for women, marriage rights, and even adding species to the endangered list.


Facing environmental loss is part of going through the traditional stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (I always include a 6th -- empowerment / liberation / freedom to think for yourself via education). I just read a fascinating opinion piece in the New York Times about how these 5 stages aren't exactly right; in it, therapist Patrick O'Malley recounts the story of a patient named Mary, who lost her baby to SIDS and was helplessly making her way from therapist to therapist because she just couldn't get over the death. Two quotes at first stuck out to me:

"The depth of her sadness was simply a measure of the love she had for her daughter."

As Patrick asks her to tell the story of her baby from beginning to end for the first time in her life, something happens as she cries in the deepest way possible:

"Now, in my office, stages, self-diagnoses and societal expectations didn’t matter. She was free to surrender to her sorrow. As she did, the deep bond with her little girl was rekindled. Her loss was now part of her story, one to claim and cherish, not a painful event to try to put in the past...." "[Society says] a person is to grieve for only so long and with so much intensity.... The truth is that grief is as unique as a fingerprint, conforms to no timetable or societal expectation."

In the same way, how we grieve for the planet -- for melting ice and monarchs and passenger pigeons and lesser prairie chickens and salt creek tiger beetles -- is entirely unique; it can't be anticipated or explained away. While the 5 stages of grief may help us identify solutions as we work through grief, true grief never ends because it is part of deep love, even if we don't consciously recognize or experience that deep love every day (I'm thinking working in the garden, holding bumble bees, taking kids for walks in prairie, etc).


For Patrick, the story of loss has 3 chapters

1) "Understanding the relationship between degree of attachment and intensity of grief brings great relief for most patients. I often tell them that the size of their grief corresponds to the depth of their love."

To me, this means that the more we act out the 5 stages of grief, the deeper our love, and perhaps the more empowered we can become.

2) Death "is often the moment when the person experiencing the loss begins to question his sanity, particularly when the death is premature and traumatic. Mary had prided herself on her ability to stay in control in difficult times. The profound emotional chaos of her baby’s death made her feel crazy. As soon as she was able, she resisted the craziness and shut down the natural pain and suffering."

Humans prize control -- it helps us feel safe in the wilderness of life. You can see this flying in a plane with roads and cites laid out in grids, rows and rows of crops, and manicured lawns surrounding suburban homes (even in the way we schedule our lives). What happens when the illusion of control over the planet begins to erode? What happens when the safety of what we think we know is challenged or redefined?

3) "Mary wanted to reassure her family, friends and herself that she was on the fast track to closure. This was exhausting. What she really needed was to let herself sink into her sadness, accept it."

We need to embrace our grief and loss as surely as we need to embrace the "good" times in life -- they are all authentic responses to the human condition, and our special ability to connect with other species and landscapes and to care for them. It's believed that we once spoke the language of animals -- indeed, some remote indigenous tribes still mimic the call of birds as they communicate with one another. 


"'All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them,'" said the writer Isak Dinesen. When loss is a story, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no pressure to move on. There is no shame in intensity or duration. Sadness, regret, confusion, yearning and all the experiences of grief become part of the narrative of love for the one who died."

I grieve by exploring environmental ethics in gardens and landscapes; this isn't unique to me, and it surely stirs the pot of grief in others and how they deal with these environmental issues. The only way I see to overcome grief is to embrace it -- by telling stories in our gardens by the choices we make in the plants and hardscapes we use. We tell these same stories in efforts to conserve or restore, or to pursue the new ideas of novel ecosystems. We must connect to the world through action and thought at once, be open to the extreme highs and lows of love for place as we are for love of one another in our best moments. Love a place so hard it hurts -- love it so hard you know the full measure of joy and sorrow and become fully human, connected deeply to life. Prairie up.

Sri Nisargadatta: "The mind creates the abyss, & the heart crosses it."

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Poll -- Why Can't We Have 100% Native Plant Gardens?

This is a genuine research question as I work on a book; it's not me baiting anyone. I'd love to hear your genuine reasons, those you've heard as well as those you believe, in why native plant gardens aren't practical, possible, or desired. Or whatever. I want to hear it all!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Love Winter, Love the Miracle of Earth

Stop dreaming about spring and summer and get your head in the game, back into life. I've found that in those all-to-rare periods in my life when I am fully here and now, everything seems more balanced, wholesome, fresh, and empowering. Embrace winter, which teaches you patience, silence, reflection, and a whole new realm of beauty and overcoming that the other seasons can't. And when you live winter fully, those other seasons have a deeper resonance when you get to them. I feel blessed to experience four distinct seasons and to see the world change and reflect that change in me. I feel blessed to see birds taking shelter under grasses in my garden during a storm. I feel blessed when, in spring, I witness native bees emerging from hollow stalks of perennials weeks before honey bees. The walk to work might sting, but the sunrise through the bare trees that also dances off sparkling snow is a reminder to celebrate this Goldilocks world.