I've been working on my gardening resume, some spring cleaning, and came up with a group of selected links to pieces I've written at both Houzz and Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens. Personally, I find this all much more interesting than seeing which high-priced actor won what award while wearing what dress that exposes what percentage of skin. If I want glitz and glamor I'll garden in moonlight under a mirror ball.
“Any solution that does not take into account – or, rather,
count as primary – polar bears, walruses, whippoorwills, bobwhites, chickadees,
salmon, and the land and air and water that support them all – is no solution, because
it doesn’t count the real world as primary and social constructs as secondary.
Any such solution is in the most real sense neither realistic nor practical.
Any solution that does not place the well-being of nonhumans – and indeed the
natural world, which is the real world – at the center of its moral, practical,
and ‘realistic’ considerations is neither moral, practical, nor realistic. Nor will
it solve global warming or any other ecological problem.” – Derrick Jensen, “You Choose” from the
anthology MORAL GROUND: ETHICAL ACTION FOR A PLANET IN PERIL
And just for kicks, yesterday I had about 100 birds in the garden at one time for about an hour. Starlings, flickers, woodpeckers, sparrows, finches, nuthatches, blue jays, cardinals, juncos, crows and:
I've been making memes and sharing them on social media, especially Facebook. These are some of the most successful ones so far. The first one had over 127,000 views (blew me away). Get crazy people, say what you mean, make a difference. If the ship is going down it's better to scream and shout then simply rearrange the lounge chairs (I stole that image from James Lovelock).
Tomorrow, 2/15 at 3pm, I'm speaking at the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture's Healthy Farms conference in Kearney, NE. Talking about how and why to attract pollinators to farms and backyard gardens.
On 2/20 I get to work with some local 8th graders in a writing workshop -- trying to come up with some fun, memoiry and lyrical essay exercises for us to do.
Then on March 4 I'm speaking to a local garden club here in Lincoln.
In April I'm speaking about attracting birds with native plants at the Bluebirds Across Nebraska annual conference in Beatrice. Also reading some of my poetry at the Nebraska Book Festival in Omaha. Also also taking a prescribed burn workshop so I can learn how to manage my dream prairie! I'd say I'm a fairly eclectic person.
Some of my recent articles at Houzz include gardening for monarchs, a list of native plant websites that'll help you learn about and find natives for your locale, and I should soon have two pieces up about succession gardening with species coneflowers and why I'm not looking forward to spring. Seriously -- not looking forward to spring.
I'm working on two books and, quietly behind the scenes, trying to pull together the big plans for our future. On Valentine's Day all of these things in my life are love, because they get me closer to the prairie I adore.
I had to respond to this insightful piece by Michael King, especially when he says at the very end the following:
"Gardening is not landscape architecture nor nature conservation. It is a
form of aesthetic self expression and any attempts to afford it greater
worthiness by applying unnecessary credentials of ecological merit are
dishonest. Of course gardens benefit the environment and native
wildlife, but first and foremost they are for human enjoyment and that
is as true today as it ever was."
My reply, edited and extended a bit here from I left on his blog:
If gardens are just an aesthetic, human
navel gazing, doesn’t that perpetuate all the ecological, social, and
cultural problems we have? We are disconnected from other life thanks in part to
industrialization, and in a post industrial world we will need to know
our place more in order to sustain ourselves. What knowledge of life on this earth have we lost, past and future? Gardens should be 50/50 -- aesthetic design and serving an
ecological purpose. Gardens should be exposing us to the larger issues
in larger ecosystems outside the garden wall — for me, living in
Nebraska, the grasslands of the Plains are the least protected ecosystem
on the planet. If we encourage using native grassland species, we
create awareness for the loss of biodiversity going on right now in the
6th planetary extinction.
If vegetable gardens are acts of protest and
awareness and healing of our broken systems that erode life, why not ornamental gardens? Art has often been an act of provoking awareness of
larger social / cultural issues and enacting change, why not gardens?
Why must gardens be limited to simple aesthetics beholden to old ways of
thinking? (And here I mean the pastoral that subdues everything in its path for a bucolic and momentary high.) Are we afraid of facing all the facets of ourselves, of making
art larger? Are we afraid of knowing our world, and knowing that we have direct influence, both good and bad, and taking responsibility for that influence?
Ecological awareness is not dishonest — not when forbs
provide for pollinating insects that are responsible for 70% of our
food, not when native plants sustain 35x the insect larvae, not when native bees are native plant specialists (and when one specialist bee vanishes, the lack of bee competition means less fruit and seed set), and surely not when we plow up the remaining grasslands for a
monoculture of row crops at a pace faster than global rainforest
deforestation. Gardens are an aesthetic and ethical choice -- meaningful art, not momentary artifice. Ecological merit is not an unnecessary credential -- it is the most necessary credential in a time of climate change when species have to move north or up slope 30 miles a day to keep pace with warming (Elizabeth Kolbert) and when up to 30% of plant species will be gone by mid century (Timothy Walker).
This is just a tease, since the rest are up at TDM's Facebook page. I can't tell you how hard it is to cull thousands of photos! Could 2013 have been the last year here? If so, it's been a good nearly 7 year run.
My whole like I've felt like an outsider. In college, and even grad school, I was an English major taking writing classes. I wrote poems then essays then memoirs, but I never was part of the crowd -- I never felt like I really gelled. I wasn't into the same lifestyle as my writer cohorts, my beliefs were different, plus I was / am a massive introvert and needed writing to make sense of my emotions and daily interactions. I am my best self in words.
Just as I felt while in school, my second career, if one can call it that -- perhaps a midlife crisis -- is landscapes, gardens, etc. The garden is my way of making sense of emotions and daily interactions outwardly, an echo of the words I write. But my background is from literature and philosophy, not generally recognized as practical tools to landscape design or thought except maybe by some of the diehard landscape theorists. I am a horticultural outsider.
When I researched and wrote my first memoir, Morning Glory, I read everything about the history of garden and landscape design, and much philosophy on nature (hundreds of books and articles). I got into the philosophies and cultural critiques of deep ecology and eco feminism, which inform the activist role I see needing to be in 21st century landscape design. As much as urban vegetable gardens and food forests are an act of defiance and a call to level the cultural / social playing field, I see gardens focused on native plants a leveling of the cultural / social playing field among all species. Or, an act of empowerment.
See, we're disconnected from the world. You'll argue we aren't -- why, you just took your dog for a walk in the park this morning. But nature is absent from our lives. We don't depend on it actively, only passively, and maybe this is why some in the field lament the lack of interest in the horticultural field. Nature is background. It has been diminished to an aesthetic. Oh, isn't that pretty? What a beautiful view. Such lovely colors. Want to know how to make a festive container for your front porch?
But my larger point is we think of gardens with words that can't begin to hold the deeper power inherent in nature: words like "beautiful" and "pretty" and "gorgeous" and, well, other adjectives that border on the abstract. Do we not have the language necessary to convey our true feelings, or do we lack true feelings in nature? Is it both? Is it a tributary from our ancestral fear of the world, and abstractions help keep us safe from imagined predators?
I think people -- especially younger people -- want landscapes that make them think, and when they think, they get connected. If gardens become not just something pretty, but also something that stands for a larger meaning directly applicable to everyday life and other social movements, then we have something.
Lincoln's Union Plaza can show & teach a lot more
If we create gardens combining aesthetic -- careful design -- with ecological functions, we can teach. When I write memoir and essays I'm always conscious of combing lyric passages with researched knowledge; when a reader is both enveloped by the beauty of language and its rush of emotion while learning something practical and real, a writer can activate both sides of a reader's brain. It's fully immersive.
Why can't gardens do that? Why can't we create gorgeous gardens full of ecological processes that mimic even larger processes going on outside the garden's edges? This is place-conscious gardening on a much larger scale. This is, here in Nebraska, designing with native prairie plants. The plants will educate about local ecosystems and, ideally, connect people to their homeground in more meaningful ways. Often, these plants are completely unfamiliar, just as the call of a common blue jay is to my students, or the fact that we are tearing up the last prairies at a rate faster than before the dust bowl, or that with the loss of these prairies comes more social ills than you can shake a stick at.
Gardens, public and corporate, should be doing far more. They should be asking us to think while involving us in local culture and texture. They should be teaching us that nature is not a static pastoral painting that needs constant maintenance to keep it pristine, but that it shifts and evolves just like we do -- this will connect us to nature in profound ways. I'd also like to see public gardens that aren't destroyed at the "end of the season." If we're not gardening for all four seasons, we aren't connecting to place -- we're missing a solid 1/4 of our lives. We're also eroding some natural ecological process, a double teaching moment.
In talks I give and articles I write, I see a constant and growing desire to learn about both garden design and ecological processes, about the larger role designed landscapes play in a world we have now forced ourselves to tend as gardeners because we have our hand in everything -- climate change, industrial agriculture, logging, dams, the Pacific Ocean garbage patch full of plastic, et cetera. Since we are gardeners it behooves us to learn not just about aesthetics and good design, but the way in which garden spaces function to repair or create awareness of the need to repair larger ecosystems around us. When both sides of our brain become involved we are transformed -- the garden becomes an act of defiance as we reconnect and learn about the planet in ways many large corporations would prefer we didn't. When we garden with place in mind, we won't feel like outsiders, but will instead feel empowered. This is why we need to garden with native plants.
I don't often, perhaps never, talk about my teaching here. This is a garden and environment blog, and though I share my own writing I'm hesitant to share my teaching -- or more precisely what others say about my teaching
This last fall I taught my first ever online writing course. I've taught over 40 writing and literature courses before, but in person, which meant I could build meaningful bonds with students easily, that they could build bonds with one another, and thus get more out of the class. Somehow I pulled this off online, too. What amazes me constantly is how perceptive students are -- I guess I always feel like we're just all floating through the motions in a busy semester. You never know what little thing is gonna stick and expand and be meaningful (or crushing).
was not initially motivated to take this course but I was motivated to
do well in it. In hindsight, I can say that this course has reshaped my
perspectives on analyzing literature, writing for others, and changed
the way I make decisions in on a daily basis. I love the impact that
this course has had on me, my thinking, and my life."
learned a lot about myself and how I think in this course. It opened up
my eyes to things that are happening in this world that I would usually
dismiss. I also learned how to learn by writing."
"Dr. Vogt was an excellent devil's advocate in the discussion for the books we read, he stimulated discussion and forced us to look at new perspectives we had not before."
"Dr. Vogt would nudge us in certain directions, but it was always the students who would make the discovery.... Dr. Vogt was much more about quality than quantity."
"The teacher really wanted his students to to open up their minds and explore new ideas."
"Dr. Vogt was so helpful and really made an effort to make a one to one connection with each and every one of us."
"He really pushes students and doesn't sugar coat things. If you are doing something wrong he'll let you know. He gives tough love."
"He is extremely enthusiastic, open, honest. He established a great deal of trust and respect with everyone in the class."
Vogt is exceptionally responsive and always willing to assist with
questions and problem areas. I have had quite a few good professors in
this regard, but Dr. Vogt goes above and beyond in his quality
interactions with students. He works hard to guide students into
defining the class and their own experience."
We live in a culture predicated on the belief that humans know better, that science will solve all of our problems, and that the faster we go the better off we are. Pioneers practiced this and it produced the loss of one of the largest grasslands in the world, the near-eradication of countless Plains Native American tribes, led to a dustbowl, and ultimately created a dead zone in the gulf of Mexico, among countless other issues you're likely familiar with.
I'm not a Luddite, but you'll think I am. Without a sense of place, without a connection to where we are and where we are from, science will never be the sole answer to addressing our most pressing cultural concerns. But in concert with our emotional and psychological connection to place? Then probably. We are an insane species. So many of our problems stem from not being connected to each other, to home, to region, to place. We don't care about where we are. We are transient. A suburb in Georgia looks a lot like one in Iowa looks a lot like one in Oregon -- big box stores, the same landscape plants and design, the same restaurants. Only when you stop to look hard, REALLY hard, can you find differences, but those differences -- those places of community and connection -- are only on the margins.
Those same margins are in agricultural fields. They are shrub borders and tree windbreaks, marshes and ponds, bits of prairie between the road and the field the farmer hasn't plowed up yet. But we're getting to them, making way for one more row of corn and displacing whatever is left of history, of place.
I know, you're a farmer and you argue that your place means a lot, it's been in you family for 100 years. But that place is manufactured by you -- the only resonance it has is human memory. Do you know the memory of the land? Of the flowers and grasses? The birds and mammals and the insects? Do you know how the ecosystem works? Do you know what plant eases fever? Do you celebrate the predators, those keystone species that make an ecosystem work, or do you shoot them for sport and out of fear? In what ways can you incorporate place / prairie into your fields that will be better for the planet and your bank account?
The pressure of ethanol mandates means more corn fields. Crop insurance means a farmer can still make money even if the crop, planted on newly cleared erodible land or marsh, completely fails. GMO research will produce corn that can stand up to more drought, and so more prairie -- upland and dryland -- will be torn up. And once it is life dies above and below the ground. Suddenly, we become gardeners in a forcible way, the land dependent on us and our carbon inputs of fuel, fertilizer, and weed killer.
We like to think we know better. Frankly, there's a wisdom in plants and animals that we've pushed to the brink, not only to the margins of our emotional and physical lives, that have much to teach us but that we'll never know because we don't stop to learn. Without a connection to and knowledge of place, we can never be real farmers or real stewards or real gardeners or have a real home. How do we get nature back into our lives? Why does it matter? What's at stake beyond food security, clean water, easing learning disabilities, ending violence and depression? In a world slipping into irreversible climate change and mass species extinction, the questions carry more weight than science alone in any field can address.
Nebraska leads the way in prairie conversion to cropland. Farmers are scrambling to drain every last marsh, pond, and lowland, bulldozing shrub and tree borders, anything to squeeze out more money from high commodity prices fueled by ethanol mandates. With crop insurance there's no risk, and taxpayers foot the bill for environmental destruction on a scale larger and more intense than the years leading up to the dust bowl.
This is what stirs my blood, and I see gardening with native prairie plants as essential to both raising awareness of these issues and making a stand (allbeit very miniscule) against the larger forces of a culture we give a free pass to. For the sake of ease and a desire not to be downers, we ignore where our food comes from, what's in it, and what it might be doing to us. We are a nation of twerking cat memes, grown fat on candy-fed beef and high fructose corn syrup.
In 2014 I will be a native plant purist because so much is at stake, because so much is being lost not to hosta or daylily or butterfly bush (though I believe those are all junk plants), but to our lunacy.
It's my goal to be an Aldo Leopold Jr. to the extreme, yo.
Will my wife and I make the leap, find a way to buy an acreage and convert to prairie? Can we start a small nursery, create a display garden featuring only native plants? Will we host weddings, educational classes, and artist residencies down the road?
We've got our eyes set on Iowa for a move, though nothing is written in stone. Land is more available there, incentives are there for prairie and renewable energy, and there's a niche to fill (I can't tell you how many hundreds of websites I've visited). We'll see. It's crazy. We don't have the money. But it balloons my heart and soul and sets my mind on fire.
In my life every big risk I've taken has paid off in phenomenal ways -- going to college 12 hours from home (I am a momma's boy), studying abroad for a semester not knowing a soul, moving even further from home to do a master's degree, moving halfway across the country again to do a PhD. 2014 looks a lot like the word "risk." It feels about time again to feel as alive as I hope to make the landscapes around me.
I got really frustrated listening to the folks from Sunken Gardens on the radio today. First, I must admit that I've never enjoyed the Sunken Gardens here in Lincoln -- I do think it's a waste of a fascinating space and of annuals; I'd love to see a native perennial garden that blooms from April to November and is a beautiful place / destination in winter with plants left standing, but Lincoln is pretty behind in this regard... have to go to Chicago or New York for that. I also had high hopes for Union Plaza on O Street, but that's a tepid bust.
I listened about new impatiens that are drought tolerant, so are great for a Nebraska garden. Then care for elephant ears. Lily of the valley. Hosta. My god -- the same old plants we've been using forever that ain't gonna help any native wildlife. The Sunken Gardens teaches people that flamboyant beauty must be maintained all the time with lots of water and fertilizer and switching out plants and soil amending and work work work then toss money at it like rice at a wedding (don't toss rice, please). Gardens are not plastic art -- they are living ecology, a dynamic nexus where we meet the world we depend upon. The Sunken Garden's lesson is that nature is primarily an aesthetic painting to be placed on a romantic, 19th century pastoral pedestal and enjoyed for human purposes only in a very momentary way. I'm tired of this frankly outdated perception of what gardens are, a perception that's led to a lot of environmental trouble, but lots of people like it. I just wish we had the other side of the coin represented in Lincoln -- and we don't. Do we? Where? Please don't say the monoculture beds of Union Plaza where milkweed and chokeberry are evenly spaced in neat rows.
As for next year's "Thunderbird" theme at the garden, I immediately got concerned when I heard talk about Native American design. Which tribe? What symbols? What meanings do those symbols have to that tribe's culture? Will you teach the public? Did you consult with any Native Americans? I heard a very reductionist, white-romantic conversation about using red, yellow, and white colors and zigzag / diamond designs. I hope this won't be yet another disservice to the cultures we pushed to the brink (if you're picking up on a link between human and animal / insect cultures and the relation between how we treat both, then we're on the same page). Our public gardens need to think more on multiple levels -- I just don't see it happening in my city.
Last August I was a part of Ignite Lincoln and had 5 minutes to spout off on my hope to re-prairie the city. Watch me go in front of 600 folks -- and say with me that "milkweed is not a weed!" I have to admit, it was hard to say everything I wanted to in five minutes, and the breathless pace kept me on my toes. And oh, the bright spotlight.
If anyone out there is looking for a speaker I'm wanting to do more. I've already got three dates lined up for next year, working on two more. Also working on a book that informs everything I talk about. So if you're a garden club, conference, botanic garden, nursing home,
garden nursery, I can tailor my message and vibe to any audience.
Such a nice, long fall -- perhaps the best fall of the 10 years I've lived here in Nebraska. A week ago Monday it was 65, then two days later single digits. That's how seasons seem to work here -- either on or off, hardly a nice easing into. In 2012 summer came in March. In 2013 we had snow on May 1. All I know is that I'm thankful for the full measure of each season, the extremes that test my endurance and humanity, that reconnect me to place and planet and home. I am more alive for the extremes, more able to find an equilibrium in my own nature.
A simple message on the day of our first snowfall (4"). Prairie seeds are being stratified -- made ready to heal the world next summer. It's not too late to seed. It's never too late to stand up and fight for our home.
If you follow me on this blog's Facebook page you probably don't need to
read on, but I know lots of folks are blog-only readers. After a piece on Garden Rant I decided to
clarify some points about native plant gardening. Tell me what you think about
1. I do not believe in 100% native plant gardens because I'm trying to
re-establish some pre-colonial virginity. That can never happen.
2. I see so few native plants in ANY landscape, commercial or residential, that
I know there's a crisis of imagination and connection to local environment.
3. I see so few native plants in local and big box nurseries that I know
4. Without native plants we don't know our home ground, we aren't nearly as
connected to place, and we won't see nearly the wildlife and support nearly the
same number. It's called co-evolution. A sulphur doesn't lay eggs on hosta.
Also, if you live in Arizona you can't have a cottage garden; if you want a cottage
garden move to the PNW or the Northeast.
5. We MUST get away from a purely aesthetic value judgement of gardens. Often,
we CAN have our cake and eat it too, but we need to accept and understand the
benefit of plants going dormant, of a "messy" winter garden, of
native grass lawns that don't green up in April, et cetera. Right now bee
larvae are resting in the hollow stems of my "unkempt" joe pye weed,
which also has birds perched atop it.
6. We need to stop gardening solely for ourselves and see the incredible,
beautiful, soul-magnifying existence that happens when we open up our gardens
to the rest of the local environment by using native plants. We believe in
giving to the needy and poor of our own species, and to other causes near our
hearts, why not the birds, insect pollinators, amphibians right out back in the
gardens we supposedly cherish so much? Again, if monarchs are on the brink,
what ELSE is on the brink? Planting an exotic plant is almost always a space
Out here in the Plains it's been proven that strips and buffers of prairie
around ag fields increases crop pollination and yield (not to mention cleans up
most ag chemical runoff). And insects feed how many song bird chicks? 100%? We
need to be gardening for insects as much if not more than ourselves. We talk
about veg gardening as this holistic, green, wonderful thing to do for the
planet -- but why don't we ever talk about ornamental gardening for insects and
larvae? We garden for butterflies (too often with butterfly bush), but we don't
garden with the plants they evolved with to eat.
But it's constraining to use plants native to your locale? Do you even know
which plants are native to where you live? That's constraining --
short-sighted, too. Let's talk about good garden design in general for a moment
-- or any art for that matter. It's the "constraint" that makes the
art / artifice that much more powerful (I say this as a poet and writer). It's
the coloring within the lines, and coloring in a new way, that makes the design
pop and sing and move and hit us deep. If you have a garden palette awash in a
plethora of plants you have visual chaos -- but even a prairie, so often seen
as chaotic, is governed by rules; those rules make the display that much more
emotionally impacting and able to teach us something about what's there. Native
plants aren't limiting or constraining -- your willingness to embrace any
exotic will, in the end, limit and constrain my health as ecosystems that have
worked for thousands of years collapse (insects!). This is why we have invasive
species lists. We know what we're doing. We do it anyway. Stop making excuses.
Learn your world. Stop looking at your navel.
Native plants go to the heart of our moral and ethical alert systems that
tell us when something is wrong or right -- but we work even harder to deny
those alert systems, ignore them, in favor of personal and immediate
gratification at the expense of the future. Our future. A more peaceful future
with no wars over clean water and fossil fuels, a future with less cancer and
birth defects and learning disorders caused my chemical elixirs in our food,
water, and air. Native plants are the top of a much larger iceberg and
represent more than aesthetic getaway value. And maybe that's the problem, too
-- talking about gardens as not just a sublime refuge from trouble but the
heart of trouble, a reflection of larger issues we CAN change, is
uncomfortable, and it should be. We don't want our gardens to be statements for
anything but personal pleasure. We don't want our gardens to be influenced by
the world out there. Our gardens are not insular little worlds, though,
especially in suburbia. Gardens and managed landscapes are not just for us, to
assume they are is racism toward other species. And even genocide. Case in
point -- corn and monarchs.
If you think I'm politicizing native plants then
that's because the apparent debate over using them reflects issues of race,
class, and even gender. Those who are poorest suffer the worst health and food
options -- even in our own country. And one could
say the poorest of the poor might be other species who have no defenders other
than idealistic humans. We get sad when black rhinos vanish and polar bears
drown looking for any ice drift to hunt from, but it's hard to look at the same
things going on out the back door. But we need to look. It's all connected.
A few times a year I try to record my dreams when I get up in the morning. I always have vivid narratives, and am often being chased or doing the chasing. Here's one from last night that you can interpret for me:
I was walking down some prairie
wagon trail, legs tired. From behind came two dirty men with soiled clothes and
mangy beards in a wagon taller than me. In the wagon was a huge white female
bison, head severed from the body. The wagon lurched and seemed about to fall
apart under her weight. They offered me a ride and I could barely stomach it,
but I knew I could not go on walking. They talked about the hunt, how hard she
was to catch and shoot. They talked about
how the head would fetch quite a price in town. When we made it to a small
outpost I thanked them for the ride and, without anyone noticing, apologized to
the bison carcass, crying. I ran as quick as I could up a nearby embankment
covered in carrots and strawberries that I picked as I ran. My dog followed,
wanting to stop to chat with women picking the harvest but I called it along as
I tripped, struggled to run across a now open plain to the horizon. I was
desperate to be alone and see the prairie one more time.