Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ecology of the Garden

The folks at Garden Rant have a nice post today (and one a week or so ago), a q&a of Douglas Tallamy, who wrote the book Bringing Nature Home, which I need to go buy. We knew gardens were important, and we had an inkling that they were the last vestiges of native ecosystems, but who knew that suburban gardens might be one of the only things holding the American ecosystem loosely together?

--3-5% of habitat in U.S. is undisturbed, and scattered too widely to do much good for migratory creatures or to susutain large populations of plant / animal species.
--95% of native plant species could be extinct by end of century.
--Oak trees are hosts to 534 moth and butterfly species.
--Goldenrods, a plant I've been holding out on but won't any longer, supports 115 moth / butterfly species.
--Tallamy mentions a 10x10' urban garden that included three species of milkweed; this produced 250 monarchs in its first year. Well, milkweed it is! I'd planned on bringing some in this year, and since monarchs are dwindling fast due to loss of winter habitat in Mexico and elsewhere, I might as well try something. And:

"In my own yard I have one square foot of pussy toes, the host plant for the American lady butterfly. That foot of my yard produced at least three American ladies this summer. Of, course, the more habitat and food that is created, the better, so if people with tiny gardens can convert their neighbors with tiny gardens, the gardens are no longer as tiny and their effectiveness in supporting life will increase."

This idea of each home having a small garden is something I thought about all summer while digging. We value a "natural" landscape, we "escape" to them and call these places replenishing emotionally and psychologically, and yet our very homes--where we spend 99% of the year--are plastered in lawns with some juniper and barberries and a hosta or two. They are anti natural. If we all had a 10x10' garden and some shrubs and a shade tree or two, we'd live emotionally better AND be doing some ecological good. And less lawnmower exhaust would be nice. DOESN'T THIS SEEM SO DARNED OBVIOUS??? Of course it does--that's why you're reading this.

Tallamy also apparently discusses how peer pressure is building to have smaller lawns, just as we smoke less and drive smaller cars (I've yet to see the car thing gain steam--hey, why not have steam cars again?). Still, I'm not saying my peacock feathers are spread out right now, but I am saying it pleases me to be thinking about both myself--the sensorial pleasure of a garden, the view, the birds and rabbits and butterflies that come--and to be thinking about the planet that sustains me in every aspect.

For the last week or two many geese have been scraping by over the roof. Large staggered formations, then groups of two where one flies south, one north, harping back and forth, then the one finally succumbs and catches up to the other. I love the sound of their wings, their constant chatter, the anticipation of their approach as I hear them before I see them, the anti thunderstorm. I can't imagine losing such creatures because I know my life would be diminished--and not on the surface level of the day to day, but something less tangible and more essential to being human; I will have imperceptibly lost my own existence.


SaraGardens said...

Benjamin - saw your comment at gardenrant. Fine blog you have here - inspires me to add more real detail about my garden (& garden philsophy).

I saw Tallamy speak a couple of years ago, and I'm looking forward to his book, too. I had luck with several types of milkweed from seed, by the way - got great germination without any coddling or stratification.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Sara--Right? Thanks for stopping by my very humble abode; I always feel I need to add more detail even. I'm looking forward to milkweed--can't believe I'm excited about this plant, but I am. I also love my buckthorn, so hey.

David said...

Hi Benjamin, Thanks for visiting my blog. I couldn't agree with you more in wondering why people want to "escape" to natural areas and spend big bucks to do so, when they could make their own yard much more pleasing. It's the same way with architecture and neighborhood design. People always want to visit cities and towns with walkable neighborhoods and a harmonious blend of land uses, but don't ever insist that their own local leaders rethink the way their cities are developed.

Benjamin Vogt said...

How do you overcome that? I mean, just from my being a teacher, I have to fight so hard to get even the smallest beaurocratic things considered in my department. How on earth could you hope for change on the local level, let alone national? I'm both constantly disheartened and heartened, stagnate by this duality, too, I suppose.