Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Garden Picture Redux

I know that no one else is doing some sort of retrospective, so you can't possibly be sick of this shtick. Fiscal cliff. Mayan apocalypse. (Link on over for last year's garden review.)

This year I gave several presentations on native prairie plants, started a garden coaching business, my garden was featured online at Fine Gardening and in the Omaha World Herald, people called me for interviews about gardening (still floored by this), and I started writing a Great Plains gardening column for Houzz. I've also agreed to be on the board of the local Audubon chapter, Wachiska, which works to preserve prairie remnants.

So, without further obvious navel gazing, here are over 30 images from my gardening year.

We had one really good snowfall in early February, then it was big time drought.
Mice nested in our dryer vent line in January. This keeps them out. I still can smell the pee.
A small sharp-shinned hawk eventually nabbed a junco for lunch.
No spring is complete without a trip to see the oldest bird on the planet -- sandhill cranes in Nebraska.
March -- when it hit 90 several times and I was always behind schedule.
Spring -- when I spent much time in the mechanic's shop fuming over this sign. I dared not drink the coffee.
Pasque flower is my first bloomer.
Started a garden coaching biz, sold some plants and books, broke even.
Two robins hatched then died (did not drown). A nest in a new spot worked out.
I trapped two rabbits and this opossum, all gorging on my new veg garden.
Bed was too small, temps were too high. First year with veg was a flop.
Something was enjoying peony buds last May.
Nothing is cooler than seeing your name on a sign! I gave several talks this year in NE & KS.
I'm into buds more than blooms these days -- here's Amsonia hubrichtii.
Visited the 1894 OK homestead for a 3rd time. Writing the memoir. It's hard. As it should be.
Very few insects this year, so the mantis got lucky -- the wasp did not.
Our 5 year anniversary was in July. Time flies.
The garden in July. Lost many coneflowers to aster yellows.
Tamer and master of monarchs!

Can you see my reflection in the fly?
Found a dead snake in the lawn. It smelled awful.

My thinking bench surrounded by indian grass.
Usually we raise 100-200 monarchs. Only about 24 this year.
Spent sunflowers at sunset.
One of the few days we let them out. Warm into November.
Come into the fall garden -- the color is fine.
My buddy keeps me company as I write.
Still amazed this happened a few weeks back. Honored by the life in this 1500' garden.

And here's the garden timelapse from July 2011 to November 2012

My first poetry collection is due out any day -- I have author's copies in my hands

So my goal / hopes for this year are trimmed down, yet still quite massive:

1) Finish a solid first draft of the Oklahoma memoir (hopefully in January!), then a final draft by summer.
2) Find a press for Gardening Wild: How to Grow Sustainably for Butterflies, Bees, Birds, and More
3) Find a more secure job with benefits. Teaching would be most fine.
4) Move to an acreage if #2 pans out. Begin prairie restoration. Begin plant raising to sell at farmer's markets. Build artist sheds for residencies on acreage.
5) Begin writing two experimental nonfiction books and one children's book.
6) Watch my wife get her PhD. And maybe we'll both get jobs (here's our joint job ad).

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Blizzard of Birds

The forecasted 6-10" never happened, just about 4" or so. But we finally stopped our record of days between snows at 305 or 310ish. After the "storm" we had dozens of birds -- folks, this is why you leave the garden up in winter and provide a source of water (and food if you want to maintain the feeders). Tons of birds dashing in and out of bent indian grass and joe pye stalks, hopping over drifts, diving from tree to tree.

First the robin came to drink melting snow. Then a bluebird. Then another.
Starlings jockey for the small hole a 60 watt heater makes.
The water brings in every kind of bird. A robin even dunked its head all the way in.
I want to be a bird for just ten minutes. As long as a sharp-shinned hawk doesn't get me.
Go snow. Stratify those prairie seeds in the 20 pots of soil. Nice insulation for 0 degree low, too.

Merry Christmas. Here's our tree.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Landscapes of Little Meaning

Every day I walk past the newly-expanded power plant at the University of Nebraska. After the sidewalk and street were torn up, the landscape needed mending. Although I'd have to say UNL's landscape is more progressive than most--including scattered beds with modest native plantings and sculpture--they too often succumb to the same old boring, outdated 19th century English blind lunacy of American landscape design.

This new sod--not even drought-tolerant buffalo grass--is wasted space. Every day thousands of people walk by and get nothing. No connection to place, environment, or nature. If anything, a power plant needs a good disguise, which means a nice little short grass prairie. No one will ever use this lawn, but it will be watered, fertilized, and mowed religiously, wasting resources, polluting the environment, et cetera. Plant it in a mix of wildflowers and grass and you only have to tend to it once a year for about ten minutes.

What the lawn says is that we value conformity and a lack of imagination or creativity. What the lawn says is that nature does not exist. What the lawn says is that freedom is a myth and self-determination is a pipe dream.

I can't tell you how many times I have a student read a "nature" poem or essay and they can't connect--they have no shared language, no genuine context. It's been beaten out of them. Their idea--our idea--of nature is a farm pond, corn fields, trees in a park, or just opening the door. It's not more than a human-made backdrop. When we go outside to write they seem genuinely uncomfortable. I think most of us do. But once they begin to let go the floodgates open--human thought and emotion intertwine with whatever nature is available at the moment and good writing blossoms. We have nature deficit disorder.

If the lawn in front of the power plant at UNL was 200 square feet of sweet-smelling prairie forbs alive with songbirds and butterflies, I think that would rub off on passing students--something would stick and switch in them the whole day; all of their perceptions, their whole approach to life would subtly change for the better. They'd be more creative and open. They'd feel more alive, connected, and like they belong. I can tell you, that sense of belonging is what's most at stake (especially for freshman), and why we so often resort to direct and indirect violence. Without genuine experience with nature we are lost.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Job Ad For My Wife and Me

Benjamin Vogt and Jaclyn Cruikshank Vogt invite applications from colleges for two tenure-track assistant professor positions: one in creative writing (poetry & nonfiction), Native American literature, and environmental literature; the other in twentieth-century American literature specializing in women's and gender studies, ethnic literature, and with an interest in digital humanities. Both have taught a full array of courses and have a PhD in their field with a collection of books, journal publications, conference presentations, departmental service, teaching awards, fellowships, and scholarships, along with employment in marketing, journalism, editing, writing centers, and esl tutoring.

Successful colleges will be in the upper Midwest, rural or semi urban, diverse, flexible, creative, and academically rigorous while encouraging multiple perspectives, thinking outside the box, and offering interdisciplinary courses. Preferred qualifications include an integrated study abroad program, collegial faculty, an innovative benefits package, and an ecologically-progressive campus. Colleges may apply by emailing and attaching a letter of application with department philosophy and mission statement. If interested, we will proceed by sending you more information, including vita and teaching portfolios. Applications will be accepted until positions are filled. The Vogts are equal opportunity employees, encouraging applications from diverse candidates.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Healing Monarchs Heals Us

Ran across this article. Says a lot we already know, but has new tidbits, too. Besides, can't harp on this enough. Reminds of the Bible quote that goes something like "what you do the least of these you do to me." It says a lot that we don't have to live like we do, but we choose to. No wonder we kill each other, have kids born as meth addicts, can't trust a government to get things done amicably and for the greater good when we're too blind by our own immediate concerns.

 “Monarch butterflies warn of what might lie ahead for other wild creatures affected by overfarming and deforestation,” says Chip Taylor, professor of insect ecology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, who founded Monarch Watch in 1992.

“It’s clear that this year’s total population is down, and that the overwintering group that just arrived in Mexico is among the lowest ever recorded.”

The devastating reduction started 15 years ago—very recently in the monarch’s long history. An estimated 250,000 years old, this species predates modern humans by 50,000 years....
In March, a University of Minnesota study linked 10 years of monarch decline to glyphosate, the most popular herbicide in the United States, used in brands such as Monsanto’s Roundup. An estimated 84,000 tons of glyphosate are applied annually to soybeans, corn and other U.S. commercial crops. On top of this comes 3,600 tons used in the home and garden sectors, and 6,800 tons used by private businesses and government agencies.

Though glyphosate may be a boon to farmers and landscapers, it is killing milkweed—normally among the hardiest and most stubborn of plants—in record numbers. One recent study found that the milkweed population in the Midwest plunged 58 percent from 1999 to 2010, and that as a result, monarch egg production plummeted 81 percent.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Great Giveaway

I've always wanted to have a giveaway, so why not include my friends at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens and Beautiful Wildlife Garden.

Leave a comment ranking your choices in order of preference. I'll use a random number generator, and when I land on your comment, I'll go down the list and give you the first available prize (you can also just say "yo" and I'll randomly hand out a prize). I'll then hook you up with the author so they can send you the book.

You have until Saturday, December 8 at midnight central to enter. So, get to it! And please help me spread the word. Karma is a factor for the random number generator.


Pat Musick -- Urban and Suburban Meadows by Catherine Zimmerman
Gaia Gardener -- Energy-Wise Landscape Design by Sue Reed
Subversive Hippy -- Nature's Notes by Judy Burris
Jenny Brooks -- Florida Butterfly... offered by Suzanne Dingwell
Unknown (who are you?) -- Rocky Mountain Garden by Susan Tweit
Sunnyside Dru -- The Green Garden by Ellen Sousa
Diane S -- Sleep Creep Leap by moi (others were taken, so you win mine!)
Jchapstick -- Sleep Creep Leap by moi

Send me an email ( with mailing address so I can put you in touch with the authors!


60 minute companion video
Catherine Zimmerman (like her at The Meadow Project)

The video brings into focus the amazing diversity of life inhabiting meadows and prairies and the beautiful imagery inspires meadow and prairie creation! The 60-minute video is formatted to be screened in one sitting or the viewer can click on individual chapters with meadow experts Michael Nadeau, Larry Weaner and Neil Diboll, who walk the viewer through meadow site preparation, design, planting and maintenance. In the chapter, Why Native Plants, entomologist, Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, explains the intricate connection between native plants, native insects and the soil food web.

The video and book address the problems caused by the extensive planting of pesticide-ridden, non-native grass lawns across America. While it is impractical to eliminate lawn, we cannot ignore the environmental consequences of such landscape planning as ecosystems are being destroyed and replaced with chemically maintained monocultures.


Sue Reed (visit her here)

Residential consumption represents nearly one quarter of North America’s total energy use and the average homeowner spends thousands of dollars a year on power bills. To help alleviate this problem, Energy-Wise Landscape Design presents hundreds of practical ways everyone can save money, time, and effort while making their landscapes more environmentally healthy, ecologically rich, and energy efficient.

Intended for homeowners, gardeners, landscape professionals, and students, the design ideas in this book will work in every type of setting—large or small, hilly or flat, urban or rural. Written in non-scientific language with clear explanations and an easy conversational style, Energy-Wise Landscape Design is an essential resource for everyone who wants to shrink their energy footprint while enhancing their property and adding value to their home.


Judy Burris and Wayne Richards (visit them here)

Regardless of age, we all enjoy the fun of discovering new insights to our natural world.
Nature's Notes delivers this joy using bite-sized learning text and dazzling close-up photos to unlock scores and scores of fascinating secrets. The fast-paced format features mini articles and sidebars interspersed with fun and affordable projects as well as backyard explorations revealing hidden natural treasures.

Nature's Notes unique spiral-binding and flexible jacket make this eye-popping book both sturdy and outdoor-friendly . Author/photographers Judy Burris and Wayne Richards have had their work featured in national and worldwide magazines, while their award-winning books, The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs and The Life Cycles of Butterflies are national nature-category best sellers.


Marc Minno, Jerry Butler, Donald Hall
offered by Suzanne Dingwell 

This book will become the classic guide to southern butterfly caterpillars and their host plants.
With hundreds of color photographs and concise information in a format that can easily be carried into the field, it offers an unprecedented tool for all butterfly gardeners, teachers, naturalists, students, and scientists in the southern United States.
No other book offers such a comprehensive discussion of Florida butterfly caterpillars and their host plants. It covers caterpillar anatomy, biology, ecology, habitat, behavior, and defense, as well as how to find, identify, and raise caterpillars. The book contains sharply detailed photos of 167 species of caterpillars, 185 plants, 18 life cycles, and 19 habitats. It includes 169 maps. Photos of the egg, larva, pupa, and adult of representatives of 18 butterfly families and subfamilies provide life cycle comparisons that have never been illustrated before in such an accessible reference.
Susan Tweit (visit her here)

Rocky Mountain gardeners of all skill levels can now breath a sigh of relief. Keep gardens healthy and productive with the quick, expert advice provided in this easy-to-use pocket-size guide. Within these pages you will find the necessary resources and tools to adjust to the challenges of living in the rugged Rocky Mountains. Gardeners in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, will find down-to-earth tips on:
*Growing the right plants for your geographic area
*Working with soil
*Understanding unique weather challenges
*Getting rid of "invaders"—weeds and pests


Ellen Sousa
This practical, comprehensive and inspirational guidebook for New Englanders looking for low-cost, beautiful and earth-friendly ways to green their landscapes and outdoor spaces and supply habitat for a variety of declining species, including birds, native pollinators, honey bees, amphibians and turtles.

Includes an extensive Plant Guide, detailing the best wildlife-friendly plants suitable for the varied conditions and microclimates across New England, cultivation hints and tips, and the wildlife attracted by each plant.


Benjamin Vogt

Peeling off sheets of skin from a sunburned back. Spending $1,000 at five nurseries in an afternoon. Raising 200 monarch butterflies. Hearing the wing beats of geese thirty feet overhead at sunset. How one piece of mulch can make all the difference. These are the stories of Benjamin Vogt’s 1,500 foot native prairie garden over the course of three years. After a small patio garden at his last home teases him into avid tinkering, the blank canvas of his new marriage and quarter acre lot prove to be a rich place full of delight, anguish, and rapture in all four seasons.

Full of lyrical, humorous, and botanical short essays, Sleep, Creep, Leap will leave you inspired to sit a while with your plants, noticing how the smallest events become the largest—and how the garden brings us down to earth so that we can come home to our lives.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Piecing Together a 21st Century Prairie Memoir

Finally a week to my own, my own thoughts, no papers to grade, no classes to plan. Only at the end of my week off is there a glimmer of the book, a moment to try and focus on the thesis that I've struggled with for a good seven months. I've written 40,000 words based on research, and before I start the other 40,000 based on personal stories, I need to find the pulse. Here I am, tossing up darts at a board in front of you with no context, just trying to find the path. So tell me--does any of this hook you?

I want to write about my family, I want to give my grandma back what she tried to give to me. I want to come to terms with Oklahoma. I want to learn the lessons of the vanished prairie and Territory filled with dozens of Native American tribes. I want to know why it's so important to rush forward beyond the moment. I want to sit in the leftover dining room chair on the homestead, in the grasslands, by the oil derricks, and in my grandma’s house. I want to look through time with a sharp eye and open heart and risk the world I know for the one I should know more. This is a microcosm, Oklahoma, of everything we understand in America and who we’ve become. I want to run my fingers over this state’s rough edges and trip on what I find in the afterimage.

Next my grandma and I would hit Brahm’s for a hot fudge sundae, then I’d get dragged to Great Grandma Vogt’s, or driven by some field twenty minutes south whose name I can’t recall—the Harms’ 80, the Vogt 40, the Martin 80. All the time I’d be in the backseat, sitting in the sun, barely able to see out the window, the dirt roads tossing me into the air, my grandma gazing out the window from the cool interior, wistfully remembering something she wanted to share, felt she must share, but knew was impossible to bring me into. I was too young. When I visit those same fields today, sometimes with my dad or uncle—both who insist on a similar tour of wheat stubble and natural gas wells to show me what’s ours—I get the same ache in my legs and dryness in my mouth. There is nothing out here but a moment lodged into someone else’s brain, something I can’t recognize as a seven year old or as a thirty year old. I never lived here in the way they did and I feel made to repent my distant life. The dust trailing behind our cars are ghosts that can’t keep up, that either settle back down until the next car passes, or lift up into the air falling miles away, perhaps permanently suspended in the atmosphere.

I feel guilty about two things—never listening to / appreciating my grandmother and her stories, and never loving Oklahoma like she did. I found her the boring Grandma, and found the state hot, dry, and oppressive. Backwater even. I felt it in my thick accent the moment I stepped into a Minnesota grade school classroom. Maybe MN made me hate OK more, maybe I always hated it, I don’t know. I do know that upon living half my childhood in each place, and now living twelve years geographically between the two in Nebraska, I must bring them together in order to move forward, to find my place in a new place wherever it may be. Until I do that, I can’t live fully and I can’t honor myself, my family, or the landscapes I hope to heal. The irony is that in confronting my loathing of OK, I’m growing to appreciate and even revere aspects of it.

Words are the bridge between the unconscious and conscious, between emotion and action—without them I am adrift and useless. But facing myself and my family I must also face the prairie, the Native Americans, and manifest destiny. The loss of the world is the loss of the people, not the other way around—confronting that lineage of pain is to not repeat those mistakes (if I honor the people and the place now, maybe I can be honorable in any place in the future). So if I can find the place of Oklahoma I may find some glimmer of my grandmother in me or I in her, and in turn, some glimmer of the future.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Timelapse Garden Video & Announcement Time

Here's a timelapse of about 1/3 of the main back garden, from July 2011 to November 2012. Sometimes a grey-shirted, blue-jeaned ghost with greying hair makes an appearance--just ignore that.

This video attests to the miracle of herbaceous prairie perennials; when I cut down the garden every March there's almost nothing left, yet the following year many things are 6-10' tall. Enjoy.

And I might as well take this time to announce some things:

1) In 2013 I'll be serving on the all-volunteer board of Wachiska Audubon, the local chapter whose mission is to save and promote prairie. Happy to see where this will take me and what I'll learn. Hopefully, we can find a way to work with other local conversation groups and do something big.

2) Don't recall if I've said this, but I've been writing columns for Houzz, an image-orgy of very cool home design ideas inside and out. I'm the Great Plains regional garden guru, posting monthly guides and pimping native prairie / sustainable wildlife gardening via plant profiles. Help me spread the word?

3) I won an Apple iPad in a photo contest, where one of the three judges was Michael Forsberg (you know, Great Plains idol of mine whose book you must have). 

4) Trying to sell a proposal for a sustainable gardening and wildlife garden book, drawing on regional experts from around the country. The focus is no nonsense for the beginner, guided by 15 core gardening tenets. So if you happen to be an editor, you know, well....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Of Cats and Fall

With temperatures in the 60s (normal high is 47) we spent yesterday afternoon outside with the cats. Lounged in the grass, walked through the gorgeous winter garden (leave stuff up!), and then I remembered I had a camera and other people might also like cats. If you want to see a video, link here.

Come on in, the foliage is fine.

V likes winter sowing seeds.