Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wilkmeed (Milkweed is Not a Weed)

Let's start with a refresher--James Wright's wonderful poem.


While I stood here, in the open, lost in myself,
I must have looked a long time
Down the corn rows, beyond grass,
The small house,
White walls, animals lumbering toward the barn.
I look down now. It is all changed.
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
It is here. At a touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.

Yesterday, I spent nearly seven hours at Spring Affair, billed as the largest plant sale in the Midwest. At 9am thousands rushed in, an in an hour or two half the plants were gone, a hundred tables suddenly empty. Pockets of plants were left here and there, most noticeably to me was milkweed (and ironweed, one monarchs love to nectar on). Of course, the hostas were selling like hotcakes.

My garden coaching business banner has a monarch prominently displayed, and many eyes lit up ten feet away as folks approached and regaled my wife and I with butterfly stories, while others asked what was going on with the influx of butterflies now (red admirals and sulphurs). Many spoke fondly of their butterfly bushes. When I asked if they had milkweed, I often heard "No. Should I have that?" Of course! No milkweed, no monarchs--and no lots of other butterflies gorging on that rich nectar.

We need more James Wright moments in our landscapes, and that's the primary reason when I was asked a couple times yesterday if I did speaking engagements, I rushed home and created a list of topics.

I also had enough people come up to me and say what a cool idea a native plant garden coach was, wishing me much success, that I feel emboldened (and exhausted), but unsure now what direction to take next. So, I'll start here with another plea: PLANT MILKWEED. Butterflies and other pollinating insects are in great need of our help as we spray chemicals first and ask questions later, like what happened to all the butterflies. Indeed, on a recent episode of a local garden show on PBS, advice was given to spray earthworms in the evening with sevin to control them (how many problems can you point out in that sentence?). 

If you have a butterfly garden, as many do, not having milkweed is like not having a butterfly garden at all. Asclepias incarnata, purpurascens, sullivanttii, syriaca. Go. Dig. Now. And stay away from chemicals. Soon, if you plant natives, the good bugs will control the bad bugs. I promise. The air will soon fill with delicate creatures from the other world.


Gaia Gardener: said...

I am stunned by your local PBS garden show. Who in the world gave that horrible, horrible piece of "advice"? What are their "credentials" to be hosting a garden show?

I am also very disappointed that milkweeds and ironweeds weren't flying off the tables at the plant sale. You obviously had some for sale at your booth. Which ones did you offer? It can be so hard to find anything buy swamp milkweed (usually a cultivar) and butterfly milkweed. Have something like common or Sullivan's would be awesome!

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Diana Studer said...

(spam alert above)

Why would one want to control earthworms? What how can an earthworm bother a Gardener?

Mark and Gaz said...

I had always thought that the more worms the better, so why do they control them?

Gaz: Alternative Eden

greggo said...

An answer for those who do not understand why people wouldn't want earthworms. I used to work in the golf industry and earthworms would populate putting greens because of the porosity and moist environment. During an irrigation cycle the worms would leave the soil profile and go to the surface leaving castings. When populations became very high it would leave a large mess on the putting service. Thus, was the logic of eliminating them. (I don't condone this btw.)

Benjamin Vogt said...

GG--No, I can't sell the same plants they offer. I just had a few things--wild senna and mountain mint, and aster and salvia seeds. Sold 8 of 10 copies of my book though!
D--I know, right? Worms even taste good. Eh.
MG--Maybe worms are too slimy?
G--Well maybe that's the answer. I missed the call in answer, but still, it's always suburban residents who ask questions, not greens keepers. This show has been on for 40 years and they always suggest chemicals, never sustainable options (well, sometimes they preface and answer sustainably then jump in to chemical suggestions). I'll never be invited on now, that's for sure. And this is a Nebraska Statewide Arboretum show.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

You know, Benjamin, I get mad when I watch that show, and have gotten so I don't even watch it anymore. If I would have seen that one, I may have contacted them with my displeasure. It's a good thing the critters around us are not able to get rid of us with chemicals when they perceive us to be in their space.

I've thought about taping the show so I can fast forward through the parts that talk about chemicals, but haven't remembered to so far.

As far as planting milkweed goes, you know with me, you are preaching to the choir. I am pleased that 5 of the 7 kinds I've planted are back and doing well. After doing some reading, I figured out I don't have the right growing conditions for those 2. I glanced at the common milkweed today, but didn't see any eggs yet.

Benjamin Vogt said...

I know Sue, I get angry often. I've written kindly to them a few times, and no response--not even a corporate one. Not very friendly or community oriented. Maybe we're just crazies? I'm putting in A. speciosa--we'll see what happens. I think I lost a nice sullivantii.

Desert Dweller said...

Nice poem, esp. "creatures...other world". But once familiar, those are no longer "other world".

Intersting insights on your sale, too. Saturday, I was at a plant sale the Univ. of Texas at El Paso has put on yearly for over a decade...encouraging, and I'll try to post on that. Perhaps that could be done there?

Nice how you are seeing the huge need for more appropriate alts to standard "landscape" practices.

Mary Gray said...

Great piece, Benjamin. Go milkweed! I've also planted Pawpaw and turtlehead and am hoping to get Tiger Swallowtail and Baltimore Checkerspot larva with those...the pic of you at the plant sale was pretty inspiring, too...makes me want to put my little garden coaching business out there a little more. Best of luck!

Benjamin Vogt said...

D--Well shoot, ruin the poem for me! :) The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum does native plant sales, but thousands don't show up. I wish they did! Nurseries just need to carry WAY more. Like McDonalds should have broccoli instead of fries forced on us.
M--Yes, push it, get your business out there! Go go go!