Thursday, March 29, 2012

Prairie Garden Coaching Right Here

I'm looking to help you plant natives. No job is too big or too small, too messy or too clean of a slate. Give me your tired lawns and overgrown hedges, your wildlife yearning for sanctuary in a chem-free environment. Give me your new build, your deck pots, your cRaZy landscape, your right of ways and school grounds. Link on over.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Healing the Garden & Ourselves

As I ready the landscape for spring, I'm reminded of Linda Hogan's words, which we've just read in my English classes. Her book is Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World, and highly recommended. 

"The word rake means to gather or heap up, to smooth the broken ground. That's what this work is, all of it, the smoothing over of broken ground, the healing of the severed trust we humans hold with earth. We gather it back together again with great care, take the broken pieces and fragments and return them to the sky. It is work at the borderland between species, at the boundary between injury and healing."

And as I cut down old sunflower stems beneath migrating snow geese and sand hill cranes half a mile above:

"In this one plant, in one summer season, a drama of need and survival took place. Hungers were filled. Insects coupled. There was escape, exhaustion, and death. Lives touched down a moment and were gone.

I was an outsider. I only watched. I never learned the sunflower's golden language or the tongues of its citizens. I had a small understanding, nothing more than a shallow observation of the flower, insects, and birds. But they knew what to do, how to live. An old voice from somewhere, gene or cell, told the plant how to evade the pull of gravity and find its way upward, how to open. It was instinct, intuition, necessity. A certain knowing directed the seed-bearing birds on paths to ancestral homelands they had never seen. They believed it. They followed."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

L.A.W.N. -- Lusty Advocate for Wayward Nihilism

It has begun weeks early. As I type my walls are vibrating, and my neighbor is dripping sweat about to fall over, pushing his slave-driving mechanism back and forth over a chemically-dependent lawn, green unnaturally early. He must love it, because the instant the lawn turned this week he's out there.

The guy across the street mowed last weekend before his lawn was 50% green. Now that it's 75% he made sure to get up at 9 this morning and let everyone know 6 months of sheer hell was upon us like some starving grizzly bear looking for a mate.

I really, really must know what's with this ritual, why people enjoy this, what they get out of it, why these lawns are so important, what it does for them, what drives them. If I walked around the neighborhood taking an informal survey, I'd just end up getting punched in the face. But it beats hearing lawnmowers, smelling that exhaust, thinking about the greenhouse effect and all the money we give to petro-chemical corporations, imagining fields of wildflowers paved over with rolls of sod, watching birds flee to trees like ghosts.

The only wildlife I see in lawns around here are dogs squatting over brown patches laying chocolate eggs. 

We need an acronym, so if you come up with a good one, let me know. Here are some:


Likely A Wonky Nationalism

Leaping Anally While Needy

Look, A-holes Waking Neighborhood

Lacking Any Wisdom (about) Nature

Lusty Advocate for Wayward Nihilism

Lusciously Against Wildlife & Nature

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sandhill Cranes in Flight

We went and saw the cranes again last Sunday, but unlike 2011, it was hard to find them. They seemed more scattered and skittish, maybe because the wind was coming out of the south at 40mph. Last year the weather was foggy and 45, this year sunny and 80.

The photos from last year have the cranes at a distance and mostly standing, but this year I got many in flight. Hence the post title. If you want to HEAR the haunting call of this ten million year old bird, migrating 500,000 at a time in the only mass crane migration of its kind in the world, link to the crane cam around 7:30 am and pm cst.

Crane on the right looks hurt.

Forms of flight?

As usual, they don't like cars.

Largest group we found, maybe 1,000 here along a hill.
Cranes, center pivot, and corn. An uneasy truce.
This is not a crane.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Talking Plants, Live

As part of Finke Garden's 2012 opening, I'll be giving a talk on some local prairie plants that work for me, and maybe doing a little reading / signing of my garden memoir Sleep, Creep, Leap. There will be art and poetry, too, as well as plants to buy and a NE guide to wildflowers book. For the full list of events, click on the link below.

Our Lives With Nebraska Wildflowers
Finke Gardens
500 N. 66th St. 
Lincoln, NE
Thursday, March 22

And in case you don't stalk me, here's my pictorial spread (ooolala) on Fine Gardening's blog.

Also have a guest post / story up for Timber Press about being on a garden tour last year.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why I Hate Spring

Not just why I hate this spring, mind you, but every spring. Of course, this year it's just plain worse. Worse I says.

1) There was no winter. There was no break. There was no respite. It was dry and warm. Which means fewer seeds will germinate. It's 80 here. I got mild heat stroke.

2) I'm not rested. There is hardly a blip in my mind and heart from October to March. I swear it was a week ago I was marveling at the bright red of ninebark and the copper of bald cypress. I need my seasons, and....

3) I'm sick sick sick of hearing people on social media praising spring, so excited to garden again, as if the winter was long and boring and the most terrible period of their lives ever. Get real. It was waaaaay too easy. We haven't earned spring. I feel like a massive slacker. I need to go beat my back with a whip. I'm still impure.

4) I'm not anxious for spring one bit. Spring means clean up. And since it's so hot I started nearly a month before last year, and finished on 3/10. The pressure of spring is pissing me off. Get off my back, spring. I'm warning you. Step off, punk.

5) I always boast that my 1,500 feet would require only one mad day of cleanup. Which is true. If you aren't a garden hawk. I see seedlings to move, plants to divide, mulch to place, beds to expand, branches to trim.... It's like having a frenetic disco ball inside my head. And now this year I've started seed inside and plan a veggie bed. What the sandhill crane was I thinking?

6) People leave their barky dogs outside longer, and more often. This means less sleep for me.

7) Basketballs thud well past dark. Leftover fireworks punctuate twilight. The gun range is getting busier.

8) Lawnmowers. This is inevitable, like death or bad bowel movements. Or blog posts like this one with references to bad bowel movements. Usually, the first mowers go off about April 1 even though the lawns aren't even green. Then come leaf blowers and edgers for 6 months. Then comes the cRaZy blogger.

9) Winter is for reading and writing. I did much reading. I did not do much writing. This infuriates me. I'm way off schedule. But I wasn't ready. Now I am. And now it's spring. How can I stay inside when the birds are chirping and butterflies are coming out and there are so many crocus and iris to macro? (yes, it's now a verb) It's hard to get in a groove, especially hard to discipline one's self anyway. Stupid spring.

10) Spring means summer is next. Summer is hot. Summer means many trips. Summer means insects and flowers to photograph and fawn over like Homer Simpson does donuts. Summer means even less time to write. I will never name my kid summer. Autumn would be better. Spring would imply they walk funny. Winter would be weird. Might as well name your kid wintergreen and hang a pine tree around their neck. Which I would do.

* And to add insult to injury, the willows and crabapples are turning green, chokeberry and serviceberry are breaking bud, the elm is blooming, and I think I saw a cicada the size of a football eating a junco (it was far away, so maybe not the case). Fall right on into summer this year. :(

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Sadness of Scissors

Iris reticulata began blooming yesterday, weeks early. The crocus began on 2/2, weeks early. In the garden is a sense that winter never came--the leaves are still fluffy and crisp between stalks of aster and coneflower, and many seeds still adorn stems like ornate finials.

So spring is here early, and I've begun the annual cut down not in keeping with my lazy, late March schedule. If I can let in sunlight to the bare soil now, perhaps more plants will sprout. Today I saw two silver-spotted skipper butterflies--how hungry they must be.

As I grasp the stiff neck of a liatris stem, it's not hard to remember the monarch that touched the fleshy sinews, that tasted with its feet the deep-tongued scent of a bloom. It is almost impossible for me to close the sharp blades of my scissors around the stem and snap them closed. The same can be said for the eupatorium that was a favorite ambush point for a preying mantis over several days. And there, beneath the shadow of a maple, I nursed back to health a transplanted milkweed. Up on the hill, the contorted tube of blue sage is an afterimage of a hummingbird, bent down just so against the wind as it reached for early autumn sun, and frozen in this position like some plastic flamingo's neck.

It's difficult being in the spring garden, wiping away a year so carelessly. I'm a sentimental fool. For over a year I've kept the 12' tall ironweed, laid ceremoniously against the basement foundation, tucked away like a mortar board or birth announcement. Looking at it now, two years later, I just can't break it into pieces for the compost pile. It doesn't deserve that.

On my hands and knees I poke my head into a caryopteris and find the seed head of a last black-eyed susan. Pinching it between my fingers I rub off the seeds and toss them into the breeze, letting them fall wherever spring will have them. When the garden is empty of its autumn, flat and devoid of memory, I hope the promise of new growth will carry me past myself and into the world again--as it has each of the last four years. But I just don't know. The garden is never the same, always the same, again and never again. I put the scissors in my pocket and settle on the nearby bench. I hear red-winged blackbirds. The sun is warm. Tulips are breaking through the stubborn clay soil.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Go Go Gadget Grow Lights

My wife helped me reorganize the closet under the stairs so I could fit in a grow station. It's my first ever. I've two shelves, with one to expand on, two T5 lights at 6400K, heat pads, timer, and fan. Even soil-less potting soil. Hopefully, in a few weeks I'll some native perennial seedlings to hand out at Lincoln's Earth Day, where my garden coaching business will be (coneflowers, aster, goldenrod, liatris, milkweed). Also may start some veg--I'm virginal with that, too.

So, grade me on a scale of 1-10: 1 it's ugly and won't work and I think you stink at gardening (you're mother was a hamster and smelt of elderberries), and 10 it's awesome and makes me want to strip naked howling through the streets in joy for you and all creation glory be amen.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Crocodile Crocus Crosses Circus

I like alliteration. So much so that many nachos were sacrificed for my lunch time crocus sandwich. (eh) The crocus have been blooming since 2/22, a full three weeks earlier than normal. I even trimmed tree branches and began cleaning up in prep for my vegetable experiment (a new bed, and I don't believe you people who say growing veg is easy. Ornamentals are easy.).

I ate some of the flowers, so here are what's left:

You're thinking: "Wow, so that's what crocus look like! I had no idea. I haven't seen any others in my garden, or on 50 other blogs this week. Thank you. You have the best gardening / writing blog ever. And you're so attractive. Man. You got the whole package going on. Are you married?" 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Prairie Dog Executions--LB473

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior, 1890

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma

Today the Nebraska state senate is, most likely, passing a bill--LB473--that will allow the government to go on to private land and poison prairie dogs, which are being classified as noxious weeds (don't ask, you know how government works). If pdogs on your land spread to adjacent land, then the government has the right to go poison your animals and then bill you later. Not only is private property being disregarded, but more importantly, so is the health of a keystone Great Plains species.

Prairie dogs once numbered 3-5 billion across the mixed and short grass prairies. One town in Texas was estimated to be 100 x 250 miles, or 16 million acres and 400 million pdogs. Meriwether Lewis called them barking squirrels.

Historic Range of all Prairie Dog Species

Since pdogs constantly clip plants and flowers in their towns in order to keep an eye out for predators, their towns were prime grazing land for bison, as fresh forage was always guaranteed. Prairie dogs also improve the soil, constantly turning it over, bringing up minerals for plants. In fact, prairie dog towns increase biodiversity and stabilization across a range of species--grasshoppers love the towns and feed birds, vacant holes provide nesting sites and shelter for all sorts of amphibians and owls and rodents and insects, and all that prey feeds endangered hawks and foxes and ferrets. My favorite childhood toad in Oklahoma, the Texas horned lizard, has seen its population fall over 50% in the last few decades as ant colonies, their primary food source, vanish. Ants love prairie dog towns.

Prairie dogs are what biologists call a keystone species, much like the bison were--that is, such a large number of other species depend on their existence that without them whole vast ranges of the ecosystem simply vanish. Gone. Gone. Gone.

If we poison prairie dogs, we poison the health of the land we depend upon, and we erode our very own culture. This is a tired argument no one listens to, though. Certainly not ranchers, whose major claims against pdogs is that they destroy the grazing land by eating forage and creating holes for cattle to fall into. I have yet to drive by a prairie dog town strewn with fallen cattle, crying out into the void, starving with their legs broken. If anything, cattle should be poisoned--they foul fresh water streams, erode those stream banks, and trample away grass and wildflowers. The amount of water, drugs, and fattening corn they demand in a beef culture severely taxes our environment in ways we can't even begin to address here. We've been duped.

All of this reminds me of the anecdote where a rancher caught a coyote he thought was preying on his sheep, tied a stick of dynamite to it, lit the stick, and let the coyote run off to explode. The coyote ran for cover under the rancher's new truck.

I'm so disgusted by our society and our culture, to the blindness of our governments established to protect us, to watch out for us, to correct the blindness of our greed and set a higher example, to hold us to our most basic moral and ethical beliefs even when we turn a blind eye to them. Pipe dreams that maybe never existed. Right now lobbyists for ranchers are cashing their checks, and life on this planet continues to be manipulated in ways that simply dwarf the genocide we commit on our own species (our oceans are near death being over harvested, soon we will grow chicken breasts in petri dishes). Yet there will be no books, no speeches, no monuments to the fallen prairie dogs, to the blowout penstemon of the sand hills, to the salt creek tiger beetle. What difference is there, in the end, to a pile of emaciated humans in a concentration camp and bodies of poisoned prairie dogs spelling out the word "US Biological Survey?"

What we do to life "beneath" us we will do to ourselves, and often worse. It's an indicator. A warning. A keystone signal that we should go in for psychiatric evaluation.  

Here's a piece by Paul Johnsgard noting in what ways the prairie dog is morally superior to humans, and so should be placed on the state flag. It's tongue in cheek. Or is it. 

(Stats and figures taken from Prairie Dog Empire by Paul Johnsgard and Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild by Michael Forsberg)