Friday, September 27, 2013

You Can Garden How You Want, But....

.... the ethical imperative to garden differently is glaring. This from AMERICAN GREEN by Ted Steinberg:

1) Between 1994 and 2004, an estimated average of 75,884 Americans each year were injured using lawn mowers, or roughly the same number of people injured by firearms.

2) Using a gas-powered leaf blower for half an hour creates as many polluting hydrocarbon emissions as driving a car 7,700 miles at a speed of 30mph.

3) Approximately 7 million birds die each year because of lawn-care pesticides (and that's just lawn care, not including shrubs, trees, flowers, or agriculture).

4) In the process of refueling lawn care equipment, Americans spill 17 million gallons of gas every summer, or 50% more oil than the Exxon Valdez spilled off of Alaska.

5) A single golf course in Tampa (Florida alone has over 1,000 courses) uses 178,800 gallons of water per day, enough to meet the daily fresh water needs of more than 2,200 Americans.

6) Lawn chemicals are tracked into the home often, where they build up in carpet, this placing small children, whose developing bodies are far more vulnerable to toxins, at risk of chronic exposure. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Twilight on the Tallgrass -- Spring Creek Prairie

This is the place my wife and I had our wedding reception six years ago, but last night we were at their annual festival. Spring Creek is a virgin tallgrass island in a sea of cash crops, still sporting wagon ruts from an Oregon Trail cutoff, over 800 acres in size about 7 miles due southwest of Lincoln, Nebraska. There are plans to connect this prairie and the one near our home in Pioneers Park with a prairie corridor -- hopefully this happens within the next decade or so.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Presentation, Plant Sale, Open Garden

This Saturday, 9/21, I'm opening my heart and soul to anyone who wants to poke and prod it. 

At 1pm I'll give a roughly 30 minute powerpoint presentation on native plants for wildlife that work well for me (if you've seen my talks before it'll pretty much be the same thing). I'll have enough seats for about 15 people, then you have to stand.

At 1:30pm, or a fuzz later, I'll open the garden for tours, questions, and a plant sale (proceeds of which will go straight into my buy a prairie / restore a prairie / start artist residency and nursery fund).

Come see the beginning blooms of the last fall flowers, and hopefully the peak migration of monarch butterflies as they come south.

Either before or after stopping by here, you should also visit the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum native plant sale over on UNL's east campus. Great folks, great plants!

Saturday 9/21
1:00 to 3:00 pm
3755 W. Plum St.
Lincoln, Nebraska
RAIN DATE -- Next day, same prairie time, same prairie channel

Some of the 50 or so plants I'll have, $3-5 each, include:

Stiff Goldenrod
Zigzag Goldenrod
Blue Pitcher Sage
Wild Senna
Mystery Liatris (is it white or purple, low or tall?)
Monkey Flower
Amsonia hubrichtii
Eupatorium Coelestinum
Prairie Cascade Willow (rooted tree cutting)
Dig you own / beg me to chop it and dig it Mystery Hosta
Some sort of white Spiraea that needs a wetter area than I can give it (needs to be dug)

I plan to have another plant sale next May or June -- this one will have tons of flowers, grasses, and sedges from seeds gathered from my open-pollinated, organic garden.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Out here in Nebraska prairie is an endangered species. In a little over a century it's been pushed back to bad soil, roadsides, and graveyards. Within it countless flora and fauna have broken. With no understanding we alter the landscape, we erase power before we understand, we undermine hope, we negate other cultures. We've done this for so long it doesn't seem wrong. I plant a bluestem and a milkweed where I can -- the act a shout against progress and manifest destiny, against hubris and ignorance. No one may hear me but one lone monarch filled with a deeper sense of this place than I'll ever have, the memory passed down over thousands of generations, unbroken like the prairie that not so long ago swept over the horizon.

Yes, it's on ironweed, but that's what's blooming now.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

To Butterfly Bush or to Not Butterfly Bush (Or to Native or Not to Native)

No other plant seems to get people's engines revving more than butterfly bush. I mean heated arguments -- I've been in my fair share. Is it invasive or not? Well, Oregon doesn't let it into the state, and the USDA says it's naturalized on both coasts, and even in parts of eastern Kansas.

But that's not the core issue.

Does it support lots of insects by providing good nectar? If one person sees one monarch nectarting on it one day, it's always assumed to be a good plant to help butterflies. Whenever I say -- and I am not lying to prove a point -- that my native prairie perennials see 50x the insect action than butterfly bush, I hear "I have plenty of butterflies on mine." Maybe you do. Maybe you don't. Doesn't really matter. Butterflies are one kind of insect, and I have NEVER seen a soldier beetle, or any beetle, or fly or wasp, on butterfly bush (let alone a caterpillar munching on its leaves). A few bumblebees, yes, and some hummingbird moth species. The point is when my prairie clover, coneflowers, mountain mint, rudbeckia, culver's root, ironweed, jow pye weed, milkweed, goldenrod, aster, viburnum, ninebark, serviceberry, baptisia, pasque flower, boneset, and countless other natives are in bloom, they are COVERED in a DIVERSE set of insect species. I wave my hand over them and a literal buzzing cloud lifts up like steam then settles like snow. I can't do that on butterfly bush.

But that's not the core issue.

White-lines sphinx moth on New England aster
I don't give a rip about supporting just one type of insect, since songbird chicks eat a 100% diet of insects, as do most adult songbirds (in decline due to habitat loss). 1 in 3 bites of food we humans take began with the act of a pollinating insect, not just a pollinating butterfly.

Still, not the core issue.

Here's where I get lambasted the most -- plant choices in our landscapes are moral choices. Just like shopping at a local business is a moral choice, going to a farmer's market, consolidating trips in a car, not using plastic bottles, not slamming a door on someone's face, not driving drunk, not using racial slurs, not beating your spouse, not shooting prairie dogs for entertainment.

IDK on Agastache foeniculum
This is the core issue:

Using plants native to your locale is a moral and ethical choice.

This statement insinuates that if you have a hosta I think you're an immoral, self-centered, planet-degrading a-hole. I wouldn't go that far, but we're on that sliding scale, I must admit. Here in eastern Nebraska 99% of the tallgrass prairie is gone, replaced my publically-subsidized monocultures that fatten cattle in terrible feedlots, poison our food supply, and create a bridge fuel (ethanol) which is like plugging a leak in the boat by adding food dye to the water. What does the loss of prairie say about who we are and what we value?

The preservation of our world is no matter to take lightly. When you plant with natives you are standing up against corporations that rape and poison this planet for profit, that own our government, and you're standing up against social, racial, and gender inequality. I know that seems like a leap, but it's all related, it all comes from the same root of choices we make every day in our hearts and minds. (I always wonder why the term is "mother nature," as if that gender gives us more inherent rights over it, that is then passive and submissive, simply a backup support to something or someone more important.)

If wanting to ensure a livable future for subsequent generations labels me as a native plant purist, then get that branding iron out of the fire -- here's my bare rump.

It's easy to dismiss issues that make us uncomfortable, that highlight our complicity in ecological harm. It hurts. It should hurt. But I'm not asking for you to feel guilty or ashamed -- I'm asking you to take stock of what you know and see and experience, and reflect on what's really going on beneath the shiny surface fed to us in our daily lives. What do you believe in? Should you? I ask this of my college students all the time. I'm asking you, too.

E. altissimum, Rudbeckia, A. azureus
You are certainly free to plant whatever you want, just as you are free (in America, theoretically) to practice whatever religion you want, eat what you want, love what you want, hate what you want. But we innately know where the moral lines are in our unique existence. I don't believe that any gardener can be a gardener without understanding and feeling the life our plants give, the wild systems at play, our hand for better or worse in the natural world, and not garden selflessly. If we garden selflessly, suddenly we get FAR more in and from the garden than we ever could have imagined. That selfless gardening begins with native plants and local ecosystems.

For more on the butterfly bush vs. native plants debate:

-- The North American Butterfly Association did a feisty spread
-- This ecologist goes deeper than I did above, so you might not like him
-- And I did a post suggesting alternative plants here
-- Maybe if I make you cry about a swallowtail I helped, you'll see where I'm coming from better.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why I'm Becoming a Native Plant Purist

Because Trans Canada wants to put a pipeline through the Nebraska sandhills and above the Ogalalla Aquifer, and the oil is coming from tar sands which could be worse than mountain top removal mining when it comes to destruction of landscapes.

Because the next generation may not know what a rhino or elephant or polar bear is.

Because the arctic had the lowest recorded levels of summer ice ever.

Because our taxes go to subsidize farmers who can't afford GMO seeds and who plow up marginal prairie in order to cash in on high commidty prices (oh, there's crop insurance too for all this so there's little gamble).

Because we perpetuate a myth about wilderness and nature, about the Midwest, about the yeoman farmer and his family, about American progress.

Because ADHD has been linked to chemicals in our environment and a lack of engagement with outdoor play in places other than soccer fields and playgrounds.

Because racism, sexism, and other intolerance is tied to how we live in nature, what we think of it, how we act toward it directly and indirectly.

Because there's a floating garbage patch the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Because feed lots exist.

Because when we lose wilderness, we lose our cultural, regional, and national identity. We grow a little bit more disconnected from "home" and each other.

Because when I walk my college class across campus not one of them can tell me that's a blue jay in the oak tree calling out. Or that over there it's a robin.

Because being a native plant purist is equivalent on the "crazy" scale to wanting equal rights for minorities, or good healthcare, or fair wages, or a government not owned by massive corporations.

Because the silhouette of a prairie orchid at sunset makes me swoon.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ludicrous Speed -- Fall Events

I'm not sure where summer went. Fastest one ever. I am certain that it was just last week when I bid farewell to the four classes I was teaching at two colleges, thrilled to have a long 3 month summer to research and finish the first draft of my prairie memoir (I got close, at 85,000 words). Now, the second week of school has ended and my calendar is piled high with events.

I'm on the board of Wachiska Audubon Society, a prairie education and conservation group, and our 40th anniversary gala is this weekend. National Audubon president David Yarnold is speaking, the mayor is giving him an award, we're giving an award to photographer Joel Sartore, and dozens of silent auction items will be up for grabs (including a cool hand-written poem and sketches by Ted Kooser). Yeah, I'm pumped, plus we're sold out at over 230 guests.

9/21 is Twilight on the Tallgrass down at Spring Creek Prairie in Denton, NE from 5-10pm. Just $5 for a lovey evening of events.

9/27 is the Pioneers Park Nature Center's fundraiser, Beer, Brats, and Bison from 6:30-8pm. $25 tickets in advance get you, well, beer, brats, and bison.

9/29 My wife and I will be at one of the last Old Cheney Road farmer's market from 10-2, spreading the words about Monarch Gardens, butterflies, and native plant habitat.

And either on 9/14 or 9/21 I'm going to host a presentation on native plants I like, open my garden for a tour, and sell a very small number of plants. Either of those afternoons, so stay tuned here or on Facebook and I'll hope to see you sometime this month. Prairie on!