Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 Looks like "Risk"

Nebraska leads the way in prairie conversion to cropland. Farmers are scrambling to drain every last marsh, pond, and lowland, bulldozing shrub and tree borders, anything to squeeze out more money from high commodity prices fueled by ethanol mandates. With crop insurance there's no risk, and taxpayers foot the bill for environmental destruction on a scale larger and more intense than the years leading up to the dust bowl.

Grasslands are the most endangered and least protected ecosystem on the planet. Ranchers -- who are often, but not always, better stewards of the land -- can convert to row crops and increase their income many times over; this is happening in South Dakota and Nebraska at record paces as highly erodible lands unfit for farming are converted.

Spring Creek Prairie -- Denton, NE
This is what stirs my blood, and I see gardening with native prairie plants as essential to both raising awareness of these issues and making a stand (allbeit very miniscule) against the larger forces of a culture we give a free pass to. For the sake of ease and a desire not to be downers, we ignore where our food comes from, what's in it, and what it might be doing to us. We are a nation of twerking cat memes, grown fat on candy-fed beef and high fructose corn syrup.

In 2014 I will be a native plant purist because so much is at stake, because so much is being lost not to hosta or daylily or butterfly bush (though I believe those are all junk plants), but to our lunacy.

It's my goal to be an Aldo Leopold Jr. to the extreme, yo.

Will my wife and I make the leap, find a way to buy an acreage and convert to prairie? Can we start a small nursery, create a display garden featuring only native plants? Will we host weddings, educational classes, and artist residencies down the road? 

1894 Homestead
I've put aside a memoir on my family's settling in Oklahoma in the 1890s in favor of researching and outlining a book on the moral and ethical imperative to garden with native plants; hopefully, I can complete this by summer. I've got some great speaking gigs lined up as well as I hope to expand in that area more.

We've got our eyes set on Iowa for a move, though nothing is written in stone. Land is more available there, incentives are there for prairie and renewable energy, and there's a niche to fill (I can't tell you how many hundreds of websites I've visited). We'll see. It's crazy. We don't have the money. But it balloons my heart and soul and sets my mind on fire.

In my life every big risk I've taken has paid off in phenomenal ways -- going to college 12 hours from home (I am a momma's boy), studying abroad for a semester not knowing a soul, moving even further from home to do a master's degree, moving halfway across the country again to do a PhD. 2014 looks a lot like the word "risk." It feels about time again to feel as alive as I hope to make the landscapes around me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On Lincoln's Sunken Gardens

I got really frustrated listening to the folks from Sunken Gardens on the radio today. First, I must admit that I've never enjoyed the Sunken Gardens here in Lincoln -- I do think it's a waste of a fascinating space and of annuals; I'd love to see a native perennial garden that blooms from April to November and is a beautiful place / destination in winter with plants left standing, but Lincoln is pretty behind in this regard... have to go to Chicago or New York for that. I also had high hopes for Union Plaza on O Street, but that's a tepid bust.

I listened about new impatiens that are drought tolerant, so are great for a Nebraska garden. Then care for elephant ears. Lily of the valley. Hosta. My god -- the same old plants we've been using forever that ain't gonna help any native wildlife. The Sunken Gardens teaches people that flamboyant beauty must be maintained all the time with lots of water and fertilizer and switching out plants and soil amending and work work work then toss money at it like rice at a wedding (don't toss rice, please). Gardens are not plastic art -- they are living ecology, a dynamic nexus where we meet the world we depend upon. The Sunken Garden's lesson is that nature is primarily an aesthetic painting to be placed on a romantic, 19th century pastoral pedestal and enjoyed for human purposes only in a very momentary way. I'm tired of this frankly outdated perception of what gardens are, a perception that's led to a lot of environmental trouble, but lots of people like it. I just wish we had the other side of the coin represented in Lincoln -- and we don't. Do we? Where? Please don't say the monoculture beds of Union Plaza where milkweed and chokeberry are evenly spaced in neat rows.

As for next year's "Thunderbird" theme at the garden, I immediately got concerned when I heard talk about Native American design. Which tribe? What symbols? What meanings do those symbols have to that tribe's culture? Will you teach the public? Did you consult with any Native Americans? I heard a very reductionist, white-romantic conversation about using red, yellow, and white colors and zigzag / diamond designs. I hope this won't be yet another disservice to the cultures we pushed to the brink (if you're picking up on a link between human and animal / insect cultures and the relation between how we treat both, then we're on the same page). Our public gardens need to think more on multiple levels -- I just don't see it happening in my city.

Monday, December 16, 2013

My Video Rant

Last August I was a part of Ignite Lincoln and had 5 minutes to spout off on my hope to re-prairie the city. Watch me go in front of 600 folks -- and say with me that "milkweed is not a weed!" I have to admit, it was hard to say everything I wanted to in five minutes, and the breathless pace kept me on my toes. And oh, the bright spotlight.

If anyone out there is looking for a speaker I'm wanting to do more. I've already got three dates lined up for next year, working on two more. Also working on a book that informs everything I talk about. So if you're a garden club, conference, botanic garden, nursing home, garden nursery, I can tailor my message and vibe to any audience.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In Winter

Such a nice, long fall -- perhaps the best fall of the 10 years I've lived here in Nebraska. A week ago Monday it was 65, then two days later single digits. That's how seasons seem to work here -- either on or off, hardly a nice easing into. In 2012 summer came in March. In 2013 we had snow on May 1. All I know is that I'm thankful for the full measure of each season, the extremes that test my endurance and humanity, that reconnect me to place and planet and home. I am more alive for the extremes, more able to find an equilibrium in my own nature.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Less Lawn. More Planet.

A simple message on the day of our first snowfall (4"). Prairie seeds are being stratified -- made ready to heal the world next summer. It's not too late to seed. It's never too late to stand up and fight for our home.