Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Garden Pics & Video Tour

My 1,500' native plant garden is remarkable. Each year plants die, others thrive, still others move to places nearby from where I put them as if saying hey, you were so close, but this is what I prefer. Plants evolve and morph before my eyes, and in the rush of May and June growth it's all a gardener can do to keep up. When July comes with all of its prairie blooms, the relatively peaceful onslaught of thousands of insects is a welcome breath of air as many plants complete their annual cycles like punctuation marks at the end of a sentence. So here's what it looks like this week -- even as the baptisia and eupatorium grow 6" a day.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Why Corn is Evil Reason #629

"Since the center pivots’ debut some six decades ago, the amount of irrigated cropland in Kansas has grown to nearly three million acres, from a mere 250,000 in 1950. But the pivot irrigators’ thirst for water — hundreds and sometimes thousands of gallons a minute — has sent much of the aquifer on a relentless decline.... A shift to growing corn, a much thirstier crop than most, has only worsened matters. Driven by demand, speculation and a government mandate to produce biofuels, the price of corn has tripled since 2002, and Kansas farmers have responded by increasing the acreage of irrigated cornfields by nearly a fifth. At an average 14 inches per acre in a growing season, a corn crop soaks up groundwater like a sponge — in 2010, the State Agriculture Department said, enough to fill a space a mile square and nearly 2,100 feet high."

Read the full article here on the draining of the Ogallala aquifer. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Prairie This, Lincoln

Join me at my new venture, a website devoted to images of Lincoln, Nebraska urban and suburban spaces that could be prairie. Send in your photos! To find out how, link on the image. Let's be Prairie City, USA, and cut grounds maintenance costs, increase property value, diversify our natural resources, clean the water and air, and enrich the lives of families, the disabled, and the under privileged.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hot Hot Hot in the May Garden

Finally done grading my for English classes at two colleges (oh the part time adjunct life), slowly settling into blogging again and a summer of finishing my Oklahoma memoir. On June 1 I'll be presenting part of the research from that memoir at the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment conference, alongside one of my favorite writers, Linda Hogan. So if you want to hear about Mennonite migration in the late 1800s in the southern Plains, I can hook you up.

I've had several more consultations this year for my business, Monarch Gardens, helping homeowners and schools get prairie plantings designed and started. It's very rewarding. Also have given presentations at gardens shows, nurseries, a retirement home, and tomorrow in Omaha at the Ralston Library at noon. I wish this all paid enough to be half my income, or a decent part of it anyway -- what a joy that would be! I have huge dreams for an acreage, prairie, artist residences, a destination garden, small nursery, and something else on wheels.

Below is what's been happening in my garden these last two weeks. Three mornings ago it was a record low of 31, today a record high of 100. I can see it'll be another fun year trying to learn how to vegetable garden. Good thing I have the native perennials to fall back on. On June 8 the space will be on the Garden Club of Lincoln tour, and I hope to have prairie seedlings for sale cheap, along with my books and some refreshments.

New mulch, ready for the tour!
A bit further in to the garden.

Crabapple transplanted from old house to new.

Pasque flowers look good even in decay.

Two weeks ago had a flock of 30 cedar waxwings.

Finally lured in an oriole! A female?

This thing freaked me out when I reached for the faucet.

Birch tree.

Self portrait with birch tree.
Birch tree and sunset.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Can't Have Enough Native Plants

I'm not sure how many of you here also read my articles at Houzz and Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. Last week I posted the below piece at the latter site and was surprised at the reception I got -- even my wife said it begs for a bigger article. How do you feel about what I say?

I’ll just come out and say something to alienate lots of folks: I believe our landscapes should be planted with mostly native trees, shrubs, flowers, sedges, and grasses. And by mostly I mean 80%, 90%, 100%. I know, I know. But I’m the kind of guy who sees a cause and knows that to even get halfway, you have to push for all of the way. And yet folks still aren’t sure what “native’ means or where it is. Nurseries often have a sparse collection; independents have more, big boxes have practically none. All have cultivars and hybrids — not the straight species plants. Here’s a list of resources.

Ok, so, I believe we should have at least 50% straight species native plants. Trees, shrubs, flowers, sedges, and grasses that, before westward expansion, were prevalent in your town (it’s like the current food movement — most of what we eat didn’t even exist 100 years ago, the same could be said for plants). All of this is not because I have any belief that we can or should return to some pre-settlement perfection; no, it’s about the insects who evolved in ecosystems alongside plants, both adapted to one another from flower to leaf, both symbiotic, all the beginning and end of the food web from bee colony to human dinner table.


“I love monarchs,” someone will tell me, eyes brightening as we both ogle a photograph. I ask them if they have milkweed. “Oh no, should I? I have lilac and butterfly bush, and see them on there.” Do you have baptisia? Willow? Elm? Oak? Do you have side oats grama grass? Viburnum? Bird’s foot violet? Zizia? Bluestem? If you don’t, I bet you see just 1/20th of the butterflies (and their larva) that you should, not to mention other pollinators you never knew existed.

Gardening with natives is about giving up certain levels of ownership to your landscape. Life isn’t a battle royale with nature. Gardening with natives is about sharing, about living with the world and not in it; with the world and not against it; with the world and not apart from it. Bridging the gap. It’s about taking a leap of faith that you are this planet’s faith given momentary form, bound to its rhythms, and when you struggle to remake or ignore those rhythms everything seems intangibly off kilter — we suffer higher food prices, eroding shorelines, dirty water and air, new bacteria resistant to antibiotics.


My wife told me a story she saw on Facebook where someone was concerned about the masses of bees at their blooming crabapple tree. Their kids often climb the tree and might get stung. Should they spray the tree, they asked? Remove it? Someone suggested a dousing of chili powder spray. Finally, someone talked about colony collapse, pesticides, habitat destruction. I have put my head into bloom after bloom for six years now, literally had bees and wasps landing an inch from my nose and ears, and have not been stung. I have, though, been transfixed, overjoyed, unburdened, and generally at peace. Come to my table, I think, come share this great purpose and hope. There’s more divinity in a bumblebee pushing open a baptisia bloom and pulsing its body than there is in a hymnal or stained glass window.


This is my plea, and a sort of pledge I want you to take with me if you are new here or want to do something massive with minimal effort: plant one milkweed. Tell your neighbor about milkweed and the decline of insects. Tell your child. Plant an aster, a mountain mint, a joe pye weed, palm sedge, oaks. Plant one native something that helps insects. Put the plant out front with a spotlight, maybe one of those flashing arrow signs you can rent. Have the sign read: “This is a native plant, adapted, low maintenance, of benefit to dwindling wildlife, and I’m in love with it.” Feel free to change the sign’s wording. Somewhat.