Monday, July 28, 2014

Agreeing & Disagreeing with Emma Marris (Again)

It's hard to save nature when we're eradicating it. Every article I read, now a year after reading her book, sends me into tirades of frustration and commiseration / understanding with Marris. I wish for once, though, she'd delve deeper in to the issue and stop pounding the table (as I suppose I do) with the native / non native and conserve / accept it debate; this is the tip of the ice berg, and boy we all have a hard time getting past it. You can read her piece at National Geographic, and then maybe my response to it will make more sense. I suppose my biggest beef is always going to be not looking hard enough or honest enough at ourselves -- she does that toward the end of her piece, but it feels like lip service (I felt this way in her book, too, so it's not just the nature of a short article). Anyway, my reply to her thoughts:

Maybe we should be looking at the deeper issues here -- we cause climate change, we cause extinctions, we exacerbate drought and deluges and swings in the jet stream. It's fine to adapt, embrace the change that's upon us (novel ecosystems), but we need to be looking at the deeper socio-economic causes at play here, and if our ethical codes toward life (other species and our own, especially our future generations) are up to snuff. We show no intention or ability to think about the future. Look at the annihilation of prairie in the Great Plains, North America's Amazon rainforest, that could store massive amounts of carbon in the soil; we continue to eradicate it, watch topsoil slide away, poison the land and water with agricultural chemicals, leach out soil life and erase food sources for pollinators, but we don't learn to farm smarter. Yes, the real bad guy is us -- we are facing an ethical imperative here and failing badly at adapting in more profound, deep, and fundamental ways. We can embrace non native species in new habitats, but the fact is 30% of global plant species may be gone by 2060, and they will take a massive amount of animals with them -- no amount of non natives will make up for that biologic erasure. Plant your nonnative whatever out back, but recognize that this act echoes a larger system of our navel gazing and self-privileging in the anthropocene, and it might have larger consequences when we collectively plant like this. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Mid Summer Meditation After 100 Degrees

In the cool heat of late evening the soil is breaking open, but the bumblebees are still working, the butterflies diving, the hummingbird moths pulsing. Near the dripping garden hose a baby mourning dove holds so still that for ten minutes I think it's mulch. I place milkweed leaves inside a rearing tank as the caterpillars quickly crowd over. A cicada scratches its call into the air while haze mutes the sunset. The wind is so still I can feel everything waking again in the brief moment before night.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Images from Pioneers Park Prairie

Last week I picked a cloudy, breezy day to visit the prairie near my home. I'm embarking on a project to record and highlight local, designed native plant communities that we can get garden inspiration from -- and below is a snippet of my look at Pioneers Park. July is a good time to get out and about for the flowers, and then September will be next, followed by late October for the foliage.

Above is a shot on the east side of the nature center. In the foreground is a pollinator garden, with prairie behind it. Taking a walk north and west will get you into some nice tallgrass with stands of common milkweed perfuming the air in a spiced vanilla. Lots of birds and insects taking advantage of this semi urban oasis.

Just before you park at the nature center is a bioswale of native forbs and grasses that filters runoff from the road. Right now, being a disturbed area, Rudbeckia is in charge, but there's a decent succession of diverse plants coming up.

A closer look at some perennials and annuals in the bioswale.

Canada milkvetch is blooming along the prairie paths; why I don't have this in my garden is a question for the ages.

A shot of leadplant, then grey headed coneflower behind it, then the cistern for the nature center further back. The nature center has a bit of green roof to it, as well, which you can see in the next image.

The west side of the building features slightly more formal beds were many events are held on the green space. Some good pollinator plants in here to learn about, but also in the entire 668 acres of prairie, woodland, and creek. I'd have images of elk and bison for you if I'd not committed a photographer's cardinal sin -- not bringing a backup camera battery.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Is There Any Difference Between a Land Ethic and a Garden Ethic?

Here's Aldo Leopold on the land ethic; think about how it relates to gardening, in both public and private landscapes.

"The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.... That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.... A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of land.... We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.... A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such."

And I found this definition of ethics interesting: 

People tend to use the term "ethics" in two different ways.

1) Ethics help us decide how we ought to live. In their most general form, we might say that ethics are standards we employ (among other factors) to determine our actions. They are prescriptive in that they tell us what we should or ought to do and which values we should or ought not hold. They also help us evaluate whether something is good or bad, right or wrong. 

Leopold's example: "A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such."

2) Ethics explain why things are important to us. Ethics are also concerned with how and why we value certain things and what actions properly reflect those values. In this sense, ethics appear more descriptive. Just as it is possible for taste to be a neutral and descriptive term -- appreciation for a work of art can be a matter of taste -- ethics can operate the same way.

Leopold's example: "Sometimes in June when I see unearned dividends of dew hung every lupine, I have doubts about the real poverty of the sands... do economists know about lupines?"


I think we need to do a much better job of applying Leopold's land ethic to the garden. Too often the garden is a place mostly for us -- our desires, our vision, our life; it's there to serve just us. This is not an ethical garden, and I don't think it truly reflects how we act or think of ourselves as part of a human or planetary community. At least I hope not. Thinking deeper, as part of a community of all life, frees us from the false ethics of self-privileging.

When we breed plants for traits we want, is this ethical? When we buy a plant that sees few insects using its blooms or leaves, but that we find beautiful, is this ethical? If we value ourselves above all else in the natural world, what will inevitably happen to us? These are hard, penetrating questions that disturb what we believe and shake the foundation of our perceived free will. This is how ethical thinking begins. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

An Ode to Prairie Clover

Ranchers refer to this protein-rich perennial as a candy plant because cattle love to eat it, so much so that in an overgrazed field you won't see any Dalea purpurea. And yet in a sandy or well drained loam it will spread vigorously, with roots reaching seven feet down. It thrives on disturbance. It's a survivor on the prairie. 

Blooming from top to bottom, each spike won't last but a few days in high summer. Bees will come in droves of varying sizes and colors, some so small you can only hear them. A stand of purple prairie clover is subtle until the right light hits it -- usually morning or evening, sleep heavy across the landscape.

It's the perfect garden height at around two feet -- not so tall as to overwhelm, not so short as to underwhelm. In masses purple clover is like a transition from full season groundcovers to showier blooms that flaunt their dalliance with pollinators and garden visitors. It is a shadow which gives definition to other perennials.

"To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee" wrote Emily Dickinson. And with its penchant to add nitrogen to the soil, purple clover helps the plants around it -- creating a more hospitable environment. It gives and it takes in equal measure.

Dalea purpurea. DAY-lee-uh prr-PUR-ee-uh. It echoes across the prairie, an ocean in an ocean of grass anchoring the world into this place.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

State of the Garden -- July 2014

I'm feeling quite angst-riddled with these images. Maybe I'm feeling penned in by 1,500' of garden. I know I've not exhausted what I can learn, but in order to learn I feel like there are areas I'd like to start from scratch in (or maybe I just need an acreage). I've already done that by removing butterfly bushes and sowing wildflower and grass seed in their place. Still.

Above is the shot up from the deck. I try to take photos from the same place whenever I go outside as a way to gauge evolution -- death and birth.

Here we are at ground level. I like the tall clumps of Coreopsis tripteris (left and right of the sumac), but that's about it. What's my problem?

Here is looking toward the main gate. You'll notice 75% of the weeping bald cypress suddenly died after it leafed out. My prettiest small tree will be coming down, which is maybe just fine -- it's too big for that space and doesn't do much for wildlife. The smokebush is also a bit overbearing, though it's a bird nest mecca every year.

Turn around and you see the arbor and gigantic river birch. I need to limb it up to let in more light on the ground, but if I do that I'll have to watch my neighbor mow her lawn and play with her kid on the new trampoline. 

Looking out a hole in the garden gate toward my narrow river 'o' prairie, which is looking ok in the sunnier area, not so much in the 50/50 spot closer to the fence. I reseeded prairie grasses a week ago and they are starting to come up finally -- lesson learned about bed prep and watering.

Back in the main garden a massed mess of forbs. Some monarda cultivar is taking over on the right, and the grey headed coneflowers have had a resurgence after a down year or two; whoever said you couldn't use grey headed coneflower plant in a small garden didn't plant thickly enough.

At least the Asclepias sullivantii is blooming. Just the one plant though. Smack dab in the middle of the path. I never can get it to set seed.

Looking back toward the deck and birch. This is why I get chiggers every year, chiggers being the main reason I'm not enjoying the garden much. I've had about seven million bites the last two years and refuse to go outside as often until August when they are non-biting adults, and when it's too muggy to go out anyway.

My garden slopes a bit, and here is the top of the hill behind some moisture-sucking red cedars that shade this area about half the growing season. So I have to contend with a wet soil in spring, dry in summer, sun and shade. I've had a hard time finding the right plants, so am sullying any good plantsman rep I had -- if I had one.

The Baptisia australis is looking good, but the annual infestation of genista moth larvae has begun and it will be 100% defoliated in about a week. The birds never eat the larvae. Why not? Once the baptisia vanishes for the year the white woodland asters behind will get blasted with sun, but it will help the Salvia azurea. 

Sunflowers are starting up. I've let them go nuts in my veg beds against the house -- I love to look out of my office and living room windows to see bees at work, and in a month or two, birds flower hopping for seeds. It's not a pretty sight aesthetically right now, or at any point really, but I'm making a sacrifice in this area. Next year I'll use both beds for prairie forb crops. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Sign of the Times Around Here

The Rudbeckia hirta looks splendid around my public image enhancer (or detractor -- I do live in a militant suburb). Behind it leading to the garden gate is a meandering bed of red Coreopsis tinctoria, Rudbeckia amplexicaulis, and Ratibidia columnifera -- with a few shortgrasses trying to get going.