Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Top Photos

I usually do a year-end retrospective of my favorite garden / travel photos -- something like 30 images. Well, I'm in the process of creating a new website for Monarch Gardens, complete with online classes and downloadable garden designs, so I don't have time. Instead, let's cheat -- here are my top 9 images from Instagram.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Native Plants & Equality

I read a lot these days how it's important to include native plants in gardens; especially how mixing them in with plants from around the world will help wildlife. Well, if that's the case, why wouldn't an 80% or 100% native plant composition be even better? But such a proposition seems threatening to lots of folks, and the reason may be this: gardens are often, maybe always at their core, spaces just for us. The most important aspect is that we find them beautiful. And while it is certainly important we find gardens pretty, there is no reason at all natives can't perform that task of prettification. 

It can be threatening (and overwhelming) to have to think beyond ourselves in making gardens, to include the larger consciousness of a place and all of the other lives that inhabit it -- especially because such an awareness opens us up to the realities of our destructiveness on oceans, prairie, wetlands, etc (though I will always argue that this awareness ultimately empowers us to do so much more good because we've tapped into our full compassion). While we champion equal rights and opportunity among ourselves, cry foul and get angry and ask each other to see through another's eyes, we deny the same rights to other organisms -- which diminishes our capacity to love, honor, and cherish one another. Plants are not human culture -- denying a hosta, daylilly, or feather reed grass in your garden does not make you extremist, racist, or anti equality. No, I'd argue the opposite, that including them, plants with minimal wildlife support and not evolved with wildlife or the region, are themselves exclusionary -- evidence that we value ourselves above all else as we erode the world around us... often in a quest to make the world prettier without truly understanding what pretty is beyond an immediate bloom, shape, or leaf color.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Prairie or Meadow?

On Facebook I asked what differentiates the two and got a ton of responses. I've always wondered -- just like what the difference is between the Midwest and the Great Plains (that's a whole separate can of worms, isn't it?). I give you the opinions of gardeners, land managers, prairie restoration folks, and horticulturalists from around the country -- what is the difference between prairie and meadow? Here are a few of the dozens of replies I received, although I'm not sure how much it clears up:

"I guess the way I think of it (not based on anything other than my interpretation) is that a meadow is a grassy area as an interruption of something else--a grassy area that is substantially different than what surrounds it. And a prairie... well that's just prairie all day long. A meadow is an anomaly; a prairie is dominant."

"Meadows seem like such peaceful places; bees hum while butterflies dance above delicate wildflowers and swaying grasses. So it’s surprising to learn meadows are created by natural calamities when droughts or floods wipe out trees and vegetation. Prairies differ from meadows in that they arise in areas that don’t favor the growth of trees; they’re created and in many cases still maintained by fire. Ancient meadows were originally formed by volcanic eruptions and glacial activity. In the wild, meadows eventually give way to the surrounding forests. Nowadays, modern meadows are more likely to develop on unused agricultural grounds."

"The difference between a prairie and a meadow? There is none."

Longwood's meadow garden (pre-opening 2014)
"I think of meadows as often having some link to agricultural use (especially haying) but they don't have to. I would put meadow between pasture and prairie on the continuum of cultivated to wild grasslands."

"I'd say you can cultivate a meadow just as you could cultivate a prairie. On the east coast, a meadow is generally regarded as any grass-dominated plant community that is created or perpetuated by disturbance. Meadows open up in forests on their own all the time."

"I'm not saying you can't cultivate either one. But typically (at least in the Great Plains (!) if a grassland has cattle or hay bales on it, it is not called a prairie (by most people). I don't know from mountains and forests. I imagine their experience with grasslands is so limited as to also limit their credibility in grassland nomenclature."

Spring Creek Prairie -- Denton, NE
"Well, the PNW has some native grassy meadows in various parts of our states but I don't think that we have what could be termed a Midwestern prairie. We can approximate such a thing but our climate is Mediterranean w/little to no summer water so our designed meadows or prairies will definitely not look like the Dutch wave ones, or like the Midwest."     

"I'd use "meadow" for a relatively moist, fairly restricted, or bounded area, perhaps with a different grass species mix than in a "prairie." I'd use "prairie" to refer to a drier area, more extensive, and with a somewhat different mix of grass species than a 'meadow.'" 

"Yes. Meadows do have a more restricted scale than prairies. Good clarifications. Alpine meadows, for example, or wet meadows in the Sandhills."

" A prairie is always semi-arid and usually denotes a natural landform. Meadow has a more general meaning; it can be a grassy opening in a woodland, for example."

"Meadows are cultivated farmland. In the UK anyway."   

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Winter Gardens Are in the Details

Wouldn't you say? Winter is when the design comes forth in its raw, naked beauty. Purpose is the echo, the shadow, the negative space. Birds are among the seeds, diving in and out of cover. Everything is more alive, to my eye, than it ever was in summer.

Tall boneset
Rudbeckia, sideoats grama, buffalo grass
Baptisia australis
Coreopsis and Amsonia

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Objectifying Nature in Gardens

Objectifying nature, say with plants, limits our ability to respond ethically to environmental issues. When we choose a plant for our gardens just because its pretty or visually interesting, we are minimizing the role of nature to heal and adapt... we are minimizing our understanding of life, eroding ability for empathy, and privileging want over need, self over ecosystem. A garden ethic would imply we take into consideration something in addition to aesthetics -- beauty of purpose, fit, and function among other lives and concerns. Carbon sequestering, water filtering, soil building, pollinator feeding, habitat-giving beauty will make gardens gorgeous deep down to the roots; and it just might help us transcend our petty selves in landscapes otherwise made to alienate nature and make us feel superior to what we fear, and to what we don't understand. Can we be humble in our gardens, and understand or feel how uplifting, how empowering that is?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why I Design Native Plant Gardens

I don't design 100% native plant gardens because I'm trying to return Lincoln to tallgrass prairie (though that'd be fine); I understand we've murdered that ecosystem. I design 100% native plant gardens because the insects, and more, that evolved with the tallgrass prairie still exist and play a critical role in the current and future ecosystems that are developing in the wake of our ecocide. I design with native plants because it creates awareness for the prairies that are left (mixed and shortgrass), their benefit in carbon sequestration, topsoil retention, and water filtration. I design with native plants because it helps us look at ourselves, our place as gardeners that remake the world for our idea of beauty and utility, and how just relying on our sense of what pretty is can be short-sighted and unethical. I design with native plants because so many of them can help urban soil remediation. I design with native plants because they already, in part, work together from an aesthetic point of view (though we can and should push the artistic limits of that built in natural aesthetic). I design with native plants because without them I would not care for Nebraska one bit. I design with native plants because my heart has broken, and I know no other way to mend it. I sing the grassland. I shout the prairie dog and fringed orchid.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Difficult Eco Realities are Empowering & Liberating

If talking about climate change and extinction depresses you, it's partly the realization that you feel powerless and also realize you might be complicit. But facing that reality is empowering; because we are the cause we are also the solution. If the actions I take every day cause so much harm, then my actions can also cause so much benefit. That's awesome! That's liberating for me and the species around me who I influence. While we all struggle with the pain, sorrow, and fear associated with seemingly insurmountable problems like climate change and extinction, it is the touch, sound, and call of wildness that binds us -- it is a love for health and caring and selflessness that reaches out beyond our inward reflections. Be free. Be empowered. Face the world in every moment and fall into life.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

First Snow

For as far back as I can remember an impending snowstorm has excited me to no end. I'd watch (and still do) the weather forecasts every hour, counting down the minutes to the squall line as if it was Christmas morning. Although we only had 1" or so, it's still gorgeous, and makes me feel warm; snow is a great insulator, after all, and just look at what magic it does in the garden: