Friday, April 29, 2016

Happy Arbor, er, Prairie Day

Roughly 1% of the tallgrass prairie remains, making it one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet. While Arbor Day is all good and noble, Prairie Day would potentially help more species of animal, plant, microbe, etc by calling attention to a gargantuan region we eradicated within the last century.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The End of Nature

300 cheers for Jim Harrison's piece, which I'm quoting from below. He makes his rounds from writing to ethics to agriculture to Native Americans to My Lai and more.

"...accepting responsibility for wrongs is a religious idea, and he hadn’t noticed much religion “in motion” in modern culture. He added that without the element of goodwill, all problems had to be approached legalistically because that was the only effective language for social change. How sad. No justice is possible without lawyers.... If you look at how we spend our time, it is clear that diversion frames our reality.....I have learned that looking at an upland sandpiper or a sandhill crane is more interesting than reading the best book review I’ve ever received. I’ve learned that I can maintain my sense of the sacredness of existence only by understanding my own limitations and losing my self-importance. I’ve learned that you can’t comprehend another culture unless you can stop your moment-by-moment mental defense of your own.... None of the fifty million other species can talk, so we must speak and act in their defense.... If we can’t comprehend that the reality of life is an aggregate of the perceptions and nature of all species, we are doomed with the earth we are already murdering." 

To read the entire piece link here. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Feeling the Tallgrass

When I think about the loss of tallgrass prairie my heart busts open and my body quivers. Then a well of anger springs up. How can I deny the world we've made and make the one we deserve, that all species deserve? How can I show compassion through my language and my actions? How can I be defiant with not just my thoughts but my hands? How can I get people connected to the plants and the wildlife on levels so intimate they will want to take the next, larger steps, and risk more for the common good? Our hearts have to be broken, our senses fully engaged, and our ethical centers pushed beyond the comfort zone that our dominate cultures spoon feed us. Never doubt that gardens of all stripes are ideologies and places for activism -- as well as places for soul food and respite -- which is their greatest power.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A 21st Century Garden Ethic at GGW

Gardens are meant to celebrate the beauty of wildness and translate our emotional connection to nature, but how can they do that if they are primarily created for us alone? I'm honored to be a guest at Gardening Gone Wild where I wrote a piece on garden ethics -- link on over. Here's a snippet:

"How we garden and who we include in our garden, or who we garden for matters. Traditional landscape design, whether at home or in public spaces, so often privileges the needs and wants of one species – instead, our gardens could be designed more equally for the beauty and function of multiple species at once. As we welcome the biological life processes of other fauna into our gardens we welcome a profound element of design and purpose into our lives. A garden designed only for us is devoid of forgiveness, mercy, and hope – it is a signal of our disconnect, our alienation, our loneliness in the world."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Some Day....

Some day we're going to read about a high end garden designer in a top notch publication, and instead of just talking about pretty plants or beautiful vistas or charming combinations, we're going to hear that designer discuss fauna they're in love with, how a creature deeply moved them to garden in the way they do, and how their designs reflect something more than just candy for the eyes or a brief feeling of awe as someone walks through their landscape. Yes, some day we're going to hear an influential voice speak to the heart of selfless garden design. Some day our sense of community will catch up with our sense of creativity. Some day speaking about wildlife in garden design won't seem nonintellectual or hippy-dippy-reactionary activist. Some day garden speak will represent what gardens actually are -- a way to help us navigate and experience authentic nature more intimately in our daily urban lives.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Rethink Pretty -- 12 Native Plants for Adult Pollinators

We love to watch charismatic species enjoy our gardens -- butterflies and hummingbirds and, sometimes, moths and bees. But these are just a few of the species that make an ecological garden thrive and build the health and resilience of the larger community. More pollinators from diverse groups means better pollination of plants and more food for predators like beetles, spiders, birds, and frogs. And while we need host plants for larvae of insects -- from milkweed to oaks to grasses -- I'm going to share the top native herbaceous perennial forbs (flowers) in my garden that attract a large diversity and number of pollinators. It's time to rethink pretty -- plants that are pretty to us and to pollinators.

Golden Alexanders
A May bloomer here in eastern Nebraska, it's an important pollen and nectar source for our many tiny (and I mean tiny) native bee species emerging in mid to late spring. Sometimes you have to look close, vs. ten feet away like with a bumble bee, but you will see literal swarms of what look like small flies but are, in fact, many species of native bees. Of course, larger bees and flies visit, too. Host plant for black swallowtail butterflies.

Virginia Mountain Mint
Not your typical aggressive running mint, just a moderately spreading clumper that's easily gifted to friends -- and those with too much lawn. You'll see pollinators of every size and shape visiting for weeks and weeks, including the great black wasp, which is scary looking but totally docile. Plus, mountain mint smells great, which is why rabbits don't like it.

Black-Eyed Susan
Over 150 species of insect use this flower, which self sows making this biennial or short-lived perennial a more long-term perennial (if you have a bit of open soil around it). I confess I love the fuzzy leaves, but it's the blooms and summer-long re-blooming that keep it busy with pollinator action -- the more nutritious pollen being the main draw, particularly for native bees. 

Rattlesnake Master
A cool-looking plant for its blooms and foliage -- totally underused in designed garden landscapes. Flowers don't last more than a week or so, but in that time the entire neighborhood of pollinators visit. Ornamental seed heads last deep into winter, as well.

Culver's Root
I'm also flummoxed as to why this plant isn't used more; the flowers go on for weeks, and the winter seed heads stay until you cut them down in spring. Tons and tons and tons of insects coming for nectar and pollen day and night (remember, white flowers will also attract moth species, most of which fly at night and far outnumber our butterfly species).

Tall Boneset (and Common Boneset)
Drought tolerant and a nice clumper, tall boneset has a long bloom time. You'll enjoy the large number of soldier beetles (not fireflies, which look similar) that come in droves. Common boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, is a shorter and prefers consistent soil moisture while blooming earlier in the summer.

Smooth Aster (and Calico Aster)
On a sunny day you can wave your arm over this forb and literally create an inverse snowfall -- a hundred insects might rise up into the air. Bees, moths, butterflies, wasps, beetles, you name it come to gorge on some late season nectar for migration or overwintering. If you have dry shade look to the white-blooming, pink-centered calico aster, Symphyotrichum lateriflorum, which easily pulls in an equal number if pollinators.

There are many sunflower species to choose from for any site condition and desired form  -- just get one! Not only are the blooms themselves used for pollen and nectar, but there's extra-floral nectar behind the bloom and along the stem (just look for crowds of insects in those places). Picture here is Helianthus maximiliani, not recommended for small gardens, however, since it spreads by runners.

Stiff Goldenrod (and Zigzag Goldenrod)
Any goldenrod will do, just like with sunflowers, but for me stiff goldenrod is behaved in tightly-planted and lush garden. The pollen of goldenrod is sticky and not airborne, making it welcome for those with allergies. If you have lots of shade look to zigzag goldenrod, Solidago flexicaulis, which is about half the height and will moderately spread to form a nice, friendly colony of bright blooms in dark corners. And zigzag smells divine from many feet away.

Looking for more native plants to try in a variety of conditions? Check out these online classes that feature flowers, shrubs, trees, as well as garden design strategies for winter, ecosystem function, and sustainability.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Landscapes as Generosity

For your reading pleasure, two quick snippets from a longer interview:

"It isn’t inevitable that human beings degrade these systems; we simply have to understand them. It is our understanding, our consciousness of these systems that determines what they look like. What I’ve noticed is that degraded landscapes are coming from human ignorance and greed. If you change that scenario to one of consciousness and generosity, you get a completely different outcome."

"Landscape restoration does not only change ecological function, it changes the socio-economic function and when you get down to it, it changes the intention of human society. So if the intention of human society is to extract, to manufacture, to buy and sell things, then we are still going to have a lot of problems. But when we generate an understanding that the natural ecological functions that create air, water, food and energy are vastly more valuable than anything that has ever been produced or bought and sold, or anything that ever will be produced and bought and sold – this is the point where we turn the corner to a consciousness which is much more sustainable."

Read more John D. Liu's thoughts here.