Friday, November 30, 2012

The Great Giveaway

I've always wanted to have a giveaway, so why not include my friends at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens and Beautiful Wildlife Garden.

Leave a comment ranking your choices in order of preference. I'll use a random number generator, and when I land on your comment, I'll go down the list and give you the first available prize (you can also just say "yo" and I'll randomly hand out a prize). I'll then hook you up with the author so they can send you the book.

You have until Saturday, December 8 at midnight central to enter. So, get to it! And please help me spread the word. Karma is a factor for the random number generator.


Pat Musick -- Urban and Suburban Meadows by Catherine Zimmerman
Gaia Gardener -- Energy-Wise Landscape Design by Sue Reed
Subversive Hippy -- Nature's Notes by Judy Burris
Jenny Brooks -- Florida Butterfly... offered by Suzanne Dingwell
Unknown (who are you?) -- Rocky Mountain Garden by Susan Tweit
Sunnyside Dru -- The Green Garden by Ellen Sousa
Diane S -- Sleep Creep Leap by moi (others were taken, so you win mine!)
Jchapstick -- Sleep Creep Leap by moi

Send me an email ( with mailing address so I can put you in touch with the authors!


60 minute companion video
Catherine Zimmerman (like her at The Meadow Project)

The video brings into focus the amazing diversity of life inhabiting meadows and prairies and the beautiful imagery inspires meadow and prairie creation! The 60-minute video is formatted to be screened in one sitting or the viewer can click on individual chapters with meadow experts Michael Nadeau, Larry Weaner and Neil Diboll, who walk the viewer through meadow site preparation, design, planting and maintenance. In the chapter, Why Native Plants, entomologist, Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, explains the intricate connection between native plants, native insects and the soil food web.

The video and book address the problems caused by the extensive planting of pesticide-ridden, non-native grass lawns across America. While it is impractical to eliminate lawn, we cannot ignore the environmental consequences of such landscape planning as ecosystems are being destroyed and replaced with chemically maintained monocultures.


Sue Reed (visit her here)

Residential consumption represents nearly one quarter of North America’s total energy use and the average homeowner spends thousands of dollars a year on power bills. To help alleviate this problem, Energy-Wise Landscape Design presents hundreds of practical ways everyone can save money, time, and effort while making their landscapes more environmentally healthy, ecologically rich, and energy efficient.

Intended for homeowners, gardeners, landscape professionals, and students, the design ideas in this book will work in every type of setting—large or small, hilly or flat, urban or rural. Written in non-scientific language with clear explanations and an easy conversational style, Energy-Wise Landscape Design is an essential resource for everyone who wants to shrink their energy footprint while enhancing their property and adding value to their home.


Judy Burris and Wayne Richards (visit them here)

Regardless of age, we all enjoy the fun of discovering new insights to our natural world.
Nature's Notes delivers this joy using bite-sized learning text and dazzling close-up photos to unlock scores and scores of fascinating secrets. The fast-paced format features mini articles and sidebars interspersed with fun and affordable projects as well as backyard explorations revealing hidden natural treasures.

Nature's Notes unique spiral-binding and flexible jacket make this eye-popping book both sturdy and outdoor-friendly . Author/photographers Judy Burris and Wayne Richards have had their work featured in national and worldwide magazines, while their award-winning books, The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs and The Life Cycles of Butterflies are national nature-category best sellers.


Marc Minno, Jerry Butler, Donald Hall
offered by Suzanne Dingwell 

This book will become the classic guide to southern butterfly caterpillars and their host plants.
With hundreds of color photographs and concise information in a format that can easily be carried into the field, it offers an unprecedented tool for all butterfly gardeners, teachers, naturalists, students, and scientists in the southern United States.
No other book offers such a comprehensive discussion of Florida butterfly caterpillars and their host plants. It covers caterpillar anatomy, biology, ecology, habitat, behavior, and defense, as well as how to find, identify, and raise caterpillars. The book contains sharply detailed photos of 167 species of caterpillars, 185 plants, 18 life cycles, and 19 habitats. It includes 169 maps. Photos of the egg, larva, pupa, and adult of representatives of 18 butterfly families and subfamilies provide life cycle comparisons that have never been illustrated before in such an accessible reference.
Susan Tweit (visit her here)

Rocky Mountain gardeners of all skill levels can now breath a sigh of relief. Keep gardens healthy and productive with the quick, expert advice provided in this easy-to-use pocket-size guide. Within these pages you will find the necessary resources and tools to adjust to the challenges of living in the rugged Rocky Mountains. Gardeners in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, will find down-to-earth tips on:
*Growing the right plants for your geographic area
*Working with soil
*Understanding unique weather challenges
*Getting rid of "invaders"—weeds and pests


Ellen Sousa
This practical, comprehensive and inspirational guidebook for New Englanders looking for low-cost, beautiful and earth-friendly ways to green their landscapes and outdoor spaces and supply habitat for a variety of declining species, including birds, native pollinators, honey bees, amphibians and turtles.

Includes an extensive Plant Guide, detailing the best wildlife-friendly plants suitable for the varied conditions and microclimates across New England, cultivation hints and tips, and the wildlife attracted by each plant.


Benjamin Vogt

Peeling off sheets of skin from a sunburned back. Spending $1,000 at five nurseries in an afternoon. Raising 200 monarch butterflies. Hearing the wing beats of geese thirty feet overhead at sunset. How one piece of mulch can make all the difference. These are the stories of Benjamin Vogt’s 1,500 foot native prairie garden over the course of three years. After a small patio garden at his last home teases him into avid tinkering, the blank canvas of his new marriage and quarter acre lot prove to be a rich place full of delight, anguish, and rapture in all four seasons.

Full of lyrical, humorous, and botanical short essays, Sleep, Creep, Leap will leave you inspired to sit a while with your plants, noticing how the smallest events become the largest—and how the garden brings us down to earth so that we can come home to our lives.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Piecing Together a 21st Century Prairie Memoir

Finally a week to my own, my own thoughts, no papers to grade, no classes to plan. Only at the end of my week off is there a glimmer of the book, a moment to try and focus on the thesis that I've struggled with for a good seven months. I've written 40,000 words based on research, and before I start the other 40,000 based on personal stories, I need to find the pulse. Here I am, tossing up darts at a board in front of you with no context, just trying to find the path. So tell me--does any of this hook you?

I want to write about my family, I want to give my grandma back what she tried to give to me. I want to come to terms with Oklahoma. I want to learn the lessons of the vanished prairie and Territory filled with dozens of Native American tribes. I want to know why it's so important to rush forward beyond the moment. I want to sit in the leftover dining room chair on the homestead, in the grasslands, by the oil derricks, and in my grandma’s house. I want to look through time with a sharp eye and open heart and risk the world I know for the one I should know more. This is a microcosm, Oklahoma, of everything we understand in America and who we’ve become. I want to run my fingers over this state’s rough edges and trip on what I find in the afterimage.

Next my grandma and I would hit Brahm’s for a hot fudge sundae, then I’d get dragged to Great Grandma Vogt’s, or driven by some field twenty minutes south whose name I can’t recall—the Harms’ 80, the Vogt 40, the Martin 80. All the time I’d be in the backseat, sitting in the sun, barely able to see out the window, the dirt roads tossing me into the air, my grandma gazing out the window from the cool interior, wistfully remembering something she wanted to share, felt she must share, but knew was impossible to bring me into. I was too young. When I visit those same fields today, sometimes with my dad or uncle—both who insist on a similar tour of wheat stubble and natural gas wells to show me what’s ours—I get the same ache in my legs and dryness in my mouth. There is nothing out here but a moment lodged into someone else’s brain, something I can’t recognize as a seven year old or as a thirty year old. I never lived here in the way they did and I feel made to repent my distant life. The dust trailing behind our cars are ghosts that can’t keep up, that either settle back down until the next car passes, or lift up into the air falling miles away, perhaps permanently suspended in the atmosphere.

I feel guilty about two things—never listening to / appreciating my grandmother and her stories, and never loving Oklahoma like she did. I found her the boring Grandma, and found the state hot, dry, and oppressive. Backwater even. I felt it in my thick accent the moment I stepped into a Minnesota grade school classroom. Maybe MN made me hate OK more, maybe I always hated it, I don’t know. I do know that upon living half my childhood in each place, and now living twelve years geographically between the two in Nebraska, I must bring them together in order to move forward, to find my place in a new place wherever it may be. Until I do that, I can’t live fully and I can’t honor myself, my family, or the landscapes I hope to heal. The irony is that in confronting my loathing of OK, I’m growing to appreciate and even revere aspects of it.

Words are the bridge between the unconscious and conscious, between emotion and action—without them I am adrift and useless. But facing myself and my family I must also face the prairie, the Native Americans, and manifest destiny. The loss of the world is the loss of the people, not the other way around—confronting that lineage of pain is to not repeat those mistakes (if I honor the people and the place now, maybe I can be honorable in any place in the future). So if I can find the place of Oklahoma I may find some glimmer of my grandmother in me or I in her, and in turn, some glimmer of the future.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Timelapse Garden Video & Announcement Time

Here's a timelapse of about 1/3 of the main back garden, from July 2011 to November 2012. Sometimes a grey-shirted, blue-jeaned ghost with greying hair makes an appearance--just ignore that.

This video attests to the miracle of herbaceous prairie perennials; when I cut down the garden every March there's almost nothing left, yet the following year many things are 6-10' tall. Enjoy.

And I might as well take this time to announce some things:

1) In 2013 I'll be serving on the all-volunteer board of Wachiska Audubon, the local chapter whose mission is to save and promote prairie. Happy to see where this will take me and what I'll learn. Hopefully, we can find a way to work with other local conversation groups and do something big.

2) Don't recall if I've said this, but I've been writing columns for Houzz, an image-orgy of very cool home design ideas inside and out. I'm the Great Plains regional garden guru, posting monthly guides and pimping native prairie / sustainable wildlife gardening via plant profiles. Help me spread the word?

3) I won an Apple iPad in a photo contest, where one of the three judges was Michael Forsberg (you know, Great Plains idol of mine whose book you must have). 

4) Trying to sell a proposal for a sustainable gardening and wildlife garden book, drawing on regional experts from around the country. The focus is no nonsense for the beginner, guided by 15 core gardening tenets. So if you happen to be an editor, you know, well....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Of Cats and Fall

With temperatures in the 60s (normal high is 47) we spent yesterday afternoon outside with the cats. Lounged in the grass, walked through the gorgeous winter garden (leave stuff up!), and then I remembered I had a camera and other people might also like cats. If you want to see a video, link here.

Come on in, the foliage is fine.

V likes winter sowing seeds.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Re-Planting Lincoln's Union Plaza

A few months back I criticized Union Plaza--a new dowtown park here in Lincoln--both on my blog and in the local paper. I stand by what I've said, and I'm finally going to go further, looking deeper at what I see to be major landscaping flaws. Lincoln has and is currently undergoing massive "big boy" civic construction--this park is one, the doubling of the downtown haymarket (arena, hotels, etc) is another. The grandeur of our new buildings (and roundabouts) outstrips the awe of our garden and green landscapes, which is a common problem with most cities.

How we interact personally with our green landscapes as we walk them is often an afterthought to hardscapes--it should in fact be at the forefront as an educational and artistic tool demonstrating a city's diversity, creativity, and regional roots. In other words, an awareness of what makes a city a city, how people live within the natural world, and how they depend upon it--in other words, a public park should show how nature is not an escape or recreational weekend destination only, but an everyday service to our bodies, our cells, our nourishment. I find this all lacking to some degree in Union Plaza.

To me, this new park represents centuries of western didacticism. If you straighten the lines--and thank god they are at least curvy and mimic the flood channel--the park soon looks like Versailles. This tradition of overlaying a landscape with perfect geometric lines is not only a sign of imperialistic / hubristic thinking, but in the landscape world of Oehme and Oudolf (the new american landscape) it's simply outdated. To me, when I look at Union Plaza, I see a small space trying to be something big in another century, in another country--I see a king's wealth and order on display. I see Jefferson's grid that destroyed native ecosystems, native wildlife, and native peoples.

I love the idea of this park. I love that people and corporations worked together to make it happen. I love that it can be a place for events and a place to stroll. But I do not want to stroll here. It does not invite me. It does not make me linger. It does not connect me to a place. It does not make me feel peaceful, reposed, transformed and transfigured like a garden should. I learn nothing. Can you see this in just the two above images? It's open, sunny, and monocultured. Who will sit on the slopes of buffalo grass? Why would you? What's holding you to this place? To this city? Very little. Let's look at some other images.

In the above image you see some nice hardscaping--natural places to sit by the water. However, nothing pulls you down to this space, nothing invites you in for a closer look, to linger, to be here.

Here's an example of wasted opportunity for native prairie plants--which is what I'm advocating. Native plants full of color, scent, texture, and wildlife, and requiring very little water or maintenance. Some plants on the upland slopes that like it dry, some that can take the periodic flooding down low. Deeply-rooted plants that won't need supplemental watering and that won't get washed away. See that space between the sidewalk and the wall? Coneflowers, milkweed, sideoats grama, indian grass, sunflowers, salvia, prairie clover, and on and on. Who is going to stop and sit here? No one. Who will walk by this on a rush to get somewhere else, up ahead where the eye is drawn? Everyone. This is a wasted space with no wonder and no power. The same goes for the two images before.

There's a neat amphitheater for concerts and such. But all around it, and all around the parking areas and more, the plants are in uniform and linear distribution. When I see plants evenly spaced and in lines I am incredibly bored. This is what you see "professional" landscapers do--lines of grasses. Rows of one type of flower. The plants don't sing, don't mingle, don't paint a picture--they are forced into unnatural order not representative of our prairie culture and lineage (though, I suppose, they do represent our cornfields quite well).

Perfectly spaced chokeberries. Just chokeberries. So you have two seasons of interest only--a week in spring, and maybe two in fall. All over the park are swaths of beds with simple plantings evenly spaced. Lines and rows. Why? Is this representing, mirroring, contributing to the teachings espoused in the mosaics along some walls?

Wilderness is a philosophy, not a boundary.

But rains held off. Day after day the clouds, as white and dry and puffy
as milkweed seeds, scadded high with the winds.

A planting of barely-monarch-attracting Asclepias tuberosa,
in perfect rows, is in front of this image. I raise 100s of monarchs
a year and see about one egg on tuberosa. Insects in general
also prefer the nectar of other milkweeds in my garden four miles west.
So, there is no wonder, joy, or connection to landscape or nature in this park. Not yet, anyway. There is very little benefit to wildlife. There is no awareness of nature here, no way to teach people about their natural heritage, to connect them with the natural world, and no reason a child would linger here--except for the playground equipment on the northwest edge. This last point saddens me, especially after reading Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods.

What's an altermative? What's modern, sophisticated, enriching, enveloping, what draws in tourists and sets a city apart? The Lurie Garden in Chicago and the High Line in New York. Native plants in waves, wildlife meccas, a destination, a place to linger and meet, a place to connect with each other and the world. A place to wander and wonder.



High Line

High Line
See the difference? FEEL the difference? Union Plaza needs prairie. It needs Nebraska. It needs the Great Plains. Right now it's just another park, ho hum. It could be so much more with a few dozen bags of seed and maybe a "friends of Union Plaza" volunteer organization that goes out each March for a few hours to cut down the prairie plants, as I do in my garden--easy maintenance, four seasons of interest and wildlife value. Lincoln, we need prairie. We need our world and our lives handed to us just as in writing, painting, sculpture, music, and dance--all evidence of a thriving community, just like a diverse prairie brimming with flowers, grasses, and insects. Here's our chance.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

And That Was Fall

Still warm and bone dry, and although early hard freezes (three at 22 degrees) prevented some perennials from turning nice colors, we ended up having some of the nicest vistas ever in the small garden. A few bees are still out on the last of the asters and a fall-blooming onion. Most of the below photos were taken over a week ago before our 50-70mph wind storm that lasted two days (the high number is a gust, the low number a steady breeze).

This fall has been a bear. And yet putting one's head down and pushing through only results in time going even faster, without many of the simple pleasures along the way. As I'll look at the garden over winter, the bones that are left standing will reflect back the echo of what I've accomplished--in the face of work, family, and an extreme drought. It's not dining on ashes, it's dining on faith; when you leave the garden up for winter it never ceases to live, metaphorically or actually. Yesterday I counted nearly a dozen bird species out back at the feeder, fountain, and tromping through the dead perennials. This is home for all of us, interwoven together, and when you recognize this fact time stands still for a moment and everything comes into focus. Live for these moments. Live in them as long as you can.