Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Nativing We Will Go

If you follow me on this blog's Facebook page you probably don't need to read on, but I know lots of folks are blog-only readers. After a piece on Garden Rant I decided to clarify some points about native plant gardening. Tell me what you think about my ramblings.

1. I do not believe in 100% native plant gardens because I'm trying to re-establish some pre-colonial virginity. That can never happen.
2. I see so few native plants in ANY landscape, commercial or residential, that I know there's a crisis of imagination and connection to local environment.
3. I see so few native plants in local and big box nurseries that I know "...."
4. Without native plants we don't know our home ground, we aren't nearly as connected to place, and we won't see nearly the wildlife and support nearly the same number. It's called co-evolution. A sulphur doesn't lay eggs on hosta. Also, if you live in Arizona you can't have a cottage garden; if you want a cottage garden move to the PNW or the Northeast.
5. We MUST get away from a purely aesthetic value judgement of gardens. Often, we CAN have our cake and eat it too, but we need to accept and understand the benefit of plants going dormant, of a "messy" winter garden, of native grass lawns that don't green up in April, et cetera. Right now bee larvae are resting in the hollow stems of my "unkempt" joe pye weed, which also has birds perched atop it.
6. We need to stop gardening solely for ourselves and see the incredible, beautiful, soul-magnifying existence that happens when we open up our gardens to the rest of the local environment by using native plants. We believe in giving to the needy and poor of our own species, and to other causes near our hearts, why not the birds, insect pollinators, amphibians right out back in the gardens we supposedly cherish so much? Again, if monarchs are on the brink, what ELSE is on the brink? Planting an exotic plant is almost always a space waster.  

Out here in the Plains it's been proven that strips and buffers of prairie around ag fields increases crop pollination and yield (not to mention cleans up most ag chemical runoff). And insects feed how many song bird chicks? 100%? We need to be gardening for insects as much if not more than ourselves. We talk about veg gardening as this holistic, green, wonderful thing to do for the planet -- but why don't we ever talk about ornamental gardening for insects and larvae? We garden for butterflies (too often with butterfly bush), but we don't garden with the plants they evolved with to eat.

But it's constraining to use plants native to your locale? Do you even know which plants are native to where you live? That's constraining -- short-sighted, too. Let's talk about good garden design in general for a moment -- or any art for that matter. It's the "constraint" that makes the art / artifice that much more powerful (I say this as a poet and writer). It's the coloring within the lines, and coloring in a new way, that makes the design pop and sing and move and hit us deep. If you have a garden palette awash in a plethora of plants you have visual chaos -- but even a prairie, so often seen as chaotic, is governed by rules; those rules make the display that much more emotionally impacting and able to teach us something about what's there. Native plants aren't limiting or constraining -- your willingness to embrace any exotic will, in the end, limit and constrain my health as ecosystems that have worked for thousands of years collapse (insects!). This is why we have invasive species lists. We know what we're doing. We do it anyway. Stop making excuses. Learn your world. Stop looking at your navel.

Native plants go to the heart of our moral and ethical alert systems that tell us when something is wrong or right -- but we work even harder to deny those alert systems, ignore them, in favor of personal and immediate gratification at the expense of the future. Our future. A more peaceful future with no wars over clean water and fossil fuels, a future with less cancer and birth defects and learning disorders caused my chemical elixirs in our food, water, and air. Native plants are the top of a much larger iceberg and represent more than aesthetic getaway value. And maybe that's the problem, too -- talking about gardens as not just a sublime refuge from trouble but the heart of trouble, a reflection of larger issues we CAN change, is uncomfortable, and it should be. We don't want our gardens to be statements for anything but personal pleasure. We don't want our gardens to be influenced by the world out there. Our gardens are not insular little worlds, though, especially in suburbia. Gardens and managed landscapes are not just for us, to assume they are is racism toward other species. And even genocide. Case in point -- corn and monarchs.

If you think I'm politicizing native plants then that's because the apparent debate over using them reflects issues of race, class, and even gender. Those who are poorest suffer the worst health and food options -- even in our own country. And one could say the poorest of the poor might be other species who have no defenders other than idealistic humans. We get sad when black rhinos vanish and polar bears drown looking for any ice drift to hunt from, but it's hard to look at the same things going on out the back door. But we need to look. It's all connected.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dream Interpretor

A few times a year I try to record my dreams when I get up in the morning. I always have vivid narratives, and am often being chased or doing the chasing. Here's one from last night that you can interpret for me:

I was walking down some prairie wagon trail, legs tired. From behind came two dirty men with soiled clothes and mangy beards in a wagon taller than me. In the wagon was a huge white female bison, head severed from the body. The wagon lurched and seemed about to fall apart under her weight. They offered me a ride and I could barely stomach it, but I knew I could not go on walking. They talked about the hunt, how hard she was to catch and shoot. They talked about how the head would fetch quite a price in town. When we made it to a small outpost I thanked them for the ride and, without anyone noticing, apologized to the bison carcass, crying. I ran as quick as I could up a nearby embankment covered in carrots and strawberries that I picked as I ran. My dog followed, wanting to stop to chat with women picking the harvest but I called it along as I tripped, struggled to run across a now open plain to the horizon. I was desperate to be alone and see the prairie one more time.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I Dare You to Cut Down This Beauty

I'm always conflicted -- is mid July the best time in the garden, early October, or mid November? All three have their charm -- no, orgasmic appeal. The trick is to deeply appreciate all three, just as I hope we all can find pleasure in each distinct season. It's amazing how just two weeks ago there was lush fall color, with bright rainbows strewn about like confetti. Yesterday it was 61 and sunny, today icy with a windchill of 10. Come winter. Be deep and cold and give my full measure, because autumn has been the finest dessert to a long garden year and spring is something I must suffer toward.

Friday, November 15, 2013

We Are Prairie

For a while we inhabit our bodies, fill them with signals of our being -- colors and scents, desires and actions, calls out into the abyss until a few find us and we become one. We are like the coneflower, a ray of inflorescence, stamens sticky with faith. We fade. We get sharp. We get stuck to whatever passes by. We're carried out into the autumn and like ghosts some part of us surfaces far away. Again and again, over and over, our shadows echo and call back to one another. Where will we bloom again. Will we ever bloom again. Or is this moment the only one and we must live it hard enough to last a hundred lifetimes. This is the prairie inside of us. We are prairie.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

As Prairie Vanishes, Our Morals Follow

I read too many articles that just really fire me up, get me angry -- piss me off (better off than on?). It always frustrates me when people say we need more corn fields to feed the world. First, the majority of corn goes to make ethanol. Second, corn is used to quickly stuff cattle in finishing lots, making the meat fattier and a leading contributor to human heart disease. Third, we already waste something like 50% of the food we have due to spoilage at home or in the grocery store or in transport from half a world away.

"This expansion of the Corn Belt is fueled in part by America's green energy policy, which requires oil companies to blend billions of gallons of corn ethanol into their gasoline. In 2010, fuel became the No. 1 use for corn in America, a title it held in 2011 and 2012 and narrowly lost this year. That helps keep prices high."

"What the green-energy program has made profitable, however, is far from green. A policy intended to reduce global warming is encouraging a farming practice that actually could worsen it. That's because plowing into untouched grassland releases carbon dioxide that has been naturally locked in the soil. It also increases erosion and requires farmers to use fertilizers and other industrial chemicals. In turn, that destroys native plants and wipes out wildlife habitats."

"It appeared so damaging that scientists warned that America's corn-for-ethanol policy would fail as an anti-global warming strategy if too many farmers plowed over virgin land.The Obama administration argued that would not happen. But the administration didn't set up a way to monitor whether it actually happened. It did. More than 1.2 million acres of grassland have been lost since the federal government required that gasoline be blended with increasing amounts of ethanol, an Associated Press analysis of satellite data found. Plots that were wild grass or pastureland seven years ago are now corn and soybean fields. That's in addition to the 5 million acres of farmland that had been aside for conservation - more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined - that have vanished since Obama took office."

"Nebraska has lost at least 830,000 acres of grassland, a total larger than New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas combined."

"...much of the land being converted is not suited to crop production, and South Dakota's strong winds and rains will erode the topsoil."

Full article here.

And so I feel a moral imperative to cash out all I own, buy as much land as I can, and seed the crap out of it with prairie. And this is also why you should use as many native plants out your door as you can -- not because you're helping preserve prairie or their ecosystems, but because you're aware of the power of prairie, ready to learn more about it, saying to your neighbors this is not who we have to be, we can be better. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

An Orgy of Fall Photos

Soon enough this blog will enter its winter period -- which this year will mean garden and environmental manifestos as I work on a new book. But before those rants and deep ecology posts, let us gorge ourselves on one fantastic fall in the garden. Let me know what you think. The colors will run well into the end of the month -- it's a nice 2 month long show here in Nebraska!

7 species of prairie flowers seeded in veg bed
Autumn sunsets are the best