Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Celebrate Native Plant Seed Heads

This is the time of year when folks begin cleaning up their landscapes, cutting down grasses and stems, applying mulch and even fertilizer -- all practices most of us don't need to do if we favor low maintenance gardening. And really, seeing someone cut down grasses is like putting a knife through my heart; all of that beauty, wildlife shelter, and food is wasted. In two months folks will be crying for mercy in the middle of winter, saying how there's nothing to look out on in their gardens. Why not? Leave those gardens up. Provide shelter for wildlife. Increase the snow-capturing qualities of the garden to insulate it and provide more moisture during the spring melt. Plus, lots of things are hibernating out there in hollow stems and under leaf litter -- bees, butterflies, beetles, et cetera.

I love fall. I love what it leaves (pun intended). I love the echo of life, the shadow of memory, the absence which is more profound, the negative space that gives the garden and the gardening year substance and definition. Give me detritus. Give me barren stalks and dried leaves backlit by warm winter sunlight. And most especially, give me the seed heads that, more and more as I get older, trump the blooms they came from.

Why would you cut this down? Swoon.
Wild Senna, Senna hebecarpa, in the foreground.
Giant Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum
Purple Prairie Clover, Dalea pupurea
Dwarf Blue Indigo, Baptisia australis var. minor
Ironweed, Vernonia fasciculata
Culver's Root, Veronicastrum virginicum
Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca
Ozark Bluestar, Amsonia illustris
Tall Coreopsis, Coreopsis tripteris
Round-Headed Bush Clover, Lespedeza capitata
Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
Virginia Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum virginianum
Black-Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta
Stiff Goldenrod, Solidago rigida
Gimme seed heads
And don't forget about the fall color that many of our herbaceous perennials and grasses give us, which often rival shurb and leaf color. No, really, I'm serious.

Amsonia hubrichtii in its early stage, on the way to rusty orange
Swamp Milkweed, Asclepia incarnata
Little Bluestem
Liatris ligulistylis
Wild Senna
More than winter interest -- it's winter awesome.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fall in Minnesota & Lincoln's Wilderness Park

While fall break was happening at UNL we were able to quickly get away to visit my folks in Minnesota. I was up there last fall for the first time in a long while (during autumn), but it was cold and rainy. This year it was warm, sunny, and vibrant.

Perfectly still pond the very first evening.
A view south.
Then back north.
Like this image for the rocks and lone leaf.
Purple prairie clover looks even better now in the 2-3 acre prairie.
Even common milkweed is stunning.
When we got back to Nebraska we headed out to see the tail end of the leaf drop in Wilderness Park. Pretty cool to have this place on the edge of west Lincoln.

A marbled orb weaver making her way across the foot path.
Boy, do I love round-headed bush clover!
Yes, there are trees in Nebraska. But we still need more prairie.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pioneers Park Prairie at Sunset

We recently hit our very local prairie (minutes away) at the most special time of day in fall. As we walked back to the car a strange thing happened -- the air at head level was like a warm bath, but the air near our feet was an open fridge. Then -- with no wind -- a gust of coolness swept over us followed by warmth again. Can't explain it as there was no front or other weather nearby. Prairie is a place that truly makes me feel whole, alive, and connected to place -- more alive and awake and aware. I never get this feeling anywhere else, except, maybe, the forest and stands of trees near water while growing up in Minnesota (but that was a different awakening in a different person). I wish Lincoln and other Nebraska cities embraced prairie design in public spaces, bringing a bit of our heritage closer to our daily lives -- and saving lots of money while mitigating storm water runoff, helping pollinators, creating a tourist destination.... I still dream of a Lincoln with boulevards of prairie that people from around the country come to see. More place. More home. More Nebraska.

Better than Irish coffee!
Common milkweed is never too common.
Indian grass -- need to see more of this in designed landscapes.
As well as little bluestem.
The sky, and clouds, do magical things at twilight.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Garden Today

I'm a man of few words today; who needs them when you have this kind of autumn light?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Are "Adaptable" Landscape Plants a White Flag?

E.O. Wilson famously asked not long ago of Emma Marris, author of The Rambunctious Garden, where she was planting her white flag. The inference was her near total support of novel ecosystems -- landscapes using both native and non native plants that can better withstand climate change while accepting that we've changed the Earth forever (so conservation should no longer be the main goal). I'm the kind of person who agrees with BOTH Wilson and Marris, vacillating between the two depending on the issue. We have changed the earth, every last bit of it, but practicing conservation is not some quaint, stodgy, rose-colored-glasses nostalgia. What I'm going to say next will irk plenty of folks:

There's no reason to be using exotic plants in our landscapes.

I'm seeing more and more the term "adaptable" being used when making plant choices -- this word comes from landscape designers, nurseries, extension offices, arboretums, and the like. Basically, in a time of climate change and unpredictable swings of prolonged drought and rain, heat and cold, we need to plant whatever can survive these extremes regardless of geographic origin.

This presents a lot of problems for me. As we eradicate plant and animals species simply by pumping carbon into the air, the call to use adaptable plants doesn't begin to hold us accountable for what we've done and are doing to our ecosystems -- it's a way to circumvent the necessary pain and sad realization of our effect on the places around us. To be truly involved in a landscape, and to be a better gardener, I think we must face the depression, anger, denial, and eventual empowerment and joy that comes from knowledge. Using "adaptable" plants does little to help our deeper awareness -- and does even less to help wildlife.

Bees are in sync with bloom times of flowers; some bees forage only on one species of aster. Caterpillars and other insect young have evolved with the leaf chemicals of only certain plants. Soil microbes that benefit other plants and soil life exist only on the roots of certain plant species (the prairie is well known for this phenomenon). When we replace plants native to our region with adaptable natives we do nothing but service our own, rather surface wants -- aesthetics, beauty, and function for our benefit alone.

We can never provide enough fool-proof science to convince novel ecosystem and adaptable plant proponents that natives are better -- we simply don't know enough, and don't have enough money to study every plant in every locale, let alone cultivars of plants. It just makes sense that we should be using natives -- they are adaptable, know the local and regional climatic swings well, and provide for all kinds of life we don't even know about. Why are our landscapes choices automatically better than evolution and natural selection? Why are we right and non human nature is wrong? What are we afraid of, and why are we so unaccepting of our places and ourselves?

No doubt if we want "pretty" landscapes our plant choices will have to adjust -- eco regions are moving north and uphill, pinching out some species at a rapid pace. In coming decades we may have no choice but to be planting things native two or three or four states south. But how in the world can we give animal and insect life as much time as possible to adjust -- to evolve quicker than most are even capable -- if we don't give them the plants they need to reproduce? How can we give them what little buffer we're able to if we privilege "adaptable" plant species from around the globe? If anything, that will speed up their demise and lesson their chance to adjust -- which has more profound repercussions on our species than we care to acknowledge or will ever understand.

Of course, we could just switch to renewable energy, rethink modern agriculture, and stop having so much of our golden age dependent on planetary exploitation. I know. I know.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Monarch Landing & Latest Newsletter

What will you find in the Monarch Gardens monthly newsletter? Moments to carry you onward, that's what.

Of course, there are links to some outstanding environmental articles, my Houzz pieces (native plant alternatives to common exotics is one), and my experiences in Nebraska wildness. Link on over and subscribe if you'd like. We averted our first freeze last night, and our front lawn is about 50% replanted with natives, so let the games continue! More prairie wherever you can get it during this best season to plant just about anything.