Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pre Fall Pics

It's been a very warm September and we have yet to come close to a frost, but the plants that have set seed are still shutting down according to their biological clocks. Only a few native aster species are left on the bloom list, feeding massive numbers of insects in the warm sun. Franklin's gulls are migrating overhead, and the last of our monarchs are leaving. I've been seeding the back lawn with grasses and forbs, hesitant to solarize, spray, or smother the lawn in this slow conversion; will the tall fescue serve as a temporary green mulch and slowly give way to taller and more aggressive pioneer natives? We'll see. I have a good backlog of seeds.

Many Liatris often have good fall color.

The world's biggest calico aster?
The small bed out front.
Solicitors won't be tripped by asters or sideoats grama.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Grief is Unimaginable Love

Grief is unimaginable love. Sorrow is incalculable compassion. It's ok to be in pain & agony & sadness if it can become an agent of positive change. Don’t run away from feeling “bad,” because the loss of any feeling will make us disenchanted and disconnected from the world and each other. Such empathy is the act of deep feeling, a gateway into understanding that tears down the walls our cultures and our psyches put up to make us feel safe and sense life as something ordered – but it is the disorder, the chaos of perception that is real order, the manifestation of all life seeking out its own purposes and joys in trillions of different ways if we just let it thrive, help it thrive by being patient listeners and observers, never putting our own desires and wants over any other creature or place. If we can’t become a place by being a humble part of it, we have little hope of ever becoming our best selves, integrated into a larger consciousness that has evolved with incredible purpose and balance over millennia. We are only small if we see ourselves as something beyond, something superior, something unique – and even if we are all of these things we’re so interwoven into all life that our core responsibility becomes one of mercy and forgiveness, and an active defiance of those who give none.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On Autumn's Doorstep

My favorite season is almost here! Right now I think the garden is at its ugliest, even though it's filled with pollinators and asters and goldenrod and ironweed and coreopsis and sunflower and bluestem and liatris and.... Soon the winter brown will be here, and with it a mythic garden season filled with negative space and metaphor.

Monarch, goldenrod, agastache foeniculum, smooth aster
Soon oranges, rusts, tans, yellows, & blacks will permeate
New England aster near sunset
Black swallowtail
Art frames life
Name that bee
Boltonia and switchgrass
Had 7-8 monarchs gorging on stiff goldenrod
Smooth aster and switchgrass
Water and sunset
Coneflowers look good at any stage
Smooth aster and palm sedge
Invasive chinese mantis mating w/ monarch lunch
Can't wait to see Carex eburnea to fill in
Thought this coneflower, calico aster, zigzag goldenrod combo looked nice
A good spider year, even as the orb weaver webs have vanished
New England Aster
Blue mistflower and sedum

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Making New Plants is Problematic

The assertion is that native plant cultivars -- those bred and crossed to produce new plants different from the straight species parents (not wild-found offshoots) -- are just as beneficial to wildlife and pollinators.

This is an assertion, and assumption, that highlights our hubris. We don't have the research yet, or the funds to produce it, that shows cultivars play the same ecological role in their environments as straight species. We need to test the nectar and pollen chemical makeup, as well as the leaves, just to hit the surface (keeping in mind most pollinator species are nectar generalists, so it's the more nutritious pollen we really need to look at, as well as leaf chemistry for egg laying). What animal and insect species are using cultivars vs. straight species, and how are they using them? How does that compare to straight species plants and wild selections? And what about geographic location or ecoregions? What about the role that plant plays in the ecosystem beyond pollen and being a host, like soil life? Can you imagine how much money and time this would require?

It seems totally logical to me to believe and accept that straight species plants fit a niche we can't easily define or explore, certainly not in a limited time frame and with few monetary resources. It seems totally acceptable to embrace the idea that evolution knows best, that the planet knows better than we do. We are so quick to change and alter and augment without understanding very much of our world, and we do it with plant breeding -- in the ornamental plant trade, we do it for purely aesthetic reasons. Totally selfish reasons. To defend hybrid cultivars is to defend a way of garden making that exploits life for our personal pleasure. That selfishness is reflected in other areas of our existence: by producing a garbage patch bigger than Texas in the Pacific, that 50% of all seabirds have plastic in their stomachs, and why tar sand oil extraction projects exist -- this world is not just for us, and when we act, think, and live in this way our lives are greatly diminished. I'd even argue we become more apt to violence and distrust, closing ourselves off from other perspectives or unable to think critically about complex issues that challenge our assumptions or status quo.

And here's something else -- are we insulting plant dignity by altering them for our purposes? Does are manipulation of life on the genetic level show how myopic we are, how little we care for the world? How far can we go in altering ecosystems and eco functions before we've crossed a line we can't return to? What are the repercussions of crossing that line? A lot of environmental literature points to our lost connection -- and certainly, we hope gardens rebuild that connection; but how can gardens do that when they are composed of plants altered for our aesthetic pleasure, or gathered from places far and wide then plunked down in a place where they fill no evolutionary niche or can't provide multiple ecosystem services above and below the soil line like their native counterparts? (The natives also need to be studied a lot more.)

The argument will be plants and animals move and migrate; yes, they do, but never with such speed and reckless abandon as in the last 100-200 years. We have accelerated natural processes and made them unnatural. Our species has become a land bridge, a stiff wind, ocean currents, ice ages, meteors, volcanoes, floods, wildfires, droughts all wrapped into one. We're experimenting and don't understand the base that such experimentation comes from. It's dangerous on a metaphysical level, it may be catastrophic on a physical level. It IS proving disastrous, as habitat loss is the number one driver of vanishing species, loss caused by climate change, invasive species, roads, farms, cities, lawns....

Why do gardens matter? Because they are the main entry point for so many of us into the natural world. Because when they are linked together they become de facto wildlife refuges. Because gardens can heal the rift between our conflicted, complicated selves and the world we come from -- a world whose natural process can teach us how to live better lives if we become a part of those processes, not work to be apart from them. Nature heals. The act of gardening smarter, and with an ethical awareness that is expansive (includes the non human world / perspective), will always bring us closer to our home. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

We're in Nebraska Life Magazine

You might have noticed an awkwardly-posed, grey-haired fellow in the fall issue of Nebraska Life -- yeah, that's me, with my wife in support (and the garden the main attraction). Rumor has it lines are a few blocks long at local magazine stands as the issue sells out in a mad fury.