Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Front, Back, Old, New Gardens

 I sure love fall -- it's gorgeous and I get most of my gardening done in October.

The front yard, de-lawned garden coming in. Should be ready next year.
The 2007 garden evolving and morphing.

Working in a presentation, remembering my first "garden."

Tripling the back prairie garden with seeds, divisions, & seedlings.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Consciousness & Empathy

Humans are not the only form of consciousness on this planet. There are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands that have some level of scientifically documented self awareness and empathy for others -- from elephants to birds to plants. What happens when we join these species in awareness and empathy? I suspect our corn fields and business parks would look much different, our feed lots, our shelters for the abused and neglected, our systems of welfare, our gardens and our roadways.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Here Come the Leaves, and the Light

Every day brings different color, texture, and light. This is the most exciting time in the garden! I wish every day was an autumn day.


Joe pye weed

Our American elm died this year. Gorgeous.
Agastache foeniculum
Senna hebecarpa
Looking up through joe pye and ironweed
Verbena hastata
Wild senna and indian grass
Wild senna, Senna hebecarpa

Smooth aster

Sumac all fuzzy
Sumac and tall coreopsis
New England aster

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Judging Plants by Beauty Alone

I have a dream that some day our primary metric for experiencing plants won't be just how they look. Perhaps when we visit a botanical garden plant tags will give us more than Latin, but also ecosystem services, how the plant fits into the web of life. Some day plant tags at nurseries will be both accurate and informative, telling us more than how the plant grows in ideal situations but in real situations, what role it plays, what niche it has in an ecological landscape. Does this plant fix nitrogen, or harbor beneficial soil bacteria? Does it support a plethora of pollinators, or some rare native bee? Is it an ideal companion for a specific grass or sedge, like we'd see in the wild?

Gardens are not plant museums, they are plant symphonies, plant communities, wildlife communities, life communities, life partners. I have a dream that some day the first words out of someone's mouth, when observing an evocative plant for the first time, won't be how pretty it is but the number of pollinators on it, the line of ants harvesting aphids along its stem, the birds picking off those ants or seeds. We are loathe to judge others by surface appearance, but that is apparently how we judge -- or find value / worth -- in the natural world. How can we go beyond and deeper? How can we rethink pretty? What happens to other human social and cultural viewpoints when we do?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ecological Landscape Design

I'm two years late to the party, but I just finished Travis Beck's book, Principles of Ecological Landscape Design. It was incredibly life-affirming and instructive. But what really impacted me was how so much of what he was discussing I've intuited over the years experimenting, walking prairies and meadows, and now designing gardens (including doubling the size of my own in 2016). Here's just a little of what I mean:

"For long term stability in the face of environmental fluctuations, broad-scale resistance to pests and pathogens, and the ability to continue to evolve, genetic diversity in a plant population is essential. This is as true in the constructed landscape as it is in nature. To benefit from these advantages of intraspecific diversity, designers should use cultivated varieties selectively, consider developing regional or site-specific landraces, and insist on broad-based collection of seed for the production of straight species for landscape use."

As most of you know, I design gardens using as close to 100% straight species as possible, and when a cultivar is called for it's at least a wild-found species, not a lab-crossed hybrid. It will be interesting to see how these species fare in urban environments as the climate changes, and how their genetics will change.


"A little explored ecological approach to designed plantings is to allow self-thinning to maintain the balance between plant diversity and plant size. Applying self-thinning principles, the number of plants to include depends not on the ultimate number desired [old school thinking], but on the size at which they are planted -- either fewer larger plants or more smaller plants. In either case, plants should be planted in numbers necessary to fill the desired area, at such spacing that as soon as they are established, they face intraspecific competition."

I have literally backed my way into designing gardens in the above ways (and more in his book -- the guy is not a butterfly bush fan). I'm not saying I'm a genius, simply that while working with plants I felt what was happening and what was going to happen, and what I and the plants together desired to happen and feared would happen. My gardens are planted thickly for many reasons, from wildlife cover to conserving soil moisture (green mulch) to mimicking prairie habitat -- but now I see I was also trying to foster competition, rich competition, and a gene pool that interacts with the wilder prairies near my home (also thinking about wildlife corridors).

If every landscape in my city had a native plant garden we'd have wildlife corridors and resiliency up the wazoo. Maybe it's time to start a project that fosters this action here in Lincoln.

And now off to read Thomas Rainer and Claudia West's hot-off-the-press book, Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes.