Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Our Gardens Need Science and Spirituality

The landscape design world is still far too divorced from actual ecological processes and communities that very much exist in our country, even in urban centers and other novel ecosystems (we can deny those ecological communities all we want, but it won't make us feel any better about our role in climate change or extinction, or lead to effective outcomes). We're getting there as more projects become joint collaborations between architects, engineers, biologists, ecologists, and horticulturists. But if these new gardens do not spur a significant psychological if not spiritual ethic grounded in both reverence and science, an ethic that truly links human and animal culture well beyond even biophilic aesthetics, our species will not endure. How we experience and intervene in our daily environment is how we will experience and intervene in our larger world.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Ethical Garden as Social Justice

For a while now I've said the environment is a moral and ethical issue, not a political one. Our government has made the conversation one about opinion and belief over fact. Even worse, those who give us the facts more and more admit it is not enough, those facts -- what we need is a total cultural revival of compassion and empathy for others of our own species, and for those of other species. I especially believe we need compassion for other species as well as their home places, and that once we practice this compassion over and over in thought and deed, we will slowly retrain our muscle memory and our relationships with one another will improve. One of the easiest places to foster compassion is in our own immediate landscapes -- suburban backyards and front yards; how we tend these landscapes will say a lot about how we tend school grounds, church grounds, parks, rivers, marshes, forests, prairies, and oceans. And it will say a lot about how we tend to one another.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Urban Nature Before Nature is Gone

If we don't get folks far more intimate with wildness, they won't care about the planet or be critically engaged with issues beyond environmental ones -- issues deeply linked, like social justice. With more and more moving to cities, we need better cities, cities that show nature is not "out there" on a planned vacation or in some refuge, but right here all the time. Sustainable urban and landscape design could not be more important from a psychological if not ethical standpoint. We need people seeing all kinds of birds and bees and butterflies every day, many times a day, learning the language of real life. We need them smelling, touching, and hearing a full chorus of life at work, school, and at home. By god, we need better gardens, better landscapes, more celebration of local place right now. Right freaking now.
2/3 of global wildlife will vanish by 2020. 50% of all land areas are dominated by humans, with 9% of that occurring in the last 25 years. Wild plant species including sunflowers, chickpeas, mangoes, and asparagus are disappearing, threatening the ability to breed resilient food crops. If we can't care about our daily place, if we don't wake to the natural world at home and get gut punched by its meaning and power and presence, then we can't do anything about the larger, more important places like agricultural fields, forests, prairies, marshes, etc.

In 2017 let's get more prairie and woodland gardens going at work, church, school, and in suburbia!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sustainable Landscape Workshop 12/8

This Thursday in Lincoln NSA is putting on a free workshop on why and how to garden sustainably for the environment. Panels of local experts will present their ideas and projects, and there will be a question and answer session along with lots of resources.

In Lincoln there are two sessions on 12/8 at Union Plaza -- 1-4pm and 5-7pm. The first session is geared more toward pros and the evening session toward homeowners, but you can't go wrong at either one -- although I'll be talking at the evening session.

To RSVP and for more info, including the workshop scheduled for Omaha on 12/9, link here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Long Fall of Writing & Gardening

I just wrote 40,000 words in one month, and am now taking a bit of a break from the book to gather my wits about me and to process the hardest step of writing -- editing, which is always the real writing. During this time I've been fortunate, or doomed, to have a long, warm fall to enjoy after my intense mornings of writing (some days I'd write 3,000-5,000 words before lunch). I've planted hundreds of plugs around our quarter acre lot, continuing to increase and beef up the total plant areas to some 2/3 of the property. We had such stunning sunlight in the new and old gardens -- something you can see from the images shared on Instagram. 

1 month after peak migration the only food on my street are these asters
Baptisia australis minor
My indoor buddy getting a rare treat
Mountain mint
The new meadow frosted one morning
New England asters near sunset
Sunset in the oldest of the gardens

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Lopez and Williams on Eco Ethics

I stumbled upon these quotes from two powerful writers in just one day. They perfectly frame my book's project, and hit at the heart of a subject I've been trying hard to flush out and express -- namely, how hard it is for humans to act ethically toward other species. What do you think?

“Because mankind can circumvent evolutionary law, it is incumbent upon him, say evolutionary biologists, to develop another law to abide by if he wishes to survive, to not outstrip his food base. He must learn restraint. He must derive some other, wiser way of behaving toward the land. He must be more attentive to the biological imperatives of the system of sun-driven protoplasm upon which he, too, is still dependent. Not because he must, because he lacks inventiveness, but because herein is the accomplishment of the wisdom that for centuries he has aspired to. Having taken on his own destiny, he must now think with critical intelligence about where to defer."

"No culture has yet solved the dilemma each has faced with the growth of a conscious mind: how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s own culture but within oneself."
 -- from Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

"Most people are not comfortable making a connection between racism and specism or the ill treatment of human beings and the mistreatment of animals. We want to keep our boundaries clean and separate. But isn't that the point, to separate, isolate, and discriminate? We create hierarchies, viewing life from the top down, top being, of course, God, then a ranking of human races, and so our judgments move down 'the Great Chain of Being' until we touch rocks. This is the attitude of power, and it hinges on who is in control. Who has power over whom? How does this kind of behavior infiltrate the psyche of a culture? And what are the consequences of scala natura?"

"Arrogance is arrogance, and cruelty committed to a person or an animal is cruelty. We would rather not think too much about 'what is being done to those outside the sphere of the favored group,' yet I believe it is time in the evolution of our imagination to make a strong case for the extension of our empathy toward the Other."

— from Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

Friday, October 21, 2016

Prairie in Fall Reflection

In fall the prairie is dipped in bronze, brown, and ochre. An hour before sunset and the sun is already creating halos around the thick seed heads of indian grass, while bees, skippers, and a few crescent butterflies find the last of the aromatic asters and Canada goldenrod hidden among short and tall bluestem turning crimson. Atop even a moderate hill the air is warm from the day, but follow a path down a few dozen feet and an evening chill swarms my legs like grasshoppers disturbed from the vegetation. If I’m lucky there is silence – no cars on the nearby road, no planes on final approach for the airport, no gunshots from the nearby police shooting range. There is the riptide of grass in the wind rising against the horizon, and the deep breath of getting down on my knees to admire a fringed gentian, so blue it’s almost violet and giving birth to a bumble bee laden with pollen.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Autumn Images

Several photographs from the three main gardens at home base, more of which I share liberally on Instagram.

I add some corten steel to the new back meadow. Love it.

Late September

Switchgrass is a rainbow of flavor.

Last sulphur migrating through on aromatic aster.

Wild senna seed pods need a shave

Sunset in the main garden. Ho hum.

My 15 year old Manx buddy.

Coneflowers in the front, de-lawned yard.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Environment is Not a Political Issue

I have long said that the environment is not a political issue, which seems confounding to many as it often takes human law to conserve, protect, and steward. And that's EXACTLY the problem. The environment is not a political issue -- it's a moral one. How can we ever hope to conserve, protect, and steward if we don't come to these practices ethically? How can we not see the world through other human classes and regions, let alone through the eyes of other species? Protecting the environment must come primarily from an ethical and moral center that doesn't even take into account human laws. Perhaps if we began with ethics in mind we wouldn't even need laws or politics. Maybe if our culture came at life from the other end of the spectrum -- through the other -- this entire discussion really would be perplexing.

Many political groups twist the spirit of environmentalism and turn it into a political fight, thus degrading and devaluing the ethical center of the primary argument; or, they take out the heart and the compassion and replace it with human-centered agendas of exploitation and hubris. It's like saying we need to protect our natural resources -- but nature is not a resource. Nature is nature, just like you are you and I am Benjamin.

While the political process may make some strides in doing good by our ethics, too quickly and too easily those ethics are eroded or washed away by human wants and the need to make concessions or bridge the aisle. So when I say the environment is not a political issue and is instead and ethical or moral one, I am saying that our world is not the real world -- and it never was.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gardens Honor & Harm Nature

Gardens already come with a prepackaged, innate illness -- our hubris. The manipulations we make of nature do both honor and harm to it, even if we come into garden making with the most noble and loving intentions. The reality of the latent illness in garden making doesn't negate the spirit of gardening, and it shouldn't undermine why we are out there smelling flowers and touching dirt; what the reality should do, however, is more openly and fully question both our motives and our outcomes. When we are questioned or challenged our garden making can become deeper and more meaningful not only to us, but to all of the species whose homes and lives we are inviting ourselves into.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Keep Smiling, and Avoid Necessary Change or Empowerment

I have long been a critic of our western / American culture's focus on putting a happy spin on everything; why, just the other day I was told to move to Iowa and not be such a killjoy because I suggested releasing balloons at Husker football games was mass pollution. Bummer, all those birds strangled to death, but what can you do? Balloons are fun.

But here's Joanna Macy saying things perfectly (not about balloons) -- and you bet this is going in the new book. 

“To discover what we know and feel is not as easy as it sounds, because a great deal of effort in contemporary society is devoted to keeping us from being honest. Entire industries are focused on maintain the illusion that we are happy, or on the verge of being happy as soon as we buy this toothpaste or that deodorant or that political candidate. It is not in the self-perceived interests of the state, the multinational corporations, or the media that serve them both, that we should stop and become aware of our profound anguish with the way things are.

None of us, in our hearts, is free of sorrow for the suffering of other beings. None of us is indifferent to the dangers that threaten our planet’s people, or free of fear for the generations to come. Yet when we are enjoined to ‘keep smiling,’ ‘be sociable,’ and ‘keep a stiff upper lip,’ it is not easy to give credence to this anguish.

Suppression of our natural responses to actual or impending disaster is part of the disease of our time, as Robert Jay Lifton, the American psychiatrist who pioneered the study of the psychological effects of nuclear bombs, explains. The refusal to acknowledge or experience these responses produces a profound and dangerous splitting. It divorces our mental calculations from our intuitive, emotional, and biological imbeddedness in the matrix of life. That split allows us passively to acquiesce in the preparations for our own demise.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hummingbird Rain

First day back from a long weekend up north. Finally lumber out to the garden as my lunch is heating up. I'm not too happy with the landscape and wish I had more time (and knowledge, and money) to do what I really want. There are still beautiful, meaningful things going on -- and dreams abound to plan for. I stake a flopping aster, I sow some liatris, I bend to smell a salvia and hear the booming drone of a hummingbird with its strange, sharp calls peppered in. It lands on a dead branch of a nearby tree. How rare to see them so still. The hummingbird's head darts side to side for 20 seconds before it lifts off and vanishes.

5 minutes in the garden. 5 minutes of waking to imperfection. 20 seconds of being blessed, yet again, for stepping outside of myself to find my world as right as rain.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Lawn to Meadow, Year 1

Here and there I've dropped snippets of what's going on in 2,000 square feet out back. Last fall I scalped and de-thatched the back fescue lawn, seeded in little bluestem and sideoats grama, then planted 80 flower seedlings and divisions.

Up until June I kept the back lawn scalped, and after June 1 stuff began to pop with no mowing needed; it's really been popping the last 6 weeks. I'm on my hands and knees often pulling weeds (a sane person would keep mowing to control weeds, but I'm not sane), and I'm delighted to see purple prairie clover, baptisia, coneflower, aster, milkweed, bushclover, and more seedlings finding their way up through lawn and prairie grass.

The goal will be a uniform base of 2-3 feet with scattered architectural plants reaching up to 6-7 feet. Editing will be needed. I'd really like a 2-3 foot tall ribbon of corten steel, maybe 10-12 feet long, snaking through the middle, but steel is pricey for me right now.

Here are a few images. Feel free to scroll through recent summer posts for earlier pics to compare the growth. Next year should be phenomenal.

Looking east toward the original garden in morning
Indian grass and Liatris ligulistylis
Looking west

Monday, August 22, 2016

Grief is Love, Hope is Embracing Our Pain

So, I'm working on this book -- A 21st Century Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future. I'm probably going to end up with 300 pages of research (well over what I'll end up writing)... psychology, ecology, science, philosophy. I'm going to say things that will upset lots of folks, that are going to cut to the bone of our culture. Heavy stuff that even weighs down on me and that I've avoided for years. But over those years of reading I've slowly developed a resilience that I feel is directive and empowering and liberating. I don't have to live beneath or within the systems that exploit myself and other species; or, at least I can acknowledge those systems and learn how and why to live without them. Our culture doesn't just marginalize our own species by class, race, or gender -- it does a superb job of marginalizing places, rivers, prairie dogs, butterflies, and sharks. Violence is all around us working toward the same end -- making me feel comfortable or apathetic, assuming a life without natural riches is indeed rich enough, all for the benefit of a few.

While I was organizing my research I also came across, again, these words by Chris Jordan -- which stop me in my tracks every time:

“I discovered that grief is not the same as sadness and despair. Grief is the same as love. Grief is a felt experience of love for something that we’re losing, or that we’ve lost.... the role of the artist is not to relieve us of feelings of hopelessness, despair, rage, love, but to help us feel those things.”  

You may know Chris from his work photographing albatross on Midway. If you don't, please watch this, very powerful trailer.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Front Gardens, Year 2

I'm far from content with our new front prairie beds -- there are some significant bare spaces I'm not showing, and I need to come back through to bulk up the grasses / sedges as well as add some drifts / clumps of early season flowers -- but it's coming along (even with nibbling rabbits). What has been most exciting is seeing, as I pull into the driveway, butterflies lifting from the blooms; hopefully, the neighbors see that, too! It's also been fascinating to watch things reseed and to anticipate what the garden will look like next year (and what editing will have to be done to maintain a cohesive appearance for this high-visibility location). The 600' is never watered, fertilized, and was planted directly into non-amended and compacted clay soil.

I anticipate the E. purpurea to be absent next year, so need to get E. pallida in there
See the back bed? Needs more sedge.
Common buckeye resting on smooth aster.
Meadow blazingstar (or rough) with little bluestem.
Look at the contrast in landscapes.
The view to a neighbor who mows 2-3x a week.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Wild Garden of Benign Domination

I find "proof" valuable when making an argument simply because it appeals to one side of our brain, and some folks have thinking dominated by that side. Obviously, when we can double up -- make an argument stronger by appealing to both the analytical and the emotional / philosophical -- it's a bit easier to get people rethinking their assumptions and to switch gears. But too often the emotional / philosophical is muted or removed in favor for hard core proof (i.e. the human world is given yet more preference over the non human). 

I can tell you this: without wonder, without dreams, without the not knowing, any proof loses much of its excitement and deep revolution in my existence or perception of my or other's existence. Without the wandering and the doubt, proof becomes limp. Many times proof destroys an unwritten connection between our nature and the nature of other species and places -- if we have to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt and placed on a spreadsheet that we harm the world, that we cause extinctions, that we have eroded natural evolution -- then the efficacy we hope to spur in others, to me, seems unlikely. Reading a study on the benefits of native plants to pollinator larvae is one thing; knowing or believing that those plants and larvae don't need me in their lives -- that they have their own intelligence separate from mine -- frees me of my didactic human culture.

Restored prairie? Wild prairie? Garden? Whose culture?
Every time I plant a milkweed I both interrupt and intercede in the world -- I hinder and help in the same action. My act of making a sustainable urban garden is a remaking of nature, a way to connect myself through proof and belief that I have the power to heal us all, to move deeper into the cycles of life even as I disrupt or alter them in the garden and in every aspect of my modern western life. And that's where life gets problematic. The myth of a garden is that it rights systemic cultural wrongs like human supremacy or capitalism or deforestation. And sometimes, I think another myth of the garden is that it engenders an over-inflated sense of wild compassion -- that any garden, any composition of plants, is better than no garden at all.

Too much of our human political and cultural beliefs are in our gardens -- plants and bees are not people, and their culture is radically different than ours; yet like every other minority -- from prairie dogs to Native American tribes -- we impose our culture on them in myriad ways. A garden is not just a way to bridge our seemingly disparate cultures -- a garden is, paradoxically, a way to exercise an idyllically / idealistically benign domination over others in the name of one's own joy, happiness, and personal liberty. If this control is primarily what a garden is, then perhaps gardens will, in the end, always fail to move us into a more right relation with other species and ecosystems.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

This Grass, This Clover

Out back this morning trying to pull ripe black medic seeds before they scatter. I'm so thankful I can be on my hands and knees. As I crawl around the back lawn / soon-to-be meadow, the soft young shoots of sideoats grama and little bluestem tickle my knuckles. The slower I go the more I see: young smooth aster and rudbeckia nestled low against the ground; airy seedlings of purple prairie clover camouflaged in the green fescue; ants mysteriously placing soil up the stems and leaves of a few weeds. I don't know what will become of me in the next hour or the next decade. I don't know what injustice, what agony, what ecstasy I may encounter. I hope with all my heart that whatever I become is part of this grass, this clover.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Birthday Garden

I turned 40 last week. My garden turned 9. Together we are either -31 or 409. Here's my annual look at the birthday landscape, though with less fanfare than usual. Because I'm old now.

The main back garden is the oldest

Always plenty of coneflowers -- a big draw

A pollen bath!

Cup plant has yet to be aggressive in my clay

Culver's root near sunset

An inchworm disguised as Rudbeckia

The front gardens are slowly coming on -- less lawn!

Everything about wild senna floors me

2,000' of new garden sown / planted directly into the lawn last fall

Monday, July 11, 2016

Native Plants Are a Threat

Which includes both the scientific and philosophical conversation that ensues. Native plants are a threat to an entire industry built foremost on ornamentation for human visual consumption. Native plants represent a gardening that, instead of focusing solely or primarily on the commercialization of our five senses, instead explores the deeper issues of why we garden, how we garden, and who we garden for. These issues are nothing new; instead, the issues are poking holes in generations of  embedded acceptance that nature is for us, and that how we re-arrange nature is by default noble, good, and environmentally benign.

Every year new hybrids of plants come out, as do new "discoveries" made halfway across the world. These plants are pushed and promoted as products to consume, like new iphones, which to me feels incredibly disrespectful to the nature communities we hope to positively impact. Not only do so many "new" plants come to us relatively unproven in home and urban landscapes, they may not even support the wildlife community we assume and are pitched will benefit.

It's not even just the plants themselves, though that's the primary issue in my mind -- it's how we use them; the wrong plants in the wrong places with the wrong companions in the wrong layers (aka no layers). We drive around town and see the mulched void of planting beds, the same overused ornamental and exotic plants, and assume this is good design; then we hire landscapers to replicate this at home. It's too bad.

Marianist Environmental Education Center -- Dayton, Ohio
But back to native plants being a threat. The way I see them -- through scientific evidence as well as an ethical leaning that says we do not know better than nature and evolution -- is absolutely a threat to entire tributaries of of the horticulture industry. But you know what? It's also an opportunity. While we've created a human-centered system based on visual appeal and commerce, we can go beyond greenwashing plant tags or calling hybrids native plants. We can say native plants aren't just for us, that in fact they are for everything but us, and in that act revolutionize why we garden, how we garden, and who we garden for. Suddenly, something radical (getting down to the root) happens -- as we stop thinking about gardens as primarily for us, at least as a 50/50 proposition, this selflessness begins to spread into other areas of our lives... those in permaculture know this, as do the countless vendors in local farmer's markets.

Native plants are a threat to ourselves and our assumptions which make us feel safe in a world we perceive as chaotic and out to get us; but it's only the human systems we've imposed on the world that make life feel chaotic and dangerous, precisely because so many human systems are at odds with nature. There's only one assumption we can rely on -- that the world knows better than us, does not need us in it, and in these realizations we can become freer and more at home than we've ever been as we rethink beauty in a time of mass extinction.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Client Gardens & Surprises

I designed a very long space (nearly 150') for a client last spring, who then purchased all of the plants and over several weeks installed hundreds upon hundreds of 3" pots. I am amazed at how fast the garden has filled out in just a year with no supplemental watering or fertilizer -- luck, I guess! 100% native plants.

And somehow we ended up at the Sarpy County fairgrounds to stubble upon this Nebraska Statewide Arboretum bed, very narrow and in an unforgiving location, awash in blooms:

Oddly, the red fire zone paint on the curb ties in nicely with the Gallardia and coneflowers, don't you think? :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Urban Prairie & Healthy Living

It's vitally important to me that we create landscapes that do more than just look pretty to one species. In a world of climate change and extinction gardens need to be filtering water, sequestering carbon, adding to biologic diversity, and helping wildlife complete their life functions. While I strive to design spaces that look beautiful to us and that work with their owner's lifestyles, I'm also designing gardens that echo prairies -- stylistically and functionally. If we can bring a bit of the prairie into our daily lives, perhaps we'll be more likely to learn about and restore wider swaths beyond the garden fence. Tallgrass prairie is as effective at scrubbing CO2 from the air as the Amazon rainforest, yet far more threatened -- and the wildlife that need it still exist, even if on the margins of our man-made world. The tallgrass supports pollinators crucial to our food supply, absorbs and filters up to 9" of rainwater per hour (think about that in an urban flood scenario), amends and enriches soil, and provides a truer sense of the region than monocultures of corn destined for feedlots or gas tanks. 

If what we see every day in urban centers is lawn and the occasional foundation bed of a few types of common shrub, we'll assume this is landscaping, that this is natural and the ideal. But if what we see is native diversity teaming with butterflies and birds, not only will our physical senses be intrigued and enlivened, but also our psychological and emotional senses. Study after study shows kids with a schoolroom view of nature, combined with play in wilder-based spaces, have increased test scores, are more creative, work better in groups, and have fewer emotional problems. Patients in hospitals with views of trees and flowers recover quicker. Neighborhoods with mature street trees and established garden beds have increased home values and less crime. Yet the majority of our urban and suburban areas are mostly in lawn, one step up from concrete (maybe).  

 I drive around town with images in my mind superimposed on what is actually out the window. I see streets edged in prairie grasses and spits of flowers with butterflies dancing above them, families stopping along the sidewalk to watch the artful play. I see business parks with benches and paths weaving through prairie mowed once a year. I see planters downtown filled with native plants calling home wildlife we never knew existed or thought extirpated. I see highways into town flushed with color from spring into autumn. I see homes dropped not into a 19th century park-like setting of weekly-mowed lawn, but a prairie-like setting of drought tolerant natives that mitigate the need for storm drains, fossil fuel use, and toxic pesticides / fertilizers that pollute our bodies, soils, and drinking water. 

In the world you live in, what do you see? What are you doing? How can we do more and welcome all of us home into the places we love or want to love even more? Is your landscape a place to know your home better by welcoming the lives of other species?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Justice & Beauty in Landscape Design

I've been thinking how hard it is to be an activist, community builder, and businessperson all at once. While all three require great passion, it's the amount and type of passion that can be both a turn off and turn on depending on who's receiving the information. While I consider my garden design business part activism, it's also about creating stunning and workable landscapes for lots of species.

It's true that I see garden design as a political and ethical act. Recently an event was held in Pennsylvania, the Landscape Architecture Foundation's New Landscape Declaration: Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future. One of the speakers is quoted as saying "Justice and beauty must be found together in the landscape," and another "landscape architects must coordinate their actions to fight climate change, help communities adapt, bring artful and sustainable parks and open spaces to each community, preserve cultural landscape heritage, and sustain all forms of life."

Needless to say this was stunning to hear LAs speaking like this, and it hit home with my personal and business goals. The main reason I design 100% native plant gardens is because I see it as an act of defiant compassion -- our gardens are wildlife refuges that connect us to our lived places, awakening us to a humble, connected, honorable relationship with other species; species who have as much right to exist as us. And as research continues to come out about urban green spaces reducing crime, as well as the psychological benefits for kids and the environmental benefits (carbon sequestration, mitigating run off, cooling heat islands, cooling our homes, insulating our homes), I wonder why it's taken us so long to shed some of our hubris.

Last night I came home in the late evening to nearly every other house in my neighborhood with underground sprinklers running. Folks mow their crop -- which isn't eaten or even brewed for beer -- one to three times a week. Lawns are selfish. In fact, so many of our plant choices are selfish; if a plant is not a host for pollinator larvae, attracting diverse wildlife that use it, or part of a co-evolved and useful community above and below the soil line, then its primary purpose is simply to look pretty for us. That's not gardening.

How can our landscapes be wildlife refuges and do some good for ALL of us who share this world, who need one another? We are told that planting a tree is not for us but the next generation; shoot, planting a milkweed or aster or mountain mint is not only for us now, but for the many generations of wildlife that will use them this year -- not to mention subsequent years.

Our gardens are a protest for all the ways in which we deny other lives. Our gardens heal our minds and our hearts. Our gardens make us smarter, more creative, more sympathetic, and help us have greater amounts of empathy for everyone, human and avian and insect. What does a thin foundation bed full of boxwood and hosta say about us? What about a corporate campus with acres of lawn? Or roadsides repeatedly mowed so pollinators and nesting birds can't reproduce? How much less money it could take to manage these areas with wildlife-friendly landscaping and maintenance techniques. How beautiful humans and other species would find our world if we stopped declaring ourselves superior through our displaced landscapes.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Forthcoming Book on Garden Ethics

I'm pleased to announce that my new book, A 21st Century Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future, will be released by New Society Publishers in the fall of 2017. I'll be hard at work drafting this puppy over the next seven months, channeling Leopold, Carson, Wilson, Williams, Sanders, Jensen, etc.

It's my hope that this philosophical work -- using lots of research on ecology, horticulture, psychology, and more -- will open some floodgate in how and why we garden in a time of climate change and mass extinction.

And because posts with images get picked up more, have some Ratibida columnifera:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Heal the Earth, Break Your Heart

Politics won't save us; having our hearts broken will. Touch the natural world before you take another step today. Sit down in a place that echoes the wild. Don't jump up when a spider comes crawling across you leg -- watch it keep going in its own time, which is really your time. Don't turn in apprehension when you hear a rustling in the grass or a tree -- have faith in this place you are becoming. Remember that for a time we are privileged to be congealed, walking parts of what's around us -- the soil, the sun, the air, the water. When we stop being who we are, we stop being fully alive.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Seedheads Jazz Up the Garden

When designing a landscape don't forget the awesome power and beauty of seed heads. This is pasque flower (Anemone patens), and while the seed will soon fall off, countless other plants hold on to their gifts long into winter. Every time I design a garden I'm always thinking what that vista will look like in the cold, how will wildlife use it, how can I get people outside to look at these plants when they are still useful and still beautiful. Every season the garden is alive. Every moment is one for deeper understanding of our world and meaningful connection with the ebb and flow of nature. Prairie up.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Finding a Prairie Home

We've found an ideal acreage. That's the short story. The longer one is it's near a paved road, not far from Lincoln, has a pond, rolling hills, (overgrazed / weedy) fields, clumps of trees, an old barn that's screaming for weddings and workshops, a perfect area for a display garden / hoop houses, good locations for an artist residency, and a house that's falling in. It's a place to live for a long time, to steward, heal, and nurture.

Maybe it's not wise to be so transparent or open, but other folks in similar situations have documented their process on blogs and it's been a big help to me as I learn about options and what to expect. It is clear that lending has changed significantly in the last ten years -- as in, it's harder to get favorable conditions that leave one with working capital to make improvements on land. And a land loan is far harder to find than a regular home mortgage. The land we've found has an older home that's in structural trouble, and if it wasn't on the property would make the entire parcel far more feasible.

Most lenders want anywhere from 30% to 50% down payment. The good thing about 50% down is it makes for a much smaller mortgage payment, the bad thing is you don't have money to fix up a barn, put in deer fences, purchase equipment, etc. I wonder if lending institutions prefer to lend money only when you already have enough. I'm also asking myself if this a matter of commitment. We could live in an RV on the land and that'd work, but we'd be miserable -- esp with three beloved cats who don't like each other. Ideally, we'd stay in our current home until next spring, taking the rest of 2016 to clean up the site and make improvements. Some of the land could be grazed and / or hayed, I think, to pay for a good portion of property taxes. And my projections show a nursery could easily, even in its first spring, cover the first year's payments. I fully expect the garden design business to keep growing.

FSA loans are great -- 5% down and good rates for beginning farmers -- but you have to farm for human consumption. So corn, soybeans, animals, vegetables. It seems like diversifying rural entrepreneurship might be a wise investment, especially with crop prices falling, land prices rising, and folks flocking to urban centers. There are places that offer smaller loans for improvements, but that's probably down the road. We'll keep looking. If it's meant to be it's meant to be.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Books That Make a Difference

If you're looking to change the way you garden -- to be in better balance with nature and wildlife -- then here's my list. We are witnessing the beginnings (some might say second wave) of a radically new way to landscape; but radical only in the sense that we're starting to be more humble, and thus more rewarded, in how we create healthier designed spaces. What this radical thinking means is gardening with nature, not against it, and understanding such gardening is a process -- and that the process is far more pleasurable and realistic than the way we commonly landscape now. No more wood mulch. No more marooned plants. Just more planet.

I've listed the books in order from beginner to advanced. Click on the images to read more on each work.