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.