Saturday, November 28, 2015

Winter Gardening is Sublime

A few images to wet your whistle. I tell you what, summer gardens don't hold a candle to the magic of winter -- 5 months of shadow and light, profound silence and absence, negative space, rest and rejuvenation, gathering purpose, habitat for wildlife. And since prairie plants lose up to 1/3 of their roots each year, lots of soil amending is going on. Wow.

The main garden

Smooth aster still showing off

Accidental designing is the best

Joe pye weed dressed to the nines

Birds deserve some art, too, with this feeder

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Refugees Aplenty on Earth

The lesser prairie chicken is a refugee. Black-footed ferrets. Salt Creek tiger beetles. Prairie fringed orchids. Literally hundreds of species, flora and fauna, from the former prairies are homeless and vanishing. The tallgrass prairie is the most endangered ecosystem on the planet, once filled with great diversity that made central North America rich in abundance, health, and resilience -- a culture of uniqueness that thrived on interactions of give and take, niches of refuge and hope. There is a world of refugees out there, the vast majority not human, and yet all connected to the same root violence, fear, and distrust we force upon them.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Looking for Land

This 80 acres of soybean / corn rotation is looking to be a prairie, nursery, and arts residency. Wouldn't it look fabulous in bluestem and monarda?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Talking in North Chicago 11/14

If you've been dying to hear my ideas about garden ethics, then November 14 in Grayslake, IL is your chance. The same topic will also be shared come March in Pueblo, CO. Only at my talks will you have the opportunity to buy the below 40 page booklet -- a collection of blog posts, articles, and short essays.

You'll need to register for the 11/14 talk, where many others will be speaking on such topics as Leopold's land ethic, native plants and pollinator relationships, prairie restoration, identifying invasives, and a ton more.

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. 

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.