I'm going to start posting a few short plant profile videos. Are there any you'd like to see featured? Here's the first, one that's not used nearly enough even though it's pretty darn adaptable and bring in the insects.
I've been thinking a lot about fear lately, how too many of us are raised either by family or culture to be afraid of other species and even of wild places. More than once I've been on a landscape design consult and the client expresses concern about attracting bees or wasps or "pests" like mice or snakes. Almost all of these creatures are beneficial to our garden, our cities, and the long term success of our own species. Bees pollinate (native bees especially pollinate our native plants); wasps control infestations of unwanted pests or help naturally manage wanted species that can get out of hand at times; snakes eat mice and voles, the latter which are too efficient at eating Liatris corms.
How can landscapers shift their thinking and education when they meet with clients? Knowing the research and how healthy ecosystems function is a start -- and how good, beautiful, low maintenance gardens are ecosystems (not to mention the last vestiges of home or hope for countless displaced species in our urban world). One day I came in from the garden, sat in front of the tv, and it wasn't for an hour or two that I noticed a bumble bee resting on my jeans. That's not scary, it's cool. I feel so incredibly honored to see life moving, living, thriving in the garden -- and I believe that for most of us that's exactly why we want a garden. A landscape may be first about and for us -- we are a dominant species who sees the world through individual perception -- but in the end a landscape is about equality, empathy, and compassion. If all life doesn't thrive we don't thrive in real physical and emotional ways. Every day in our world sees fewer insects and birds as our ecosystems diminish in their ability to sustain life. And somehow, our fear of other species has contributed to this extinction crisis, and even to political deadlock when "environmentalist" is a dirty word meant more as derision than compliment.
Maybe I can sum it up like this.... Most of us feel threatened by nature many times in our lives. It can be a storm or a wasp, or an ominous feeling walking in a cave or forest. But too many of us also feel threatened by those who talk about nature by extolling its virtues or defending its existence. Obviously, part of the problem is a culture of extraction, and another is one species practicing supremacism in other less tangible ways. Fear holds us back from compassion for other lives and other places. Fear makes us rush to anger, use names to label new ideas and people we don't understand but that make us feel uncomfortable or vulnerable. In a time of climate change and mass extinction we're being asked to navigate if not fast forward the evolution of our primal brains, to see survival as something not solely immediate and personal, but long term and communal.
Why does every year go faster than the previous one? It doesn't help that phenology shows that for each decade, spring emergence of specific plants and insects is roughly three days sooner. Springs that arrive earlier shorten the sense of seasons and the demarcations of time our primal brains have evolved to live by. Our minds and our hearts, perhaps our connective spirits to all of life, are being radically altered in imperceptible ways.
It's the same phenomenon occurring in our daily lives when nature is absent. I mean real nature, not a single street tree or a line of roses or some lawn with a robin standing still in the middle. What happens when views out of classrooms and office buildings and homes are devoid of extravagant local plant and animal life? What happens when the rich layers of plants are instead one simple layer smothered in wood mulch? What happens when instead of bird or fox calls we simply hear the constant, overriding drone of lawn mowers and leaf blowers? Somehow we need to recognize that our human supremacism is making us sick in physical and metaphysical ways. It is certainly a painful recognition, because it will call into question everything we believe or thought we believed about natural order and our cultural lifestyle. We are changing the world without compassionate wonder and without speaking up for the least among us to whom we owe our miraculous lives.
I know many of us here, reading and thinking together now, unequivocally understand the profound, empowering value of flower beds and pollinators and sitting in silence in the wild -- even though that silence is the noise of dozens of species calling through and past us. How are you engaging with others and creating wildness in our daily lives? What lines do you draw, what passions do you cultivate, what lessons do you teach? Are you learning to speak the language of a certain plant or animal, and which one? What is being said to you? What are your garden plans in this new year as we cultivate empathy and joy in all others who walk this life with us?
A few images of the backyard meadow in late November and early December (I was still planting on 12/2 when it was 60!). As you know, this roughly 2,000 square feet was lawn two years ago. The first image shows a 7 foot wide lawn pathway / firebreak. I'd sure like to burn this all in the spring, but it's not worth the risk to nearby homes -- plus I imagine I'd need a permit which I bet I wouldn't get. So, I'll mow in late March and remove as much as I can so as many seeds germinate as possible.
Writers live in bubbles of isolation, hoping through some weird twist of cosmic faith the words they string together impact or help others -- or just mean something, anything to another life. I want to share a few online reviews of A New Garden Ethic that I've come across. I'm so thankful that readers took the time to share their thoughts and continue the discussion!
"Read this profound take on the ethics of gardening. It's actually so much more than that and a book I shall reread because it's so deep. I was digging (ha!) his ideas about plants not being art and how we - nature and humans - coexist so all decisions need to be made with that in mind, when Chapter 3 blew me away with discussion of shame, guilt, metta meditation and unethical amnesia. Wow! I expected to be drawn to the social justice aspect of Chapter 4 and felt inspired by Vogt's message. I especially like how even though he isn't necessarily optimistic, he is not giving up the fight. I was fortunate to hear Vogt talk at a bookstore and found him funny and humble, yet forthright, all of which made me appreciate his book even more. It's a manifesto for our times."
"A surprisingly deep and thorough look at ecological philosophy and the anthropogenic forces on our environment and our climate. All of this through the lens of "the garden" as created space, as natural setting. Natural spaces/wildness and its role in such social justice movements, activism, and even religion - all subjects covered in this book. Vogt's intelligent writing challenged me in a pretty radical way and I am grateful for that. I suspect several more readings and ruminations of the text."
When we ask for equality among our own species it feels like an attack for many, especially for those accustomed to privilege in our culture. But equality does not mean less for those used to privilege, it simply means equal opportunity for all to thrive. It means true universal freedom. This is something humans grapple with in every level of society, especially one based on a linear, hierarchical organization.
So when we ask for this equality among species it is no surprise there is uncomfortable pushback. If we suggest that gardens should be designed with more consideration for the wants and needs of other species, the first response is that gardens will then automatically be less for humans. Or, from a design standpoint, that gardens will lose the aesthetic value and purpose humans find so appealing. This is not true. Designing a landscape for other species as much as for humans doesn't mean we're designing a less artful or creative space, I think if anything it means we're designing a far more intentional and powerful space because we've added to the levels of design and to the lives who will use the space. Just as we know the benefit of opportunity for marginalized human groups who contribute to a successful society, so we know what the benefit is to thriving wildlife landscapes.
When someone questions whether a garden can be more welcoming to wildlife, a perceived attack on humans, that question does not mean the space should be less welcoming to people or less usable by people. It does not mean the space should simply be a wild bramble of unfettered nature left entirely to its own devices where humans have no place. A garden is still an intentional and arranged artifice, for better or worse. But in the face of climate change and mass extinction -- in the face of daily wildness and awareness of nature being absent from so many of us -- asking more of our designed landscapes is not asking for less. Asking for more is opening us up to far more empathy and compassion not just among all species but also among ourselves. When we step outside of a narrow vision -- gardens as spaces primarily for humans, or even primarily for privileged groups of humans (white, educated, etc) -- we step into gardens as being places of social justice and true freedom for all who use them.
It is time for a garden revolution. It is time for gardens to be made with far greater purpose for others -- for birds, snakes, bees, spiders, butterflies, beetles, and for those who have no nature on their walk to school or work. It is time we realize that sharing the art of garden design with others is an elevation of garden design, and not a marginalization of garden designers or landscape architects or humans. Asking what a garden does and for whom it is fulfilling those purposes is not a criticism of the garden, but an act in critical thinking on how the garden can be improved, how our lives can be improved, and how we can help nature thrive in the way it has evolved to thrive.
Here at Monarch Gardens HQ -- a 1/4 acre lot in a newer suburban development -- we are down to about 400-500 square feet of lawn. That means there's about 4,500' of garden beds. The front area is three years old and was planted into bare soil after using a sod cutter. The native prairie plants are not just a bag of seed. Flowers are placed in clumps and drifts with no more than 2-3 blooming at one time so as not to overwhelm the space visually. A lawn pathway goes up the middle to show human use and purpose while tying into the suburban lawn monoculture. The main problem for this guy is that the red twig dogwood along the sidewalk look fantastic in winter (open shape, stunning color) but in summer are too thick and tall. These were supposed to be a shorter selection but need annual coppicing just to keep them at a wishful 4x4 feet (however, this will prevent flowering and berries). Each spring plants in the beds are cut with a hedge trimmer and the detritus allowed to stay to add nutrients back into the soil.
Out back it is certainly more wild in the two year old meadow. The lawn was stressed (no watering for years), scalped, then thatch raked away. Three types of shortgrasses were sown, along with collected forbs (flowers), and 150 forb plugs were placed in clumps and drifts. A mowed pathway will be employed next year to create both a visual sign to follow through the area and for access (right now a sculpture and piece of corten steal or foils with which to view the area). A 10-15' deep lawn area near the house serves as both a gathering place / location to view the meadow, as well as a fire break. An annual mowing will occur each spring.
I sure get frustrated seeing social media post after social media post proclaiming how a garden or plant is beautiful (sure, I'm guilty of it, too). I predict I'll be frustrated the rest of my life. A human proclaiming a space as beautiful is just one phase of many phases in what makes that space beautiful. What's beautiful to spiders and caterpillars and beetles and birds? What's beautiful to air, water, and soil?
Beauty from the human aesthetic standpoint is a judgement based on emotion. And there's nothing wrong with it per se. We are part of nature, part of what is alive both animate and inanimate, and our spiritual bonds to wildness are necessary to our psychical and psychological survival. What is less a judgment, what is less subjective, is how a space is beautiful on a much deeper and more profound level. When we say a garden is pretty, we are treating the space as something to consume -- it's on the same level as most art, a momentary engagement, even if we have MANY momentary engagements that cultivate new responses. Our understanding of the art is limited, perhaps willfully limited, to what we perceive in the blink of an eye or the grazing of a hand over soft leaves. Our environmental crisis demands more than this simple engagement.
Again, those perceptions are good and powerful, but it's only the perception of one species -- a dominate species that seldom considers the perceptions or needs of others. We proclaim to act on nature's behalf simply by having a garden, as if any assemblage of plants -- particularly if it wakes in us a sense of awe -- is the only or primary goal of a garden or wild space.
How can we hope to garden ethically for all life if we don't comprehend even one additional aspect of a space, if we don't redefine beauty in a time of climate change and mass extinction? We may find an exotic plant beautiful and functional, but it may be ugly to wildlife. We may find a plant cleans water or stabilizes an embankment, but why can't or why isn't it doing more? We limit our response to life when we stop at calling a space beautiful simply because we find it so -- a culmination of our culture and our family's expectation passed down to and through us. A freshly mowed lawn is beautiful, but it seldom benefits the kind of biodiversity and ecological function we force upon it to defend our aesthetic choices. A butterfly bush is beautiful, but it supports no larvae and a very limited number of adult insects.
What is a new garden ethic? How do we get there? Why is it important? What do we defend about our perceptions and beliefs, and why do we defend them so fervently? Is that garden beautiful? To whom? How are gardens an act of social justice that awakens or builds a new compassion and resolve to honor all life and cultivate equality?
When we are pushed to think in a new way, from a new perspective that challenges our world view or concept of self, we feel defensive. We feel as if we are being judged or criticized. We feel shamed, guilted, talked down to. This natural response may in some ways be tied to the burgeoning realization that we've broken personal or cultural ethical codes and are being asked to think critically about why and how, as well as the ramifications of our thinking and acting. When I ask what other species some plant supports, what value it brings beyond aesthetic function to humans, I'm not telling you to screw off and that you blow chunks. I'm asking a question meant to draw you out of a single perspective, out of human supremacism, and out of an assumption of power and freedom. I'm asking you to connect to the world in what is now an almost foreign way -- through the other. I'm asking you so much, and certainly too much, as our ethics have not evolved nearly as fast as our ability to induce climate change and mass extinction. I'm asking you what love really is, who we are as a species or culture, and if you will dare to be empowered enough to fight for the equality of all of us.
If this is your kind of thinking, my book was just released last week. You can order a signed copy here. I'm also having a book launch on 9/30 at 2pm, complete with prize raffle (seeds, plants, books, tools, local goods). Here's the Facebook event page. The book launch is in the Hardin Hall auditorium on UNL's east campus and will include a one hour presentation based on the writing. Come party with me!
Don't clean up your fall garden. It's not the living room after the kids have gone to bed, strewn with foot-impaling LEGO pieces. Butterflies and caterpillars will be overwintering in leaf litter, as will some bee larvae in hollow stems. Countless other creatures will be doing the same, while birds will come for shelter and seeds on the snowiest winter days. Plus, all those plants look gooooood in winter -- way better than a moonscape.
Over the years I've written several pieces tackling our penchant to clean up the garden, as well as to assume fall isn't the ideal time for planting. Why is fall so perfect for new plants? Cooler weather puts less stress on them and you, and we tend to see more rains. Mid to late fall is also ideal tree and shrubbery time, especially once the leaves fall off (no leaves = far less stress). Come spring your fall-dug plants will be better rooted while likely flowering sooner than if you planted them in the spring.
7 Reasons Not to Clean Up Your Fall Garden
Get Year-Round Good Looks With Matrix Gardening
Why Fall is the Best Time for Planting
10 Native Flowers to Beautify Your Winter Garden
I posted this over at Milk the Weed on Facebook, but it deserves being permanently enshrined in this space, I think. Tell me what you think and what you might add.
If you want to win over neighbors with your front yard wildlife garden (or at least not totally cheese them off) while avoiding county weed control, there are a few key strategies to take:
1) Do not just let your lawn or landscape "go."
2) Create structure in garden beds and the landscape. That can most easily mean plant tiers -- short stuff in front, tall stuff in back or in the middle.
3) Plant flowers in masses or drifts. 3 or 5 of a kind together. Do not just toss a bag of seed out there.
4) Have a mulch or lawn pathway that's plenty wide and accessible. This helps frame the landscape and welcomes folks in.
5) Don't let plant material droop onto sidewalks or driveways or impede viewing angles at street corners.
6) Include a bench or table or sitting area.
7) Keep it weeded. Thin seedlings that could get out of hand (hello, Rudbeckia) and to maintain tiers / massing, aka the designed or intentional look. You don't have to go crazy doing this, just a little TLC can go a long way.
8) Be able to name every single plant in your landscape using the common AND Latin names. Using the Latin name helps you come off as an authority (which you should be, anyway) to both neighbors and weed ordinance folks.
All that being said, if you're like me you take even more risks in the backyard behind the fence. Case in point:
I've sure been enjoying Liatris ligulistylis, meadow blazingstar, this last week or two. I don't really see monarchs in significant numbers until it starts blooming. Native to the northern Great Plains and Midwest, it purportedly mimics the scent of monarch pheromones. All I know is the flower buds are pretty, the blooms are pretty, the seed heads will be pretty (if brief), and the winter stalks add stellar vertical interest as the snow flies. When our plants can celebrate all the dimensions of garden making -- from art to sensory stimulation to ecological importance -- they become elevated and deeply meaningful places to rediscover wildness.
Meadow blazingstar has a corm -- a bulb-like mass -- that transplants easily when the plant is dormant. I find it takes about 3 years to get a mature plant with many stalks, but after that it declines quickly and may last only 4-5 years in the landscape. I'd be interested to hear from those who have observed it in the wild and how it performs over time.
The first advanced copies of my book appeared this week on my doorstep. Publication is officially 9/11. You should be able to find it most anywhere books are sold in a month, but if you can't, please ask for the business to place an order. Amazon (I know...) has them on sale for just $13 right now, but who knows for how long.
I can't believe this book happened. Or that a press gave me the green light in every way imaginable. It all started 4 years ago with a wildly contentious post on Garden Rant, then years of blogging, then a fury of manuscript writing over two months last fall that followed three months of research annotations. I'm deeply thankful to everyone who has encouraged, challenged, loved, and even been angry with me -- it all helped.
I'll be speaking on this topic in Madison WI (September), Chicago (October), Tampa (January), and Seattle (February). Working on a few more spring dates, as well.
“A powerful and transformative work, written with honesty and grace.”
-- Susan J. Tweit, plant biologist and ward-winning author
“Vogt’s call to be conscious about what we plant in our gardens, and to respect the beauty and resilience of species that have been in our communities for millennia, is clear and urgent.”
-- Dr. Peter Robinson, CEO, David Suzuki Foundation
A nice fall morning begs for a stroll -- when usually a stroll this time of year would mean sweating buckets. It's 52 right now!
For the most part, it's common thinking that exotic plants (from other global regions) won't support as much wildlife as native plants -- even if they are adapted to the local conditions and so are low care for humans. Humans may also find them pretty, and the plants could provide other services like cleaning the air, water, and soil. But there are always trade offs, and we have to rely on ourselves to make informed decisions. Horticulture as a field in general has to do that for consumers, especially.
"Native and adapted" is an oft-used term to promote plants that thrive in local sites and ecoregions. "Adapted" will commonly mean both exotic plants and plants native to other regions of the United States. My genuine question is this: if one significant goal is wildlife support, particularly pollinators (adults and larvae), how far can we reach to nearby states or regions for "native" plants before we lose a plethora of ecosystem services? And if the argument is anticipating climate change and species migration, how can we predict the effects and results of both? Shouldn't our goal be to increase indigenous wildlife populations so they theoretically have the chance to build numbers, adapt, and just maybe a few will evolve? Should we keep bringing in new plants to make the region even more altered? And if the "native" plants are in the same ecoregion, does that mean they are part of functioning biodiversity in the place they're being brought to? In what ways?
I'll be even more candid, knowing I'm dipping into some very hot water. But keep in mind my goal is not to undermine but to question and try to think more critically (even if it's uncomfortable), so that we can grow as stewards of life. This is a conversation. So to be candid, if we bring in a plant from the other side of a state next door, is it helping wildlife? What role does it have in this ecosystem? Even if that ecosystem is urban and highly altered -- or rural and highly altered -- many studies show pollinators flock to urban areas for increased numbers of blooms in home landscapes and vacant lots. What species are using what plants -- native, exotic, and next-door native? Are we bringing in plants because it provides us joy and aesthetic delight, or because we're working off of research that shows species currently and / or will need this plant in the near future?
These are genuine questions: I welcome thoughts and answers from those who are far more knowledgeable and experienced than me. I believe it's critical to have these types of conversations as the field of horticulture and landscape design evolves this century amid the pressures of climate change, mass extinction, and urbanization. More and more plants are being called upon to perform on many levels at once, from just surviving and providing aesthetic delight, to sequestering carbon, filtering runoff, and helping birds and pollinators thrive. If we don't ask questions, we'll never grow and adapt with the world we're altering at breakneck speed.
I walk the garden almost every morning before the sun fully crests a birch tree at the far end. It's not cool -- the air is thick and the weekly forecast of temps near 100 weighs heavily on my thin skin. I'm not the only one taking advantage of this time. Dragonflies abound, resting on every sinew of grass and flower stem, tree branch and seed head. They often point their wings forward like pointer dogs, but I know it's to balance and buffet themselves against a sudden breeze. Although no breeze comes.
It's easy to hear bumble bees from a dozen feet away, especially on the wild senna where they furiously pulse their bodies to shake out pollen. I counted six on just one stem, and their must be thirty stems out here. In the new meadow the young bluestem and sideoats grama are covered in dew that dazzles sharply as light is refracted from inside each droplet. Blossoms of coneflower, blazingstar, black-eyed susan, nodding onion, and verbena hold still in this heavy morning air.
I won't come back out today -- any temperature above 80 starts to make me falter. But I'll listen from a cracked window for a few moments. The bees. The cardinals and finches. I'll catch a blur of black or orange or yellow as butterflies traverse the path from old garden to new with a desert of concrete patio between. Soon it will be autumn, that most glorious season, and we will be frenetic together in our preparations and joy as the chilled garden explodes in bloom one last time.
A long time ago I argued (er, ranted) against the new coneflower cultivars. Most especially those with pompom blooms that allowed no access to pollen and this provided no seed development for birds. When we alter a plant's ornamental features, often through hybridization and genetic selection, we're changing the chemistry of the planet's nectar, pollen, and leaves. Will insects that evolved to use it, both adults and larvae, be able to identify it? How has its role changed in the environment above and below the soil line when it has orange petals?
This morning Prairie Moon Nursery posted on their Facebook page about a freak white Echinacea pallida in their fields. I'm quoting just the last paragraph:
"It is possible to isolate these flowers and cultivate them to be "true to seed" meaning a seed from a white flower will also be white. However, this cultivation requires artificial selection, and reduces the genetic diversity of the plant population. Since genetic diversity is crucial to a population's survival, we choose to not cultivate these genetic anomalies by breeding out this novel trait, but instead, we just enjoy this curious wonder of the natural world."
So there's another issue right there -- genetic diversity. A lot of plants in the nursery trade are produced from cuttings. What this means is a person in Atlanta could be buying the same exact coneflower as a person in Detroit. Growers, sellers, and buyers demand uniformity so the product is guaranteed to be how it's described on the plant tag. And depending on the origin of that plant, it may bloom earlier or later than when local wildlife have evolved to use it. Plus, it might not do as well in a vastly different climate. When you hear of plants being trialed it's often in one region, or if we're lucky, a few different ones. But the U.S. is a very diverse place, and even if the climate zone is the same, the ecoregion is not.
Right now about the best any consumer can do is getting a straight species plant from a similar latitude. Out here in eastern Nebraska we share a lot of the same native plants as folks in Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, and Tennessee, so getting a plant that was grown and sourced in Ohio means it might do ok out here. Or, it might not, given our drier summers. Ideally, we'd get plants of genetic origin within 30 miles, others would say 100 or 200. And if you get one from a state north or south it will bloom at a different time than the same local plants.
Regardless, the horticulture industry has a lot of challenges to face when promoting pollinator-friendly plants. We don't know what we're doing when we alter plants, but keep making new plants anyway, seemingly disregarding the quality of nectar and pollen as well as co-evolution with fauna.
If you're looking for the best books on sustainable, wildlife friendly, low management garden design, here's your list. I've broken it down into user-friendly categories.
Bringing Nature Home -- Doug Tallamy -- The science of why native plants are critical for wildlife, especially insects.
The Living Landscape -- Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke -- Thoughts and examples of resilient landscapes for wildlife.
Planting in a Post-Wild World -- Thomas Rainer and Claudia West -- It starts with the why, that get more theoretical and practical. This is a more advanced book, so you might want to read the "why" first, and even the next book.
The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden -- Roy Diblik -- How to create sustainable, layered, lush, seasonal gardens that look good year round and require less inputs over time. Complete with plants lists and blueprints.
Principles of Ecological Landscape Design -- Travis Beck -- Principles and strategies for creating resilient landscapes. The way we've been to taught to garden and landscape isn't working, not for us, wildlife, or our cities.
Pollinators of Native Plants -- Heather Holm -- A list of common forbs east of the Rockies and the pollinators that both use and rely on them.
Even Deeper Why
A New Garden Ethic -- Benjamin Vogt (hey that's me!) -- Urban and suburban gardens need a radical change for wildlife, climate change, and our own physical / mental health. Nature is crying for us to come back home.
And because we need pictures, have recent shots of a truly radical backyard that's sequestering carbon, improving soil, cleaning water, and providing functional beauty for wildlife and two humans:
It's National Pollinator Week starting June 19 and I wanted to show you more from home base. Here on my 1/4 acre lot I experiment with different plants, plant combinations, and various ways to establish gardens. If you follow me on my social media channels like Instagram and Milk the Weed (Facebook), you'll have seen some of these images. I want to focus on the back lawn, which was a space I never watered, that burned bad each summer, and was simply a wasted space. As the years went by I felt ridiculous for having lawn. Just a few feet away was a 1,500' garden full of pollinators, spiders, frogs, birds, etc. I began to see the unused lawn as lazy and selfish, a place no one could call home, a place that did not amend the soil or sequester carbon or cool the air around my home. Besides, I'm a gardener. Give me more plants!
Instead of a needy fescue lawn, one that suprisingly got patchier if I let it go to seed, let me tell you what I did. In the fall of 2015 I scalped the lawn, raked up as much thatch as I could (about 3-4 passes with a manual rake), exposed soil, and sowed flower seeds I'd saved from the previous year. I then put in about 150 seedlings I'd grown, as well as some 3" pots and plugs, and let it sit. In the spring of 2016 I kept it mowed at the highest setting until about mid June. Ideally, I would have mowed it the entire year because boy oh boy did the foxtail get bad, and I ended up manually deadheading seed on hundreds of plants just so I could have some prairie flowers blooming.
This spring, 2017, I mowed until about early to Mid may and have since let it do its thing. Little bluestem and sideoats grama are now by far the prominent grass, which is all the bright green in the above images. I sowed some pioneer forbs that I thought I'd need to shade out the fescue -- mexican hat coneflower and black-eyed susan mostly -- but the short prairie grasses are doing the job for me. Yes, the fescue lawn has bloomed and gone to seed, but I don't believe it will be able to procreate.
Over time I will:
1) Mow a path through the space (I'd like some things to set seed this year)
2) Remove / thin more aggressive species like wild senna
3) Deadhead indian grass and big bluestem so they don't take over (I only have a few of each for winter structure)
4) Thin seedlings of some more architectural and seasonal-blooming plants to preserve a slight sense of order and rhythm that even in a wilder space our eyes look for. Clumps and drifts. Think about a prairie, and how the plants guide you, how we look for patterns to connect to and navigate the landscape. It doesn't take much editing, and in the end, the plants are still allowed to move and do their thing -- to show me what they want and need.
5) Mow it all down each March (I'd love to burn).
Stay tuned to see this space for progress week by week. The asters will be especially spectacular this year. Come on, fall!
And below are a few more shots from out front, where some 400' of unused lawn that burned even worse was taken out in favor of two more designed beds. The landscape had a blueprint and allows for some plants to self sow to fill in the gaps over time. Not that the hellstrip was left to blend into the neighborhood, and a 6' wide lawn path bisects the two beds, showing purpose and human use while tying into the rest of the neighborhood. Both the front and back areas are never watered. Both provide winter habitat. Both represent a wildlife refuge and an island that connects to a tallgrass prairie one mile south.
And in case you forgot here's the 10 year old main garden, which is about 75% native plants:
I stumbled upon David Orr's wonderful essay "Love It or Lose It," which I think I stumbled upon years ago and forgot. The guy is speaking my language, and the language of my forthcoming book A New Garden Ethic. His focus is certainly on rewilding our daily lives -- cities, suburbia -- and lamenting our role as stewards who don't know much. His call is not for a technological revolution, but a spiritual, moral, and cultural revolution of the likes seldom or never seen before. Choosing and cultivating life is as constant an exercise as love.
"Beyond efficiency, we need another revolution that transforms our ideas of what it means to live decently and how little is actually necessary for a decent life: a sufficiency revolution. The first revolution is mostly about technology and economics. The second revolution is about morality and human purposes. The biophilia revolution is about the combination of reverence for life and purely rational calculation by which we will want to both be efficient and live sufficiently. It is about finding our rightful place on earth and in the community of life, and it is about citizenship, duties, obligations, and celebration.
There are two formidable barriers standing in our way. The first is the problem of denial. We have not yet faced up to the magnitude of the trap we have created for ourselves. We are still thinking of the crisis as a set of problems that are, by definition, solvable with technology and money. In fact we face a series of dilemmas that can be avoided only through wisdom and a higher and more comprehensive level of rationality than we have yet shown. Better technology would certainly help; however, our crisis is not fundamentally one of technology but one of mind, will, and spirit. Denial must be met by something like a worldwide ecological “perestroika,” predicated on the admission of failure: the failure of our economics, which became disconnected from life; the failure of our politics, which lost sight of the moral roots of our commonwealth; the failure of our science, which lost sight of the essential wholeness of things; and the failures of all of us as moral beings, who allowed these things to happen because we did not love deeply and intelligently enough. The biophilia revolution must come as an ecological enlightenment that sweeps out the modern superstition that we are knowledgeable enough and good enough to manage the earth and to direct evolution."
from "Love It or Lose It: The Coming Biophilia Revolution"
Benjamin Vogt's blog on prairie gardening in Nebraska. With a healthy dose of landscape ethics and a dash of memoir.
The Deep Middle
Gardening & writing in the prairie echo
MONARCH GARDENS LLC
prairie garden consulting & design
Lincoln & Omaha, Nebraska
and the entire Midwest
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Gardens are revolutions that wake us to our world.