Late Summer in the Suburban Prairie
Here in eastern Nebraska this growing season has been met with a late April snow, cool / moist May, very hot and dry June into July, then an early fall in August but still fairly dry. The plants keep plugging along, even if some are shorter than usual (Eutrochium, Vernonia, Silphium). Please enjoy some images of HQ. If you want to stay on top of all the plants, gardens, and wildlife we run across, Instagram is the way to go!
The other night I was reading part of a book I bought as research for my unwritten Oklahoma memoir (because I apparently like to think about 5 different projects at once). It was a collection of accounts from Native Americans who survived the 1868 Washita Massacre led by Custer on peace chief Black Kettle's encampment along the Washita River in western Oklahoma -- a massacre that happened an hour upstream from where my family homesteaded three decades later.
Returning Cheyenne who fled the event found mutilated bodies stripped naked and placed in sexually suggestive poses. I'd tell you more details but I can't stomach it.
This level of violence hasn't ended though. Maybe it takes on different forms at times and becomes more subtle and sinister. We live in a violent culture founded by violent means. Every luxury is given to us through a series of violent acts in a supply chain of subjugation and irreverence and supremacy.
I completed a rough draft of the new garden book's first chapter yesterday morning, a chapter that explores what prairie is and its ecological history using this material as the basis for a lesson on garden design. But then I realize -- garden design is a luxury given to us through a series of violent acts. This house I live in and land upon which I garden, the plants erased, the plants grown with fossil fuels in pots produced by fossil fuels shipped with fossil fuels extracted in sensitive and often public ecosystems sold for cheap. I don't know how long it might take for a lush, natural garden filled with native plants to undo the damage done by our privilege, but I suspect it won't occur in my lifetime or my son's. If ever.
Is gardening an escape from such "dark" thoughts, something to soothe and heal our emotions and get us through? Of course. But if that's all it is then it is an act of denial, of turning one's head or sticking it in the sand, ultimately making gardening hollow and almost as egregious as what we do to other species and to one another.
If having our hands in the soil is to make the kind of difference we intend it to have, we need to reckon with the history and reality of what we do, where we are, and how we live. That's not unpatriotic or destructive -- it's liberating as we sabotage the power structures that limit our compassion and strength.
Benjamin Vogt's thoughts on prairie gardening in Nebraska. With a healthy dose of landscape ethics, ecophilosophy, climate change, and social justice.
In a time of climate change and mass extinction how & for whom we garden matters more than ever.
"This book is about so much more than gardening."
The Deep Middle
Gardening & writing in the prairie echo
Monarch Gardens is a prairie-inspired design firm. We specialize in lawn to meadow conversions as well as urban shade gardens.
Employing 95% native plants, our designs are climate resilient, adaptable, and provide numerous ecological benefits while artistically reflecting wilder landscapes.
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