Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Musings from Mother Nature

Today is Earth Day 2011, and it's time once again to give thanks to this planet that we call our home. Although Mother Nature speaks to us in many ways, I think we sometimes forget to listen. Awhile back I wrote a post on Mother Nature, and I think its message is especially appropriate today. I hope you will ponder these Earth Day musings from Mother Nature, and take to heart a few when making your choices everyday:

1. Please don't try to second guess me - if you took the age of every living thing on earth, and added them up, I would be millions of years older then the total. So, I think I might know a thing or two about how the earth is supposed to function and grow, and will teach you if you only stop and listen.

2. I live everywhere - from the tallest mountain to the lowest valley, from the hottest desert to the coldest oceans. Please be a nice guest in my house, or it could soon become inhospitable. I may have to ask you (not so politely) to leave.

3. I am happy to share my bounty with you, but I ask that you don't take advantage of my generosity. Rather, only take as much as you need, and leave some for the rest of the world and its offspring.

4. I love creepy crawlies, including snakes, spiders, beetles, and all of the other things that most people are afraid of. So the next time you think about squishing, poisoning, or otherwise getting rid of them please remember they are dear to my heart.

5. Although it is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, nothing artificial can compare to the magnificent sunsets, flowers, mountains, streams and animals that I have given you, so please treat them with care.

6. I am the original creator of diversity. Meadows, forests, oceans, and plains have thousands of inhabitants who all are part of a complex ecosystem working together. Monocultures have no place in my plans. You can learn a lot about diversity simply by studying them.

7. The soil of the earth is made up of trillions of living, breathing organisms. Pick up a handful of nice, crumbly soil, and you are holding billions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes. Not to mention worms, centipedes, ants, beetles, and other scavengers of the soil. Do you really want to destroy all that just by tilling?

8. I am a peace lover. There is nothing as peaceful as the sound of the waves, the silence of the star filled night sky, the breath of the cool breeze, or the sight of a flower slowly opening.

9. I am quick to cause destruction. Volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, drought, wildfires all come quickly and many times without warning.

10. I am a lover of all living things. Please help all things live to their fullest potential. I will be forever thankful to you and reward you with beauty and bounty.

So there you have it, right from Mother Nature herself!

If you want to find Earth Day Events in your area, or to pledge your "Act of Green" go to Earth Day 2011's "A Billion Acts of Green" website and also check my "Acts of Green" post at Wildlife Garden.

For many more wonderful posts on what gardeners from around the globe are doing to help our planet earth, please visit Jan Huston Doble's website "Thanks for today" and see the Sustainable Living Project 2011

May your Earth Day (and year) be filled with the beauty and bounty of nature. Every Day should be Earth Day and every little bit we can do helps!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Journey to Native Plants

Finding this native beauty out in the wild 
makes you want to plant it in your yard.
But will it grow there, and is it beneficial to your area?

There's so much talk about native plants versus ornamentals these days. Which is better, why we should care, how do we plant them, where do we get them? These are all questions asked by gardeners all around the globe, and in many cases there are no easy answers. Sometimes, it's so overwhelming that the easiest way to deal with it is not to deal with it at all. But if we step back and think about all of the good reasons for natives, many of us will see that stepping into that new realm is well worth the journey. The trip doesn't have to happen overnight either, it can be a long, slow stroll from the ornamental "park" to the native "wilderness".  Once you get to the wilderness, you'll wonder why you took so long to get there.

This cactus is native to my area and grows nicely in my gardens.
It needs more care though than other non-native plants, 
and provides little for pollinators. It's also prickly and somewhat 
dangerous to work around. So, is it the best choice?

This bed of Creeping Phlox is also in my gardens. It's not native
to my area, but provides food for many types of pollinators, cover
for beetles, roly-poly bugs and other insects, shades the ground,
and conserves moisture. Should I remove it because it's not
a native? Good question, sure to bring on discussions!

There are many "tour guides" to help you on your journey. Books, societies, presentations, classes and websites all have enormous amounts of information to map out your route. Not to mention your neighbors, friends and family who already have done some of the legwork for you. I fall into several of these categories, and write with a wonderful group of nature loving, wildlife gardeners at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. We love natives, but at the same time recognize that it is in fact a journey, not a 100 yard dash to get there.

Taking a hike among native plants usually brings about a strong
reaction one way or another. It's helpful to remember to take away 
images of what you see, and then apply some of them to your garden

So what are some of the day trips to take before you make the long journey to native land? Many of them are easy and help you glimpse what's possible in your own yard:

  • Visit an open space near your house. This can be a formal open space with trails, signs and helpful maps, or simply a uninhabited area that's wild. When you get there, notice what grows where and how the different plants support pollinators, birds and animals. What types of soils do you see? How much sun is there? Does this resemble your yard?
  • Take a class. There are many classes available that give you an introduction to native plants and natural ecosystems. You don't need a formal education in horticulture or botany to enjoy learning about the basics. Who knows, you might enjoy it so much you want to learn more.
  • Visit a yard near you that has something other than lawn and ornamentals. Depending on where you live, this might take a bit of time to find, but you'll be surprised at how gracious most gardeners are when asked about their gardens. The most they can say is "no" and then you move on to the next one.
  • Get a group of your friends together and visit a park. Take lots of pictures and bring them back to have a discussion on what it would take to implement some of the wonders of nature in your yards. Group gardening makes tasks go quicker, you can purchase things in bulk, and bouncing ideas off others helps you with creativity. 
  • Most importantly, don't beat yourself up about not having native plants in your gardens. Just thinking about planting more of them is a start. Planting for pollinators, wildlife and nature doesn't mean an all or nothing commitment. I have many ornamentals in my gardens which happily thrive side-by-side with my natives. Both types are chosen for their positive contributions to pollinators, their non-aggressive nature, and their ability to grow in a sustainable gardening environment.
These rose hips come from a Morden Centennial Rose, not native but it
provides food for animals, flowers for pollinators, and beauty for me.
The clincher is that it's hardy to -30 degrees F, important at 7300'.

Now that I've given you a few ideas, I hope you will take the first steps on your journey into the land of native plants, and if you need a guide I would be honored to help you get there! Because just like you, my native plant journey is far from over. I just need to find more room in my gardens, or get rid of some ornamentals.

If you'd like to join in some discussions between native and non-native fans, please join my good friend Carole Browne over at Ecosystem Gardening.  She explains the plusses so much better than I ever could and I look to her expertise as much as I can.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Should it Stay or Should it Go?

It's hard to imagine just by looking at the picture
 that this garden area in winter 
is a beautiful place in the summer and fall.

In mid-summer, this same area is filled with flowers,
insects, birds, and other wildlife.

In the fall, the garden is filled with beautiful shades 
of golds, oranges, yellows and greens

Early March is hard on a mountain gardener like myself. The weather is usually teasing me with its 50 to 60 degree days, lots of clear blue skies and warming sunshine. The snow melts, the ground looks nice and moist, and sometimes even a few plants show some new signs of life. March is that time of year when I look at the gardens and think about how to make them better. Not only from a design standpoint, but from a wildlife, ecological and sustainable standpoint as well. As I look at the various areas and plants in the gardens, I ask myself the question "Should it stay or should it go?"

All of the Vinca in this area under the deck will be removed 
this spring. The soil will be enriched with compost and manure, 
and the area replanted with a few herbs for my 
Dragonfly Dew botanicals and blends.

I have a hard time getting rid of plants, even those that might not be doing all that well in their current locations. Unless it's dead, a plant living in my gardens usually gets a year or two to try and improve its performance before it's given a one-way ticket to the compost heap.  Sometimes I try a new location in the yard or occasionally I'll divide the plant to see if the poor thing needs rejuvenating.  I know that to most people they're "just plants", but I feel a sense of guilt if I don't at least try a few things first before uprooting them from their home.

This is another area that will get re-worked in the spring.
It's filled with Lavender, Agastaches, Lilies, Russian Sage,
Ribbon Grass and a few other things.  Most of it will stay,  
but the "Wine & Roses"Weigela is definitely out of here 
as well as the Ribbon Grass.

In the summer this same garden is filled with color 
and hummingbirds and requires almost no supplemental watering.

So how can you make it easier on yourself when deciding what to ditch and what to keep?  Some of the things to think about include:

  • Does the plant still do what you want it to do in terms of color, form and texture, growing requirements and ecosystem benefits?
  • Does the plant require too much upkeep in exchange for looking pretty?
  • Could you replace the plant with a native that has the same form, color or texture?
  • If you redo an area, what will you do with the plants that you remove?  Can they be used somewhere else in your yard, or given away to another gardener?  If they're invasive just get rid of them!
  • What types of wildlife do you want to attract to your yard?  Considering this before buying new plants will help you attract what you want. Visit us at Wildlife Garden where we have hundreds of posts with information to help you make informed choices.
Now that I've shown you some examples and given you some ideas, start thinking about what should stay and what should go in your nature loving gardens!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What Gardening for Nature Teaches Me

Everything's idea of a perfect house is not the same.

I've been gardening for a very long time now, and although many people consider me to be an "expert" I still think of my time in the gardens as new experiences.  Each time a garden is visited, something has changed, no matter if it's been 1 hour, 1 day or 1 season since I've been there.  Gardens and nature are so alive and although some might think they're stagnant or boring without their pretty blooms I relish seeing them for all they give to us.  Thinking about this, I've asked myself "What does Gardening for Nature Teach Me?" There are so many things, but I think the images below give you the best answers:

All visitors are welcome, even the scary ones.  By learning about them, 
they are seen for what wonderful benefits they bring to the gardens.

That just like humans, all living beings are so dependent on 
clean, fresh water for drinking, cleaning and health.

That gardens and yards can be beautiful without using artificial fertilizers, 
herbicides or pesticides, and that nature takes great care of itself.

That clean, fresh air should be a right for all living things, 
people, plants, insects, animals and the planet.

That native plants as well as ornamentals provide food for pollinators
at the same time as being beautiful in the gardens.

That choosing the right plant for the right place means
less water used, no fertilizer needed, and strong 
healthy plants for the gardens.

That Mother Nature teaches her children well, showing them 
how to recycle, reuse and repurpose.  We can learn so much
just by observing.

That creating places to grow doesn't mean we have to plant in rows, 
as this Vegetable Garden at one of 
my client's house shows so beautifully.

That nature is beautiful in all stages of it's life, 
even when it's returning to the earth.

That so many events in nature are fleeting, so we are 
privileged to experience them. Enjoy each and every one!

That I love being out in nature and teaching others how to garden. 
I wouldn't give this opportunity up for anything!

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