Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rambling around the Web

Three weeks ago Diana at Elephant's Eye posted Ten Fine Blogs on her fine blog. Inspired by that post, but not nearly so good at manipulating internet images, I have done sort of the same thing, only different.

So here goes, twelve sites, not all gardening related.

Before we start, I'd like to commend to you the blogs featured on my sidebar; some post often, some don't, but all are worth visiting for one reason or another.

Blotanical is a network that feels like home. When I started blogging last March, experienced Blotanical bloggers made sure I felt welcomed. Now, every so often I go and welcome new Blotanical bloggers.

Here are two popular Blotanical blogs:

I visit Town Mouse and Country Mouse  in California to see completely different terrain and native plants than I'm used to in Illinois.

I only visited Ink and Penstemon, a fine combination of pictures and writing by Susan in the Pink Hat, for the first time the other day. She gardens in Utah. I'll return frequently.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Let's Talk About Bees

Buttersafe, January 4, 2011
Our bee problem is quite the topic of conversation these days--at social gatherings, in meetings, over coffee. Everyone agrees we should save the bees, though many of us think of them in the abstract as little buzzing yellow flying things, maybe as cartoon characters, or as creatures that exist to help us.

I could say, and have—for example at Christmas dinner when apologizing for my not-quite-stellar pumpkin bread—that last summer the CSA grower from whom I get my produce planted five hundred pumpkin plants and only got three pumpkins (so I had to buy canned, rather than processing my own). No pollination, he thought. And just the other day an acquaintance mentioned that friends who live in a tony suburb north of Chicago had, also last summer, had their own pollination troubles in their vegetable garden. Why? she wondered.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Non-native Plants I Won't Deep Six

Shirley Temple Peony
Usually, I'm singing the praises of native plants, and these days, any plants invited to reside in the yard--besides things like herbs, vegetables and potted annual flowers--are native to the Chicago region. I love native plants: they are exciting in themselves and in how they strengthen ecosystem connections. However, plenty of non-natives stick around, plants that came with the house, or as presents or that I put in long ago when I thought gardens were supposed to be primarily non-native and as English as possible.

Because my general attitude is not to harm living plants if they fit in with the garden ecosystem, I don't entirely sympathize with those who, after their natives-only epiphany, go and rip out all the offending exotics and completely redo the whole garden--it's a little too baby and bathwater for me. Better to evaluate on a case by case basis, and to make substitutions as opportunity occurs. For example, a climbing rose I loved died of rose rosette disease. Naturally I wasn't going to put in another hybrid rose, especially in that spot--but now I'm looking for a place to put a prairie, or Illinois, rose. In late summer or early fall you'll see me smother mulching a little more grass to make room for more native shrubs, forbs and grasses (described here).

Yes, I do draw the line at invasive species, many of which are dangerous to native ecosystems and plant communities--to have bishop's goutweed is to battle it, to see garlic mustard is to pull it out, and buckthorn exists to be chopped. In my garden, gone are some euonymous bushes, and I'm still working (forever) on the goutweed, old-fashioned orange daylilies, lily of the valley and English ivy. Unfortunately, many growers still produce and nurseries still sell all kinds of plants they just plain shouldn't. And don't forget, some natives can also wreak havoc in the garden: no old field goldenrod for me, thank you very much.

Yet there are plenty of non-natives that I'm not such a purist as to take out just 'cuz, though I wouldn't buy them now.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hummingbird Facts and Nature Rants

Right now I'm finishing a piece about making a backyard hummingbird habitat for Way of the Wilds magazine. The more I learn about hummingbirds, the more amazing they seem--although one could say this about almost any part of wild nature one studies--take puffins, for example: I just learned today that they spend much time during their first summer of maturity digging burrows with their large bills and webbed feet and often don't raise young until the next year. They spend their winters at sea. See this article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But I digress. In the Midwest we have, not the pelagic puffin, but the ruby-throated hummingbird, whose wings move in a figure eight, enabling it to fly backwards, as well as up, down and sideways, not to mention hover and swoop. Whose young are larger than their 3.5-inch parents; whose iridescent feathers are not colored by pigments but contain crystal-like cells that break down light and emit certain wavelengths; who must visit a thousand blossoms a day for nectar that they suck with their long, grooved tongues; who snap flying insects right out of the air. Worth encouraging in the garden, I'd say.

Ill Nature is a book of most excellent, powerful rants by Joy Williams (Vintage, 2002). She has an ability to gather her moral outrage at what American culture is doing to wild nature and hone it into fine dense prose.  Well worth the reading, best in bits, like reading a book of serious lyric poems--these essays need air and reflection time between them. I read the book in one great rush and then woke that night feeling the pity and terror of it all and that I must do something more to help. Thanks to Benjamin Vogt at The Deep Middle who recommended it.

Related Posts:
Hummingbird Sightings
An Excellent, Timeless Book