Saturday, April 30, 2011

April is Poetry Month 2011: "Segovia's Every Tree in Its Shadow"

This is poetry month and it shouldn't go by without ackowledgement, since it is the poets who from earliest times have most celebrated our deep connection with the natural world. Here is a poem by Mexican poet Francisco Segovia that I like.

First in English,

Every Tree in Its Shadow

Every tree in its shadow
shelters a different god.
In its uplifted solitude
it rocks him, whispers to him,
confides its secrets in him.

Every tree in its shadow
makes foliage from a faith
that wasn't born with him
and won't come to an end.

Every tree in its shadow feels
the depth of the immaterial
that men also feel
when they watch children from a distance.

And every once in awhile,
when it clouds up they learn
that a deeper and vaster shadow
shelters them too,
and rocks them and whispers to them
as it rains.

Translators Don Share and Cesar Perez

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Earth Day Reading Project: A Blog Meme

Earth Day is all about taking time to consider what is our place in the biotic community and how to improve our relationship with the living earth. This year, as part of a month of activities on and off line, I am taking part in the Earth Day Reading Project,  a meme begun by The Sage Butterfly in which the blogger is to "list at least three books that inspired you to perform any sustainable living act or inspired you to live green, and then tell us why they inspired you." Jean P. from Jean's Garden tagged me, and I'm only too happy to comply. The only difficulty is choosing just a few books to write about and recommend.

In her delightful autobiographical novel about rural England, Lark Rise to Candleford, Flora Thomson describes how she learned, when asked her favorite flower or author, to say, "besides the rose…" or "after Shakespeare…" Thus it is with books. When asked about books that have influenced me to live a green, gardening life, I must say, like nearly every other imaginative young girl who became a gardening woman, "besides The Secret Garden…" but so it is.

The books I've selected for the Earth Day Reading Project are classics. There are excellent reasons why books become classic and enduring, such as profound content expressed in great prose. Each of the following I read at certain pivotal points in my life as a child, adolescent and young adult and have returned to since. Each changed my life by changing the way I saw and continue to see the world, which resulted in changing the way I lived and continue to live.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We Need More Native Plants in Our Parks

As I've taken walks in nearby parks this spring I've gotten so aggravated on behalf of the birds and pollinators that I've sent an opinion piece to a local paper. Trees and grass alone may be great for humans, but don't suffice for non-human members of the biotic community. Such public spaces are what I call "faux green." You can read the piece here at the Wednesday Journal.

Planting native trees, flowers, and (especially) shrubs in parks and other public spaces is one of the best ways any community can improve its green infrastructure and improve ecosystem health. Of course that also means no pesticides.

Many cities and towns have gotten this message and are actively planning green spaces that support birds and pollinators and other wildlife. A good source for urban wildlife habitat news and information is The Metropolitan Field Guide. I like the MFG's Facebook page, too--many good links.

How are the parks in your neighborhood? Are they completely anthropocentric, or do they support biodiversity?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In Praise of Native Shrubs

Prairie rose (Rosa setigera)
One of the best things any gardener can do is plant a shrub—or two or three or four. From a design point of view, as woody plants, shrubs help form the structure of a garden, and are an essential component of the layered garden—the middle layer between trees and shorter plants. There’s nothing like a mixed shrub border to screen unsightly views, provide color, and form a backdrop for flowers and grasses.

Many people think of a shrub, or a row of shrubs, or hedge, as a place holder, usually a row of non-native, nursery-industry boxwoods, yews, Japanese privet, or the like, possibly with a couple of Japanese barberry or euonymus for color or as accents. We’ve all seen this. In common practice, hedges and bushes are given crew cuts in spring with electric or gas hedge trimmers—tools I sometimes wish had not been invented (see my post “Power Down”): it’s too easy to do too much damage, whether in the interest of expediency, or misguided aesthetics. Why should we make shrubs, with their complex, individual shapes, conform to our simplified notions of squared-off order?

Wise pruning is a subtle art. Someone once said, “ten men with shovels can do well in a week, what one man with a backhoe can do badly in a day.” I say one or two persons with good sharp loppers, hedge trimmers and pruners—wielded mindfully, at the proper time, in accordance with the shrub’s growth habits—can do well in however-long-it-takes, what a “landscaping crew" can never do.

A healthier concept of a shrub would be: a usually-native woody plant whose roots stay involved in the complex soil ecosystem for years, helping to stabilize the soil and manage water; whose branches provide shelter for birds; whose leaves may be larval food for pollinators while conducting photosynthesis, and help build the soil when they fall and decay; whose flowers offer, besides beauty, pollen and nectar to pollinators; whose fruits offer food for birds, small mammals—and us. Such an entity deserves respect.

Everyone living in an urban area, if at all possible, should plant, not a single-species hedge but a mixed shrub border. Using several varieties enhances biodiversity while offering more interest to the eye. If your yard is small, even one or two thoughtfully-placed shrubs will enliven the place. And not just any shrubs, but shrubs native to their own region that offer the full panoply of ecosystem services.

Most garden centers offer a limited number of non-native species said to be suitable for a large number of situations. Deciding to go native requires more care to make sure you are choosing species that won't outgrow their spot, and that are adapted to the light, soil and moisture conditions of your yard and garden. The best place to get them would be from a nursery that specializes in native plants. The proprietors are experts, passionate and knowledgeable about their subject, not only about the plants but the ecosystem as well. They can offer good advice about what shrubs might be appropriate to your locale and specific garden situation.

As a gardener with an interest in design, I feel native shrubs, placed in a border where they are allowed to express their shrubby natures and perform as full, functioning parts of the ecosystem, are wholly beautiful. Not only that, but they help the gardener garden in his or her local, regional style, avoiding the McLandscape look. And if you can beat the robins to the serviceberries, you can make some tasty jam.

Resources: My two favorite nurseries for shrubs in my region are Prairie Moon, which ships healthy, bare-root stock, and Possibility Place, which you call and then go pick up your container-grown or bagged stock. Both are reputable, reasonably priced and sell all natives all the time.

Related Posts:
An Excellent, Timeless Book
The Three Best Things to Do for Birds in Your Backyard