Rules of Thumb, 30x30, and the Laws of Nature

Spring Landscape (Rain), A. Krehbiel My mother had a commonplace book in which she recorded, by hand, in beautiful cursive, proverbs, sayings, and quotes that struck her as interesting, thought provoking, or wise. I also love sayings, and quotes, and mantras, but mostly I’ve collected rules of thumb, those short pithy statements that condense ways of dealing with life on earth in the same way that proverbs give advice on how to behave in prudent, trouble-avoiding ways.  Rules of thumb exist for every field of human endeavor. There are the general ones, such as the 80% rule, or Pareto Principle, that gets applied in sometimes surprising ways—"eighty percent of every thing is trash,” someone will say, or another will say that “80% of your output comes from 20% of your efforts,” for example. The 80/20 ratio is useful in all sorts of contexts. For example, in a perennial garden, the general rule (backed up by scientific evidence) is that about 75-80% of the plants should be native (lo

Free Plants, Conservation and Reconciliation Ecology

As I've mentioned before, my husband and I have been helping pay college tuition. This, coupled with our ecological lifestyle, has led us to go beyond frugal into the land of thrifty, close, parsimonious, and cheap when it comes to personal expenditures. So an opportunity to get free plants does not pass unnoticed.

Now sadly, I'm something of a plant snob. With increasing ecological education has come increasing pickiness. It's not just any orphan mass-produced Impatiens or Petunia I'll bring home. Oh no, these days it's got to be native and preferably unusual. (I do have annuals in pots, but that's for another post.)

When I found out about Native Seed Gardeners last year, I got on it. Native Seed Gardeners is a collaboration between Citizens for Conservation of Barrington, Friends of Spring Creek, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Audubon Chicago Region--and home gardeners.

Here's the deal: volunteers collect wild seed of rare plants from CFC and forest preserve property, folks at the Chicago Botanic Garden propagate it, and the tiny plants get distributed to home gardeners to nurture and grow. Because they are perennials, the plants mostly don't flower the first year, and in fact look pretty pitiful while developing their root systems. The second year they generally flower and set seed. A few may take longer. Then we gardeners collect the seed and return it to CFC for reseeding 3,910 acres at Spring Creek Forest Preserves.

                                                     Photo from Friends of Spring Creek Forest Preserves

This year I got: four prairie species--Stiff Aster (Aster ptarmicoides),
Cream False Indigo (Baptisia leucophaea), Prairie Cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta), Prairie Violet (Viola pedatifida); and one woodland species, White Lettuce, or Lion's Foot (Prenanthes alba). Photos are in order of mention.

These are all fairly rare: not likely to be seen at a local garden center and not that often out in the field. There are mail-order outfits in the Midwest where you can order the seed, but none to my knowledge in Illinois; and of course in restoration, local provenance is very important.

I'm looking forward to caring for these plants, to observing and taking notes on how they grow, and to harvesting and sending back the seed. It's a great way to add biodiversity to my garden while aiding a local conservation effort. It's also a good example of reconciliation ecology in action. For me that's about as good as it gets. I don't know if this kind of project is taking place in other regions, but I hope so.

Flower photos are from Native Seed Gardeners and Dr. John Hilty's excellent Illinois Wildflowers. Both sites are well worth a visit.


Anonymous said…
Dear Adrian, I do not consider this to be at all a mean way of collecting plants. Far from it, you are custodians for the nation and for future generations. Or something of that nature!

Here in the UK we have something similar, The National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens [NCCPG] and as a member it is possible, amongst many other activities, to take part in a seed exchange each year.
Unknown said…
What a fantastic way of propagating rare natives! Brilliant. Hmmm, wonder if there is a similar system anywhere in the mid-Atlantic. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said…
Adrian, What a great program! It seems like a good model for organizations in other regions to follow. -Jean
Edith Hope, it seems logical that the UK, with its ancient history of landscape management and gardening would have such an organization.

Thomas, if there is one, let me know. I'd be interested to hear about it.

Jean, perhaps there's such an effort where you live?
That sounds like a very interesting program! It's hard to find native plants in most local nurseries. Usually you have to go to a specialized nursery that's rather out of the way. I'll have to see if there's a similar program in Tennessee.
Ginny said…
What a fantastic program! I'm sure all of us would like to see similar programs in our areas.
The plants are beautiful!
garden girl said…
I think it's a wonderful program Adrian. This is my second year participating. I didn't get any additional plants this year - the trip to Barrington was more than my schedule would allow. One of the plants - hawkweed, bloomed last year, and it was a thrill being able to send them all the seeds.

Thanks for the comment on my blog today. It's always neat to find another Chicago-area garden blogger. I'll be happy to add you to my blogroll.
Dave, Thanks for stopping by. I believe there are a couple of online nurseries you can order plants from. If you do find a program, let me know. I hope there are other programs like this in the U.S.

Ginny, I agree about their beauty, though they aren't showy, like so many hybrids.

garden girl, Thanks for putting me on your blogroll. Chicago garden bloggers unite!