Monthly Archives: February 2010
Grow flowers inside. That is my favorite winter sport. Once
or twice a winter, I’ll bundle up and enjoy the barren, beautiful white
landscape, but it’s just not my thing. There are ways to enjoy the cold months
that don’t include actually needing to be outside.
All this being said, I like winter sometimes. I’m actually
glad not to have the outside garden to worry about, and I think fireplace
inserts are among the most ingenious technological advances yet conceived by
man. Nonetheless, I need always to garden and feel that forcing bulbs is as
good as it gets in February.
The fun part is that hyacinth cultivars force so
Posted by Elizabeth Licata on February 14, 2010 at 5:00 am. This post has 5 responses.
differently, and that some tazetta
cultivars are so close to the fresh scent of their narcissus relatives in
spring. Anyway, it’s gardening.
Shut Up and Dig
Gardening. Snow. These are words that I rarely use
together. During late November through early March, we have winter weather,
often including snow. In fact, we hope for snow cover, because it provides a
protective blanket against cold winter temps and winds. I reinforce that
blanket with bags of leaves for my macrophylla hydrangeas, which form buds in
But it seems that many of my fellow gardeners in the Southeast
may need to be thinking about snow for the first time in a while. And my good
friends in the Mid-Atlantic are already suffering, big time, struggling with
city plows that aren’t hefty enough and a general lack of equipment and
Well, here’s some advice from those of us in the snowbelt
who have lived through these conditions and worse, for many years:
•make sure you have a few six packs and bottles of wine
•if you’re stuck, the best thing is to rock the car back and
forth before forging ahead. But even better: leave it where it is and get
Finally, enjoy! Believe it or not, blizzards can be fun. I’ve spent
Posted by Elizabeth Licata on February 13, 2010 at 5:00 am. This post has 21 responses.
many wonderful holidays unable to travel or leave the house. Maybe that's the
way holidays were meant to be.
I garden mainly because dinner is very important to me. It has to taste great and be life-affirming. And if you want either one, a vegetable garden is the way to go.
At various points in my life, my nearest and dearest have been unsettled to discover how serious I am about the evening meal. When my husband and I were first married, he couldn't believe that I didn't consider a sandwich an adequate dinner when it was his turn to cook. He was sincerely shocked at the degree of poutiness that resulted when there was no hot meal in the offing or he tried to use paper napkins instead of cloth. Twenty-three years later, he's mostly in my camp, though not yet on the cloth napkin front.
Here, in this wonderful five year-old Discover piece about the blubber- and meat-rich Inuit diet, a woman named Patricia Cochran offers the best explanation I've ever read about why dinner is important, particularly if you are deeply involved in the production process. Cochran, an Inupiat from Northwestern Alaska, works for a group that
supports research on the impact of environmental issues like global warming on native cultures. She says:
Posted by Michele Owens on February 12, 2010 at 8:52 am. This post has 10 responses.
In our culture,the connectivity between humans, animals, plants,
the land they live on, and the air they share is ingrained in us from
You truthfully can’t separate the way we get our
food from the way we live. How we get our food is intrinsic
to our culture. It’s how we pass on our values and knowledge to the
young. When you go out with your aunts and uncles to hunt or to gather,
you learn to smell the air, watch the wind, understand the way the ice
moves, know the land. You get to know where to pick which plant and
what animal to take.
It’s part, too, of your development
as a person. You share food with your community. You show respect to
your elders by offering them the first catch. You give thanks to the
animal that gave up its life for your sustenance. So you get all the
physical activity of harvesting your own food, all the social activity
of sharing and preparing it, and all the spiritual aspects as well. You certainly don’t get all that, do you, when you buy
prepackaged food from a store.
That’s why some of us here in
Anchorage are working to protect what’s ours, so that others can
continue to live back home in the villages. Because if we
don’t take care of our food, it won’t be there for us in the future.
And if we lose our foods, we lose who we are.
Lest anyone feel compelled to remind me that this is not a food blog, there will be tarragon, a useful if mangy-looking plant, mentioned by the end of the post.
Last Sunday night, I threw the first dinner party I've thrown in many a moon. I wanted to make a curried mayonnaise for boiled shrimp with drinks.
Mayonnaise is made with raw egg. There's always a danger of salmonella, so frankly, I'd rather make it with a egg produced by a chicken whose diet largely consists of the organic and grass-fed scraps from my table. Also, the quality of the egg matters in mayonnaise. It's just got a more jellylike consistency when made with one of my hens' rich, orange-yolked eggs.
The only problem? My chickens molted in early November and stopped laying. Nature intends this. Commercial egg factories speed up the process cruelly by depriving molting birds of food and water.
Then, even as my hens grew a nice lofty set of feathers for winter, they were still not laying. Nature intends this hiatus, too, in the low-light days. You can get hens to lay through winter with artificial light. But I don't bother.
Still, the days are getting longer. I've been noticing buds on the trees and thinking I could even do a little pruning. And I had a dinner party. So I went out and gave my three hens a stern talking to. "Ladies," I said. I have a carefully calibrated three hens. Just enough to produce sufficient eggs for a five-person family, without triggering much annoyance from the neighbors. "Time to get to it. I need an egg!"
That afternoon? The first egg of the season. My chickens are certainly the most cooperative–and some will argue, most useful–members of my household.
Put an egg in a blender. Blend. Then, slowly, allow corn oil to trickle onto the egg as it's whirring. (Olive oil won't do–too heavy.)
After about a cup of so of oil, you will notice that you've made an emulsion, which has paralyzed the blades. Stop adding oil at this point!
Pour in white vine vinegar or lemon juice to taste. Add a shallot for flavor. Add salt to taste, maybe a pinch of sugar, and a teaspoon or so of curry powder.
Pour into a bowl. I then like to add chopped tarragon, for its sweet licorice taste.
I think this would be excellent, also, as a dressing for chicken salad with peas. But don't tell my darling hens.
Posted by Michele Owens on February 12, 2010 at 3:52 am. This post has 19 responses.
Genevieve Schmidt over at North Coast Gardening posted this question several weeks ago. I'm a little late to the conversation, but here it is anyway, in case you didn't see it at the time:
Plants We'd Never Plant at Home, Part One:
I was gardening recently with one of my employees, and she groaned
in the middle of pruning a Mexican Feather Grass and said firmly, “I
will NEVER plant these things at my house. Never!”
not a bad plant – in fact, it’s fantastic – it has seasonal interest,
adds a sense of motion and life to a garden, and only needs pruning
once a year – plus it’s drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, and takes
seacoast wind with no problem. All of us landscapers use it and love it.
The problem is that those horrible, sticky seed-heads cling to our
clothes and taunt our washing machines, so we end up with itchy grass
bits on the inside of our clothes for weeks! (I just pulled one out of
my bra a moment ago.)
It’s definitely on my list of great plants that I won’t put in my own garden.
It's an interesting question, isn't it? Are there plants that landscapers and garden designers use all the time, but would never use at home? And if so, why?
The conversation continues in Part Two, here.
There are some good reasons, obviously. I would imagine that most garden professionals have actual gardens at home, but that many of the jobs they do would more properly be called "landscaping" rather than gardens. ("landscaping" as opposed to "landscapes," a term that brings to mind an idyllic natural scene, not an assemblage of plants intended to cover the grounds in some aesthetic way.)
So of course you would rely upon the same workhorses for those landscaping jobs. You want something tough and durable that fills the space in a particular way.
And that makes sense when you're talking about, say, the courtyard at the dentist office. But what about gardens at people's homes? If a homeowner ends up with a yard full of plants that are dull or difficult to relate to in some way, are they ever going to have a meaningful relationship with their landscape?
Of course, not everyone wants to have a meaningful relationship with a landscape. I suppose there's nothing wrong with that. But it does seem curious to me. I know interior designers who are hired to choose art for their clients homes. I'm not any sort of art expert, but I couldn't imagine having a work of art hanging on my wall that I didn't have some sort of relationship to. Our house is filled with a hodgepodge of photographs and paintings and prints, and I can explain why we have every single one of them. Where we bought it, why we bought it, who made it, and so on. It's hard to imagine, say, walking a visitor into the dining room and not being able to explain what that etching of a castle in Europe is doing on the wall, other than the fact that the designer chose it to match the rug.
As I read through the comments on Gen's blog, I see one consequence of not really knowing what's in your garden:
Maribeth: I don’t hate many plants but boy do I hate
shearing. In Texas they love to turn everything into a meatball or a
lollipop. Heaven forbid that you allow it to have a natural shape. And
clients look at you like you’re crazy when you tell them some plants
actually have flowers or scent that their lawn guy or husband has been
cutting off with those power shears any time a little leaf growth
Anyway. I thought it was a fascinating discussion, and it was great to see so many landscapers and designers weigh in. Check it out.
Posted by Amy Stewart on February 11, 2010 at 5:21 am. This post has 21 responses.
Watch Someone Else Do It
Guest Rant by Ginny Stibolt, the Transplanted Gardener
I don't have cable and don't watch HGTV, except rarely on
other people's TVs. So maybe I've missed
some of the details, but it appears that the landscaping for their 2010 green
home in Plymouth, Mass. sets a bad example for their audience and the
homebuilders that they are trying to coach to be greener. http://www.hgtv.com/green-home
The house itself has some good green features and the neighborhood
is leaving much of the land undeveloped.
I love the Cape Cod and the Islands house designs and actually owned a
house on the Vineyard in a previous life.
But that landscaping is another story.
Here's their most recent snowy photo. Those long shadows of neighboring trees
indicate to me that this house site was carved out of a wooded area.
These earlier photos show that sod was laid around the pine
And we finally get back to their earliest photo showing the
massive footprint gouged into the landscape.
Here are some of the problems that I have with
large trees takes huge machines, which can't be green. Plus it looks like they've been dug from
mature forests, not tree farms. (It is
possible that these trees were dug from this site and then replanted, which
would lessen their footprint.)
I don't know what the success rate is for these monsters,
but recommended irrigation schedule for smaller transplanted trees depends on
irrigation schedules for planting trees:
- Each time you irrigate, it's best to water
with three gallons per inch trunk caliper (the diameter of the trunk at six
inches above the root ball of saplings). For example, use six gallons for a
two-inch caliper tree. Apply slowly, so all water soaks into the root ball.
- If a tree is two to four caliper
inches, the best practice is to water daily for one month; every other day for
the next three months; and after that water weekly until established.
- If a tree is more than four caliper
inches or if it's a palm, the best practice is to water daily for six weeks;
every other day for the next five months; weekly after that until established.
- After the initial period, continue to
supplement irrigation for your tree during drought conditions for at least a
year. Two or three is better, especially for larger trees.
Maybe the HGTV crew will irrigate the trees with enough
water for the months between now and when they give it away. But will the new owner carry on the
irrigation and will people watching this process on TV actually irrigate with
the large amount of water necessary for years to come? Wouldn't it be greener to plant more
reasonably sized trees? This would show
regular homeowners that patience and planning are part of creating a new
landscape. The old saw of planting the
largest trees you can afford has been shown to be false, because larger trees
have a much lower survival rate.
Wouldn't it have
been greener to leave a few groups of trees from the original landscape? Yes, the construction crew would have had to
avoid those areas and that might have caused some extra effort. Besides the time, energy and water required
for transplanting large trees: a) islands of the original soil and its
ecosystem would have been conserved; and b) groups of trees are more resistant
to wind and are more drought tolerant than single trees.
Pine trees love
acidic soil and lay down nice acidic pine needles. Turf grass hates all that acidity and the
shade. Forever raking pine needles from
turf is a maintenance nightmare. Showing
a turf area under pines as the ideal landscape perpetuates the lawn myth. I will give the landscapers some credit for
planting shrubs under the trees on the right side of the house along the
walkway (and that the walkway is made of permeable paving), but why put a line
of sod along the walkway. It'll be a
pain to care for and it won't do well there.
This type of instant landscaping sets false hopes and
expectations for regular homeowners and run-of-the-mill builders who try to
emulate these practices. It's much more
sustainable to leave more of the original landscape augmented by planting
smaller trees with greater chances of survival.
I think HGTV is setting a poor example in this case.
Posted by Susan Harris on February 10, 2010 at 9:37 am. This post has 18 responses.
University of Florida horticulture professor Ed Gilman
maintains the landscape plants website, with detailed and scientifically-proven
information on tree establishment with irrigation details, pruning and other
care of woody plants: http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody.
See especially all of the sections on tree establishment http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/establishment.shtml
, including on amount and frequency of irrigation after planting http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/irrigation2.shtml.
The website's called Let's Move – and it went live today. Pursuing the hot topic of school gardens, I naturally went first to the page about Healthier Schools but darn, didn't see anything about gardens. I did find this in the sidebar (oops):
What You Can Do in Your Scchool & Community
Thank you, anonymous government worker, for making me feel better about my own lapses from proofreading excellence.
Posted by Susan Harris on February 9, 2010 at 4:55 pm. This post has 7 responses.
Remember everyone's Passionate Defense of School Gardens after the idiotic attack on them in Atlantic Magazine? Well, we have an other angle on the problem from a teacher at Bancroft Elementary in DC, the school chosen to participate in Michelle Obama's famous garden. Her behind-the-scenes report reveals some embedded bureaucratic obstacles to school gardens – obstacles that aren't going away soon, even with Obama's new child-obesity initiative having its big kick-off today.
I bet our own Michele could weigh in on the subject – she's a school-garden volunteer herself – and the wonderful volunteer mentioned in the link above was profiled here on the Rant. I'm sure she could chronicle the frustrations of gardening at Bancroft School herself – if she weren't so nice.
Anybody else have experiences with school administrators supporting or not supporting gardens that you're at liberty to tell us about?
Posted by Susan Harris on February 9, 2010 at 6:30 am. This post has 10 responses.
Paul Tukey sent us the news in a comment, but it's important enough to upgrade to a post of its own.
Posted by Susan Harris on February 8, 2010 at 11:22 am. This post has 6 responses.
Today's Treehugger newsletter has a bonanza of on-topic articles – check 'em out.
Posted by Susan Harris on February 8, 2010 at 9:37 am. This post has 4 responses.
GardenRant edition. The whole newsletter is right here.
Urban Gardening on the Web
Sustainable Gardening on the Web
Posted by Susan Harris on February 8, 2010 at 1:44 am. This post has one response.
In the Garden
What does the success of Farmville – Facebook's most popular game application, with 75.2 million active users – tell us? That with no danger of back sprain or dirty fingernails, virtual farming is more appealing than the real thing? Maybe that people are looking for games that aren't about warfare?
I clearly don't get it but I know some of our readers are Farmvillers (I'm looking at you, Craig) and I'm hoping they'll enlighten us about this phenomenon.
Posted by Susan Harris on February 7, 2010 at 2:12 am. This post has 28 responses.
It's the Plants, Darling
If you have ANY inclination to appreciate bonsai, this wonderful piece by Adrian Higgins in the Washington Post might just make that happen.
I used to think of bonsai as a freakish avenue of gardening, but I dismissed
that notion years ago. A bonsai needs continual care and the artistic skills of
its owner; the tree repays the debt by becoming, literally, a model plant — a
grove of beech trees, a stately old maple, or a bleached, writhing juniper on
some imagined mountain top. For all the playacting, there is a deep and quiet
relationship between the plant and its caretaker, and isn't that what gardening
is all about?
And about a tree from Hiroshima:
I don't attach anthropomorphic qualities to vegetation, but just to be alone in
the quiet presence of this tree is moving, and one cannot help but feel
reverence for a venerable and palpable life force.
I know not everyone shares my love for this highly unnatural form of gardening, so the next time I need to explain it I'll just let Higgins speak for me.
Posted by Susan Harris on February 6, 2010 at 12:51 am. This post has 9 responses.
Even if you refused to eat them as a kid, even if your mother was too enlightened to try to strong-arm you into eating them, even if the supermarkets only rarely sell them, these food crops are worth including in a spring order:
1. Escarole. When I lived in Brooklyn 20 years ago, this was served in all the Italian restaurants, usually sauteed with garlic, pine nuts, and raisins. But homegrown is so much better than store-bought. I've tried lots of varieties, from ones whose head is the shape of a bath-mat to other ones with leaves so vertical and thin, they look like an upside-down mop. All wonderful.
2. Turnips. You have to be a little perverse to love the bitter flavor of these, and I am. I like varieties that are meant to be pulled at golf-ball size. In my short growing season, they are much more successful planted in mid-summer than in spring. Try Madhur Jaffrey's "Mughlai Lamb With Turnips" recipe.
3. Parsnips. They store beautifully all winter, and even sweeten up in the root cellar. Creamy-tasting, sugary and earthy at the same time, delicious, delicious, delicious.
4. Potatoes. If you think these are not worth the space, well, it's widely agreed that they are the most efficient of all crops, yielding the most calories per square foot, which is why the poor 19th century Irish planted them to the exclusion of everything else. Fresh-dug potatoes are so light and tasty, if you've never eaten one, you've never eaten a potato.
5. Currants. Absolutely beautiful bush, with leaves like tiny hands. Absolutely beautiful fruit, particularly the red, pink, and white varieties, which hang in clusters off the plant like beaded jewelry. Absolutely delicious tart taste. I have eight big bushes in the garden, and still, severe competition from the kids and the birds on these.
6. Parsley. As common as dirt. But curly parsley, homegrown, has an amazingly bright flavor.
Posted by Michele Owens on February 5, 2010 at 4:26 am. This post has 23 responses.
Lots of research suggesting that
Posted by Michele Owens on February 4, 2010 at 5:30 pm. This post has Comments Off on A Shady Lane.
My husband and I were supposed to pick up our new Prius yesterday. Ha!
We'd taken our time shopping for a car, too, after the leaf spring on my beloved old Isuzu SUV broke in early December.
Earlier this week, I was walking my daughter home from school and idly thought, "If we were Europeans, we wouldn't be buying a second car."
Of course, if we were Europeans, there would be excellent mass transit to every sleepy little village in the vicinity. But we're not. Still, we do live in a walkable city, albeit a small one of 25,000 people. We've been doing just fine over the last two months splitting one car between two adults, using the occasional taxi and a rental car once when my husband needed to travel for work.
I know about Europeans, because my mother is one. And when I first went to spend a summer with my Aunt Rose in Germany at the age of 11, I was shocked by the austerity of her life compared to the suburban splendor in which I lived.
Rose shared her ancient house with her in-laws. Actually, they shared the top floor. The bottom floor was broken into two apartments and rented out. Frugality ruled. There was no telephone in the house. There was one bathroom for seven people. There was only one car, and no competition for it, since Rose had never learned to drive. Rose did not have a closet full of clothes. She had housecoats for everyday, and for special occasions, a few superbly fitting dresses custom-made by a local dress-maker.
DId Rose feel as if her life were nunlike? Absolutely not! There was a giant vegetable garden full of gorgeous produce in the backyard. There was a beer garden in town for socializing, with bands and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. She had an amusing extended family, and my cousins regularly showed up unannounced in the afternoon for coffee and the excellent cakes she baked. Rose's husband Fritz was not only the handsomest man who ever lived, but also so dryly funny that he made us kids laugh our heads off.
In New Jersey, my family had two big luxury cars and a sprawling house with velvet couches. Rose, on the other hand, had some quality I'd seen very little of to that point. Let's call it happiness.
Despite the intervening 40 or so years, austerity is still the flavor of domestic life in Europe. The houses and apartments are small, utilitarian, under-decorated, impersonal. They use a fraction of the energy of our places. Appliances are not important. Clothes are important, but quality trumps quantity.
An interesting essay by Elizabeth Rosenthal in Yale Environment 360 argues that Europeans' greener lifestyles are explained not by a lack of interest in creature comforts, but a different definition of what comfort really means. She points out that in France, the per capita carbon footprint is a third of that in the United States. She doesn't mention nuclear power, which clearly explains part of the gap, but there are also fewer cars and smaller houses.
In France, they have excellent food and complicated sex lives. In the United States, we have granite countertops and whirlpool tubs and a steady rain of brown boxes from online vendors. You choose. Which group of amenities is more meaningful?
I think it's entirely possible that we Americans are at the beginning of a transition to a more austere, whirlpool-free, European-like domestic style. We've got severe economic problems. Thanks to an almost unbelievable lack of political leadership over the last ten years, we're doing nothing about our greenhouse gas emissions. Add in some spiking oil prices, possibly a continuing decline of our industrial base, and maybe a climate catastrophe or two, and we may well have to live far more simply in the near future than we do today.
Of course, gardeners are by definition wise about happiness. We'll probably bear up a lot better under enforced simplicity than, say, recreational golfers. We might even enjoy the lack of pressure to shop and consume (as long as nobody tries to tell us not to spend a fortune every season ordering bulbs from Brent & Becky's).
My husband and I called the Toyota dealer yesterday afternoon and explained that regarding the Prius, we've decided to just …wait. Not for trustworthy brakes. But for proof that we really need the car.
Posted by Michele Owens on February 4, 2010 at 4:27 am. This post has 34 responses.
Hey y'all–I'll be speaking at the Garden Club of Palm Beach on Wednesday, Feb 10 at 2:30. It's open to the public; get details here.
Then I'm off to Kansas City for three big days at the Metropolitan Lawn & Garden Show! Feb. 12-14. I'm there all three days. If you're in the area, stop by. Maybe I'll see you there!
Posted by Amy Stewart on February 3, 2010 at 10:45 am. This post has one response.
Everybody's a Critic
The General Services Administration building in Portland is getting itself a — well, a — one of these. You know, one of those 200 foot-tall green shag carpet things that you put on one side of your building and grow plants on. Those things.
It's part of the stimulus bill; it, along with other renovations to the building, will cost $133 million. The idea is that the plants shade the building in summer but die back (dropping the world's largest pile of leaves on that nice plaza, or somehow simply defoliating through evaporation?) during winter, letting light in.
Just don't ask me to deadhead it, that's all I say.
John McCain isn't so happy about it. The New York Times reported that he and Senator Coburn included it in a list of the worst stimulus projects in the bill. So I had to go find the report. You can read it here (this project is #2); I love the way this–uh, whatever it is–is described in McCain's report: "For now, agency officials expect to construct a type of vegetative skin—made of plants—on the exterior of the building, to help with heating and cooling costs."
Vegetative skin. Well, yes, it does sound kind of repulsive when you put it that way. Like pond scum, only on purpose.
Green wall! That's the term I was looking for. It's a green wall. Of course it is.
So what do we think of Portland's green wall? Anyone?
Oh, and by the way–in other news of interest to GardenRant readers: McCain is also not fond of a study researching the malt liquor and marijuana consumption of Buffalo residents (#17— help us out here, Elizabeth), a study on how honeybees learn (#29); a study on the impact of climate change on wildflowers in Colorado (#35); a study of ant colonies in Arizona (#50); a "talking water garden" at a wastewater treatment plant in Oregon (#64), and a grant to protect Michigan State University's insect collection from the ravages of carpet beetles (#82).
Here's one item in the stimulus bill that McCain and I can agree on. We are apparently spending $221,355 of taxpayer dollars on a study that will tell us why young men don't like to wear condoms.
Oh, honey. I'll give you the answer to that one for half the price. Just call me up and I'll whisper it in your ear.
Posted by Amy Stewart on February 3, 2010 at 5:27 am. This post has 20 responses.
Taking Your Gardening Dollar
The WINNERS ARE CHRIS C AND LIL NED. Thanks for playing and for all the fabulous glove stories. Some of them were real sagas. Fascinating!
Other gardeners are far pickier about their gloves than I
am. Aside from having progressed beyond the cheap cloth gloves you can buy by
the dozen, I mainly require simply that I have gloves. I do not enjoy running
my hands through dirt and getting it under my nails, and I really hate drying
out my hands from too much washing. Recently, I have been rotating three pairs
of heavy white leather/suede elbow-length gloves. I have a lot of grabby shrubs
and perennials and narrow spaces to squeeze through, so I like the protection,
and I like having three of them, so I always have a dry pair.
I also occasionally wear the colorful Mudd gloves and the
stylish Ethel gloves we were all given in Chicago. I like the Mudd ones—easy to
slip on and off—but they get holes in the fingers pretty quickly. So far the
Ethels have been used for indoor gardening tasks only. They do have reinforced
fingers, so we’ll see how they do outside this spring.
Recently, I was contacted by Womanswork,
a company that’s been mentioned here a few times, though I can’t see that we did a
giveaway. But so what if we did have one—here’s another one! Womanswork makes
gloves, hats, and other gardening gear. Their gloves have three distinctive
features: reinforced fingers and palms, a mesh insert for ventilation, and a
little metal carabiner (new word to me) hook that keeps the gloves together for storage.
I have two pairs to give away—a medium and a small, both the
Posted by Elizabeth Licata on February 2, 2010 at 4:48 am. This post has 54 responses.
color that you see above. If you'd like a pair, leave comments and please tell us about any new glove
discoveries you’ve made over the past year. I’ll choose from comments tomorrow at 11 am EST.
Ministry of Controversy
From Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science, Practical Applications, the hot-off-the-presses book edited and co-written by Linda Chalker-Scott, Linda's own chapter on native plants and introductions (never the loaded terms "alien" or "exotic") deserves some attention here on the Rant. That's because as much as we appreciate plant passions, we're also big fans of science, especially when it might just clear the air caused by all those passions.
So I'm quoting extensively in hopes that Linda's unemotional assessment will break through the relentless overgeneralizations about both native and nonnative plants, and bring some civility to the topic. Oh, and maybe reduce the "exotic guilt" about growing, say, hostas or daylilies that we're seeing mentioned with growing frequency. (You want guilt-inducing? Grow up in Richmond, VA hiding your mother's maiden name – Sherman – and your family connection to the Atlanta-burner himself. Then go to college in the North and be held to account for, well, all of Southern history. Interesting times!)
So let's starting with definition of "native". According to Linda, that here-before-the-Europeans thing isn't as clear-cut as we think. For example, the Ginkgo biloba is considered an Asian plant, yet its fossils can be found in Washington State, where it grew millions of years ago. Concludes the good hort doctor: "Defining a plant as native based on what existed in a landscape before European immigration ignores the influence that earlier human cultures, animals, natural forces, and natural selection have on plant introductions and distribution." And " This is not a rational approach to understanding the dynamic character of landscapes either in natural or urban areas."
Benefits and Drawbacks of Native Plants (Ever seen that header before?)
She lists the well-known benefits (see any source on the subject), but also the missing caveats in almost all discussions of native plants: "Unfortunately, many of us live in areas that no longer resemble the native landscapes that preceded development…The combination of urban soil problems, increased heat load, reduced water, and other stresses mean that many native species do not survive in urban landscapes. … When site conditions are such that many native plants are unsuitable, the choice is either to have a restricted plant palette of natives or expand the palette by including nonnative species."
Landscape Uses for Native Plants
For parks and public areas that are minimally managed, Chalker-Scott recommends selecting natives that "are easily planted and require little care once established." Not just any native plant.
And in developed areas: "Commercial and industrial sites and planting strips along streets and highways receive little to no care and are usually environmentally hostile and unsuitable for many natives. In addition to the typical problems associated with urban environments, these areas may be overrun with nonnative, invasive plant species, contaminated with pesticides and other pollutants, and contain small root zones with little available water or nutrition. So few native species can tolerate these conditions that we must consider supplementing our plant palette with better adapted, nonnative species."
Benefits of Introduced Plants (Again, ever seen that?) Italics added.
- "There are practical, functional, ecological, and aesthetic reasons for using introduced species. From a practical standpoint, you may not be able to find many native plant species at your local nursery. If you limit yourself to a sparse selection, you decrease the potential biodiversity of your landscape."
- "Introduced plants can provide functions that perhaps native species are unable to do in your landscape of interest." Functions like removing pollutants from the soil, or fixing nitrogen, as clover does. "The nature of many urban sites is such that native plants are unable to establish and survive", and nonnatives have proven in many cases to provide these functions, including providing for wildlife.
- "Similarly, native species that are locally extinct can be replaced by nonnative members of the same genus and thus increase the biodiversity of the landscape."
- "Finally, there are the aesthetic benefits of broadening your plant palette. Though it may seem less important from a scientific standpoint, in fact studies have shown that attractive landscapes can improve human health and well-being, to the extent that healing gardens are now common in many medical facilities." (And can I add – aesthetic benefits often mean turning homeowners into passionate gardeners like me who've filled their yards with environmentally beneficial and sustainable plants.)
Drawbacks of Introduced Plants
Here she lists again the usual warnings, starting with the chance of invasiveness. There's also the chance that imports could contain nonnative pests, parasites, or disease – stowaways – an outcome she calls unlikely because of quarantine and inspection by the USDA.
The last drawback is the possibility that the introduced plant doesn't have genetic resistance to local pests and diseases. That's one more reason reason to avoid buying brand new introductions – whether imports or hybrids or whatnot. Because you never know – the latest and greatest could turn out to be another Windows Millennium Edition.
Click here for info about the book and how to order.
Posted by Susan Harris on February 1, 2010 at 5:20 am. This post has 27 responses.