Friday, October 28, 2011

Recent Inspiration

You might want to get a cup of coffee or tea.  This is much longer than I usually post.  I often wonder what percentage of plants used in popular urban and suburban landscaping are natives?  In my wanderings around our city and neighborhoods, it seems like there are no native plants whatsoever.  Non native evergreens, invasive burning bush, imported cultivars, and domestically hybridized plants are everywhere.  I cringe as I see the preponderance of non native plants consuming our yards.   Isn't anyone paying attention to what we've done?   Isn't it obvious that we've tried to "beautify" our yards at the expense of our vitally important ecosystems?   The necessity of using natives is so absolutely logical to me now, I easily become depressed when faced with the sheer magnitude of exotic and hybridized plants used everywhere.  Now that I've learned that landscaping with native plants is absolutely essential to our own well being, I get discouraged.  But wait a minute.  Get a grip.  Hey, until only recently I was part of this big problem.  It's taken me several years of obsessive study to finally adopt this culture.  And still I struggle with giving up some of the non-native plants I've purchased and nurtured.   So I've got no right to look askew at other yards and judge.  Having been helped by many others to understand and accept the importance of native plants, I have to stand back and realize that education is the key to helping others adopt this philosophy.  I've got to help in this education.  Still, some recent experiences encourage me. 

Simpson Garden Native planting
- Phase I
On my way home from Bowling Green one day, I stopped to check on the native plant bed installed at Simpson Garden Park last year.   After only one short year, all the plants had grown and filled in the space allowed for them.  I was thrilled to see this rapid progress.  I emailed Dan Parrat, a fellow Master Gardener, who works for the BG park system coordinating the volunteer activity at the various city parks.   I believe Dan too is a recent convert to the importance of natives.   I offered my help to maintain  this public display of native plants.  He quickly took me up on the offer.  A few weeks later, I popped in again to take another look.  Dan was there and tossed me into his golf cart.  We were off to the back native garden.  He physically walked me through the layout of a five year plan to expand the native garden.  He and Cinda Stutzman, a Natural Resource Specialist for the City of Bowling Green, had developed a thorough and inspiring plan.  This was highly encouraging.   Nice!  I hadn't met Cinda, but understand she is highly respected in the local area.   Now I'm starting to see there are a lot more dedicated people than I knew involved in educating the public locally on native plants and their vital benefits.

From time to time, I pass by the Bowling Green Community Center on the north edge of town.  Recently I noticed signs indicating the natural border landscape was a Prairie Restoration.  Wow!  This is fantastic.  How did this come about and who was responsible?  I emailed Cinda and asked her.  Turns out she was the driving force behind this remarkable project.  Knowing earlier there had been a failed attempt to get the community to accept a small prairie planting at Simpson Garden, I thought there must have some push back before this prairie became a successful effort.  Cinda told me that there had been some discontent.  Addressing the issues, she published and handed out a small pamphlet speaking about the money savings aspect of this prairie project.  No mowing!  No costly and harmful chemicals.  No CO2 emissions.  The community of BG accepted this prairie restoration.  Another boost for my hopefulness, a win for the environment, and more public awareness.

Native Witch Hazel
 Nichol's Arboretum
A few weeks ago our local chapter of Wild Ones had a field trip to the University of Michigan's Nichol's Arboretum in Ann Arbor Michigan.  For three hours we walked through the dramatically colored fall woods with Matt Ross.  Matt is a graduate of UM and teaches the Urban Horticulture and Sustainability class at Owens Community College.   He pointed out the various trees, noting the particular environment where they each grew.   One of the late blooming shrubs that really caught my attention was the native Witch Hazel.  We have several nursery cultivated ones in our yard, but they aren't native and as such don't function as wildlife support.  I've got to replace our old non-natives with several of these attractive native plants.  For me, the real take away from this trip was finding out that our educational institutions realize this subject is so important, they teach classes in the subject.  They also preserve large and and conveniently located areas of pristine habitat readily available for all to learn from.

Jan Hunter told me to check out Catherine Zimmerman's website.    I met Catherine at a talk she gave in Columbus, Ohio several months ago.  What an interesting lady.  She had been interviewed by Jane Pauly as part of the series Jane did about people who changed careers late in life.  Catherine had been a documentary film maker.  Going back to school she got a degree in landscape design.  This led her to developing an interest in creating meadows in home landscapes.  As part of her growing interest in home meadows, she started researching the topic and wrote "Urban & Suburban Meadows".  Now using her film making background, she's doing a documentary film to accompany her book.  She periodically posts articles to the Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens blog.  One of her recent posts highlights how various cities are using native plants and meadowscaping to overcome blighted areas, return interest to playgrounds, and otherwise put underutilized public land to good use.  This was highly encouraging to me to see the numerous public projects utilizing native plants to better our way of life.  Seeing these projects take hold in public areas and schools, shows me that education is working.  Keep those articles coming Catherine.

For me, " Bringing Nature Home" by Doug Tallamy is the the most important environmental book since "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson.  Reading Tallamy's book  has literally helped to change my life.  Prior to reading this, I thought native plants were merely good for the environment because they used less water, required little maintenance, and needed no harmful pesticides.  Little did I realize they are absolutely vital for us.  So I jumped at the chance to hear him speak in person  in nearby Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan.  Inside an hour's presentation, he presented his carefully conducted scientific studies demonstrating the necessity for shunning foreign plants in favor of natives.  At the end of the lecture, he stepped out of his role of a scientist.  Showing pictures of native wildlife he now finds in his own yard, he made an impassioned and emotional case for using native plants.  One study he and some of his graduate students conducted was comparing two neighborhoods.  One was a typical suburban neighborhood devoid of native plants.  The other neighborhood had started planting natives three years earlier.  The data was astounding to me.  In only three years time, a significant amount of wildlife, birds, bees, butterflies and others had returned to the native neighborhood.   OK!   Have I said this before?  I'm impatient!   But three years I can do.  You can't increase your education into the natural world any better than reading and listening to this man.  Thanks Dr., Doug Tallamy.  .

White Tailed Deer
Several weeks ago, I looked out my office window and saw a late migrating Chipping Sparrow plucking the last seeds from the Snakeroot.  Several American Goldfinch were enjoying a quick drink from the birdbath.  Winter is coming and the squirrels were busy burying Walnuts and Hickory nuts.  A movement to the right caught my attention.  Two deer were slowly working their way up the ravine about 20 feet outside my window.  Oops.  Darn!  There went the leaves from that little Oak seedling I was hoping would someday produce acorns.  Tallamy says the Oak supports more wildlife than any other tree species.  I guess deer are one of those animals.  In spite of the colder weather and cloudy skies, I'm encouraged and dream of  helping others to realize a way to a richer environment, full of the natural wonders that we once had.


Anonymous said...

Another good, interesting read. Sounds like you are networking with fellow enthusiasts. Keep up the good work.

the Native Plant Neophyte said...

Thanks Anon, Looking forward to seeing what natives come up in our woodlands this spring. It'll be the first spring since I've gone native.

Gloria said...

It is welcome change to see the number of people now encouraging the use of native plants. Here in the Chicago area many parks and openlands are being converted to native planting with savanna and tall grass prairie and even dunes along the lake. More good people like yourself volunteer their time and energy every year to help this happen.

the Native Plant Neophyte said...

Hey Gloria - This volunteer work is a great way to meet new people who are interested in native plants. I also learn so much doing it. With great interest I've noticed that the Chicago area seems to be quite enlightened in regard to the power of natives. My mentor got a lot of her training in Illinois. I love Chicago.