Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I'm Just Saying

Bloodroot seeking life in grass
I’ve recently learned a new phrase:  “I’m just saying.”  For the longest time I didn’t know what that meant.  My good wife was kind enough the other day to “splain” it to me.  I guess it’s a way of gently disagreeing with someone while bringing up a contrary point of view.  I think that’s what my yard has been saying to me for a good long time.  And now it has decided I’m not getting it and need to be slapped up the side of the head.  More like “Listen up bub, I’m telling you you haven’t been listening, haven’t been paying attention.”  We live in a “lawn infested” neighborhood and for the past year since I’ve converted to native plants, I’ve longed for a prairie /meadow.  I’ve come to understand that the nice green lawn isn’t helping the environment, the native wildlife, my health, or my pocketbook.  Last summer I thought as long as I have to have a lawn, I’ll at least make it organic.  And I embarked on making it so.    But nonetheless, I really wanted a prairie, a meadow to largely replace the lawn and nurture the birds, butterflies, and pollinators that are so essential to a healthy and productive ecosystem. 
Trout Lily leaves trying to survive in
Solomon Seal seedlings
As mother nature has removed the blinders from my eyes, she tells me to look at what’s growing here already.  In spite of all the organic matter I’ve put into this clay soil, in spite of all the chemicals I used to heap on this lawn, in spite of all the core aeration I’ve done over the years, in spite of all this abuse, she puts  billboards up for me to catch my attention.  As I cut the grass with my carbon emitting, gas guzzling, noisy lawnmower, I keep muttering “if this was a prairie, I wouldn’t be wasting my money and time doing this.”  I look just ahead of the mower as I’m cutting at the front edge of the native beds and BANG.  "Hey there’s a small Bloodroot growing right out in the lawn."  Veering the mower around this delightful find, I say I’ll let this little guy grow here.  And then just ahead a little more, there are dozens of Trout Lily leaves poking up into the grass.  And a little bit further, there were three small Solomon’s Seal.  What’s going on here?  This is a carefully tended lawn.  These wayward native plants can’t be growing here.  Wait a minute.  Do they just belong here?  I wonder what was this land like before the developers scraped away the topsoil and cut down trees to make room for a house and put a high maintenance lawn in?  Was it a prairie or something else?

1964 aerial photo of neighborhood
At a research conference I went to early this year one conservation manager showed historical aerial photos of the preserve she is restoring.  Playing off that inspiration I hightailed it down to the Soil and Water office.  They were kind enough to make copies of the 1964 photos of our area.   Low and behold, our property was fully wooded before the developers came along.  It was near a farm field, but densely wooded.  Duh!  No wonder, these little woodland plants were trying to come back.  In spite of all the abuse I’ve heaped on them, they still want to be all they were designed to be, woodland plants. 

But I wanted a prairie.  Finally accepting the fact a prairie would not be well received in this suburban neighborhood, I listened to the yard and the plants that were trying to grow here.   Driving around the older wooded section of the development with my wife we saw that some other properties were wooded in their front as well as their back yards.  Our front yard should really be a woodland. We could abandon my prairie yearnings and embrace what was once here.   Let's plant native trees and make it a wooded front yard.  (I wonder how many little tiny Oak seedlings I've run the mower over in these past twelve years?)   Slowly but surely we'll expand the trees and native beds in the front.  (Can I train the squirrels to plant those acorns where I want the new trees?)  Eventually the lawn will be tiny and the front yard a productive part of a healthy ecosystem.  No more will my mower attempt to eradicate the Bloodroot, Trout Lily, and Solomon's Seal.  Sometime in the near future, the Trout Lilies that were so stunning in producing their spring blossoms in other parts of the yard this year, will once again claim their rightful place in the front.  
Trout Lily


Heather Holm said...

Wonderful research on your property's history. I went through a similar process and have since tried to put back what was lost. The former homeowner mowed the lawn under the trees for 18 years but 3 years after we converted it Bloodroot and Solomon's Seal starting coming back. Nature can be so resilient, good for you for taking the blinders off :)

the Native Plant Neophyte said...

Thanks Heather. Interesting that the Bloodroot and Solomon's Seal are the ones that seem most anxious to come back.

Gloria said...

All of natures gardeners start out with good intentions but our own agenda. Luckily ou can not help becoming involved to such a degree as to hear and see what the land has to offer. We are listening with you.

the Native Plant Neophyte said...

Well said Gloria. We live, we learn, and we strive to do better for everyone's benefit.