Sunday, February 19, 2017

Daffodils and a Hollow Nature

Daffodils, crocus, snowdrops, and tulips do not signify spring to me. Here in the central and northern Great Plains, that role usually falls to pasque flower, which blooms sometime in late March to mid April. While flower bulbs from half a world away may be an aesthetic delight to us, for wildlife and ecosystems they are often as devoid of function as plastic bottles. In garden design circles the belief is that aesthetics is enough because it (beauty) engages us with nature. But that nature has often felt hollow to me -- it's how I feel walking a rose garden or hosta collection, places for us alone, so insular, so absent in a time of climate change and mass extinction. Every garden and every plant should welcome as many species as possible, help us learn one another's language and culture, connect us to our homeplaces, and open the door to compassion that puts other's needs before our own. If a garden is primarily for me, the garden ceases to be a place of hope.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Privilege in the Ethical Garden

Our species has long had privilege over other species. Slowly, our privilege has begun to feel like a right -- something preordained. We can see this with white middle and upper class privilege. When anyone starts talking about the rights of others -- the poor, the immigrant, the transgender -- suddenly equality feels like discrimination for those with privilege. Perhaps the same thing happens when we discuss equality for other species and their landscapes. When we're asked to think critically about our privilege as a species -- where it comes from, what effect it has on others -- we feel marginalized, just like we've made others feel marginalized. And when we're asked to garden with native plants, and for the goal of helping others -- of creating equality -- humans feel attacked and minimized. And yet, there are those who feel empowered by empowering others, ensuring the rights of the poor, the immigrants, the transgender, the bees, the birds. They see equality not as a threat but a grand opportunity to practice our deepest-held beliefs as a compassionate culture and species. 

What happens when we privilege others? How do our ethical codes expand? What happens when we step back from our tunnel vision and expand the viewpoint to the perspective of others? What do you need to thrive? What do you need to be healthy? What do you need to be happy? Your thriving, your health, your happiness is mine in spades. And this is why when we garden for others our gardens will transcend their origins, and in some small way, instruct and be instructed by a larger social ethics and social justice.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Garden Refugee

I see my garden as an act of compassion and justice. Instead of the tyranny and supremacism of lawn or mulch, there are diverse beds of flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees. Wide varieties of wildlife throughout the year call the garden home, and I am enriched by their presence and their cultures, not diminished. Together the world and I meet in the garden, we embrace, we commune, we share our hungers, our losses, and our joys. Without the garden I would not know that equality and freedom are milkweed, bluestem, aster, and oak. Without the garden I would know less of the common language that binds us all together.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Quoting A New Garden Ethic

From chapter 5 of my forthcoming garden / nature / philosophy book:

"Native plants are the tip of a much larger iceberg. The conversation goes well beyond what is native and why or how gardens work. The very fact that we keep having this conversation in writing and seminars and podcasts, and that it makes some in horticulture uncomfortable, is evidence that we need to be having even larger conversations about why we garden and who we garden for, and what it means in a time of climate change and mass extinction. Our culture needs to be confronted in as many ways as possible for the sake of future human and non human species."

And how about a picture from our ice storm this month -- because it won't snow this winter. More are at Instagram

Friday, January 13, 2017

Native Plant Activism & Social Justice

In most cases, people will tend to believe what they already believe, unfortunately. A core part of my forthcoming book explores the psychology of climate change and environmental issues, which I link up to what often becomes a very heated, very polarized conversation around native plants. I postulate that one reason the native plant conversation becomes either / or relates to how our minds have evolved to process new information as animals, and especially how new information tends to increase risks on our perception of self and our belief about cosmic order. Any time we face conflicting information our brains immediately put up defenses to protect us; any new perspective threatens our carefully balanced sense of right and wrong, our social and cultural beliefs, and our very ethics (and ethics that can't evolve fast enough with technology or climate change). I think the real mystery is how some people can quickly embrace new ideas, analyze, process, be open, and then if necessary reorder their beliefs and cultural viewpoints.

Where am I going? Several times over the past year I've heard folks profess that Doug Tallamy -- native plant and pollinator researcher guru extraordinaire -- has toned back his viewpoint at speaking engagements. In particular, he's become more open to mixing exotic plants and natives in built landscapes, like urban gardens. I don't know if this is true, as it's been years since I heard Doug speak, and I don't know how much of this new change is filtered through folks who previously decried everything Doug said about native plants because, perhaps, it was threatening to their worldview, profession, culture, et cetera. What I do know is that it seems, from my small data set of individuals, that the more Doug apparently opens up his hard-line stance toward using native plants only, previous critics are now pointing to him as a reputable source. I find this shift psychologically fascinating, and would like to learn how to exploit it.

The power of Doug's message has always been one rooted in an activism based on a shift in our ethics, and I think his audience has always been the more progressive regular Joes among us (I'm not one of those Joes, or Janes). Even while his research has asked the horticulture industry to evolve, and they've listened in some ways, I believe his audience has always been homeowners -- and I think this is still where the greatest power resides. It's homeowners who are going to put pressure on the green and landscape design industry to build sustainable wildlife gardens in urban areas, and this sort of grassroots mobilization has always been what's worked -- from other environmental issues to classism to racism to sexism. No doubt we need large design firms to step up and give us moving, functional examples to emulate at home, and that we need tons of them right now, but I'm not yet sure how large their role will be from a cultural shift perspective (this isn't a knock, I just don't know because the majority of new urban areas are still designed in old school methods).

It's my hope, and my goal in the way I've organized my book, to re-energize and go a step further in cultivating a bluestem roots progressivism in garden design, and one that sees itself using the tools of other social and environmental justice movements. It's through such action that we learn to think more critically and begin to challenge and remold our animalistic brains that struggle with the long view, as well as the compassionate view for others -- and other species. I may fail horribly, though, and I can accept that if it happens. I will certainly turn on some folks and turn off others as I seek to complicate, invigorate, and push the garden conversation onward. But I hope that together we can all finally leap into a garden ethic that radically reunites us with the world again, because the real world is quickly drowning in our disconnection with it. It will take all of us together to bring wildness back into our everyday lives as well as in wilder places beyond our everyday lives. It will take homeowners, architects, nurseries, municipalities, federal or state government, and activists / artists whose job it is to make us feel uncomfortable and to speak up for the voiceless in our culture.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

What a Year It Will Be

Many new garden design opportunities are coming up, which excites me as I marry that burgeoning practice with the activism I profess in my forthcoming book. I'd still like to get a summer speaking gig on the books, and even one in the fall, as I have three in spring (Iowa, Wyoming, Michigan).

In the meantime, I'm celebrating my favorite social media platform -- Instagram. Here are the top 9 photos of 2016. Have a  favorite?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Our Gardens Need Science and Spirituality

The landscape design world is still far too divorced from actual ecological processes and communities that very much exist in our country, even in urban centers and other novel ecosystems (we can deny those ecological communities all we want, but it won't make us feel any better about our role in climate change or extinction, or lead to effective outcomes). We're getting there as more projects become joint collaborations between architects, engineers, biologists, ecologists, and horticulturists. But if these new gardens do not spur a significant psychological if not spiritual ethic grounded in both reverence and science, an ethic that truly links human and animal culture well beyond even biophilic aesthetics, our species will not endure. How we experience and intervene in our daily environment is how we will experience and intervene in our larger world.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Ethical Garden as Social Justice

For a while now I've said the environment is a moral and ethical issue, not a political one. Our government has made the conversation one about opinion and belief over fact. Even worse, those who give us the facts more and more admit it is not enough, those facts -- what we need is a total cultural revival of compassion and empathy for others of our own species, and for those of other species. I especially believe we need compassion for other species as well as their home places, and that once we practice this compassion over and over in thought and deed, we will slowly retrain our muscle memory and our relationships with one another will improve. One of the easiest places to foster compassion is in our own immediate landscapes -- suburban backyards and front yards; how we tend these landscapes will say a lot about how we tend school grounds, church grounds, parks, rivers, marshes, forests, prairies, and oceans. And it will say a lot about how we tend to one another.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Urban Nature Before Nature is Gone

If we don't get folks far more intimate with wildness, they won't care about the planet or be critically engaged with issues beyond environmental ones -- issues deeply linked, like social justice. With more and more moving to cities, we need better cities, cities that show nature is not "out there" on a planned vacation or in some refuge, but right here all the time. Sustainable urban and landscape design could not be more important from a psychological if not ethical standpoint. We need people seeing all kinds of birds and bees and butterflies every day, many times a day, learning the language of real life. We need them smelling, touching, and hearing a full chorus of life at work, school, and at home. By god, we need better gardens, better landscapes, more celebration of local place right now. Right freaking now.
2/3 of global wildlife will vanish by 2020. 50% of all land areas are dominated by humans, with 9% of that occurring in the last 25 years. Wild plant species including sunflowers, chickpeas, mangoes, and asparagus are disappearing, threatening the ability to breed resilient food crops. If we can't care about our daily place, if we don't wake to the natural world at home and get gut punched by its meaning and power and presence, then we can't do anything about the larger, more important places like agricultural fields, forests, prairies, marshes, etc.

In 2017 let's get more prairie and woodland gardens going at work, church, school, and in suburbia!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sustainable Landscape Workshop 12/8

This Thursday in Lincoln NSA is putting on a free workshop on why and how to garden sustainably for the environment. Panels of local experts will present their ideas and projects, and there will be a question and answer session along with lots of resources.

In Lincoln there are two sessions on 12/8 at Union Plaza -- 1-4pm and 5-7pm. The first session is geared more toward pros and the evening session toward homeowners, but you can't go wrong at either one -- although I'll be talking at the evening session.

To RSVP and for more info, including the workshop scheduled for Omaha on 12/9, link here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Long Fall of Writing & Gardening

I just wrote 40,000 words in one month, and am now taking a bit of a break from the book to gather my wits about me and to process the hardest step of writing -- editing, which is always the real writing. During this time I've been fortunate, or doomed, to have a long, warm fall to enjoy after my intense mornings of writing (some days I'd write 3,000-5,000 words before lunch). I've planted hundreds of plugs around our quarter acre lot, continuing to increase and beef up the total plant areas to some 2/3 of the property. We had such stunning sunlight in the new and old gardens -- something you can see from the images shared on Instagram. 

1 month after peak migration the only food on my street are these asters
Baptisia australis minor
My indoor buddy getting a rare treat
Mountain mint
The new meadow frosted one morning
New England asters near sunset
Sunset in the oldest of the gardens

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Lopez and Williams on Eco Ethics

I stumbled upon these quotes from two powerful writers in just one day. They perfectly frame my book's project, and hit at the heart of a subject I've been trying hard to flush out and express -- namely, how hard it is for humans to act ethically toward other species. What do you think?

“Because mankind can circumvent evolutionary law, it is incumbent upon him, say evolutionary biologists, to develop another law to abide by if he wishes to survive, to not outstrip his food base. He must learn restraint. He must derive some other, wiser way of behaving toward the land. He must be more attentive to the biological imperatives of the system of sun-driven protoplasm upon which he, too, is still dependent. Not because he must, because he lacks inventiveness, but because herein is the accomplishment of the wisdom that for centuries he has aspired to. Having taken on his own destiny, he must now think with critical intelligence about where to defer."

"No culture has yet solved the dilemma each has faced with the growth of a conscious mind: how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s own culture but within oneself."
 -- from Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

"Most people are not comfortable making a connection between racism and specism or the ill treatment of human beings and the mistreatment of animals. We want to keep our boundaries clean and separate. But isn't that the point, to separate, isolate, and discriminate? We create hierarchies, viewing life from the top down, top being, of course, God, then a ranking of human races, and so our judgments move down 'the Great Chain of Being' until we touch rocks. This is the attitude of power, and it hinges on who is in control. Who has power over whom? How does this kind of behavior infiltrate the psyche of a culture? And what are the consequences of scala natura?"

"Arrogance is arrogance, and cruelty committed to a person or an animal is cruelty. We would rather not think too much about 'what is being done to those outside the sphere of the favored group,' yet I believe it is time in the evolution of our imagination to make a strong case for the extension of our empathy toward the Other."

— from Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

Friday, October 21, 2016

Prairie in Fall Reflection

In fall the prairie is dipped in bronze, brown, and ochre. An hour before sunset and the sun is already creating halos around the thick seed heads of indian grass, while bees, skippers, and a few crescent butterflies find the last of the aromatic asters and Canada goldenrod hidden among short and tall bluestem turning crimson. Atop even a moderate hill the air is warm from the day, but follow a path down a few dozen feet and an evening chill swarms my legs like grasshoppers disturbed from the vegetation. If I’m lucky there is silence – no cars on the nearby road, no planes on final approach for the airport, no gunshots from the nearby police shooting range. There is the riptide of grass in the wind rising against the horizon, and the deep breath of getting down on my knees to admire a fringed gentian, so blue it’s almost violet and giving birth to a bumble bee laden with pollen.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Autumn Images

Several photographs from the three main gardens at home base, more of which I share liberally on Instagram.

I add some corten steel to the new back meadow. Love it.

Late September

Switchgrass is a rainbow of flavor.

Last sulphur migrating through on aromatic aster.

Wild senna seed pods need a shave

Sunset in the main garden. Ho hum.

My 15 year old Manx buddy.

Coneflowers in the front, de-lawned yard.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Environment is Not a Political Issue

I have long said that the environment is not a political issue, which seems confounding to many as it often takes human law to conserve, protect, and steward. And that's EXACTLY the problem. The environment is not a political issue -- it's a moral one. How can we ever hope to conserve, protect, and steward if we don't come to these practices ethically? How can we not see the world through other human classes and regions, let alone through the eyes of other species? Protecting the environment must come primarily from an ethical and moral center that doesn't even take into account human laws. Perhaps if we began with ethics in mind we wouldn't even need laws or politics. Maybe if our culture came at life from the other end of the spectrum -- through the other -- this entire discussion really would be perplexing.

Many political groups twist the spirit of environmentalism and turn it into a political fight, thus degrading and devaluing the ethical center of the primary argument; or, they take out the heart and the compassion and replace it with human-centered agendas of exploitation and hubris. It's like saying we need to protect our natural resources -- but nature is not a resource. Nature is nature, just like you are you and I am Benjamin.

While the political process may make some strides in doing good by our ethics, too quickly and too easily those ethics are eroded or washed away by human wants and the need to make concessions or bridge the aisle. So when I say the environment is not a political issue and is instead and ethical or moral one, I am saying that our world is not the real world -- and it never was.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gardens Honor & Harm Nature

Gardens already come with a prepackaged, innate illness -- our hubris. The manipulations we make of nature do both honor and harm to it, even if we come into garden making with the most noble and loving intentions. The reality of the latent illness in garden making doesn't negate the spirit of gardening, and it shouldn't undermine why we are out there smelling flowers and touching dirt; what the reality should do, however, is more openly and fully question both our motives and our outcomes. When we are questioned or challenged our garden making can become deeper and more meaningful not only to us, but to all of the species whose homes and lives we are inviting ourselves into.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Keep Smiling, and Avoid Necessary Change or Empowerment

I have long been a critic of our western / American culture's focus on putting a happy spin on everything; why, just the other day I was told to move to Iowa and not be such a killjoy because I suggested releasing balloons at Husker football games was mass pollution. Bummer, all those birds strangled to death, but what can you do? Balloons are fun.

But here's Joanna Macy saying things perfectly (not about balloons) -- and you bet this is going in the new book. 

“To discover what we know and feel is not as easy as it sounds, because a great deal of effort in contemporary society is devoted to keeping us from being honest. Entire industries are focused on maintain the illusion that we are happy, or on the verge of being happy as soon as we buy this toothpaste or that deodorant or that political candidate. It is not in the self-perceived interests of the state, the multinational corporations, or the media that serve them both, that we should stop and become aware of our profound anguish with the way things are.

None of us, in our hearts, is free of sorrow for the suffering of other beings. None of us is indifferent to the dangers that threaten our planet’s people, or free of fear for the generations to come. Yet when we are enjoined to ‘keep smiling,’ ‘be sociable,’ and ‘keep a stiff upper lip,’ it is not easy to give credence to this anguish.

Suppression of our natural responses to actual or impending disaster is part of the disease of our time, as Robert Jay Lifton, the American psychiatrist who pioneered the study of the psychological effects of nuclear bombs, explains. The refusal to acknowledge or experience these responses produces a profound and dangerous splitting. It divorces our mental calculations from our intuitive, emotional, and biological imbeddedness in the matrix of life. That split allows us passively to acquiesce in the preparations for our own demise.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hummingbird Rain

First day back from a long weekend up north. Finally lumber out to the garden as my lunch is heating up. I'm not too happy with the landscape and wish I had more time (and knowledge, and money) to do what I really want. There are still beautiful, meaningful things going on -- and dreams abound to plan for. I stake a flopping aster, I sow some liatris, I bend to smell a salvia and hear the booming drone of a hummingbird with its strange, sharp calls peppered in. It lands on a dead branch of a nearby tree. How rare to see them so still. The hummingbird's head darts side to side for 20 seconds before it lifts off and vanishes.

5 minutes in the garden. 5 minutes of waking to imperfection. 20 seconds of being blessed, yet again, for stepping outside of myself to find my world as right as rain.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Lawn to Meadow, Year 1

Here and there I've dropped snippets of what's going on in 2,000 square feet out back. Last fall I scalped and de-thatched the back fescue lawn, seeded in little bluestem and sideoats grama, then planted 80 flower seedlings and divisions.

Up until June I kept the back lawn scalped, and after June 1 stuff began to pop with no mowing needed; it's really been popping the last 6 weeks. I'm on my hands and knees often pulling weeds (a sane person would keep mowing to control weeds, but I'm not sane), and I'm delighted to see purple prairie clover, baptisia, coneflower, aster, milkweed, bushclover, and more seedlings finding their way up through lawn and prairie grass.

The goal will be a uniform base of 2-3 feet with scattered architectural plants reaching up to 6-7 feet. Editing will be needed. I'd really like a 2-3 foot tall ribbon of corten steel, maybe 10-12 feet long, snaking through the middle, but steel is pricey for me right now.

Here are a few images. Feel free to scroll through recent summer posts for earlier pics to compare the growth. Next year should be phenomenal.

Looking east toward the original garden in morning
Indian grass and Liatris ligulistylis
Looking west

Monday, August 22, 2016

Grief is Love, Hope is Embracing Our Pain

So, I'm working on this book -- A 21st Century Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future. I'm probably going to end up with 300 pages of research (well over what I'll end up writing)... psychology, ecology, science, philosophy. I'm going to say things that will upset lots of folks, that are going to cut to the bone of our culture. Heavy stuff that even weighs down on me and that I've avoided for years. But over those years of reading I've slowly developed a resilience that I feel is directive and empowering and liberating. I don't have to live beneath or within the systems that exploit myself and other species; or, at least I can acknowledge those systems and learn how and why to live without them. Our culture doesn't just marginalize our own species by class, race, or gender -- it does a superb job of marginalizing places, rivers, prairie dogs, butterflies, and sharks. Violence is all around us working toward the same end -- making me feel comfortable or apathetic, assuming a life without natural riches is indeed rich enough, all for the benefit of a few.

While I was organizing my research I also came across, again, these words by Chris Jordan -- which stop me in my tracks every time:

“I discovered that grief is not the same as sadness and despair. Grief is the same as love. Grief is a felt experience of love for something that we’re losing, or that we’ve lost.... the role of the artist is not to relieve us of feelings of hopelessness, despair, rage, love, but to help us feel those things.”  

You may know Chris from his work photographing albatross on Midway. If you don't, please watch this, very powerful trailer.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Front Gardens, Year 2

I'm far from content with our new front prairie beds -- there are some significant bare spaces I'm not showing, and I need to come back through to bulk up the grasses / sedges as well as add some drifts / clumps of early season flowers -- but it's coming along (even with nibbling rabbits). What has been most exciting is seeing, as I pull into the driveway, butterflies lifting from the blooms; hopefully, the neighbors see that, too! It's also been fascinating to watch things reseed and to anticipate what the garden will look like next year (and what editing will have to be done to maintain a cohesive appearance for this high-visibility location). The 600' is never watered, fertilized, and was planted directly into non-amended and compacted clay soil.

I anticipate the E. purpurea to be absent next year, so need to get E. pallida in there
See the back bed? Needs more sedge.
Common buckeye resting on smooth aster.
Meadow blazingstar (or rough) with little bluestem.
Look at the contrast in landscapes.
The view to a neighbor who mows 2-3x a week.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Wild Garden of Benign Domination

I find "proof" valuable when making an argument simply because it appeals to one side of our brain, and some folks have thinking dominated by that side. Obviously, when we can double up -- make an argument stronger by appealing to both the analytical and the emotional / philosophical -- it's a bit easier to get people rethinking their assumptions and to switch gears. But too often the emotional / philosophical is muted or removed in favor for hard core proof (i.e. the human world is given yet more preference over the non human). 

I can tell you this: without wonder, without dreams, without the not knowing, any proof loses much of its excitement and deep revolution in my existence or perception of my or other's existence. Without the wandering and the doubt, proof becomes limp. Many times proof destroys an unwritten connection between our nature and the nature of other species and places -- if we have to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt and placed on a spreadsheet that we harm the world, that we cause extinctions, that we have eroded natural evolution -- then the efficacy we hope to spur in others, to me, seems unlikely. Reading a study on the benefits of native plants to pollinator larvae is one thing; knowing or believing that those plants and larvae don't need me in their lives -- that they have their own intelligence separate from mine -- frees me of my didactic human culture.

Restored prairie? Wild prairie? Garden? Whose culture?
Every time I plant a milkweed I both interrupt and intercede in the world -- I hinder and help in the same action. My act of making a sustainable urban garden is a remaking of nature, a way to connect myself through proof and belief that I have the power to heal us all, to move deeper into the cycles of life even as I disrupt or alter them in the garden and in every aspect of my modern western life. And that's where life gets problematic. The myth of a garden is that it rights systemic cultural wrongs like human supremacy or capitalism or deforestation. And sometimes, I think another myth of the garden is that it engenders an over-inflated sense of wild compassion -- that any garden, any composition of plants, is better than no garden at all.

Too much of our human political and cultural beliefs are in our gardens -- plants and bees are not people, and their culture is radically different than ours; yet like every other minority -- from prairie dogs to Native American tribes -- we impose our culture on them in myriad ways. A garden is not just a way to bridge our seemingly disparate cultures -- a garden is, paradoxically, a way to exercise an idyllically / idealistically benign domination over others in the name of one's own joy, happiness, and personal liberty. If this control is primarily what a garden is, then perhaps gardens will, in the end, always fail to move us into a more right relation with other species and ecosystems.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

This Grass, This Clover

Out back this morning trying to pull ripe black medic seeds before they scatter. I'm so thankful I can be on my hands and knees. As I crawl around the back lawn / soon-to-be meadow, the soft young shoots of sideoats grama and little bluestem tickle my knuckles. The slower I go the more I see: young smooth aster and rudbeckia nestled low against the ground; airy seedlings of purple prairie clover camouflaged in the green fescue; ants mysteriously placing soil up the stems and leaves of a few weeds. I don't know what will become of me in the next hour or the next decade. I don't know what injustice, what agony, what ecstasy I may encounter. I hope with all my heart that whatever I become is part of this grass, this clover.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Birthday Garden

I turned 40 last week. My garden turned 9. Together we are either -31 or 409. Here's my annual look at the birthday landscape, though with less fanfare than usual. Because I'm old now.

The main back garden is the oldest

Always plenty of coneflowers -- a big draw

A pollen bath!

Cup plant has yet to be aggressive in my clay

Culver's root near sunset

An inchworm disguised as Rudbeckia

The front gardens are slowly coming on -- less lawn!

Everything about wild senna floors me

2,000' of new garden sown / planted directly into the lawn last fall

Monday, July 11, 2016

Native Plants Are a Threat

Which includes both the scientific and philosophical conversation that ensues. Native plants are a threat to an entire industry built foremost on ornamentation for human visual consumption. Native plants represent a gardening that, instead of focusing solely or primarily on the commercialization of our five senses, instead explores the deeper issues of why we garden, how we garden, and who we garden for. These issues are nothing new; instead, the issues are poking holes in generations of  embedded acceptance that nature is for us, and that how we re-arrange nature is by default noble, good, and environmentally benign.

Every year new hybrids of plants come out, as do new "discoveries" made halfway across the world. These plants are pushed and promoted as products to consume, like new iphones, which to me feels incredibly disrespectful to the nature communities we hope to positively impact. Not only do so many "new" plants come to us relatively unproven in home and urban landscapes, they may not even support the wildlife community we assume and are pitched will benefit.

It's not even just the plants themselves, though that's the primary issue in my mind -- it's how we use them; the wrong plants in the wrong places with the wrong companions in the wrong layers (aka no layers). We drive around town and see the mulched void of planting beds, the same overused ornamental and exotic plants, and assume this is good design; then we hire landscapers to replicate this at home. It's too bad.

Marianist Environmental Education Center -- Dayton, Ohio
But back to native plants being a threat. The way I see them -- through scientific evidence as well as an ethical leaning that says we do not know better than nature and evolution -- is absolutely a threat to entire tributaries of of the horticulture industry. But you know what? It's also an opportunity. While we've created a human-centered system based on visual appeal and commerce, we can go beyond greenwashing plant tags or calling hybrids native plants. We can say native plants aren't just for us, that in fact they are for everything but us, and in that act revolutionize why we garden, how we garden, and who we garden for. Suddenly, something radical (getting down to the root) happens -- as we stop thinking about gardens as primarily for us, at least as a 50/50 proposition, this selflessness begins to spread into other areas of our lives... those in permaculture know this, as do the countless vendors in local farmer's markets.

Native plants are a threat to ourselves and our assumptions which make us feel safe in a world we perceive as chaotic and out to get us; but it's only the human systems we've imposed on the world that make life feel chaotic and dangerous, precisely because so many human systems are at odds with nature. There's only one assumption we can rely on -- that the world knows better than us, does not need us in it, and in these realizations we can become freer and more at home than we've ever been as we rethink beauty in a time of mass extinction.