“NASHVILLE — When I mention the new meadow I am cultivating where our front yard used to be, my adult children roll their eyes. The word “meadow” conjures the mental image of a sunny field of blooming wildflowers, but this one is a work in progress. A dream more than an actuality.
The new meadow where our front yard used to be is mainly white clover, chickweed and grass gone to seed, though there are also patches of low-growing violets, which I love, and creeping Charlie, which I do not. (An invasive species, creeping Charlie is the bane of the natural yard.) But already there are also some lovely clumps of fleabane — small daisylike flowers on knee-high stems — that look very much like the romantic fields brought to mind by the word “meadow.” Soon there will be other flowers, too. Perhaps not this year but certainly the next, and there will be even more the year after that.
This is not a statement of faith but of fact. Every year we let more patches of our yard go wild, and every year more flowers appear in the uncut areas. First came pokeweed and butterweed in the backyard, then white snakeroot and Carolina elephant’s foot in the side yard. Last year we had frost asters for the first time.
May is Garden for Wildlife Month, according to the National Wildlife Federation, but gardening doesn’t necessarily mean planting. It can also mean giving the volunteer flowers a permanent home. Because where there are wildflowers, there will be insects. And where there are insects, there will be birds and bats and tree frogs and many other creatures who rely on the protein insects provide.”
“. . . For years, we mowed it all into a conventional yard after spring’s first wild profusion of flowers was over. Then I read Douglas W. Tallamy’s 2007 book “Bringing Nature Home” and learned how much more we could be doing beyond tolerating moles and keeping the yard poison-free. We started planting native trees, flowers and shrubs, too, understanding that native wildlife needs native plants to eat. We started letting leaves and deadwood lie to feed and shelter insects. And we let the unused parts of the yard grow up.”
“WADING RIVER, N.Y. — If Bill Jacobs were a petty man, or a less religious one, he might look through the thicket of flowers, bushes and brambles that encircle his home and see enemies all around. For to the North, and to the South, and to the West and East and all points in between, stretch acres and acres of lawns.
Lawns that are mowed and edges trimmed with military precision. Lawns where leaves are banished with roaring machines and that are oftentimes doused with pesticides. Lawns that are fastidiously manicured by landscapers like Justin Camp, Mr. Jacobs’s neighbor next door, who maintains his own pristine blanket of green.
“It takes a special kind of person to do something like that,” Mr. Camp said, nodding to wooded wilds of his neighbor’s yard. “I mow lawns for a living, so it’s not my thing.”
Mr. Jacobs and his wife, Lynn Jacobs, don’t have a lawn to speak of, not counting the patch of grass out back over which Mr. Jacobs runs his old manual mower every now and then.”
” . . . About 20 years ago, he began compiling quotes from the Bible, saints and popes that expound on the sanctity of Earth and its creatures, and posting them online. He considered naming the project after St. Francis of Assisi, the go-to saint for animals and the environment. But, not wanting to impose another European saint on American land, he instead named it after Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th Century Algonquin-Mohawk woman who converted to Catholicism as a teenager and, in 2012, became the first Native American to be canonized.”
“In the summer of 2019, Jeff Lowenfels told me, one of his friends successfully grew okra in Anchorage. Lowenfels could not believe it. The crop was shorthand for all the change he has witnessed since he moved to the city in the 1970s, a distance between past and present that he has measured in vegetables and fruits — from cabbage, snow peas and potatoes to tomatoes, pumpkins and now, incredibly, okra. “Holy crow!” he said. “We can grow anything!”
Lowenfels, a 72-year-old retired lawyer, has written several best-selling books on organic gardening and one on growing cannabis. He is a former president of the Garden Writers Association and was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame in 2005; his personal website describes this as “the highest honor a garden writer can achieve.” Perhaps his most notable feat, though, is one of endurance. Lowenfels has written a gardening column for The Anchorage Daily News since November 1976. It is the country’s longest-running such column. In it, he gives advice: on the care and feeding of African violets; on the benefits of raking or not raking your lawn; on how to ward off hungry moose. He also observes. Gardening is fundamentally a local endeavor, an experiment in fitting plants to a specific soil and climate. For more than 40 years, Lowenfels has noted Alaskans’ successes with new plants, tracked the lengthening stretch of frost-free days and recorded the arrival of new horticultural pests.”
A Contributing Opinion Writer based in Nashville who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.
“NASHVILLE — My favorite spring flower blooms along the leafless branches of the lowly serviceberry, a small tree with varieties native to every state except Hawaii. In the old days, the serviceberry’s simple, five-petaled blossoms heralded springtime itself.
Appalachian tradition holds that the tree got its name because it bloomed just as snow melted on winding roads, just as mountain passes cleared. Serviceberry flowers meant that circuit-riding preachers would be along soon to perform the weddings and funeral services winter had long delayed.
As with all beloved wild plants, these harbingers of spring have many common names. What we call a serviceberry here in Tennessee is what people in other regions call by names like shadbush, sarvis, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum and chuckley pear, just to name a few. By whatever name they are locally called, the flowers were a welcome sight for the generations who came before us. Winter was over at last. Bright new life could begin.
Serviceberries are not much of a welcome sight anymore. So thoroughly have they been displaced from our cultivated landscapes, and for so many generations, that most Americans are unlikely to recognize this very American tree. For us, springtime means flowers that evolved for ecosystems in Europe and Asia, not for American yards.”
“. . . Wild creatures need wild plants to survive, but drive down any lane in any suburban neighborhood — or any landscaped city street — and what you are apt to see is a gorgeous, blooming wasteland where the flowers feed nobody at all.
Worse, such plants often go hand-in-garden-glove with an entire ethos of yard maintenance that relies on poison. Between the herbicides designed to kill weeds (including early-blooming wildflowers) and the insecticides designed to kill anything that crawls (including native pollinators), the typical suburban yard is actually worse than a wasteland. It’s a death trap.
And not just for native plants and animals. Many of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters that some researchers say can have a devastating effect on human health, and may be linked to A.D.H.D., Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, infertility, cancers, just for starters.
As if that’s not enough, some of the exotic plants we’ve introduced into our formerly functioning ecosystems actually do more than thrive in our built landscapes. Some of them are so well adapted to their unnatural homes that they crowd out the plants that belong. In the American South, where our climate is so perfectly suited to plants from Asia, there is an easy way to know whether many plants are native or exotic: Drive past a forest or wooded city park in the very earliest days of springtime. Any tree or shrub that is greening up or blooming then almost certainly doesn’t belong. In March, the woods here are filled with blooming — and highly invasive — Bradford pear trees, while the buds on the serviceberries are still tightly furled.”
Do you suddenly see tiny flies and worms all over your compost?
Yes, those are maggots, but don’t freak out! Typically these wiggly creatures usually cause us to shriek or turn away in disgust. But here’s why it can be a good thing to find maggots in compost — and how to get rid of them if you decide they’re not.
Put simply, maggots are able to break down food waste in a compost pile, making it decompose even faster. Despite the fact that you are dealing with garbage and creepy crawlers, there’s still a certain beauty to composting.
Let’s explore why legless larvae tend to show up in your compost bin, and why you might want to overcome your fears and keep them around.
“NASHVILLE — One day last fall, deep in the middle of a devastating drought, I was walking the dog when a van bearing the logo of a mosquito-control company blew past me and parked in front of a neighbor’s house. The whole vehicle stank of chemicals, even going 40 miles an hour.
The man who emerged from the truck donned a massive backpack carrying a tank full of insecticide and proceeded to spray every bush and plant in the yard. Then he got in his truck, drove two doors down, and sprayed that yard, too, before continuing his route all around the block.
Here’s the most heartbreaking thing about the whole episode: He was spraying for mosquitoes that didn’t even exist: Last year’s extreme drought ended mosquito-breeding season long before the first freeze. Nevertheless, the mosquito vans arrived every three weeks, right on schedule, drenching the yards with poison for no reason but the schedule itself.
And spraying for mosquitoes isn’t the half of it, as any walk through the lawn-care department of a big-box store will attest. People want the outdoors to work like an extension of their homes — fashionable, tidy, predictable. Above all, comfortable. So weedy yards filled with tiny wildflowers get bulldozed end to end and replaced with sod cared for by homeowners spraying from a bottle marked “backyard bug control” or by lawn services that leave behind tiny signs warning, “Lawn care application; keep off the grass.” “
Not mowing in May results in more flowers and nectar all summer long for struggling pollinators. Wildlife organization urges us to leave lawnmowers locked up until June.
April showers bring May flowers, and if you like food, you should leave those flowers alone.
Not mowing in May results in a greater diversity and number of flowers throughout the summer, a British wildlife organization called Plantlife claims.
The organization conducted an experiment in last year in which hundreds of homeowners agreed not to mow their lawns until June. Participants’ lawns produced a much wider variety of flower species and enough nectar to feed 10 times as many bees as normal lawns.
The longer your grass grows, the greater the diversity of flower species you get, Plantlife found.
Because of this, the organization recommends mowing only once a month at most all summer.
If you can’t wait that long – maybe you want a place to tan or for the kids to play – mow in sections or chunks. Make a cool pattern if you wish. Plantlife suggests a mohawk! Just leave plenty of long patches for the pollinators.”
Abundant and free in most parts of the country, pine needles are a great source of organic matter for the garden. Whether you use pine needles in compost or as a mulch around your plants, they provide essential nutrients and improve the soil’s ability to hold moisture. Once you know how to compost pine needles, you don’t have to worry about any adverse effects.Are Pine Needles Bad for Compost?Many people avoid using pine needles in compost because they think it will make the compost more acidic. Even though pine needles have a pH between 3.2 and 3.8 when they fall from the tree, they have a nearly neutral pH after composting. You can safely add pine needles to compost without fear that the finished product will harm your plants or acidify the soil. Working pine needles into the soil without composting them first may temporarily lower the pH. Another reason why gardeners avoid pine needles in compost is that they break down very slowly. Pine needles have a waxy coating that makes it difficult for the bacteria and fungi to break it down. The low pH of pine needles inhibits the microorganisms in compost and slows down the process even more. Using aged pine needles, or needles that served as mulch for a season, speeds up the process; and chopped pine needles compost faster than fresh ones. Make a mound of pine needles and run over them with a lawn mower several times to chop them. The smaller they are, the faster they will decompose.
Read more at Gardening Know How: Composting Pine Needles: How To Compost Pine Needles https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/composting/ingredients/composting-pine-needles.htm
By Nikki Tilley(Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden)
“Is ash good for compost? Yes. Since ashes do not contain nitrogen and will not burn plants, they can be useful in the garden, especially in the compost pile. Wood ash compost can be a valuable source of lime, potassium, and other trace elements.
Fireplace Ashes for CompostComposting ashes is an ideal way to put them to use in the garden. Fireplace ashes for compost can be used to help maintain the neutral condition of the compost. It can also add nutrients to the soil. Decomposing materials in the compost pile can become somewhat acidic and wood ash can help offset this, as it’s more alkaline in nature.
However, it may not be a good idea to use charcoal ashes, such as those from grills. Compost with charcoal can have chemical residue from the additives in the charcoal. These chemicals can be harmful to plants, especially when used in large amounts. Therefore, it is better to stick with wood ash—provided that the wood used has not been treated or painted.”