What is this week?

Recognizing the importance of trees in our neighborhoods, the city of Madison has declared the coming week to be Arbor Week. The following resolution was adopted last month:

 

WHEREAS, the City of Madison has been a Tree City USA for 28 years; and

WHEREAS, children and youth living in greener neighborhoods are healthier; and

WHEREAS, trees give us oxygen, clean the air, and filter air pollutants; and

WHEREAS, trees in our neighborhoods increase property values; and

WHEREAS, the continued planting and care of trees in our city shall provide the same benefits for the present and future residents of Madison.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor of the City of Madison, Wisconsin, does hereby proclaim the week of April 30 through May 6, 2017 as ARBOR WEEK in the City of Madison, and urges everyone able to observe this week to plant trees and to participate in programs that the sponsors of Arbor Week may provide.

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What is this week?

What is today?

Today is Earth Day, a day to celebrate the planet that is our home, and renew our commitment to caring for it.

In the late 1960s, people realized they were not doing a good job caring for the Earth. Fossil fuel companies were causing huge oil spills, leaded gasoline was putting toxins into our environment, and rivers were so polluted they were catching fire.

Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, proposed establishing a holiday to educate Americans about environmental issues and encourage them to take small steps in their communities to create a cleaner, healthier, safer world.

This holiday, called Earth Day, was first celebrated in 1970, under Republican President Richard Nixon. Millions of Americans attended conferences about natural resource conservation, picked up litter in their neighborhoods, and otherwise did their part to repair damage to the environment.

Today is a great day to ride your bike instead of driving, look around your home for simple ways to reduce waste, or welcome a few native plants to your yard. If we all take these small steps, together we can create a better world for ourselves and our children.

What is today?

What is tomorrow?

Tomorrow, April 16, is International Migratory Bird Day, and Madison is officially celebrating it. The city gave the following reasons for inviting citizens to enjoy watching birds, and to take steps to welcome birds to our communities:

 

WHEREAS, Many citizens, both here in Madison and throughout the country, recognize and welcome migratory songbirds as symbolic harbingers of the change in season. Migratory birds are some of the most beautiful and easily observed wildlife that share our communities. These migrant species also play an important economic role in our community, controlling insect pests and generating millions in recreational dollars statewide; and,

WHEREAS, Migratory birds and their habitats are declining throughout the Americas , facing a growing number of threats on their migration routes to reach both their summer and winter homes. Public awareness and concern are crucial components of migratory bird conservation. Citizens enthusiastic about birds, informed about the threats they face, and empowered to help address those threats can directly contribute to maintaining healthy bird populations and encourage maintenance of diverse habitat patches of trees, shrubs and grasses along their routes throughout the Midwest. Effective bird conservation efforts require cooperative action and shared goals with the public through outreach programs to ensure stable and self-sustaining populations of birds. Madison is fortunate to have several locations in its park system that provide habitat to sustain these migrating birds on their journey; and,

WHEREAS, since 1993, International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) has become a primary vehicle for focusing public attention on the nearly 350 species that travel between nesting habitats in our communities and throughout North America and their wintering grounds in South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the southern U.S. Hundreds of thousands of people will observe IMBD, gathering in town squares, community centers, schools, parks, nature centers, and wildlife refuges to learn about birds, take action to conserve them, and simply to have fun.  IMBD officially is held each year on the second Saturday in May, but observances are not limited to a single day, and planners are encouraged to schedule activities on the dates best suited to the presence of both migrants and celebrants; and,

WHEREAS, on Sunday, April 16, 2017 Madison Parks will collaborate with community partners to host a Bird and Nature Festival at Warner Park.  This free public education event will celebrate all that our community has done for bird migratory birds, and inform participants about opportunities that remain,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that April 16, 2017 be proclaimed as International Migratory Bird Day in the City of Madison, to urge all citizens to celebrate this observance and to support efforts to protect and conserve migratory birds and their habitats in our community and the world at large; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that IMBD is not only a day to foster appreciation for wild birds and to celebrate and support migratory bird conservation, but is also a call to action to protect their habitat.

What is tomorrow?

What are cultivars?

An important distinction in natural gardening is between native plants and non-native plants. A native plant is one that has evolved in the region where it is planted, and which typically has developed important relationships with other plants and animals in that region. A non-native plant is one that is planted far from where it evolved. It often contributes little or nothing to the local community, because the animals in its new home cannot eat it, or may not recognize it as a potential food source.

cultivar is a type of plant that didn’t evolve anywhere. Rather, a cultivar is the plant equivalent of a domestic animal. The same way that modern cows never existed in the wild and are the result of careful breeding, cultivars have been bred from wild plants to bring out desirable characteristics.

The characteristics that are desirable to people, however, are often of no value to wildlife. Double-flowered cultivars, for example, are considered especially attractive in a garden. These flowers are worthless to pollinators, though, because they are mutant plants that have a second row of petals instead of having the structures that produce pollen and nectar.

Nativars are cultivars of native plants. Well-meaning gardeners seeking to support wildlife are often tripped up by nativars, which are advertised as native plants, but which can be as useless to pollinators and other animals as cultivars of non-native species.

Cultivars and nativars can be recognized by the names on their tags. Plants should always be labeled by their scientific names, which help gardeners ensure they’re getting the right species. A plant that has a second, English name in quotes after its Latin name is a cultivar or nativar, not a true species.

What are cultivars?

Where can you get seeds?

One problem that gardeners face is how to get seeds or plants for their natural yards. Not knowing how to begin establishing native species, many give up and continue mowing their lawns.

A great, underpublicized resource for seeds in the Madison area is the Dane County Seed Library. Five libraries in the area allow patrons to “check out” packets of vegetable seeds. While those who use the program are asked to harvest seeds from the resulting plants and return them to the library for others to benefit from, there’s no penalty for never returning anything.

Another great source of seeds is people who already have natural yards. Since plants produce seeds freely and abundantly, gardeners are usually happy to let others harvest some for planting in their own yards.

If asking a neighbor for permission to harvest their seeds is too awkward, seeds can also be harvested from native plants in public parks. Similarly to wildcrafting, this is not harmful to the environment as long as seeds are only harvested in moderation when and where they are plentiful.

Finally, seed packets can be purchased at native plant nurseries or even at hardware stores. While this of course costs money, paying a dollar or two for something that will make many more of itself is truly one of the best investments available today.

Where can you get seeds?

What’s new in natural yards? February 2017 #1

Southern Wisconsin may have a short growing season, but as a trade-off, gardeners here have plenty of time to plan. Though the spring equinox is still six weeks away, events are happening right now to help you get ready for next summer’s garden. Here are a few of them.

The Garden Expo, a popular annual event, will take place February 10-12. The convention features many demonstrations of permaculture techniques, but also includes vendors who specialize in lawn care services. There’s something for every type of gardener. The demonstration garden at the center of the show floor is always a favorite.

Another annual event is the Arboretum’s native plant sale. Always held the Saturday before Mother’s Day, this year it falls on May 13. That may seem far away, but pre-orders will be opening in just a couple of weeks. Placing your order in advance is the best way to ensure you get the plants you want.

In general, January and February are the time to order native plants. Some sources are listed in this post from last year. Though the plants will not ship until spring, when it is safe to put them outside, ordering early ensures that all the available plants will not already be spoken for by gardeners who started their planning sooner.

This is also the time to start seeds indoors, in a sunny window or under a grow light. By the time the weather is warm enough to work outside, the seedlings will be ready to transplant.

What’s new in natural yards? February 2017 #1

What is sense of place?

Imagine driving down the main street of a town you’ve never visited before. What would you rather see there – a McDonald’s and a Walmart, or a local diner and drugstore?

While seeing familiar chain businesses helps us feel oriented, it also leaves us with the impression that we haven’t really gone anywhere. Travelling doesn’t seem worth it when every place looks the same.

We travel because we want to experience something new – different food, different architecture, different customs. These unique attributes create a sense of place – the feeling that where we are isn’t the same as everywhere else. The sense of place we have about our own hometown comes from the feeling that where we live is special and worth being proud of.

Plants are a key contributor to a sense of place. We enjoy seeing prairies full of wildflowers in the Midwest, palm trees in Florida or California, and cacti in the desert states.

When every town is carpeted with lawns, we lose the opportunity to experience America’s diverse landscapes. We also give up unique features of our own town, replacing them with a flat, homogeneous vista.

In the past, having a well-maintained lawn showed pride in the place where one lived. Today, people with natural yards show pride in their home by gardening with plants that reflect the distinctive character of the region.

What is sense of place?