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.

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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?

What do people in other countries have in their yards?

Largely, people in other countries don’t have yards at all.

In the United States, most communities have zoning ordinances that require houses to have large front yards. Oddly enough, the main reason for this is lawns. Frederick Law Olmsted, best known as the designer of Central Park in New York, believed that suburban homes should have large front lawns to create the impression that the homeowners all lived in a common park. Since the mid-1800s, his vision has been copied across the country.

As well as being set back from the street, American houses also tend to sit on relatively large properties. In other countries, urban lots are smaller. This allows for dense development that keeps communities walkable, instead of being dependent on cars.

Within their lots, houses in most foreign cities are set close to the street. This puts a higher percentage of the property behind the house, where homeowners can enjoy a roomy, private backyard.

For the most part, these backyards do not contain lawns. Instead, they’re likely to feature flowers or vegetable gardens, as well as offering something for wildlife. In the UK, about half of households put out food for birds, one in five offer a nesting box, and 16% have a pond in their yard.

When homeowners in other countries do have a lawn, they’re very different from lawns in the US. In Paris, the average lawn includes nine different plant species – about eight of them native to the area – and is mowed only four to six times a year.

Gardeners in other countries also forego formal hedges, when straight lines would hurt wildlife. In Stockholm, Sweden, caretakers of allotment gardens – similar to community gardens in the US – typically leave hedges untrimmed when birds are nesting in them.

While the American lawn is derived from grand estates in 1700s Europe, today most people around the world consider lawns to be a special feature for noteworthy properties, such as Parliament houses and historic buildings. Few countries see lawns as appropriate for residential yards.

What do people in other countries have in their yards?

Where does food come from?

We all have to eat. Some people, however, believe that the production of food is unsightly, and should take place far away.

Perhaps this is part of why food in America travels an average of 1,500 miles from where it is produced to where it is eaten. It is also why a woman in Michigan was threatened with jail time for growing vegetables in her yard.

While centralized food production does allow for economies of scale, transportation is expensive, and fruits and vegetables lose a lot of their flavor and nutrition during the journey. By growing edible plants at home, we can enjoy better-quality food while paying less than we would at the supermarket.

Growing food at home also gives us an opportunity to limit how much pesticide is on our produce, to enjoy the health benefits associated with gardening, and to teach children about healthy eating.

It’s also popular in Madison – many people have fruit trees or vegetable gardens in their yards, or are raising chickens as a source of eggs. Those who’d like to help provide local food for others can apply to plant an Edible Landscape on city-owned land. And those who don’t have a yard of their own can obtain a community garden plot, though currently all 61 of Madison’s community gardens have waiting lists!

The next few posts on That Blog will look at different strategies for producing food in our own yards.

Where does food come from?