A Leap of Faith:
Sometimes customers ask, "If I convert my garden to native plants, what will the results be? Which birds and insects will reappear, and when? How long will it take and what will happen?"
Exactly what will result from your garden of regional native plants cannot be exactly predicted, but that it will be better than the alternatives, few can doubt. There is much information now, and examples abound. Each garden, depending on its unique factors of site, climate, soils, moisture, exposure, land-use history, and current surroundings, will have its own limitations and opportunities, not knowable in advance. There is no point in declaring what the set of possibilities is or is not; it cannot be known.
Your first moment of hope cannot be predicted.
But its effect can be. Hope creates its own kind of greed, and the first returning butterfly, the first bushtit nest in a blueblossom ceanothus, the first reseeding wildflower, will lead to the longing for more returning species, more surprises, more of the original companions on this journey. An interest in a range of new ventures may follow, from composting to windmills. First, we need evidence that we can have a positive effect, and that evidence is available right outside our doors.
The craving for biodiversity is hardwired in us. Often subsumed by the white noise of our increasingly silly culture, it has been called “biophilia,.” the love of our planet. If what you value is learning to be part of complex ecosystems of your home and of our world, then each return feels like money in the bank. Deposits to our planet’s depleted accounts are exactly what they are. Access to reassurances of such resilience has maintained humankind, as humankind has maintained them, for millennia. (Example: The Karuk "Fix the Earth" ceremony). Without this access, we can become mildly crazy, in a variety of ways, too numerous to mention.
The only mention of "land" in the otherwise inspiringly inclusive Democratic Convention was the White House Lawn. What about us? those of us who care passionately about land-use management decisions, from national parks to freeway plantings to schoolyard gardens to our own backyard gardens. This is why I nominated myself to attend the upcoming White House Lawn Festival: South by South, an event celebrating and encouraging new ideas, and this is why I will be running for president in 2020. Just kidding about the last, but not the first. At least some part of the White House Lawn should become The White House Prairie. The native plants and soils that created our wealth should grace our national home.
This Administration tries admirably to jump ahead rather than lag behind in many arenas, yet they are still proud of a water, fertilizer, pesticide, and lawnmower-dependent lawn. I only hope the runoff doesn't head for Michelle's Organic Garden. It was very cool that President Bush planted a new and improved American chestnut as his presidency's "tree," one that is resistant to the chestnut blight that had such powerful consequences throughout the east. Researchers have been working for years to find resistant forms.
What will Obama's "tree" be? And please, don't violate a well-known tenet of landscaping - never plant just one of any species. Plant three, Obama, plant three. How about a grove of the many beauitiful native trees and shrubs of the South, with accompanying wildflowers and grasses, followed by insects and birds?
Who will be known as the "Native Plant President?" Who will honor the land?