Monday morning the sun is up and spring is in full swing. We are at 39 degrees this morning and warming to maybe 65 if the sun holds. But for now the crisp morning air, the bird songs and a hot cup of tea have me out walking the back garden.
If you are not a gardener you would see fallen sticks, brown and broken plants, weeds and bare bushes. It looks a mess as my niece describe her garden with the line “can I clean it up now?!” I have been urging her to wait. Just give the insects time to hatch and move out of the leaf litter and the hollow stems of last years plants. “But the new growth is pushing through” she says, “It looks awful.” I also know for a fact that my dear brother was up to visit her this weekend and I am sure he was ready to go at it. I expect his leaf blower and other man tools were there in the trunk of his care. I love his readiness to jump in and work. At times more than he can really physically handle but he is determined to have neat and orderly yards and gardens where ever he goes. But I am off topic – this is not about him it is about spring the flowers we love.
After a short walk around the back and front I realized the difference in my two gardens. Come summer you can not see it as clearly but with spring it becomes very obvious. One area is planted mainly with native plants which are not up yet it is too early for them and the other is ready for early blooms but those blooms are not native to northern midwest United States. It is those non natives that caught my attention this morning. Margaret Renkl’s opinion piece in the NYT may have added to my stark observation as well.
I love walking the front yard in the spring. It brings me back to my mothers yard and to my grandparents farm gardens in southern Iowa. It feels like home and even with the cool air around me I can hold the warm of coming spring days within me. It is a glorious feeling early in the morning. There are the Aconite’s already blooming, the tulip leaves are about 4 inches above ground, the daffodils are pushing up and there are crocus leaves just waiting for the buds to show up and flower. The Forsythia is beginning to bud out just a little and those bright yellow flowers will appear in another week or so. It will be a garden full of color, the neighborhood folks will walk by and admire. It is all a garden should be right?
Well, not really. Here is the thing all these wonderful bulbs and early spring flowering bushes come from other places in the world. They arrive from Holland by way of China or the Middle East. Some arrive from Japan. There are others that are native to northern Europe. They are great plants for the places they are native to. They fit the ecosystem of that area. They provide pollen for insects, shelter and food for the birds, lizards, and hundreds of other animals.
Here in the United States we have a different set of insects, birds, and animals. Yes there is some overlap but over all the non native plants do not provide what our native animals need. The non native plants have left little room for the native shrubs and flowers that our critters need and depend on. We are in fact starving our animal population when we let the non native plants take over.
All that said am I not ready to dump my be loved tulips or daffodils. Am I going to get rid of the tiny Forsythia bush I work hard each year to save from the winter rabbits? No, I am not personally ready for that but I am ready to be sure my garden has both native and non native plants. I am ready to find and replace some of my plants that are not open pollinators and those that don’t create seeds. The birds and little critters (that some time drive me nuts – talking about you Chipmunks!) need to feed on plant seeds and pollen. It is what keeps our world moving and healthy.
(SIDE NOTE: Open-pollination is when pollination occurs by insect, bird, wind, humans, or other natural mechanisms. Because there are no restrictions on the flow of pollen between individuals, open-pollinated plants are more genetically diverse. This can cause a greater amount of variation within plant populations, which allows plants to slowly adapt to local growing conditions and climate year-to-year).
My goal each year is to add to the native plant life that provides food, and shelter for the natural world around me. This means checking to see what plants in my yard produce seeds. What plants are the birds and insect spending time with each year? It means letting my garden be a bit messy through out the year. I am working towards having the back yard begin to look like an open meadow or beginning forest line. I would like it to be a place for animals and birds feel safe. ( I admit I am a long way from that image but am working toward it!)
Douglas W. Tallamy who wrote “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.” Says if we all just added a small amount of native plants it collectively helps restore the ecosystem that is so disturbed right now.
As Margaret Renkl says – “Think of it: 20 million acres of ecosystem that is healthier for other creatures, healthier for human beings, healthier for the planet. With only the smallest effort and expense, we could restore to springtime its most urgent purpose: to bring new life into the world.”
Thanks Margaret for helping me see what steps I need to keep taking each spring!
What You May Not Know About Those April Flowers by Margaret Renkl https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/28/opinion/immigrant-plants-ecosystem.html