The Bliss of Going Wild

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Native flowering currant is a pollinator magnet

Rewilding Our Property Plant By Plant

My favorite garden spaces always have at least a touch of the wild about them. Sometimes it’s a matter of allowing plants to tumble over the edges of beds and borders, erasing hard lines and blurring angles. Sometimes it’s offering an area of native plants as a bug bank, dormitory and mess hall to serve pollinators and pest predators, from ladybugs and lacewings to birds and bats. At best, such gardens merge seamlessly into natural surroundings, as when a flowery meadow is encircled with tiered shrubs that lead the eye upward in gentle steps to the tree line. With larger properties, there’s an opportunity to allow the natural progression of pioneer plants such as alders, willows and hawthorns to sprout and weave together into young if miniature forests. Even a single cluster of trees and shrubs will quickly become home to thousands of small creatures that help keep the world in balance.

Allowing at least some part of our property to remain or revert to wildness is such a generous act, and one that rewards us hugely. In exchange for NOT mowing, pruning, watering and fertilizing, we get to watch the land heal into wholeness, attracting and supporting a host of living beings, from native plants to wild critters of many kinds and sizes. Instead of hearing and smelling mowers and blowers, we hear birdsong and smell the mysterious perfume of plants in community. What a relief to let go of our endless control seeking and relax into the rewilding process. I recently read about a large scale rewilding project in England where an old family castle estate has been turned back into a wilderness. To support the shift, the family brought in wild pigs and let them root and wallow in what had been groomed grounds for centuries. As they made their seemingly destructive way through the formal gardens, they dug up exotic plants and created puddles and mud holes that attract wildlife from bees and butterflies to birds and mammals. In their wake, native plants and creatures returned to the increasing habitat.

The Bountiful Land Of Long Ago

Not that long ago, probably less than a century, our back yards looked much like the magnificent forests that draw thousands of visitors to our region. Tall firs and bushy cedars rose above thickets of flower-and-fruit bearing shrubs; huckleberry and snowberry, salmonberry and thimbleberry, currants and wild cranberry, wild apple and wild cherry. Foamy ocean spray frothed above wild roses and hazelnuts, flowering currant and salal, mock orange and honeysuckle. Rhododendrons and maples throve under the high canopy, interlaced with annuals and perennials, ferns and mosses. The woodlands supported huge numbers of birds and other wild creatures, including several hundred species of native bees and other pollinators. They also supported Tribal people who knew how to coexist with the natural environment that provided everything they needed.

Today, these same places often look pretty much like a yard in Anywhere, USA; some lawn (often mossy), a few classic (ie non-native) shrubs, maybe some perennials. Oh, and lots of bare earth (so tidy!). How did this rather bleak model become a standard of “proper” landscaping? There are many factors, including conformity, the urge to control and tame nature, and favoring a simple yardscape that doesn’t require much thought to maintain, all understandable. For people moving here from other regions, whether a century or a year ago, wild woods may seem intimidating and it might feel comforting to have the same kind of yard they knew back wherever.

Welcoming Homes

Unfortunately, such bare bones landscapes are not hospitable places for wildlife or people. As the world is changing, fewer places are hospitable and most are getting less so each year. Though we can’t control corporate solutions, everyone with a patch of land (or even a patio) can make a home for the living things we share space with. Many native pollinators have a very limited range and even a small patch of native plants can become a haven for them, and for birds and frogs and other critters as well. I’m often asked if we have to give up all our beloved garden plants and grow only natives. Not at all, as many non-invasive garden plants, from kale to crepe myrtles, provide food and shelter for wildlife. However, one practical way to make our landscapes more hospitable is to remove any plants on weed watch lists and replace them with natives. Which plants should be removed? Your County Extension Agent and/or local Weed Board can provide a list of noxious weeds; mine includes butterfly bush (buddleia, aka lilac, though it is not related), ivy, purple loosetrife, and tansy ragwort. Since these plants are sadly common, many people don’t realize that they can outcompete natives and infiltrate wild areas.

In my area, among the most invasive are English laurel, English holly, Scotch broom, Scotch thistle, European daphne, European hawthorne, European mountain ash, European viburnum, Norway maple. Do you detect a theme? Plants brought by early colonists came across country with them, seeding themselves freely along the way. When invasives are removed, we can replace them with a native version; vine maple, Western hawthorne, Western mountain ash, Western viburnum, Western mock orange, and many more. A wonderful guide, Plants Of The Pacific Northwest Coast by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon, contains both illustrations of native plants and lore about how native plants have been used by Native people for millennia, making for fascinating reading. The more we learn, the more we come to admire, respect and even love the plants that were here from time immemorial. Onward, right?


Posted in Birds In The Garden, Butterfly Gardens, Climate Change, Easy Care Perennials, Garden Design, Gardening With Children, Growing Berry Crops, Health & Wellbeing, Native Plants, Plant Diversity, Plant Partnerships, Pollination Gardens, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Teaching Gardening | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Craftivism Is Creative Activism

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Turning crafting skills into support for causes we love (art by LR)

Gentle Yet Effective Activism

Over the years, I’ve written dozens of newspaper articles about native plants, with varying responses (of course). A recent one that compared a naturalistic approach to garden design and maintenance with a control oriented approach was deliberately crafted to promote understanding of folks who don’t connect their gardening habits with natural systems. Happily, it has stirred up a lot of conversations and I’ve been pleased to notice that these conversations tend to be less defensive and/or judgmental than is so often the case. Many years of environmental justice work taught me (eventually) that it’s a lot easier to be heard when we promote conversations rather than confrontations.

Among my earliest lessons was a very clear one: nobody wants to listen to an angry woman. Ouch, right? With our only planet home experiencing horrible, often senseless destruction every single day, whether from sheer obliviousness or in the name of making money through extractive industries, how can we not be angry? I’m so often furious and outraged!!!! Even so, it became extremely obvious that if we want our messages and information to be heard, we must learn to present ideas in ways that don’t trigger defensive shutdowns in our conversational partners. This goes for audiences as well, which are not often considered to be conversational partners, yet it’s also well documented that while a didactic approach can be effective in transferring information (accurate or not), a conversational one, with actual listening involved, can be far more effective at encouraging actual thinking. Lecturing has its place, yet asking for responses and listening thoughtfully to learn from them creates a very different experience for all concerned.

What’s Gentle Activism?

We don’t all have platforms where we can present our thoughts and concerns widely, but a rising movement offers a chance to support causes we hold dear using techniques that may affect people unreachable in any other ways. Craftivism is the term used for this gentle way of advocacy, which ranges from knitted pussy hats to painted posters on urban walls to exhibits of poignant artwork made from objects abandoned at the US/Mexican border and far beyond. The products of craftivism may be all the more effective for being seen apart from the maker; the viewer engages with the object without feeling any pressure to respond, so the result may be more responsive and less reactive.

My grandkids have been thinking about this with me and one project they picked involves sewing gift bags to eliminate paper and ribbon waste. We make the bags from cute but worn out clothing, or scraps leftover from sewing projects, or recycled fabric donated by friends, along with fabric ribbons and ties to sew onto the bags. When the kids give a gift to school friends, the reusable bag is part of the present to pass along in turn. Other home projects include drawings with slogans that can be posted on reader boards or handed out at the farmers market. Like what? Please Protect The Bees, Clean Up A Beach Today, Grow Your Own Bird Food, Recycle Everything, Pack A Plastic-Free Lunch, Shop Locally…

Handwork As Craftivism

Knitting has been a form of loving craftivism since the first pair of socks was knit for a soldier at war. Today, one friend knits hats with bold words; Love, Hope, Act Out, Peace, Comfort, Joy. If anyone admires the hat, she gives it to them to wear or pass along. Some of us knit baby clothing for unhoused families and make warm scarves, hats and mitts for people living in shelters, while others sew blankets and quilts for refugee families. One friend makes dozens of ‘knitted knockers’, soft, washable inserts that fit in bras, and sends them to a national nonprofit that distributes them to women who’ve had mastectomies. Others knit nests for baby birds at local wildlife shelters, using patterns developed by the Audubon Society. Some sew flags or banners, paint signs to post in windows, or embroider messages on clothing. Some hold sewing bees or knitting circles to make warm comforts for cancer patients and soft toys for children with long, painful illnesses.

Gardeners can share our craft with others too, from, yes!, growing our own bird food and planting for pollinators to taking bunches of fresh greens, herbs and flowers to food pantries. We can share and swap plant starts with other gardeners and help plant a vegetable garden for a local food bank. Most of us who love to grow edibles also enjoy cooking, and we can organize a soup brigade for a family in illness or grief, and fill recycled yogurt containers with small amounts of whatever we cook to stock the freezer of someone coming home after surgery. We can take extra cookies and baked yummies to our local Fire & Rescue station or the local VFW chapter. What else? Please do let me know. Onward, right?





Posted in Birds In The Garden, Climate Change, Crafting With Children, Gardening With Children, Health & Wellbeing, Pollination Gardens, Seedling Swaps, Social Justice, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Reimagining Trash into Treasure

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Upcycling clothing with patching is satisfying and fun

Fashion Frolic

A few days ago, I hosted a delightful event where several dozen participants brought in garments for a reimagining session. Folks brought in all sorts of things, from a 60-plus-year-old wedding dress and 1960’s prom gowns to shirts and jackets that were worn to shreds but still well loved. One of my favorite items was a saucy black lace Merry Widow made by Portland’s Jantzen Company in the 1950’s. Today, boned corsets like this one are trendy and often worn over rather than under a dress, but this one is in such good shape, our consulting panel of makers suggested it be donated to MOHI. Apparently Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry is very interested in adding vintage clothing and especially underclothing to its collection, as such items are increasingly rare. Next time you clean out that attic or storage bin, consider donating oldies to a local history museum!

Brighten Up Your Closet

There were also a number of once-glamorous outfits crusted with beadwork and sparkles, some of which were reimagined in various ways. The heavy ornamentation on an all-white mother-of-the-bride costume could be dyed or hand colored to turns its lavish braiding and beading into a vivid, joyful restatement with personality and panache. A double vested jacket in navy blue satin with sparkly buttons would look totally different with fresh buttons, no shoulder pads, and a few appliques. The shoulder pads could be recycled into bird-shaped pin cushions or soft toys, with a little embroidery or applique for wings and bright beady eyes added.

Quite a few folks brought in clothing that was so much loved it was falling apart. Layering on patches using visible mending techniques can breathe new life into these dearly beloved garments, and just like the wrinkles in our faces, the patches will tell the story of a long and useful life. Some garments were patched with appliques made from needlepoint or embroidery projects, whether gleaned from thrift stores, found in family trunks, or left over from earlier craft projects that never found a proper use. Some of the larger appliques were also turned into pockets for jackets and pants, as several people commented that women’s clothing rarely has enough usable pockets. Some people had removed jacket sleeves to make vests and used the sleeve cuffs for the top edge of deep pockets made from the upper sleeve.

Show The Work, Tell The Story

Rips and tears can also be disguised or played up, whether with visible mending patches or less obviously by adding a more ornamental patch (or several, to make the problem less obvious and the outcome more decorative). Stains can be similarly covered or even drawn over using fabric marker pens; I asked my granddaughter to draw a little something over a small spot on a white shirt and she got inspired to draw the Milky Way, with planets and comets and space exploring critters galore. When she showed me, I was amazed and impressed by her spirited artwork and joyful galactic vision, but also pointed out that the little stain was still there. That earned me a little eyeroll and a giggle, but she covered it up by adding a flying fish with a space helmet full of water (perfect for a swimmer, right?).

Quite a few attendees said they were not experienced with sewing or embroidery, but the visible mending techniques are all about showing your work and letting insouciant imperfection reign. Several people were emboldened to try some of these ideas out on much loved night wear, where mistakes wouldn’t matter as much (if at all). One woman added the sleeves from a long sleeved tee shirt to a favorite nightgown, then sewed the bottom of the shirt to a too-short tunic, making a handsome color-block effect. As we mature, I’m hearing many people say they feel a lot less driven by the opinions of others and find themselves trying new things just for fun. With a world drowning in trash, it seems like the perfect time to begin experimenting with things we haven’t embraced, whether it means reclaiming the domestic arts or developing creativity in new ways to give fresh life to old things. Onward, right?

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When Fairy Tales Come To Life

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Magic mushrooms have a long history in human lore

Mushrooms Of Magic and Mystery

This has been a banner year for mushrooms around here, as the unusually warm fall and abundant autumn rains made for perfect growing conditions. Ever since I first moved to the maritime Northwest, I’ve enjoyed mushroom hunting with knowledgeable friends who taught me to find golden chanterelles, delicious morels with their sponge-like caps, and spicy, pine scented matsutake. We found all these in wooded ares, especially near partner plants like swordfern, huckleberry and rhododendron. My favorite mushroom hunter, Barb, always included a few leaves of such plants in her gathering basket as reminders that they often keep company with specific kinds of mushrooms. Barb learned that, and other mushroomer skills, from an older Japanese American woman who was well known as a matsutake hunter. Buyers would fly in from Japan with special suitcases to carry the matsutke home. Since tight matsutake buds are prized above open ones and brought in top dollar, Mrs. H. taught Barb to lie down on the forest floor at dawn, when the matsutake caps would begin to emerge. The rising buds cast a distinctive shadow and the prompt hunter could carefully remove them intact.

While I’ve rarely seen edible mushrooms in urban areas, I’ve been surprised to see colonies of fly agaric popping up all over my neighborhood in recent years. Amanita muscaria was the first “magic mushroom” I ever met, instantly recognizable from fairy tale illustrations; the bright red caps, sprinkled with white polka dots, were usually pictured with a cute little elf or smiling gnome sitting on top. I first saw them in real life in a Swiss meadow, where my mountain guide said they’ve been prized for millennia by the shamans of northern European and Asia for visionary rituals. She also said they remained popular with hippies, who liked to eat the little white dots for a hallucinogenic experience.

Death or Dreams

Turns out these that these psychoactive mushrooms are what researchers call “cosmopolitan” as they’re native to both coniferous and deciduous woodlands around the entire Northern Hemisphere. In some places, they range south; into the Mediterranean, in higher elevation areas in India and Asia, and even in parts of Central America. All over the world, people have valued these beautiful mushrooms for their mysterious ability to create a sense of new realities, to bring vivid waking dreams, sometimes visionary, sometimes terrifying. Like other magic mushrooms, Amanitas are classified as hallucinogens, intoxicants, and even as entheogens, allowing those who use them to have powerful spiritual experiences. Of course, they’re also deadly poison, so tasters must be very cautious; nature doesn’t deliver carefully measured doses and the amounts of psychoactive elements can vary widely. A little too much and oops, that visit to heaven turns out to be a one way trip.

I suspect that all mushrooms are magical, really; weavers of webs as fine as gossamer, connecting trees with trees and also with shrubs and perennials, and above all, with their own kin. Certain vast fungal networks are the largest known lifeforms on earth; Oregon’s Blue Mountains are home to a honey fungus entity that covers almost 2,500 acres and is estimated to be as much as 8,000 years old. I love the mystery of lichens, which represent a mutually beneficial symbiotic interaction between fungi and algae; algae provide nutrients from chlorophyll pigments that fungi lack, while fungi help algae absorb water. The more we learn about fungi, the more it becomes clear that most fungi are beneficial or harmless to other life forms. I hope that we gardener can help teach others to respect and admire the magic of fungi, starting with our families and friends. If we get a chance, we can try to intervene when folks who don’t know better try to kill off mushrooms in their yards, gardens, and lawns with toxic treatments. Sadly, the treatment is often far worse than the perceived problem, which is most likely a blessing in disguise. Onward, right?

Posted in Health & Wellbeing, mushroom hunting, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , | 1 Comment