130 Farm Unfixed with Jessica Rath

In her work artist Jessica Rath examines, as she puts it, “how human containment of the land effects non-human species from the propagation of agricultural plants to the sensoria of bees.” She is on the faculty of the Art Center College of Design and her previous projects include works about apple breeding, co-evolutionary communication between flowering plants and their pollinators and a long term project called Farm Unfixed that we spend most of this conversation discussing. During the podcast Jessica mentions,

You can look at Jessica’s work on her website at jessicarath.com. Sign up for her newsletter to find out about upcoming projects.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Leave Your Leaves Alone

Photo: David Newsom

Our friends at the Wild Yards Project (episode 126 of the podcast) have posted an interview with plant guru Barbara Eisenstein, “Leave Your Leaves Alone, and Let The Wild Things In!

Eisenstein has a nuanced view of native gardening noting in the interview that we need to consider a mix of native and hardy non-natives in our urban spaces,

Our urban landscape bears little resemblance to pre-development conditions. Consequently, formally local natives may be unable to succeed in these altered environments. What plants are then most appropriate? Rather than looking to a past that is no more, it may be best to use our understanding of the ecological services plants provide. A review of research by Linda Chalker-Scott (2015, Arboriculture & Urban Forestry, 41.4, 173-186) suggests that both native and non-native woody species can enhance biodiversity of urban landscapes by providing these essential services.

At this risk of wonkiness, do we have a Hegelian plant dialectic here, perhaps? Are we on the cusp of a synthesis in the native/non-native plant debate? This is a complicated question, but I think that Eisenstein makes some good points in this provocative interview. Props to David Newsom at the Wild Yards Project to allowing this conversation go where it went.

Eisenstein goes on to talk about what she considers most important for attracting birds and insects to our gardens. Spoiler: it’s more about the leaf litter than the plant selection. Make sure to read the rest of interview on the Wild Yards Project website. And consider signing up for the newsletter and adding to the Wild Yards tip jar.

126 The Wild Yards Project with David Newsom

On the podcast this week Kelly and I talk to David Newsom about his Wild Yards Project. The goal of the Wild Yards Project is “to give you the inspiration and resources to re-wild your yard and to help others around you to do the same. 10,000 Species a Year Lost. 40 Million Acres of Lawn in the US. The New Wilderness Begins at Home.” During the conversation David mentions:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

The Wild Yard Project

Storyteller and native plant evangelist David Newsom’s Wild Yard Project seeks to transform the lawn wasteland of our built environment. According to the mission statement of the Wild Yard Project,

The World Wildlife Fund recently announced that the natural world is losing 10,000 species a year, due largely to habitat loss. At the same time, we here in the United States have displaced over 40 million acres of native-habitat with costly, lifeless lawns. Astonishingly, lawns are the biggest crop in the US, but we don’t eat them, and much of that acreage goes to waste when it could be inviting back in the tens of thousands of essential and threatened species we have pushed out. The Wild Yards Project combines a powerful team of award winning filmmakers with esteemed botanists, biologists and native plant landscapers to generate media and local projects aimed at inspiring and educating people to transform their lawns back into vibrant native plant and animal habitat. One yard can save a species, but many yards can transform the world.

We’ll have David on the podcast to talk more about this important project soon. In the meantime, take a look at the video, read an essay by Kim Radochia, “A Meadow Grows in West Gloucester” and sign up for the Wild Yards Project newsletter. Then get out there, wherever you are, and plant gardens that support life.

Lessons from the 2018 Theodore Payne Garden Tour

The gardening equivalent of Beyoncé’s triumphant 2018 Coachella performance took place on the very same weekend. Theodore Payne’s annual garden tour reunited pollinator friendly plantings, low water use and great design in a sort of horticultural equivalent of the return of Destiny’s Child. Lush and traditional garden design even made a Jay-Z like cameo appearance at the stunning stunning Wilson/Leach garden in Altadena (seen above). Native plants gardens in Southern California don’t have to look like a desert!

An ad in the back of the tour brochure neatly summed up the vibe:

In: Architecture-Enhancing Designs Out: Boring Expanses of Lawn
In: Vibrant Climate-Compatible Blooms Out: Stuffy Rows of Annuals
In: Lush, Leafy Native Foliage Out: Heat-Amplifying Gravelscape
In: Materials that Go with the Flow Out: Stiff, Straight Patios/Drives
In: Taking Design Appeal to the Curb Out: Conformist Parkways
In: Enjoying your garden

The big takeaway for me from the garden tour this year was that sometimes you’ve got to call in a garden design professional unless you have a knack for design (and I don’t). Our ticket contest winner (who gave us the most beautiful basket of home grown fruits and preserves ever–thank you Donna!) came to the same conclusion.

We’ve hired a designer, which is why our backyard looks like a strip mine:

A crew took out an ugly concrete patio last week and has been digging down to lower the level of the new patio they will install. The old patio was above the level of the sill plate and was causing the back part of the house to rot. I’ll post more in-progress photos over the next few months. We’re also working on the inside of the house. When all is done we hope to have some events here and open up the house for idling and entertaining.

If you can’t afford a crew to do the work you can, at the very least, hire a designer to do a consultation and offer some suggestions. I really wish we had done this 20 years ago when we bought this place!