Posts Tagged ‘organic’

It Pays to Grow Green

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

The old saying “money grows on trees” may not be literally true, but a sustainable landscape comes close. New studies demonstrate that environmentally friendly gardening practices not only can decrease utility and maintenance costs but also increase property value.

Pesticide Packin’ Mama

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Now at websites and box stores near you—”Gardening Mama” for Nintendo DS, which bills itself as the first video game about gardening. Gardening Mama is a spinoff of the popular “Cooking Mama” series for young girls (a little old-fashioned sexual role playing, anyone?) that stars an adorable anime head with stubby arms and a cute Japanese accent. Now, just in time for spring, Mama is venturing out of the kitchen and into the garden. Instead of chopping vegetables she’s pruning branches. Instead of sprinkling salt and pepper, she’s pouring on the fertilizer—all with simple touch screen controls. Like Cooking Mama 2, Gardening Mama is also a competitive sport—you can play multiplayer challenges with friends to see who can blow clouds out of the sky the fastest, or douse the most insects with their pesticide sprayers. 

Not being a big video game person, I’m not the best person to judge Gardening Mama’s technical merits. But after playing around on the Gardening Mama website for a few minutes, I can say that the game could keep chemical gardening alive and well for the next generation.

Linking Food & Native Plants: The Hybrid Yard

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Tom Springer writes:

To me, the logical approach (although certainly not novel) is to combine the two: promote the use of manageable and hardy native plants that are attractive, make for good landscaping, and are also edible! Service berries, gooseberries, wild strawberries, wild blueberries, and hazelnuts are some examples.

He points out, too, that native trees often seen as “weeds”—such as sassafras and hackberry—can be pruned and shaped to make attractive shade trees, and that these species are not hard to find, even locally. 

He suggests that we resist the temptation to be purists:

To really make this mainstream, I think we have to forgo the notion that most people are going to quit having a yard entirely, or pull out their tulip bulbs and grandma’s favorite lilac. What we’re really talking about is a hybrid yard, where people more and more get comfortable with natives. If we could increase by just 25 percent the amount of natives planted across a community, what a difference that would make! And, having natives that you can eat—and readily use for cut flowers, as is the case with prolific natives like black-eyed susans and purple coneflowers—seems like a great way to get started.

Enlisting the help of a landscape designer at a local mainstream nursery would make all of this a lot easier, says Tom. It would be a big help for people just getting interested in natives if such a person could draw up a basic landscape plan that includes plenty of native plants. ”Once they have a plan in hand,” he says, “people can fill it in as the seasons come and go, whenever they get the money or energy to plant more.” 

Linking Food & Native Plants: A Landscape Designer’s View

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Douglas Kent, one of the country’s leading sustainable landscape designers, weighs in:

You are certainly right—natives make excellent  companion plants, attracting beneficials if not pollinators, or repelling unwanteds. Cal Poly’s Center for Regenerative Studies, where I teach, uses a lot of natives to enhance their food production.

Ripping out a lawn to plant food is not an environmental movement, though. It’s economic, or at least economic symbology. The best Tom and Nancy could do is to frame their position in those terms—natives will reduce costs (pesticides and water) and increase productivity. The Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden is seizing this trend and has designed, but not yet installed, an edible native garden (grape, miner’s lettuce, elderberry, currant, etc).

Getting people to rip out their lawns is completely  different (I’ve tried to understand and change this for the last 25 years). People that hold onto their lawns are not gardeners, and don’t want to be. Requiring no special care, lawns only need $100 a month and a service of mowers  and blowers. Interestingly, studies show that most beginning gardeners start by growing veggies, then evolve to more sophisticated styles of gardening, like natives, over time. Tom and Nancy should rejoice—food is a gateway.

Considering that agriculture is the number one destroyer of native landscapes, Tom and Nancy should not lament the food movement—what better use for urban/suburban landscapes than to protect those truly wild places. 

What You Think: Linking Food & Native Plants

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

You came through for Tom and Nancy! For the next few days, I’ll be blogging about some of your ideas on how to build on the interest in local and homegrown foods to promote native plants.

On Friday, I suggested that one way might be to use the growing number of farmers markets to spread the word through a “love local food?/ help a pollinator/ grow native plants” campaign. I also noted that it might be possible for supermarkets like Whole Foods that sell organic food to participate by promoting and selling native wildflowers instead of just cut tulips and the like.

Robbin Simmen, head of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s GreenBridge project, one of the biggest and best community horticulture programs in the country, responded:

I like the idea of encouraging retailers of food to sell native flowers. GreenBridge did this a couple of years ago with the Sustainable Gardening project where we reached out to the community gardeners who grow flowers to sell at the East New York Farms! market and asked them to grow Echinacea and Rudbeckia. They loved it because these plants are so bright, drought tolerant, and easy to grow, plus it’s an extra piece of interest for the shoppers to learn that they’re buying native plants.

Robin noted that another way to make connections between native and edible plants is to spread the word about native food plants. For example, she said she’ll be speaking on edible landscaping with native plants at the Brooklyn Food Conference on May 2nd. In her words, she’ll “be plugging blueberries and paw paws for human consumption, and lots and lots of native species for wildlife, the point being not to forget wildlife in our drive to feed ourselves!” 

Another Reason to Buy Organic Strawberries, or Grow Your Own

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

A few years ago, I was sitting next to old-time soil geek Garn Wallace at a meeting of the Great Park Design Studio in Irvine, California. I was about to sample one of the strawberries on a fruit tray in front of us, and I must have made some lame comment about the berries being fresh picked from the strawberry fields outside the studio, which seemed to stretch toward the horizon. With a kind of nerdy, deadpan, pre-Valley-Girl Southern California twang, Garn noted that there wasn’t one living creature in the soil in those fields. No Sir Ree. That soil is blasted with fumigants like methyl bromide, then covered with acres of plastic. In which thousands of unblemished strawberries were glistening in the Southern California sun, waiting to be shipped to a supermarket near you.

Methyl bromide is a nasty chemical that is being phased out under the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer. But according to scientists at MIT, sulfuryl fluoride, the fumigant being used as a replacement, is just as bad, or worse. According to Ron Prinn, director of MIT’s Center for Global Change Science, it is “4,800 times more potent a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide,” a potential climate change disaster.

Seeing as everyone is planting a vegetable patch this year, why not throw in some strawberry plants? First-time berry growers can find step-by-step instructions here.

Cheap Roses Can Be Costly

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a new study underlines the human and environmental costs of roses that come from developing countries. According to David Harper, a biologist at the University of Leicester  who has conducted research for more than 25 years at Lake Naivasha in Kenya, cut-price roses are “bleeding that country dry.” Look for roses and other cut flowers certified Fair Trade and grown organically. You can find a list of suppliers here.