Cats and catmint: a great pair (nepeta x faassenii)
March 26, 2016
Last July I posted about my delight from receiving an unexpected visitor to the garden, but I also lamented about the constant noise in the neighborhood, about how man-made noise seems to have crowded out the sounds of nature. One measure of a healthy ecosystem is biodiversity, and one measure of biodiversity is what's called the soundscape, something that we quite easily take for granted. Check out this fascinating story from WNYC last year about the silencing of the songbirds.
July 17, 2015
Sometimes you do see some amazing wonders of nature right here in suburbia, if you just look. As I looked out the window this afternoon I saw this amazing bird in our swimming pool. I've seen some interesting birds in our yard before, but never one this big and majestic. I assume it's a pelican.
The pelican just stood incredibly still for at least an hour. It must have been waiting for the nonexistent fish in the "pond" to start stirring. You can tell from the photo that we didn't open the swimming pool this year. Also, the ladders are not there for construction but simply to hold down the pool cover.
I thought the pelican would never move, but finally the bird did move and I was able to catch it in these two videos. I whispered Oh my God in one of the videos but fortunately I don't think it's audible. Just after the second video was taken, the bird squatted and left some droppings in our pool as some sort of token, hopefully friendly. It then flew away. It was pretty amazing to see such a big bird take flight. It almost looks like it should be impossible, but with just a few heavy flaps of its wings it was airborne.
Pelicans were once endangered in the United States so it was amazing to see this bird grace our backyard with its solemn presence. As you can see in the photos, our backyard is not really worthy to host such a dignitary of nature. Besides all the junk holding down the pool cover, you can see how the honeysuckle has completely overtaken the shrubbery. Tomorrow we're planning to start tackling some of the poison ivy by hand.
Also, sorry for all the background noise in the video. In our neighborhood, it seems there's always some sort of construction, chainsawing, or leaf blowing going on. Leaf blowers are one of the most obnoxious things ever invented. The noise is not even the worst thing about them, but the fact that all they do is blow the leaves into the street to become somebody else's problem. Just pick up a rake already!
If I were the pelican I'd fly away too :)
May 19, 2014
I recently watched an interesting conversation between Bill Moyers and David Suzuki. Suzuki was describing a heated encounter he had with the CEO of a multinational timber ccorporation:
As Suzuki points out, this kind of statement perfectly illustrates how we've commodified nature for our short-term, narrow self-interests. What many of us fail to appreciate, however, is that we are all heavily invested in nature's preservation. Nature is the infrastructure of our lives, and we have a vested interest in protecting it. The idea is similar to the social contract. We all owe our prosperity to the invisible capital created by society, as well as the living environment.
We often believe, erroneously, that we can sever these connections with the community and the environment whenever it suits us. We take nature for granted, because we can't assign a monetary value to it. As Suzuki explains, what nature provides us doesn't fit easily into conventional economic models.
Trees, for example, provide shade, which regulates temperature and suppresses weeds. Since Hurricane Sandy, it seems that trees have been disappearing at a faster rate every year, and the weeds are running rampant. Honeysuckle has probably claimed more roses in our yard than blackspot. Some people are also too quick with the chainsaw. I remember watching in horror several years ago as the neighbors' son demolished all the trees in their yard so that he could have a playground for his ATV. And that "hobby" only lasted about one or two years. Those trees, though, are gone forever.
We've lost appreciation for the value of time.
Time gives us perspective and wisdom, and there is nothing that more accurately measures the passage of time--and reflects our own maturity--than an old tree in the yard. In our instant gratification culture, however, we've lost sight of the value of trees, of the history that they represent, of how they structure and support all life on this planet of ours, and consequently we've lost perspective of time.
Have you heard of the "slow food" movement? We need a "slow garden" movement. We need to stop reaching reflexively for the chemical sprayers and other insta-garden entrapments. I remember many years ago when I was digging a new garden bed out front, as I was putting down newspapers to smother the weeds my neighbors looked at me like I was nuts. Why not just nuke the soil with weedkiller? Two years later, however, I would often catch my neighbors standing by the fence, admiring and smelling the efflorescence of roses. I don't believe that there are any shortcuts to a truly beautiful garden.
We need to stop trying to sterilize and domesticate nature. Nature is wild, and doesn't take well to taming. In my opinion, there is very little beauty in a perfectly manicured landscape. A truly beautiful garden takes time. And it takes hands in the dirt. You can't be a perfectionist either. There is always a little chaos to the most beautiful gardens of the world. Gardening is a tango, and you are dancing with a tempestuous, way more experienced partner. Let nature take the lead.
December 21, 2013
I've made some improvements to the site's navigation features. If you can't notice the changes, that's probably a good thing.
Also, two very important topics covered in The New York Times recently:
Happy New Year! Here's to a 2014 with less pesticides in our yards.
August 7, 2013
I've finally come around to updating the site. I overhauled the design to make it more streamlined, and I cleaned up broken links and removed outdated content. Most of the "new" content comprises photos that were taken way back in 2006, but which I never had a chance to upload. I've been gone a few years, but it always bothered me to leave this project unfinished, so I'm glad I finally had a chance this summer to finish it. Part of me also wanted to work on the site for a lark, since hardly anybody takes the time to create personal webpages anymore, which I think is unfortunate. It was a lot of work though, and took me just under 3 weeks.
Unfortunately, this will probably be the site's last major update. I just don't have the heart or the time right now to get back into gardening, and to be honest there isn't much of a rose garden left anyway. In 2006, there were approximately 300 rose plants in the garden. Now there are approximately 50. I don't think it was the lack of watering, feeding, or pruning that did the roses in. Many of these roses could have survived that neglect. But the weeds! Most of the garden beds have completely disappeared under a carpet of weeds and heavy thicket.
Perhaps the moral of the story is that carefree roses are nice, but a garden also needs to be tended to. I toyed with the idea of hiring a gardener to save the roses, but that would have defeated the whole purpose for me. It's never been about presentation or collecting, but the process, about being closer to nature and getting my hands dirty. I imagine that's what it's about for many of us. If we just wanted to kick back and enjoy the view, we'd hire landscapers. A garden grows, with or without us, but it's the way we personally shape and nurture it that matters. It's a reflection of us.
We toil in our gardens, as we mark the passage of time in them. Whether it's the days anticipating the bud or mourning the ephemeral bloom, or whether it's the years that pass as the sapling we planted matures into a life-giving tree. It occurred to me that we don't just plant flowers in the garden, but among every patch of soil we plant our dreams and memories.
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A Long Island Rose Garden