Monday, March 31, 2008

Devil's Claw

Visited this great community garden, Dunbar Spring, in Tucson. Near the visionary house & garden of Brad Lancaster whose inspiring book, Rainwater Harvesting (Volume 1) is my current lunchtime companion.

Below I captured the Devil's Claw (Proboscidea parviflora) in two different moods...and not when it's hitchhiking. Don't let its vinelike qualities fool you as it did me. Long known to the Tohono O'odam, it is a summer blooming wildflower that they use to create their fine basketry.

Definitely evidence to back up our Millennium Park hero, Piet Oudolf's, category of Plants That Look Good Dying...or maybe best laid-out. Maybe this could illustrate the theme song of the recently concluded, fabulous HBO series: The Wire. "When you walk through the garden...gotta keep the devil way down in a hole..." We will miss much more than the song: Thanks!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Chicago's 2nd Season: Construction

The good news is that my first scilla bloomed yesterday! A welcome sight given our late winter and recent snow. The rub is that the tuckpointers constructed their scaffolding the same day.

So, I am posting more Arizona we have red "flowers" against contrasting backgrounds...photographed them at the San Xavier del Bac Mission, called "The White Dove of the Desert," a wonderful spot. Much history. Well worth visiting, it's located on the Tohono O'odham reservation SW of Tucson.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Taking Design Cues From Nature

Our friend, Scott Calhoun of Zona Gardens, gave a wonderful talk at a recent Chicago Botanic Garden Symposium entitled: "Earning a Sense of Place, Garden Design Approaches Inspired by Nature." A few days before when we were hiking in Ironwood National Monument (we avoided the hazards of poisonous snakes and africanized bees, but unfortunately got to witness our few remaining tax-dollars at work in the form of a noisy & intrusive helicopter patrolling for "illegal aliens"), we saw some instructive design examples. Above catch Scott photographing lupine amidst grasses. The purple pops so much more given the grasses' textural contrast.

Here you can see how different the Mexican Poppy looks against gravel and the darker volcanic rock. The combo of the hot color and the cool foliage rocks!

Finally, one of Scott's pet peeves: a fine example in nature of what he believes most landscapers do poorly in clients' yards. Notice how artistically the rocks have arranged themselves via the forces of nature & time.

I agree. Wish more of us working outside could let ourselves be better schooled by observing what isn't man-made. Mostly, I believe it is this predominant American aesthetic of neatness and symmetry that doesn't work. And I haven't even begun to rant & rave about sustainability, or a lack thereof. The positive news is that some people in Tucson are practicing really progressive moves regarding water use & native plants. More about that and what we Midwesterners by the big lake can learn from our desert friends later...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Exploring Superstitions

If you Goggle Scott Calhoun's blog, you'll find some wonderful pics under "Wildflowers Along Route 77" on March 18, '08.

Here are two of my new favorite plants.

Above: Ocotillo whose common names the poet in me appreciates: Candlewood/Slimwood/Coachwhip/Vine Cactus/Flamingsword/Jacob's staff.

Below: the same genus as Prickly Pear Cactus, the latter of which will actually grow for us here in our region: we planted some at a client's dune in Michigan...apparently the fruit (a staple in Native American diet up until recently) can make great Margaritas. There are some very intriguing studies about how this food helps to control blood sugar and how lack of its balance probably contributes to high rates of diabetes in the native population near Tucson.

One of the amazing folk correlating these correspondences is Gary Paul Nabhan who co-founded Native Seeds/SEARCH. Visiting the store in Tucson, after sampling brownies with heirloom chiles, I bought his book, Cross-Pollinations: The Meeting of Science and Poetry. Reading it on the return flight opened my eyes a little further, inspired & energized me for the spring season.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Simply Chasing Wildflowers in Arizona

Partners in Crime: Judy (who cheerfully tolerated all of us plant geeks), Scott, Hilary (who works with IPSAWG, Invasive Plant Species Assessment Working Group) & Simmons...check out his "real" photos at his website...which he does while not editing the splendid Terrain. Of course I was jealous that the guys were tall enough simply to step over the barbed wire.

Grey cloud backing Mexican poppies amidst Barrel Cactus, Creosote (supposedly twice as old as Bristlecone Pine), Saguaro and maybe some Palo Verde.

The hard-to-capture Blue Dick amidst Fairy Duster.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sonoran Signature

Funky Barrel Cactus spotted at the Tucson Botanic Garden last week.
Of course, given my perspective, I took countless photos of cacti, mostly Saguaro, in various states of artistic decomposition. I photographed the one up against blue blue sky amidst crowds at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Both wonderful places, for different reasons.

Main focus of trip was chasing wildflowers which I will highlight soon.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Fab MELA Conference & Biodynamics

Rave reviews for our wildly successful and enjoyable 6th Annual MELA Conference on Triple Bottom Line. So much of value & inspiration from our speakers and roundtables, hopefully appearing on our website soon, but for now, a little focus on biodynamics.

Our keynote speaker, Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun (a self-defined "Recovering Politician"), spoke with moving & memorable depth about her path to creating Ambassador Organics. Her company provides fair-trade, organic, biodynamic coffee, tea and spices. This last may be unfamiliar to many, though for me (who has been seeing a homeopathic MD for decades), it is a term that resonates. What does "biodynamic" mean and why is it relevant?

Biodynamics is a system for organic farming that not only takes the soil into account but treats the system holistically. Wikipedia has a useful description of this method that was initiated in the early 20th century by the amazing Renaissance man, Rudolf Steiner. One remarkable community that has been practicing these methods with astonishing results since the 1960s is Findhorn in Scotland. On land that was originally rocky with meager soil, they now grow veggies the size of Hummers! Although I doubt anybody in that Eco Community would drive one.

Some similar methods have been employed in the Guatemalan mountain community of Papal where (as the new Earthways link for AFOPADI's sustainable agriculture & reforesting project) I witnessed this gorgeous cabbage patch at 10,000 ft. in October 2007.

During my previous trip to AFOPADI, I received a much-coveted book in Spanish, published in Nicaragua, that documents how the lunar calendar affects agriculture & animal husbandry...guess my husband can rest content if this is what I consider sexy. He'll know where to find me on a full moon: picking ripe fruit in the orchard. On that note: for years, a friend's husband has been devoted to his family-run organic apple orchard. Ela Orchard in Rochester, Wisconsin is renowned at the Madison Farmer's Market. Over twenty years ago, I still remember heading there to visit and being asked to help pick dandelions at a specific time of the day for use in the compost...a Steiner technique. Not for the literally-minded.