Water flows to reach equilibrium
A seasons’ progress carrying with it sediment and debris
Obstructions, impoundments halt water’s movement
Water saturated soils
Create the transition with water and life
The Whos live in Whoville on a speck of dust, and there were many types of Whos on many different specks, they wiggle and giggle, crawl, walk, swim and hop. They come in different shapes and sizes and each do different things, but what they all shared is that they do things that are necessary for other things to live. For they consumed the organic debris that settles around their homes and turn it into food so other things to survive. It is a system that for all living things works very well, a tree sheds it leaves, branches break, becomes food for the Whos of this earth and they in turn make the food to give back to the tree. The Whos are food for other creatures and then they in turn become the consumed. Starting with Whos and they may be very small, for even if we…
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As I run my hands thru the soil, trying to puck out the weeds by the roots, I see all my companions in or on the soil, and I realize that I’m disturbing their habitat as my hands and my body are sharing the same space.
In really messy, weedy gardens when I start to remove the unwanted, the uninvited; it a mass exodus of of living things who had made it a home, now is search of another place to survive and rear their young.
I look up and see something in the plant next to me, sometimes there is something looking back at me, or busily trying to find something to eat or just plain sex out in the open.
So what do I do, pull out my camera and click, some times I get a good shot.
I’ll say that “life was much simpler once”; at least in a world of gardening and yet it most likely because of the theory that ” ignorance is bliss”. I once was a wooden boat carpenter who when I had my own business it was at my former home and I probability spend more time in my gardens than working on boats. I lived in the middle of the woods, where my gardens were, it was on the land that had been cleared by the former owner for fire wood to heat their little house in the winter. It was a joy to go from nursery to nursery picking out plants and then trying to find a place where they might fit, to spend hours weeding, creating new beds. My gardens were well tended, at least up to the time that I changed professions from a boat carpenter to a person working sales at a plant nursery and being part of their landscape crew, and then my gardens began to transform. For they began to have manage on their own, many of plants were lost, others grew with a vengeance and design and ideas what I had planted began to disappear and the forest started to reclaim its own. I wind up becoming an observer rather than a participant, for many hours are required to work in horticulture field during the season.
It has been a long evolution from a period of bliss to now where my feelings are much more confused; for as I have furthered my education about plants, designing and the natural native landscape I have developed a multi personality disorder. Why not start with lawns for it is a huge part of this profession, it a multi -billion dollar industry from those that provide seed, the chemicals, to the sellers of soil, compost to all of those that sale equipment from mowers, weed wackers, irrigation you name it, it’s out there; with new, improved products every year and to all of the landscapers who job it is to maintain it, keep it green, looking lush and free of undesirables. Then the question is what becomes of the chemicals with names we (or I) can’t even pronounce and wonder what harm they do to us and to all the other living things out there, or do we consider going organic? Even organic requires a lot of inputs, to offer organic the inputs are to feed the soil, that feed the grass. It certainly is a better option than what we call typical lawn care.
Yet do you ever wonder why have a lawn? Where did our idea of a lawn come from? Where it is largest portion of any landscape we might design. Now, I am person sadly that never gets that excited about lawns or cutting my own grass, I do it more so just to keep my neighbors from cursing me and I don’t my clients lawns. When I used to live in the woods I had very little lawn, only for paths and over my septic system and it was nothing I ever planted rather it was grasses and plants that stayed green after walking or cutting it. There were many stone outcrops which meant I couldn’t use a lawn mower instead I used a weed wacker and when it broke, my lawn quickly became a wildflower meadow, not something planned, but from the plants that were already growing there, but when not cut they grew to be 2 feet high, with all kinds of flowers mixed in;becoming a different kind habitat with insects, birds I had never notice before. I let it go for the season and then after I cut some parts and let other parts go, which made my ex-wife much happily. It is a nice idea of a creating meadow rather than lawn, but for where I lived it was landscape of transition for it never would remind a meadow without my intervention. What kind of meadow it might be depended on what was there to begin with, what might introduced by me or the surrounding landscape. What kind of meadow it might be also depended on the soil, water and how it was maintained. when is it cut would determine what would survive, what went to seed, what grows close to the ground that can take repeated cuttings. And if I stop cutting, it would move on to shrub land, then forest.
With this in mind and thinking of design, on a few occasions I have been ask by a client to create a naturalistic landscape, but when I look around the site maybe in the woods, that had been cleared of all vegetation for the house, driveway, septic system with the idea that there is a front yard, a back yard. The woods surrounding the lot has been clean of understory plants for whatever reason I’m never sure, and the client wants it to be natural with flowers, shrubs, maybe plantings with ornamental trees and it is a given that the rest is lawn, regardless of soils that remain. It hard not to tell them that if the site hadn’t been so disturb, with the smallest footprint of disturbance, it would have been easy to keep a natural landscape for it was already there, but what the client wants is not what was already there. For what was there, did flower, for all plants do, but it’s not the show that they or we come to expect. Nor would the client with few exceptions want their front or back yards littered with leaves, twigs, branches like the surrounding area. So we all want to create something that natural, we might think to use native plants, but were they there before or would they have shown up on their own if there had been a natural disturbance to the site? Are the soils, moisture, sunlight of the site either before and after disturbance appropriate for what are natives? This isn’t to suggest that using natives is something that doesn’t matter, it does, it should. But maybe it about much more.
A man-made landscape is never a natural landscape. Each has its own set of rules, and the conditions and outcomes of each are very much different. One is manipulated by us, the other isn’t. The design is the end, only allowing for growth and maturity. What plants started there remain, others are removed.
We’ll never go back with the introduction plants from all over the world, not knowing how they will adapt to a new environment and how they might change that environment directly and indirectly. I will mention Invasives for they are and will be very much a part of our profession and our environment. And we have opened Pandora’s box I’m sure that each of us has to deal with them now, just in the maintenance of our customers gardens. we work an area, yet just a few feet away are more that we’re not responsible for and they will be the problem of future maintenance. We in New Hampshire may have stopped selling those plants that are on the Invasive list, but there are already millions of them out there, each producing many more millions of seeds that will produce billions of offspring in the future. So as we design, using plants now not on a list, but may someday be on a list which future landscapers will be dealing with. Can a native that isn’t a native to this region or a ecosystem have the potential to act like an invasive someday?
So where my multi personality steps in is that there are some many different answers to the same question, what is, what isn’t; good, bad, indifferent? So when it comes to design and what is the best landscape, how do we judge? Is it color, form, texture seasonal value in our eyes and that of the customer? Does it serve the function the surrounding landscape does it supplement or compete with that landscape. Or going back to man-made verses natural landscape, at what point does one consume the other and make it nonfunctional?. We like to think what we’re doing is making it better, but it is the future that will tell. For now, I still working in peoples’ gardens, I try to design to what a customer might like. I try to suggest that less is more, native over exotic and yet another part of me is thinking let nature take its course. Why clean a garden when it’s might be best not too. Should a garden look kept and tended to? For it doesn’t seem to fit with that larger landscape that no one has designed.
Who’s Coming To Dinner?
Or Life is a Buffet
As different birds land on the feeder, you might be wondering why it is that there are certain species of birds that come to enjoy your offerings, while others don’t. If you live in a city, or live in the woods, who is “a coming and calling for dinner”, may be very different from one place to another, even if it is only a short distance separates the two. Other birds may only show up at certain times of the year or may only stop by for a short visit of a day or week. You hold a handful of soil and you know or have been told that millions of living things are right there in your hand, are they be the same if it were handful of a forest soil verses a handful of a city lot soil? What kind of creature are making holes in your maple or rhododendron leaves? As you discover the leaves of some of your plants have eaten, yet the plant next to it hasn’t been chewed on at all and why is it many times you never see them, but you surely know they were there. What we are observing is species requirements and types of different habitats. From microorganisms, fungus, lichens and mosses to plants and trees and from insects to birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
We might think to landscape for wildlife whether for ourselves or for our clients, who have expressed a desire for butterflies or hummingbirds to frequent their gardens with a colorful display. So what is it we need to do attract a particular species or wildlife in general. We all know the 4 basic requirements for a habitat: food, water, cover and space. It sounds simple, at least for the first three and the forth (space) is the area that is required to fulfill the first three including cover which is a place to seek shelter from the weather, protection from predators, cover for predators seeking prey and for reproduction and raising young.
So when we think about ‘space’ we might look from our own point of view; for we might consider that our homes and our yards as being our habitat; a source of water, food and cover. Yet our water comes from a larger area, even if we have well water that is taken from the ground under our feet. For our ground water is that of a the watershed where all of the moisture that is received in the form of rain and snow slowly peculates thru the soil and recharges our aquifers and ground water. Even if you are on public water, the area that is required to supply its’ residents, may be well beyond your town or city’s limits and may cover hundreds of sq. miles and in some areas in dryer climates it they might be drawing on water from thousands of miles away. Our food may ideally be local, but even that would be regional rather that from our own food sources that we grown or raise at our homes. And for most of us, it isn’t ideal and the food we eat comes from thousands of mile away and today most likely some of it comes from the other side of the planet. The other factor of space for us is that we need to travel in our work in order for us to make the money that allows us to buy the food, the electricity to power our pumps, to have water at our faucets and to keep that roof over our heads. So our space requirements when we think about it , is a series of habitats that would have be considered part of our individual habitat that cover our base needs.
All living things have their own type of habitat and yet for almost all habitats they are dependent on other habitats for their own survival. It can be direct or indirect but they are interdependent and influence by each other. All living things fall within a range of their ability to survive different habitat requirements, from generalist that can survive in many different habitats to species can survive only in very narrow range of moisture requirements, to types of food and cover it requires. From the smallest such as what lives in that handful of soil, what life is there is dependent on the larger habitat where that soil comes from. The handful of material in your hand might be a fine particle base such as clay, silt or the larger particles of sands and gravel and stone and what microorganisms that can live there are dependent on the same 4 basic requirements water, food, cover and space. So with water (or moisture) with each of these different particle sizes interact in different ways; from clays ( poorly draining to very poorly draining) where there is very little space between particles that when the water table is high those spaces are fill with moisture pushing the air out. and on the larger scale of habitat what plants and trees that can survive seasonal water saturation and for how long it remains that way. The other characteristic of clay soils is in periods of dryness it takes a lot of rain or snow to re-moisten it again for much of the rain runs along the surface because of the smallness of space between particles and the water it follows the path of least resistance. Sandy and gravelly soils are generally well draining to excessive well draining and tend to dry out quickly, especially if sand particles are deep in the soil horizons. (As a side note these areas are where many our aquifers are located). Food the next requirement of microorganisms which are dependent on the larger living organisms that can live in the different types of soils for they provide the food for the microorganisms both directly and indirectly. Either they consumer other living organisms or the organic waste from other species consuming other living organisms within a given habitat and in turn they provide the food for other living things.
So given the different soil habitats from very wet to very dry and those different habitats in between. What each habitat can support for life in the whole range of living things. Starting with wet such as lakes, ponds, marshes, peat lands, wetlands, swamps, river riparian areas and floodplains. To the dry habitats of alpine and sub-alpine, shallow soils on bedrock, rocky ground, cliffs and talus, upland dry forest to sand dunes along the coast. Each of these habitats are unique, they may share species that can survive such different conditions, but there are also species that can only exist in a particular habitat and the layering of species, one dependent on the other that make each of these habitats unique. There are other habitats that fall between the range of wet and dry and all of these habitats may be approximate to each other the are separated by the conditions of soil, topography, weather and exposure.
I guess I’ll end for now where I started, at the bird feeder. I live in a residential area within a small city, but before had lived in woods, and what I notice is that many of the birds I seen in one location I see at the other, from chickadees, to nuthatches, fitches and tufted titmouses and one of the things and I wonder is where do they all live in my neighborhood? How far do the travel to feed upon the seeds I provide? And because I have squirrels who certainly aren’t going to give up a meal that I offering to other species (no matter how clever I think I am in trying to stop them) and with their messy eating habits, they wind up providing seeds for ground feeding birds such as mourning doves and dark eye juncos and for the rodents the tunnel under the ground and the snow to enjoy easy pickings. There are other birds that I never had before, such as wrens and house fitches that come with living in an urban environment. Yet there are many other species that never come to the feeders, like the robins or cedar waxwings that even in the dead of winter when have very little food sources other than the little fruit there is on a crabs or a pears and winterberries, they never consider sunflower seed even with raisins and berries that are mixed in? So the fact that I have bird feeders and a heated bird bath for winter and there are trees on the surrounding the edge of my property for shelter, have I created a habitat? Would they not be here if I didn’t keep the feeders full?