The Seed and the Story is a weekly column exploring folklife, sustainability, oral history, human rights,and community in Yell County (and surrounding areas), Arkansas.
We focus on the local but the concepts are universal. The column is published in the Post Dispatch and is syndicated in the Courier. Please remember to support your local paper and independent media! The Seed and the Story column is just of many features you can find on the Boiled Down Juice. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoy our posts, please tell a friend. And thanks for reading.
Last week’s column dealt with phytoremediation and the role plants can play in cleaning up toxins in the soil. In passing I mentioned the importance of using native plants when considering a phytoremediation garden. With so much of our fields deforested and the swamp areas filled with dirt to build subdivisions, we’ve lost much of our native plant population, even in some of the more rural areas of the state. This loss of undeveloped land leads to loss of habitat for countless animals that make up the fragile ecosystem that literally sustains us. For example, have you ever wondered why we don’t see as many toads these days as we did even ten years ago? We’ve filled in all their breeding grounds to grow lawns, build parking lots, and construct subdivisions. And when we do plant gardens, we seldom plant the native plant species these animals need to survive.
In talking to several people who know much more about these topics than I do, it was recommended I read the book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas W. Tallamy. He’s an entomologist (bug specialist) and professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. The book won the silver medal award in 2008 from the Garden Writers Association of America, and it’s easy to read, filled with beautiful and helpful photos, and even includes a regionally specific informational appendix. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about how and why to plant native species, you would love this book.
He discusses, in detail, how invasive species of plants can literally choke out trees, kill nutrient-providing grasses, and crush the biodiversity in any given area. What I like most about the book, however, is its realistic and optimistic tone and straightforward approach. After all, the cities are not going to quit growing, and if we want to take care of the land and species, we can’t leave the work only to the wildlife refuges or people living in strictly rural areas. This book provides specific ways we can each plan and plant our backyards, front yards, city garden spaces, community parks, even shopping centers, to work with native plants rather than against them. For example, instead of huge grass lawns, which need a great deal of upkeep and provide virtually no nutrients for the ecosystem, we can plant wide-areas of native grasses and flowers that will attract and support butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. Unlike many plants transported here from other regions or continents, native plants grow easily, require little upkeep, and typically require less water to survive. Planting native plants makes sense financially and environmentally, and, of course, they’re beautiful.
Healthy land, healthy crops, even healthy water sources are directly related to the amount of biodiversity in any given ecosystem. We need the toads, the bugs, and the native plants to keep the natural world in balance so that it can continue to produce the food we need to survive. We don’t have to live down a dirt road to plant a healthy garden or be surrounded by (at least some aspects of) nature. This book provides detailed information on how to get started transforming your own home, or even business, into a refuge for biodiversity. Almost all of us know the benefits of a small backyard garden and how much food it can produce for our families. For our gardens and soils to continue to produce, we need a healthy ecosystem. All of us, even those with a tiny yard, can grow food not only for ourselves, but for the rest of the ecosystem as well. Thanks so much toMary Ann King at Pine Ridge Gardens in London, Arkansas for the book suggestion. Many thanks to Nao Ueda of Green Arkansas by the Day for telling me about Pine Ridge Gardens. Both women, in the same week, mentioned this book to me and told of how it transformed their gardens.
I’d love to hear about your garden. Send a message or comment below. And thanks so much for reading!
To order used copies of the book from Amazon, click here.