Earthwork: Habitat Gardening at Home and Away

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

It's spring, and I've been on the road giving talks and workshops about gardening as a way to restore the earth and our connection to this glorious blue planet.

Spreading phlox, not native, but an excellent food source for early-flying pollinators, blooming in my rock garden. Spreading phlox, not native, but an excellent food source for early-flying pollinators, blooming in my rock garden.

Last week's talk was in Fort Collins, Colorado, with passionate plantswoman and naturalistic garden designer Lauren Springer Ogden. We spoke to an audience of over 200 people as part of a City of Fort Collins Utilities series, me on designing for habitat and a healthy home landscape, and Lauren on her favorite plants for pollinators and wildlife.

It was the third talk I've given this spring on restoration gardening, and each time, the crowd has been larger than I expected and eager for knowledge about how to garden in ways that can heal this battered earth, and restore our relationship with nature.

I think we hunger for reconnection, for something positive we can do that gives back to the planet that gives us so much--air, water, food, the basic materials of our lives, plus beauty, awe and wonder. Habitat gardening is one powerful way to give back, providing homes and food for the "little guys" who help preserve healthy ecosystems--pollinators and songbirds--and also providing us with the delight of seeing those lives on a daily basis.

Sphinx moth, a key summer pollinator here and a fascinating diurnal insect, aiming for a Rocky Mountain penstemon for a meal of nectar, its hollow straw of a tongue already hanging out and ready. One of those "little guys": a white-lined sphinx moth aiming for a Rocky Mountain penstemon, its hollow straw of a tongue ready to sip nectar!

Which is why I spend the time and energy to travel and teach, even when I'd rather stay home and work on my own landscape.

I made it home Thursday evening, and then spent Friday getting started on the next presentation--my keynote at the Chaffee County Home & Garden Show next Saturday. This weekend I finally had time for my own earth work, nurturing my reclaimed former industrial yard and the adjacent block of urban creek.

Ditch Creek this afternoon, flowing just enough to murmur--and to revive the mayfly larvae. Ditch Creek this afternoon, flowing just enough to revive the mayfly larvae.

Which, by the way, is running again. I hear its murmuring voice from my front deck, a lovely sound after four weeks of unusually hot and dry weather.

Yesterday I wore myself out laying the first part of my future outdoor dining patio in a flat spot on the slope between my two buildings where the two-story garage/studio casts shade on spring and summer evenings.

I had already spent time loosening the construction-compacted ground with a mattock, hauling out rocks and sifting the gravel-sized fragments from the sand, and leveling the area. My friends Tony and Maggie had helped me carry and roughly set the first flagstone.

The dining patio in progress, about a third completed.... The dining patio in progress, about a third completed....

As I worked yesterday, I heard Richard's voice in my mind. He taught me how to design and build a flagstone patio; a project that was his final sculpture, his last chance to get his hands on the rocks he so loved.

Today I was too sore to pick up either mattock or flagstone, so I planted the heirloom tomato seedlings I grew indoors (thanks to Renee's Seeds), nestling them carefully in the soil of the big stock tank on my side deck. I'm sure it's a bit of a shock to be outside in the bright sun and moving air after a comfy childhood indoors, but they'll adapt, and their walls-o-water will keep them cozy as they do.

Each red "teepee" insulates a different kind of heirloom tomato plant. Each red "teepee" insulates a different kind of heirloom tomato plant.

I also spent time hand-watering my rock garden to compensate for the spring snows that didn't come, and admiring the spots of color from the spreading phlox, species tulips, daffodils, and native golden-smoke, all of which little sweat bees and other native pollinators are eagerly attending to.

*****

I purely love this life, drought or no, and I am honored to be part of the movement to restore nature in our yards and gardens. It's a powerful way for us to express our gratitude to this amazing planet--our nurturing orb and the only home our species has ever known.

Tiny species tulips attract tiny native bees to the rock garden. Tiny species tulips attract tiny native bees to the rock garden.