The state of Minnesota will be offering a generous pot of money to homeowners statewide to convert portions of their lawn into foraging habitat for bumble bees. As ground-dwelling critters, bumble bees are particularly susceptible to paving, lawns, and, yes, even mulch. Thus, in addition to providing foraging food for the little guys and gals, keeping portions of our urban and suburban spaces un-covered (this means you too, mulch) is equally as important to ensuring the long-term survival of bumble bees.
But bumble bee decline is due as much to land-use policies that favor excessive paved surfaces and lawns, and agricultural practices that employ the use of harmful chemicals as it is to what everyday folks choose to do with their yards. So while Minnesota’s efforts should be applauded, we need to not place the burden of responsibility solely on individual homeowners. These problems are of a magnitude that no group of individuals, however well-meaning, can solve on their own.
In any case, this is a laudable start to what we hope will be a national trend, with other states eventually following suit and also providing funding for similar programs while rethinking their urban land-use and agricultural policies.
Over the years, we have written about a need for landscapes in California to really start embracing the summer dry season and let the tans and golds of real California summer shine. Back in 2010, we wrote The green that will never be and Inviting the golds and tans in, both of which advocated for a move away from the insistence that everything in our landscapes be green year-round, given that summer in California is really a period of rest for its plants and thus golds and tans become dominant colors of our natural landscapes.
Well, as it turns out, the initial proposal for the green roof at the California Academy of Sciences was essentially a replica of a grassy California hillside, which would have greened up in winter and faded to tan (“fade to brown” just doesn’t sound that appealing, but to each one’s own) in summer. Yet, as landscape architect and urban designer Jossie Ivanov of Oakland, California, points out in her master’s thesis on the shifting portions of Golden Gate Park to be more in line with the actual climates of California, architect Renzo Piano had a fit when he learned of the roof proposal, and thus the idea was scrapped. As a result, we now have a green roof of sedums, which are watered and green year-round. And what could have been an ideal educational opportunity for people from around the world to learn about the actual climate and ecologies of California became a missed one.
In any case, one missed opportunity is the opening of doors to new ones. We have an endless canvas of less high-profile, everyday landscapes in which we can start to explore these climate-wise ideas. To learn more and to get the wheels turning, you can read through Ivanov’s ideas on how we could start to shift at least portions of Golden Gate Park to be more in line with the actual winter-wet/summer-dry climate of the Bay Area, you may click HERE.
What’s been interesting to observe already with the Adopt-a-Mediterranean Plant Project is how the water needs of the grasses are really mirroring what we learned with the grasses in the first irrigation-free landscape we ever did. Namely, the grasses seem to always need two waterings spaced about a week apart, and then perhaps a third a couple weeks later, and then they reach a point where they can comfortably be on their own. As their adaptation to drought lies primarily in their roots, and thus these waterings are helping the plants send the roots deep into the soil, we shouldn’t be surprised, but, well, this work is always surprising, as you see first-hand just how little water so many of these plants actually need, even in drier mediterranean climates.
When we say we do irrigation-free landscapes, the response we so often get is that that is impossible. Well, however cliched and trite, the adage “seeing is believing” never fails to ring true. We know irrigation-free is possible because we have done it, and we also see plants growing irrigation-free all around us every day. So that you too can see this reality in action, we’ve launched a new citizen-science-based project in which we give you a plant from a mediterranean climate region of the world and then you monitor its water needs over the course of the year. At the end of the year, we will have a gathering to share what we have learned. Additionally, and more importantly, participants will ultimately become their own irrigation-free experts, and we will be able to create a set of meaningful data on the water needs of plants from summer-dry climates. These data can then be applied to the creation of new irrigation-free landscapes across California and the country at large. To learn more, click HERE.
This past Saturday, we held an interactive workshop on rethinking the American front yard at the machinaloci space in South Berkeley. Weaving in elements of model-building, site exploration, storytelling, and memory, the workshop took a hands-on – as opposed to a simply talking-based – approach to rethinking what is a ubiquitous part of the American urban and suburban landscape but one that needs a rethink, given the growing and pressing realities of climate change, water, housing shortages, and an increasing turn towards our smart phones and away from face-to-face interaction. We had a fantastic turnout and heard and saw many amazing stories and ideas. Stay tuned for part 2, in which we will be working in teams to redesign a space that includes not simply the front yard, but also the sidewalk, parkway, and street. What could be a new interplay of all of these elements?