Yes, Minnesota! Now, will other states follow suit?

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.

John Kamp

More calls for embracing the golds

From Jossie Ivanov's master's thesis on de-greening parts of Golden Gate Park
From Jossie Ivanov’s master’s thesis on de-greening parts of Golden Gate Park

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.

John Kamp

Rethinking the American front yard: a workshop

Photo of Levittown, with front yards
It is high time we rethought the front yard space

If you are interested in both the history and evolution of the American front yard and rethinking how we design and use this historically purely aesthetic space, please join us for an interactive and collaborative workshop on April 20 @ 1:00 p.m. at the machinaloci space in South Berkeley. Co-led by James Rojas of Place It!, Trena Noval and Ann Wettrich of Fieldworks Collaborative, and Carol Mancke of machinaloci.

To RSVP, click here.

Snow falling on sedums

Sedum spectabile "Autumn Joy" in winter
Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ in winter

When it comes to plants in the landscape, there are tried but true and therefore played out and boring (and should be retired), and there are tried but true and thus indispensable. Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ falls into the latter camp, an indispensable plant for landscapes in those four-season climates that include a good dose of winter. Emerging early in spring, it provides structure and color with zero supplemental water, and its fat leaves offer a foil to smaller-leaved plants, which, packed in too closely and in too great of numbers, will resort in a landscape that suffers from what we call “small-leaf syndrome.” Then, in late summer, its flower-heads start to emerge, slowly opening in early fall to attract pollinators of all varieties, feasting on its nectar during a time of year when nectar is starting to run scarce. Finally, in winter, it retains its structure and fades to a lovely rust color, its spent flower heads offering the perfect platform for snow to sit atop. Aside from the short period of time in spring when you must chop the plant down to the ground and thus don’t see it, this plant is the very definition of year-round appeal – both for you and for the lovely pollinators that will seek it out come fall blooms.

Go forth and plant with aplomb!

John Kamp

Botanical wonders of Alcatraz

One of the endless plant oddities and delights growing wild on the island of Alcatraz
One of the endless plant oddities and delights growing wild on the island of Alcatraz

Hear the name “Alcatraz” and one most often thinks of criminals swimming across the San Francisco Bay to potential freedom after a horrid extended stay in one of the country’s most notorious prisons. While obviously the prison has long been closed and the island is now a national park and tourist destination, what many still don’t realize is that the island is positively brimming with plants and gardens.

When the prison was still functioning, both prisoners and workers alike tended to gardens around the island. Some of these gardens have been restored, while others have been allowed to become wild again. Yet, rather than try and restore the island back to what it had been pre-settler, the Park Service is allowing these plants to do what they want to do – creeping over crumbling walls, populating rugged hillsides, and in general fixing a toehold on an island of tough conditions and no source of fresh water. At this point, the plants are as much a part of the cultural history of the island as the buildings themselves and the waves of people and animals that have inhabited it.

To find out more about how you can go on a docent-led tour of the gardens and wild spaces of Alcatraz, click here.