Why Natives? The Wyoming Sunflower Helianthus maximilani or the Perennial Sunflower will soon be gracing every open space, every road barrow pit, and my garden. Why my garden?
Nothing is like the warm, golden color of these natives.
Fast Food for the Road: The flowers feed late pollinators, preparing them for migration, hibernation or egg-laying. Seeded flower heads feed migrating song birds as they head south for winter.
Disguised: The “flower head” is actually hundreds of tiny flowers. Look closely.
The Good Bugs: Our native sunflower attracts one very special pollinator: the bee fly (I love this name ~ Bombyliidae). You’ve seen them. Fuzzy little flies with a long proboscis that looks like a stinger, but is used to take nectar. These little insects will fill the centers of the sunflowers, their legs and fuzzy bodies packed with golden pollen. And here is the ecological role of these peaceful creatures: The Bomby is able to detect small holes in the soil where grasshoppers have laid their eggs. The Bomby bee fly hovers over the hole and drops its own eggs into that hole. The Bomby larva hatch first and consume the grasshopper eggs. I love native team members. The first and most important practice in permaculture is observation. Observation is done to understand and apply what nature has developed over tens of thousands of years. This reduces waste of resources and introduction of toxins or other human long-term damage. As practitioners we support, evenencourage natural processes. And so every year I collect the native sunflower seeds and strategically plant them in the gardens near the fruit shrubs, and I offer them water so that they will grow strong.
Yummy: Collect the little sunflower heads when they have gone to seed. Remove the sepals, or leaves, from around the flower head. Brush oil – like olive flavored with garlic or sesame oil. Bake or grill the entire flower head. The flower head will soften and then it can be eaten whole.
My cows are less appreciative of the gifts of the sunflower. They simply put the entire flowerhead in their mouth and pull the crunchiness in, crushing the sweet oily goodness.
My heroine & guruette:Alicia Bay Laurel #AliciaBayLaurel . In 1970 she wrote the handwritten, hand-drawn Living On The Earth. In recently re-reading it I became very unhappy with myself. So today I sought redemption. I split Russian olive firewood. I had forgotten the Zen of wood chopping, hurt my shoulder, regrouped and finished in the breath of it. I turned off the furnace and the fire is built and ready. Humble but proud, I then made my first attempt at homemade hummus…it turned out amazing!! Im adding avocado and will try very hard to not eat the entire batch for dinner!!! Next: making flatbread from scratch. Don’t get me wrong; there will always be a grocery list (especially with our growing season!!) This was a really good day. Tomorrow: More wood; buffaloberry jam; plumbing new rain/irrigation barrels… as the next sub-freezing snow event floats in. (My deepest thanks to Don who replaced the old busted ax handle and sharpened the blade.🙏)
“Each plant in each specific location under each specific moment of conditions responds specifically. You can work to create the best set of circumstances to support and encourage the best ecology for that plant even to its best death. Study in-depth or take a seed and stick it in the ground and water it. Then observe, learn, try again. When you figure it out the 8 year cycle of grasshoppers will pop. You will do everything you can and still be overwhelmed. You will wait a year and start over. Thus is nature. Live IN it. Don’t get too cerebral. Stay light on your feet and ready to learn. Or else you will miss the important stuff. Then pick that sweet ripe berry or grape, eat it and smile. The End… and The Beginning.”
The life of plants is not a mystery, but it is completely enmeshing. I believe that all approaches to horticulture should be held up to a very wise bit of advice:”Do not believe in what you have heard; do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations; do not believe anything because it is rumored and spoken of by many; do not believe merely because the written statement of some old sage is produced; do not believe in conjectures; do not believe merely in the authority of your teachers and elders. After observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it”. Who knew Gautama Buddha was a gardener… in other words, take that seed, stick it in the soil, tend to it and seewhat happens. Oh and don’t wash your hands right away. Moon or no moon.
Please do not think that I am not aware of the threats that are so close to home right now ~ COVID, loss of loved ones, loss of employment, loss of a sense of your reality in our democracy, general loss of trust and belief. As painful as this all is, please know that it is also a very rich time that will broaden hearts and minds, and will, alas, strengthen fears and prejudices and ignorance. But there is only so much you can do. The Earth Abides. Take refuge in knowledge, in personal action, in the earth, in natural processes beyond human behavior ~ except your own. I hope that the following series of posts will extend your feeling of time and fill the cold, dark hours with ideas and creation and a sense of the long view, to take back some of your sense of your own resilience. The Soul of the Garden posts look at the landscape, horticulture, gardening, the place of humans as part of the landscape… or the back yard. It is a Social Science perspective, informed by Earth and Botanical Sciences… interdisciplinary, interdependent. I hope these will not only distract you, but will lead you to a new sense of reality which is in your hands… you and the weather and the earth and the bugs, and bartering with your neighbors, and the crimson branches of the dogwood, and watercolors, acrylic paints, color pencils, and the snap and taste of fresh asparagus, and a grounded divinity that doesn’t blow smoke in your eyes or up your overalls, but ties your soul to its source. Here we go.