Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Acceptable and Unacceptable Changes to the Neighborhood Landscape

At the beginning of June, we will have lived in this house for 3 years, although I didn't start gardening in the yard until the fall of that first year.

This is what the front yard looked like in mid April, 6 weeks before we moved in....

While the yard was neatly trimmed and mowed back then, I found it sterile and boring.  Naturally, when I began gardening, I started adding native plants and removing non-natives.  As usual, I had more of a general idea of what I wanted the garden and yard to be, rather than any firm plan.  Most of all I just wanted my yard to be a small wildlife refuge in the midst of suburbia.  And I wanted it to be pretty, too, if at all possible.

I kept the huge canopy trees, a southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and a laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia).  They are both native and, while I probably wouldn't have chosen either species to put in their spots, they add gravitas and presence to the yard.  Besides 3 dwarf yaupons (Ilex vomitoria) and a few of the lawn weeds, they were also the only native plants growing in the front.

Since those first days, I've added a laundry list of natives to the front gardens, including shrubs (oakleaf hydrangeas, Virginia sweetspire, sweet pepperbush, dwarf Florida dogwood, wax myrtle, Darrow's blueberry, and a deciduous holly), ferns (southern shield fern, leatherleaf fern, and southern woodfern), perennials (columbine, blue eyed grass, golden ragwort, little brown jug, lyreleaf sage, Indian pinks, Walter's violets, woodland phlox, downy phlox, garden phlox, green and gold, Louisiana iris, mouse-ear coreopsis one, mouse ear coreopsis two, spiderwort, Gaillardia, Florida scrub skullcap, golden zizia, bluestem goldenrod, showy goldenrod, regal catchfly, powderpuff mimosa, dense blazingstar, native lantana, white Baptisia, butterfly milkweed, and fogfruit), and even a grass (Elliott's lovegrass).  I'll spare you all the scientific names - this time!

Here's a recent photo of the front yard....

Only now are the garden beds beginning to show up and look like gardens.  "A year to sleep, a year to creep, a year to leap."  The old maxim holds true yet again.

Having added such a wide variety and large number of plants, it's odd to me what people notice and comment about in my front gardens.  I had a neighbor tell me how much she liked the "yellow flower", golden ragwort (Packera aurea), shortly after I planted it next to the sidewalk, under the magnolia. 

Ironically, I love the foliage of this plant, which is low, dark green, shiny, and rich looking to my eye...but I don't particularly care for the flowers.  I do love their cheerful presence early in the growing season, though.  Golden ragwort are the first native flowers to bloom in my garden. 

Recently, a woman who came by to pick up wild strawberry plants I was giving away commented how much she liked my columbine and blue eyed grass.  That made my day!  She even knew the names!

Here's one clump of the blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) she was admiring, by the front porch, ...

...and a closeup of blue-eyed grass blossoms in the shade nearby.

Then here's a picture of the other species she was admiring, eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), taken a couple weeks ago when it was first starting to bloom.

As much as I love blue-eyed grass and columbine, I am surprised that no one has ever mentioned my downy phlox (Phlox pilosa), which I think is beautiful.  A tidy mound of cotton candy pink at the front of the flower bed, this classy little plant blooms nonstop from December through to the end of May and even into June.  Perhaps to most eyes it just looks like a standard annual bedding plant?

The spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), which is spectacular right now, doesn't get much mention either - although another neighbor has started telling me when he sees it popping up in wild areas around the neighborhood, encouraging me to go dig it up and add it to my gardens.  Since he lives 2 doors down from me, I figure he must like it at least a little or he wouldn't be encouraging me to plant more.

In particular, though, one plant has caused unexpected reactions:  powderpuff mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), a relative of catclaw sensitive briar, for those of my friends who garden in the prairie.  Greg loves groundcovers, so we thought we'd try putting this low growing plant, with its pretty foliage and its blooms that look like sparkling pink pompoms, up front.  We are encouraging it to spread out and fill in the hell strip between the sidewalk and the street.  To our eyes, it's prettier than weedy grass any day! 

Ironically, no one seems to notice the blossoms (which are, in my opinion, very cute and very hard to miss), but the foliage makes people uncomfortable - superficially it looks too similar to chamberbitter (Phyllanthus urinaria), a.k.a. gripeweed, a common lawn weed down here.

Unfortunately, I inadvertently played into this concern by planting the first two powderpuffs at the base of a newly planted wax myrtle.  I didn't take the time to clear a large, carefully delineated "bed" for the powderpuff to spread into.  I've done my best to keep the grass weeded out of the spreading groundcover, and the powderpuffs have filled in marvelously well...but there isn't a defined edge to help people "read" this part of the landscape easily.  That was a mistake on my part.

I'm going to keep working on the powderpuff, but another element I added to our front landscape is slated for removal:  the small brush pile under the big laurel oak - at the base of its trunk in the photo below. 

Living in such a high humidity environment, many woody branches are covered with fascinating, feathery mini-gardens of lichen.  When several small branches ornamented in lichen "lace" fell in the front yard, I couldn't bear to put them out for the city to pick up.  Instead I used them to construct a small brush pile towards the back of the bed.  Here is a photo of a branch covered in lichen that fell in our yard...

...and here is a closeup of that lichen.

Several people have asked why I'm leaving "that pile" there and I've taken the time to tell them about the benefits of brush piles, but I've decided to move the pile around to the backyard where it's nobody's business but ours.  The pile's been growing a little faster than I was planning, anyway, as more branches have fallen out of the oak.  I still can't bring myself to send those gorgeous lichens off with the city dump trucks!

Despite my occasional misstep, the plants I've put in the front gardens are taking hold and growing well, getting taller and broader, blooming more fully.  I'm far from the world's best landscape or garden designer, so my color and form combinations are rather haphazard, but I get a buzz of pleasure now when I drive up to our house or walk outside.  For example, when I left the house this morning, I noticed a towhee foraging among the skullcaps by the sidewalk, and there are almost always at least a few butterflies, native bees, or honeybees diligently working the flowers.  Little brown skinks commonly rustle through the leaf mulch and green anoles prowl the shrubs and perennials, males puffing out their salmon-colored throats in displays of pride and power during these lengthening spring days.

I hope my human neighbors come to enjoy my wilding landscape.  I love that the wildlife is making itself at home outside my house...and it makes this yard home for me now, too. 

Monday, April 02, 2018

Spreading the Wild(life) News

About a week ago I took a deep breath and plunged into a new "platform" for me:  a Nextdoor neighborhood group I've belonged to for a couple years now.  I've posted briefly on it once or twice before, with little response, but this time I decided to be a bit more blunt and opinionated.  The results have been interesting.

Here along the Gulf Coast, early spring is the biggest season for leaf fall as the evergreen oaks push off last year's leaves before they put out a new flush of leaves for this growing season.  First the laurel oaks drop their leaves, then the sand live oaks drop their leaves, and finally the live oaks drop their leaves.  It's about 6 weeks of constantly falling, relatively small, brown leaves.  In our neighborhood, these oaks are almost all BIG trees and the leaves that get dropped in this relatively short period of time rival the leaf drop of autumn in essentially any other forested area of the country.  Except there's no pretty color, I have to note.

So the leaf blowers have been working overtime for the month around here and there have literally been mountains of leaves pushed to the curb for the city to come by and pick up.  It saddens me to see all this beautiful mulch getting thrown away, so I posted:

"As I watch oak leaves being raked and put out by the curb for the city to pick up, I'd like to suggest that everyone consider blowing them into shrub and flower beds instead. They make great mulch and look as nice or nicer than anything you can buy. The birds love to rustle through them looking for food, and the leaves decompose easily to make your soil much richer and healthier."

Within a day, 8 different people had responded to my post.  After 10 days, 14 different people had responded in total.  A total of 14 people had thanked me.

Six of the comments were negative, with most people concerned about all the animals that would live and breed in the mulch.  Mentioned by name were roaches, fleas, termites, and mosquitoes.  I assured everyone that the roaches in leaves were not the same roaches that get into kitchens, that termites need wood rather than leaves (although I didn't recommend deep piles of leaves directly against the side of a house either), and that fleas were more likely in a lawn than in a mulched bed.  Another person got on to say that mosquitoes needed standing water to breed, although they might hang out in leaf mulch, and that they were unlikely to have enough water to breed in oak leaves, as compared to magnolia leaves.

Other concerns mentioned by negative commenters were the "lack of nutrition in oak leaves" (which I responded to by noting the importance of organic matter in our sandy soil), the tannins that would leach and kill plants (which I said weren't a problem according to experts who'd studied the issue), and the leaves blowing out of the flower/shrub beds (at which point I suggested that any leaves that blew out of the beds could be mulched mowed into the grass to provide organic matter there).

A couple comments were neutral.  One person said she thought using leaves as mulch was a great idea, but she was terrified of birds, so she wouldn't be doing it at her house.  I wasn't quite sure HOW to respond to her.  Yet another individual was thankful people don't burn leaves any more because now she could breath.  One woman tried to send me a link to an article which she said proved that mulching leaves into lawns was harmful, but the link to which she sent me said that it was beneficial.

Another man said I seemed knowledgeable about plants and asked me if I designed landscapes.  Laughing to myself, I thanked him for the compliment and said, no, I definitely did not.  After another person recommended her husband's lawn care and landscape service to him, the gentleman said he wanted an area around his pool landscaped with a "nice tropical design".  So much for someone interested in wildlife!

Not surprisingly, my favorite 3 comments were the ones which said they already used their leaves as mulch or they composted them.  Those 3 commenters and the gal who said mosquitoes needed standing water to breed restored my faith in other local gardeners, at least a little!

Which is, perhaps, a bit of a harsh judgement on my part, since a further 11 people thanked me for my original post, but did not comment.

So 25 people responded altogether: 6 actively negative, 4 actively neutral, 4 actively positive, and 11 passively positive.

I've gone on to make three further posts on this neighborhood site in the last 2 weeks:  one post warning people about buying plants that have been treated with neonics for butterfly and pollinator gardens;  another post offering wild strawberry plants if anyone wanted to come by and pick them up; and a third post simply talking about the birds I was seeing in my yard and how they preferred foraging in the wilder, less manicured areas of the landscape.  All 3 posts elicited at least a dozen comments and the same number or more "thanks".

I've been trying to keep Mother Teresa's comment in mind lately, "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."  I feel like these neighborhood posts are creating a few quiet ripples in our local waters, and that makes me happy.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

A Hawk, A Sapsucker, and A Squirrel Went Into a Yard.....

A hawk, a sapsucker, and a squirrel went into a yard and ... found it appealing enough to stay for a while. 

There is no punchline to this rather pathetic attempt at imitating the old joke.  I'm actually referring to our yard and I get profound pleasure out of sharing it with other animals.  That's no joke, indeed.  It's great fun to see the variety of creatures that peacefully cohabit with us, if not always with each other.

It's even MORE fun when they pose for a picture for me!

So, just for kicks and giggles, here are some of the critters I've been seeing around lately....

About 10 days before Christmas, I was doing laundry and noticed a movement outside the laundry room door.  Imagine my delight at seeing a young yellow-bellied sapsucker female (Sphyrapicus varius) working earnestly on the side of the pignut hickory tree (Carya glabra) that's located nearby.  I got a huge series of shots, but they are all essentially the same, so here's one that shows her classy yellow belly feathers beginning to grow in, as well as her sadly inadequate ability to line up the holes that she was boring into the side of the tree.

A question for anyone who's a serious birder: is this a common phenomenon in young sapsuckers, or is this particular individual just having unusual difficulties with her grasp of horizontality?  Here is an expanded version of how she "lined up" the holes she was drilling.

Speaking of pignut hickory trees, the Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) love the hickory nuts that the trees produce abundantly each fall and they frequent our yard and gardens throughout the winter.  They don't necessarily like to pose, generally being much too busy to wait around that long, but sometimes one will humor me. 

Once I downloaded the photos this guy "sat" for and looked at him a little more closely, he (I'm just guessing at the sex) looked like the squirrel equivalent of a tomcat.  Seriously - do squirrels fight each other?  How else would this guy's ears have gotten so tattered? 

Most often I see the squirrels using our trees as a sort of squirrel highway along the lakeside, but they obviously stop and refill their bellies, too, based on the number of gnawed open, empty nuts I find.

On the same day that Mr. Squirrel posed for me, February 5th, I was able to get a photo or two of what I believe is a question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis).  It didn't let me get very close, so I was glad that the photos turned out as well as they did.

The lavender wing borders are particularly stunning when you can see them as clearly as you can in these photos. 

Question marks, commas, and goatweed butterflies, which all look fairly similar to me, are some of the first butterflies I see each spring, presumably because they overwinter as adults.

Four days later, on February 9th, we had a pair of stately visitors on our lake:  Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis).  We don't seem them often on our little body of water, but I sure love it when they grace us with their presence!

I remember when brown pelicans were endangered, thanks to DDT, which made their egg shells so thin that they cracked from the weight of the mother bird incubating.  Because of the Endangered Species Act, the populations of brown pelicans and ospreys and bald eagles and many other animals have come back to healthy levels and it is relatively easy to have a sighting of many of these species now if you look in the right habitat.  It deeply saddens me that the current administration, with the aid of Congress, is doing away with so many important environmental protections that have helped in so many ways during the last 40 years.

But back to more positive thoughts and sightings....

Evidently a timely pattern had developed for me during February, because another 4 days later, on the 13th, I was out photographing again.  This time I captured the first damselfly of spring, a young female Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita).

One of the ways to sex many dragonfly and damselfly species (for humans, at least) is by their color.  The pale blue of the damselfly above indicates both her age and her sex.  A few days later, I saw and photographed a male fragile forktail in the same general area, identified by his bright green color in the same pattern as the young female.

Fragile forktails are common damselflies of the eastern United States.  Unfortunately, I have not found any information explaining their common name;  it's an interesting enough name to have a fun history or explanation behind it.  Fragile forktails are fairly easy to identify by the colorful interrupted line that forms an "exclamation mark" on the each dorsal side of the thorax.

On the same day that I saw the male fragile forktail, I saw this little treefrog resting on the back porch screen.  I had just come outside when I saw it and snapped this photo;  my camera lens fogged up in the early morning humidity and by the time it unfogged, this little guy had taken shelter in some well hidden lair.

With only one, slightly blurry, photo to go by, I'm not sure as to his full identity, but he sure looks hungry from the winter's lack of insects to me.

Finally, last Saturday I was sitting on the ground and waiting beside a couple ground-dwelling native bee nests.

Call me crazy, but I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a bee coming or going, or better yet to snap a photo of one, so that I could identify the bee species responsible for these cute little "volcanoes" in the yard.  While I didn't see a bee, I sat still for long enough that a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)flew in and perched in the hickory tree right above me.  He/she let me take several photos, but when I turned the camera sideways to fill the frame better, I'd moved too much for the hawk's comfort and it flew off.

Red-shouldered hawks, along with Cooper's hawks, seem to be the most common hawks in our neighborhood.  I hear them almost every day and see them most days, not infrequently perched in one of our trees. 

While I did get the photo of the hawk, unfortunately I was NOT able to get a look, let alone a photo, of the bee responsible for any of the ground nests in the yard.  One of these days I will be patient enough AND be in the right place at the right time to do that - I just have to keep trying!

Meanwhile, I'm pretty happy with the wildlife menagerie that I've been privileged to see and photograph this winter.  Best of all, the experiences are free and right outside my door!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sproing!!! Spring Appears to Be Here.....

Given that Valentine's Day just sailed by, it seems a little early for spring to have arrived, but here in the panhandle of Florida, all signs point in that direction.

For the foreseeable future, the weather guessers have us in the mid-70's each day, with lows in the mid-60's at night.

The humidity has been so high lately that we've been turning on the air conditioner at night just to dry out the air inside.  When we wake up in the morning, the windows are fogged over on the outside from all the humidity, even though the inside of the house is less than 5 degrees cooler than the external air temperature.

Not surprisingly, with the temperatures and humidity this high, plants and wildlife are responding exuberantly.  The early daffodils are in full bloom.

Looking at the blooms, I realized just this spring that all my early daffodils are multi-bloom types.  I find I'm craving some big single blossoms, so that'll be on my list for next fall.

Gail Eichelberger's "practically perfect pink phlox", a.k.a. downy phlox (Phlox pilosa), has been blooming since December, as it seems to do every year here. 

I love this plant, but it's getting a little hard to find even in native plant nurseries these days - I think everyone must be catching on to the joy of having this beauty in their gardens.

Under the front magnolia tree, the golden ragwort (Packera aurea) is blooming.

It has really filled in nicely this year.  By next year, I may even be able to transplant a little to other spots in the yard. 

This summer it should be looking like a particularly attractive dark green groundcover in a garden spot that has been especially hard to cover with anything but leaf mulch until now.  Between the heavy shade and the rampant roots, it can be difficult to garden successfully beneath southern magnolias.

Based on a couple recent blog posts I've made, you know, of course, that some of the blueberries are blooming exuberantly already.  The rabbiteyes (Vaccinium ashei) are still dormant, but the highbush blueberries (V. corymbosum) are in full spate and leafing out rapidly.  In my yard, highbush blueberries definitely seem to outperform their rabbiteye cousins;  if I add more blueberries, they'll probably be the highbushes.

Low, down at ground level, violets are starting to open up, too.  I have 3 species in the yard;  two have started blooming.

One of the blooming violet species is, I believe, the classic common blue violet (Viola sororia), but I'm not sure what the other one is.  This mystery violet has purple blooms and lance-shaped leaves.  It came in with the white baptisia as a pleasant little hitchhiker that I've been enjoying quite a lot.

Speaking of the white baptisia (Baptisia alba), my single specimen of this beauty has leapt out of the ground as if being chased by monsters below the soil.  Baptisia is one of those plants whose shoots spring forth so quickly that I feel like I can see them growing if I stand still and watch for a few minutes.

I didn't notice the baptisia shoots at first, because they were being camouflaged by the spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) seedlings growing up around them.  Some friendly crowding isn't likely to hurt, though.  I haven't seen any fully open spiderwort blossoms yet, but I noticed a little blue peeking forth from one of the buds this morning.  I won't be surprised to see a blossom or two tomorrow.  The blue of spiderwort flowers makes my heart sing....

Have you ever heard spiderwort called bluejacket?  I've never heard the term used at all, except in referring to actual clothing, but according to the USDA Plant Database, that is the official common name of T. ohiensis.  I wonder if it's a regional thing?

Speaking of regions, the Florida panhandle is part of a region that is known more for its non-native blooms than for its native flowers.  Believe it or not, I do have a fair number of non-natives in the yard and gardens, too.  As far as the classic non-native plants go, besides the daffodils, there are still several camellias blooming lustily...

...and the beautiful evergreen azaleas have started opening up their flowers along the west edge of the yard.

With the masses of magenta blossoms mounding throughout the landscape, I have to admit that I love azalea season, .  Those big old southern Indica azaleas are truly spectacular.  They'll be opening up soon and I'm really looking forward to wallowing in their purplish profusion.  Sometimes even this diehard native plant aficionado has to bow down before the overwhelming beauty of certain exotic plants!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Blueberry Bees!

Looky, looky, looky!!!

I was too quick to get discouraged!  Ten days after I posted about not seeing bees on my blueberries and after several nice days of rain, I went outside on Tuesday to do my 10 minute sit, observing the blueberry blossoms.  Look at what I saw:  southeastern blueberry bees!!!

There were only 2 bees at any one time on Tuesday.  Both of them seemed to be males, based both on the lack of pollen being carried on their legs and on the white face that I saw on one.  But males hatch out first in many solitary bee species, so I had high hopes that I'd soon see more.

And today (Thursday), I did.  While doing another 10 minute sit today, I saw at least 6 blueberry bees!!!  Best of all, today there was at least one female, based on the pileup she caused!  These pictures are all from Tuesday as I haven't downloaded today's photos yet, but if I caught anything especially interesting, you can rest assured I'll add another post!

It looks like we're on track to have blueberries this summer after all!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Kingfisher News

One of the best things about gardening organically and sharing your yard with wild creatures is that you never stop learning.  Your home landscape becomes a constant source of interest, rather than just a pretty setting to show off your house.

Last week I had a perfect example of that when I discovered an obvious pellet on our deck near the water.  While it was definitely a pellet, it was an odd pellet, being smaller than I'm used to seeing and very crystalline looking.

I knew "our" pair of belted kingfishers liked to perch on the railing nearby.  Do kingfishers cough up pellets like owls do?  I've never heard of that, but I'm hardly a bird expert.  So I did some internet research....

Lo and behold, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" website, as adults, belted kingfishers DO cough up pellets composed of fish bones and scales, which are usually found near their fishing and roosting sites.  Kingfisher stomach chemistry actually seems to change between their time as nestlings, when an acidic stomach chemistry allows them to digest fish bones, fish scales, and arthropod shells,  and adulthood, when producing pellets that are expelled seems to be the way these hard-to-digest substances are handled.

Another fun fact I learned on this website is that the oldest kingfisher fossil ever found, dated at 2 million years ago, was discovered nearby in Alachua County, Florida.

So the history of kingfishers runs deep here in the northern part of Florida.  Our resident pair doesn't care about that, of course, but they do enjoy the habitat they've found. 

Based on the fact that they've started dive bombing the hooded mergansers when those birds forage between the southern magnolia overhanging the water and the dock across the lake, I'm presuming that the kingfishers have a nest burrow established there. 

I'm looking forward to watching more real life drama play out in our yard as the kingfishers raise their brood during the next few months.  It's great to have front row seats!

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Blueberry Blooms...But No Bees

My blueberry bushes have started to bloom and I am anxiously watching to see if any southeastern blueberry bees show up to pollinate them.

I literally sat about 10 feet away from the bushes yesterday, from 11:40 a.m. to noon and watched.  It was 55 degrees F. outside and sunny.  There were no bees visiting the flowers.

Today I went out at about 3:25 p.m. and watched again for 10 minutes.  Again, it was sunny.  The temperature was 72 degrees F.  Again, I saw no bees.

Why am I so concerned?  I had bees (and blueberries) last year.

Well, last spring I shared with you my excitement over finding a small cluster of southeastern blueberry bee nests in what I thought was a public area down the street from us.  Across the road from this little cluster of nests was a 15 year old hedge of blueberry bushes in the backyard of another neighbor.  Such unassuming little creatures, such delicious fruits, and it was so much fun to connect the two.

Several months after my enthusiastic post, though, the neighbor whose yard abutted that "small public area" where I found those blueberry bee nests chose to rototill up this small triangular area and cover it with sod, effectively annexing it to his yard.  It all looks very "upscale" now, so nobody else seems to be upset, but I doubt any of the bees were able to survive the dual assault - and, like most solitary bees, southeastern blueberry bees only have one generation per year.  Effectively that little population of southeastern blueberry bees has been destroyed.

Even if a few of the bees managed to survive the rototilling and heavy sod overlayment, the sod carpet was almost assuredly grown with neonicotinoid insecticides.  Given the immaculate and well groomed appearance of the property overall, I'm guessing that neonics have been and will continue to be used to maintain the lawn's manicured appearance.

Neonicotinoids affect bees.  They are insect-icides, and very potent ones at that, even at small concentrations.

Sadly, the destruction wasn't done yet.  The house across the street, the one with the blueberry hedge, had sold the previous fall.  Last summer, the new owners yanked out all the blueberry bushes, presumably because they interfered with their unobstructed view of our little lake.

I'm trusting that there are other southeastern blueberry bee nests around that haven't been destroyed and that the little bees will find my blooms before too long.  It IS early in the season, after all.  Meanwhile, when I can, I'm going to keep going out and keeping watch over my blossoms, hoping to see the little "mini-bumble bees" busily poking their way up into the blooms.

There has been a lot of habitat destruction around our neighborhood in the last 12 months or so, all in the name of "sprucing up".  It's been disheartening to watch, since one of the big factors that attracted us to this area was the mature landscaping.  In fact, I'm planning to do an entire post on the topic, so for now I'll stop here.

Please join me in hoping that there are other pockets of southeastern blueberry bees around, ready to find our blooms, producing delicious berries and food for next year's bees in the process.

Slut Shamed, Homeowner Style

Pardon my French, but "slut shamed" rather perfectly describes what I feel like about this....

I came home last Wednesday night to this unsolicited message, gathered up with the mail and lying on our dining room table:

Presumably Greg found this tag, a "lawn report card", if you will, hanging on the handle of our front door.

Apparently, a total stranger happened to come by our house and felt compelled to stop and leave a written note for us, telling us that our lawn needs weed control, fertilization, pre-emergent treatment and pest control.  Our lawn is also apparently suffering from freeze burn.  This stranger repeated that our lawn needed pre-emergent and weed control.  Evidently the situation is dire because he exclaimed about how badly it needed these things.  He also told us that grass plugs would be available soon.

Call, he said.  It was underlined to underscore the urgency.

I am rather amused by the depth of my angst about this.  Of course I understand that this is purely a marketing ploy, done to drum up business, but it still really bothered me when I read it.

Because I consciously and conscientiously garden to provide habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wild creatures, I don't use commercial pest control or pre-emergents or weed control.  Insecticides, herbicides, and even standard fertilizers work against my goal.  After all, "-cide" means "-killer" and there is no pesticide, herbicide or insecticide that can differentiate between "good" and "bad".  They just kill what they are designed to kill:  "pests", broad-leaved plants, grasses, insects, etc., depending on the chemical formulation of the -cide being used.

Taken yesterday, this is a photo of our front lawn, 4 days after our failing report card was hand delivered to us.  We have done nothing to the lawn or to the gardens in those intervening days.  To be honest, we really haven't done anything in our yard or gardens in several months now, and there IS obviously work that needs to be done as spring begins to sneak up on us.  There is also lots more gardening, planting, and growing that I want to accomplish.  However, given all that, I am comfortable with the general appearance of our lawn.  It seems to balance reasonably well between looking rationally maintained and providing healthy habitat.

Here is our front lawn in early October, while it is still green.  Far from perfect, but it still seems acceptable to me.

Truthfully, I am rather astounded by how unsettled having this "report card" left on my door actually made me feel.   If receiving this little "reminder" upset ME this much, when I am knowingly making the choices I am making for reasons that are very important to me, what does an unsolicited report like this do to the average homeowner, who is just worried about property values and neighbors' approval? 

I KNOW our lawn is full of non-grass plants, also known as weeds.  Some of these plants are native, most are not.  I remove the really problematic ones by hand, but if the non-grass plants will handle being mowed, I generally don't worry too much about their inclusion in our lawn.

What I DO manage for - and worry about providing - is a healthy mix of plants and animals in our yard overall, a mix that includes pollinators, predators, and a good selection of native plants to feed leaf and seed eaters, as well as pollinators, birds, toads, anoles, and all the other wonderful life forms that I've observed just in our little 0.4 acre lot over the last 2 2/3 years.

Is our yard "pristine"?  No.  I don't want our yard pristine, I want it ALIVE. 

Is our yard alive?  Yes, it is.  Our yard is alive with chattering chickadees and flitting yellow-rumped warblers, with brilliant gulf fritillary butterflies and little solitary bees, with stalking preying mantids and shimmering long-tailed skippers, with watchful green anoles and fat saucy toads. 

That's worth a bit of lawn shaming any day.