Thursday, February 21, 2013

Gardening After the Apocalypse

The very nature of nature is changing. What then about our gardens?

Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage at Dungeness. Photo by Michael Peters
I’m no doomsday watcher. I scoffed at Y2K, ignored the Mayan calendar, and can’t even bother to keep a Homeland Security-endorsed emergency supply list. But lately it has become increasingly hard to ignore the fact that something is stirring in the waters.

First, there are the climate-related problems: the continuing drought in the Midwest; hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy; and the fact that 13 of the warmest years on record have occurred in the past 15 years. Zone maps are changing, species invasions are increasing, and extinctions are rising. I don’t care whether you believe climate change is man-made or just some temporary blip; there simply is no normal anymore. Gardeners more attuned to seasonal changes are the first to notice a difference. In my own garden last year, I noticed several bugs I have never seen before; I lost several perennials because the winter was not cool enough; and my daffodils started to emerge in December.

Throw in some global political instability (the American fiscal cliff, the European debt crisis) and there’s only one reasonable conclusion one can make about the future: the only certainty is a whole lot more uncertainty.

Ok, ok, so maybe the sky is not falling yet, but it is reasonable to say that the threats we hear about in the news lately are particularly ominous. Perhaps more catastrophic in nature. Globalization has linked us in many wonderful ways, but it has also exposed the fragility of world systems. Thus, a single financial firm (Bear Stearns) declares bankruptcy, and the global economy collapses. A water shortage along the Mississippi River causes food prices to skyrocket in China. Volatility breeds volatility.

It’s with this context in mind that I think about gardening. What does it mean to garden in an era when the threats we face are apocalyptic? The very nature of nature is changing. What then about our gardens?

Or to put the question more pointedly: Do we continue to grow marigolds even as the emergency sirens blare?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Interview with Travis Beck

I recently caught up with author and landscape architect, Travis Beck, whose recent book Principles of Ecological Landscape Design was just released last week.  I was lucky enough to read an advance copy over Christmas.  The content blew me away.  The book will be an indispensable text for designers interested in ecological planting.  After reading the book, I was interested in following up with Travis with a few questions.

What prompted you to write this book?

I've been interested for a long time in how to design landscapes modeled on natural systems. I kept looking for the book that would answer all of my questions. Eventually I realized that if I wanted to really think this through, I would have to write a book myself.    

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Winter and Spring 2013 Talks

I have the pleasure of talking with different groups about landscape architecture, garden design, and sustainable design.   This winter and spring, I have a number of talks and lectures lined up throughout the eastern U.S.  Most of these talks are open to the public.  Click the links below to find out more information or register.  And see who else is speaking at some of these events—there are some great rosters here. 

February 6, 7:00pm  Annapolis Horticulture Society, Annapolis, Maryland.  St. Anne's Parish Hall.  199 Duke of Gloucester Street, Annapolis, MD 21401.  SOLD OUT.

February 13, 10:00am, 2013, Winter Symposium "A Natural Love Affair,"  The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden  Richmond, Virginia.  Massey Conference Center, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.  Michael Dirr, Alan Weakly, and Holly Schimizu also speaking at this event.  SOLD OUT.  Email registrar to be added to the waiting list.  

March 21, 7:00pm, Landscape Designer's Group, Bethesda, Maryland.  Bethesda/Chevy Chase (BCC) Regional Service Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814, Conference Room “A”.  Space is limited, so if you plan to attend, please register at

April 20, 10:00 am.  Garden and Landscape Symposium, Phipps Conservatory and Botanic Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  

May 2013.  Hahn Horticulture Garden Spring Seminar Series, Blacksburg, Virginia.  

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