Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Nevis needs more Nuts!

Most of you non-tropical mainlanders may be unaware that our iconic symbol of Caribbean islands is in deep crisis.  The symbol I'm referring too is our beloved Coconut Palm or Cocos nucifera a palm featured so many times on the pages of travel magazines, has been disappearing from our beaches at an alarming rate.

So what has happened?  Simply put, these palms face the same crisis as Bananas, too many of the same genetic types with little diversity.  These mono-culture's of nearly identical types can't resist diseases when outbreaks occur.  Although the main disease I'm referring too is 'Lethal Yellowing Disease', two other pathogens, 'Bud Rot' and 'Red Palm Mite' have run rampant through the population.  In a future post I will get into the details of all three issues, but collectively they have been termed 'Coconut palm complex' as they can all be found at the same time on declining trees.

Pinney's Beach before Lethal Yellow Disease
When I first came to Nevis a longtime ago, the beaches were lined as far as you could see with Coconut palms that stretch deep into the interior of the island.  Locals will tell stories of never taking any supplies with them to the beach as natures bounty was ripe for harvest.  Jelly water (a local term for coconut water) was drunk to refresh the body and Coconut flesh was eaten to fill your bellies.  Nowadays, there's not even enough palms to meet the needs of everyone as over 70% of coconut palms were estimated to of died, although the number is mostly likely higher.

Effects of Lethal Yellowing Disease
This week I was sent on a mission to find some jelly waters for guest staying at the place where I work.  It should of been a simple walk along the beach, but every stand of palms I found was devoid of their nuts.  Instead, the ground was littered with opened husks left behind from harvesting.  So rare now is it to find jelly waters, entrepreneurial people have seen a market willing to pay good prices for what was once ample.

Fortunately, efforts are being made to replant these iconic symbols of Tropic islands. Various government ministries have committed themselves in a scheme to replant resistant coconut strains across both islands of St Kitts and Nevis, but is this enough?  No one really knows the true amount of coconut palms lost to this 'complex' but its impact is evident.  Although bring in resistant types would in the long run help, its those trees that survived that leave me to ponder why?  Do these survivors have a natural ability to fend off attack.  If they do in fact come from better genetic stock, then the constant harvesting for jellies is only adding to the complex of coconut decline.

Nut grabber in action
Maybe a better approach to re-nutting Nevis is through educating the nut collectors in sustainable harvesting.   After all, they are the benefactors of the harvest and profit from what remains, so its in their best interest to secure their chosen crop for future profits.  If for every two nuts they collect, one is planted in gratitude, we can reclaim the bounty that Nevis once relied on.  Because at the end of the day Nevis wouldn't be Nevis without its Nuts!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Life on an island, Part 2

Arrh, it's happened again! Finding the time to sit down and focus on writing has become quite the problem. Being a father, husband and manager (and sometimes babysitter to a large group of staff ) all looking for a slice of my time, leaves me with precious little for my own pursuits. Fortunately, I have a few moments of quiet that I can refocus on the follow up to 'Life on an island', part 2.

Nevis is just like the image conjured up in all those glossy travel magazines. White sands, sapphire blue oceans and emerald forests (well, just during the rainy season) welcome you as you arrive. However, Nevis just like all the other islands is more diverse than just sand and sea. So let me take you on a little tour of our Rock!

For the newly arrived your experiences start at our international airport. Most tourist began their adventure to the islands navigating sprawling airports with multiple flights heading all over the world. Nevis has simplified this process by having just the one gate and keeping the clutter of flights to manageable few a day. Truth be told, the runway isn't long enough to accommodate big 'people movers' so most visitors to Nevis come through the bigger airport in St. Kitts. However, if fortunate to arrive directly here on Nevis, your transition from aeroplane to exiting the terminal is a simple walk with a few fellow passengers only stopping briefly with customs and passport control. That's the beauty of small airports!

Rush hour - Nevis style!
Once cleared to enter the island your first Caribbean experience starts in the parking lot. As airport carparks go, this one has ample spaces right up front. The experience I mentioned is the fact that the sheep and goats outnumber the  amount of parked vehicles. Its not uncommon to see them walking past the front sidewalk enroute to a new patch of grass to chew on.

Nevis is awash with roaming livestock of various kinds. The resident population of goats and sheep found at the airport can be seen all over the island foraging for food. Coupled with this, you'll find bigger cows, horses and now feral donkeys that were once the prefered mode of transport before the arrival of cars. Rarely, you might catch a glimpse of an old timer riding up the mountain on the back of a mule, but these days it's mostly done inside the airconditioned cab of a truck.

From the air, Nevis looks like it rose on the back of an old volcano come out of the depths of the ocean. Though true, Nevis Peak is an impressive 3232 ft, we have a total of seven very much older, smaller and extinct volcanoes that make up the island. Nevis Peaks elevation helps in providing much needed rain by stopping the clouds that have traveled the Atlantic so relieve themselves of excessive evaporative moisture. It's worth pointing out that locals don't see rain as a negative but instead refer to a rainy event as receiving 'Blessings'. This is because the Caribbean is classed as the dry tropics with an average rainfall of around 50 inches with temperatures fluctuating in the 80's (fahrenheit) yearly.

Nevis Peaks dominating presence was part of the reason Nevis got it name. Columbus was one of the first europeans to lay eyes on the island while traveling to the new world. Before Christo traveled through these parts the native Carib Indians called this island 'Oualie', translating into "land of Beautiful Waters".  However, when Christo did travel through in 1493, Nevis appeared on following Spanish maps as "Nuestra Senora de las Nieves", which translates to 'Our Lady of the Snows', for the cloud covered peak that can look like a snow capped mountain.

The cloud covered peak enables the chain reaction of cloud to rain to happen. The racing winds that have moved those clouds across the Atlantic decides where the rain should fall.  For this reason our island has many diverse ecosystems and plants that thrive only in these environments.

The east side of the island faces the open ocean and is as dry as many deserts. In fact, the rock strewn landscape has a lunar look, with the occasional cactus poking up through foreign Acacia's that have naturalised across the island from there original african homes. The powerful Atlantic wind has carved the plants in these environment into interesting and tortured shapes. Boulders lend some protection to plants, but their growth is restricted to the shadow of these rocks. For this reason, the plants growth can undulate, mimicking the waves that crash along the coastline.

Further inland, the wind begins to give way and trees start looking more like trees than the tortured specimens most bonsai fanatics would lust for. Rain is still limited but with the wind beginning to be dispersed, moisture has a chance to percolate down to the roots.

However, things beginning to get interesting when you reach the slopes. Through years of rainfall and runoff, deep canyons (or locally referred to as ghauts) have carved themselves into the mountainsides creating sheltered, humid rich environments. The steep walls of these ghauts are clothed in dense coverings of ferns, gingers and begonias to name a few. Cooler temperatures and massive water smoothed rounded boulders create a zen-like sanctuary, peaceful and separated from everyday life of the island.

Towards the summit, the ghauts disappear and thick moisture rich cloudforest take over.  Sadly, this is a world that I still need to experience as my work keeps me to busy to explore. I've been told that the vegetation is controlled again by the same Atlantic winds, keeping the tree height to a minimum. However, the moisture rich clouds allow epiphytes like Orchids to drip from the limbs of trees making up for the lack of height. Everyday I watch the clouds swirl around the peak to swallow it up from view, only clearing occasional to give a glimpse of a world often hidden in the mist.

I would be amiss to not mention the other feature of Nevis also seen in travel magazines, Monkeys! Naturalised from Africa, the Green Vervet monkeys were brought to the islands as exotic pets and after escaping captivity grew in number. They are loved by visitors, but despised by islanders. Sure, they're cute to watch and bring hours of enjoyment as they run, climb and play but they're as destructive as deer. Agriculture on Nevis has almost been obliterated by these furry thieves as people give up trying to provide produce for themselves. It's no wonder that people who catch them for cooking call monkeys 'Tree Mutton'.

Well, this is just a small glimpse of the island my family and I now call home. As and when time allows, I'll write and tell stories of our adventures of life and gardening on the island. But for now I need to shoo off the monkeys from the Mango tree and throw the kids in the pool to cool off.

Lime on!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Life on a island, Part 1

Even though the final box was unpacked some time ago, my move overseas and the transition into a new job had put me into a blogging hiatus of sorts.  Lets face it, the draw of sitting under a coconut palm watch the world go by has been too great.  However, lots have been learnt since moving on Island and its time to share my experiences of living on a rock and get back into writing again.

For many, gardening is all about the escape.  Even though I still work in it, it is what you create that gives you the freedom.  So for this post I thought I'd starting at the roots, well actual the house I live in and the garden around it.  Its the perfect way to chronicle my adventures in tropical gardening and the challenges I face as the seasons change.

Here on Nevis, houses don't have numbers, but are given names instead.  My little slice of paradise is aptly called Genesis.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't to honor the pop giants of the 80's and 90's, but probably to honor the biblical term for 'the beginning'.  Its better to think of a place in a more noble manner than to picture a little balding man singing 'I can't dance'!

Genesis is your typical caribbean home.  Solidly constructed in concrete with a metal roof and water catchment cisterns under the floors.  Built to withstand hurricanes its a doomsday preppers dream come true!  Even the big bad wolf could blow this house down.

Adonidia merrillii, Manila palms outside the front door

The other dream come true mainly for my daughter, is that its painted Barbie pink, a common  color of caribbean dwellings.  Apart from constantly craving cotton candy, I feel like were living in a dolls house.  We're located about 700 ft up on the slopes of the extinct volcano that forms the center of Nevis.  The views across to St Kitts are amazing and the breeze is somewhat constant, but you need to have the stamina of a mountain goat to mow the lawn!

Flamboyant tree, Delonix regia

The one  negative about living on the side of a volcano is all the bloody rocks.  Aparently, at some point many thousands of years ago, Mt Nevis blew its top and threw it down the side of the mountain, which is where they decided to build this pretty pink house and put in a garden.  Its reassuring to know that we are living on an old pyroclastic field.  I better find a way to pay homage to the sleeping volcano to guarantee my safety.  Now, where did those bloody free roaming roosters go!

Bismarckia nobilis, Bismarck Palm
The positive side is that the garden has great bones with all the trees and shrubs.  The standout features are a nicely mature Bismarckia nobilis, Bismarck Palm with grand silvery fanlike fronds. Along the driveway is a grove of Adonidia merrillii, Manila palms with bright red berries that are produced in copious amounts. Surrounding the rest of garden are three wide spreading Flamboyant trees, Delonix regia providing a much appreciated canopy of shade and in the back yard is an endlessly flowering African Tulip Tree, Spathodea campanulata .  As time goes by I'll highlight a few others, but these are the stand out specimens that caught my eye when we first moved in.

One difference you soon learn in the tropic is that there are just two seasons, the wet and dry!  Gone are the four season gardens I have used to for a while.  I had always considered winter as a curse but in reality its a luxury.  The gardens here never sleep, they just slow down when it gets dry.  That means that all the problems associated with gardening, pest and disease and the like stay as a constant issue.

African Tulip Tree, Spathodea campanulata

In my next post, I'll introduce you to the rest of the island. Although we're pretty much a small circular island that shows up on many maps as a small dot, it a diverse rock with many different environments.  I hope that many who read my blog before will continue to do so even though its a departure from the cold tolerant gardens of the north.  One thing I've learnt since coming here is that its never dull and there's always a story to tell.

So until next time, garden on!

Monday, July 21, 2014

A little bit of closure

So much has happened since I last got around to write a post that its hard to know where to start.  Anyone who has been following this blog would of already known of my big move to distant lands, but before I get down to writing about that I feel I need some closure.  So for this post, I thought a little tour of my old garden would be appropriate.

The great divide - linking two unique spaces 
Someone once told me that garden bloggers should be willing to to give virtual tours of their own gardens. After all, we all claim to be masters of our art, but what better way to be judged on that claim then to show off your garden.
One of my favorite corners

However, creating your garden is a personal adventure. Some will claim that gardening is about creating a sanctuary to escape from society, others might go as far as to display their control over nature. Although I would agree it was my escape, my garden was a living laboratory, a place where I could experiment and push the envelope with the new and unusual. Because of this, at the start of every growing season I came to the realization that pushing the envelope equaled dead plants. This years winter was particularly cruel.

Brown lifeless sticks stood where years before unusual plants once grew. My cherished Eucalyptus neglecta came through the winter stone cold dead, where in any other winter it would only show burn around the edges of its evergreen foliage. My experiments in zone denial had proven that mother nature was really in control as she threw a curveball at my garden.

A circular area where the garden embraced you.

Fatsia forever!
However, I was surprised to see some of my 'so-called tender' plants struggle off the winter and push out hard in defiance.  My first success was a Fatsia japonica bursting forth from its roots.  Monrovia nurseries had listed this as a Zone 8 plant, but it was proving itself more adaptable than that.  Even my experiments in hardy palms seemed lost until I noticed the green spear erupting from the Sabal minor I had planted late last year.  Even Dan Hinkley's 'Golden Crane' hydrangea that had been pitifully struggling ever since I planted it some years back started throwing shoots out! I'm wondering if now I'm gone its become the star of the garden just to taunt me after all these years of nursing it along!
There's always hope!

Gardeners are never done creating gardens.  Even for myself, knowing that I would be selling the property I still wanted to change the design and add more plants.  We had sold our children's playset under the advice of our realtor and it opened up a wonderful opportunity to plant up a corner of the garden.  I couldn't resist moving a Heptacodium miconiodes, or Seven Son Flower tree that I planted last year into this newly found space.  Once in, it anchored some of the other planting I had done perfectly like a hand inside a glove.   I had to be restrained not to run out and buy a car load of other plants to add to this new section.

The view from the deck - minus a Ecalyptus!
I still had spots around the garden, that even after years of playing with still didn't work in my minds eye.  I was always frustrated with one border that would bake dry as concrete during the summer but be constantly flooded over the winter.  I had wanted to go with a more zeroscaped approach to reduce the need of water during the summer month and planted many plants that would favor this.  However, the winter wet always reduced the plants to rotten piles of mush.  Even butterfly bushes, the most robust weed ever released on our gardens would be no match to these conditions.  Some plants would show there disdain by uprooting and appearing somewhere else around the garden.  Case in point is the Blackberry lily, Belamcanda, that I've previously written about.  It would seed itself to more favorable conditions and prosper.  Should you try and return it to its intended spot it would flop down in disgust.

The hopeless wet border
I had learnt a lot working away in this garden but my time had come to close the gate.  I did leave part of my soul there but in reality it had one of its own as it personality changed year after year.  I hope the new owners embrace it as much as I did.  Even if they don't I can accept it as a garden is a reflection of your personality.  It wouldn't be right to expect them to continue with my dream as it was mine to start with.  Now its time for them to put their mark on what is such a personable space.  For me, I have new dirt to dig that I call now call my home!

My cast out section, on the other side of the fence became an oasis of calm

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Take the Red Pill

I have to admit, Alice in Wonderland isn't one of my favorite movies but the quote that starts this post is.  I pulled the metaphor from another more manly film, The Matrix, where the lead character is faced with a similar decision of seeing how far the rabbit hole really goes. Its more science fiction with awesome special effects than fairy tale, plus a little better to admit watching than Alice!

So what does Red Pills and Rabbit holes have to do with a post on a gardening blog?  Well, simply put I was recently faced with a similar life changing decision, and my rabbit hole took me 1736 miles from home on a new adventure.

Three weeks ago I excepted an opportunity of a lifetime to become a horticultural manager on an estate in the Caribbean and handed in my notice at work.  Though it sounds like the transition was quick, it had been in the making since mid February!  But all good things comes to those that wait and now I'm on the island the dream has become a reality.

Of course moving and living in paradise doesn't come without a cost.  Our house of six years is on the market, which includes a garden I spent many hours painstakingly planning, planting and adjusting to make it perfect.  Not to mention all the things we have upgraded on the inside to make it ours.  All are belongings have been or are in the process of being sold off with a few being packed for shipping.  It really is amazing how much you can accumulate over 14 years of living in a country.

Of course we leave behind good friends.  I was taken back just how much of an impact our decision to move had on those that I have developed a friendship with though my work.  Although everyone was happy for our news it became apparent just how much I meant to my hardcore group of gardening customers as well as the people I worked with.  Hopefully this blog will fill a void and make it seem that I never left.

My view at sunset
In some ways I feel the islands have called me back after 14 years absence.  My previous experiences had taken me to Tortola, British Virgin Islands to work in a botanic garden for two years. I even interviewed for a job on Nevis at there botanic garden before leaving the islands for mainland America.  To be able to return to the island culture is an opportunity to good to pass up.

Hopefully, those of you who seeked out my blog out for horticultural inspiration in a less than tropical situation will still keep coming back to see what gardening is like on an island.  But, as I reinvent myself on a new career path it only seems natural to reinvent the blog.  So from this point forward, I present the new 'British Gardener - The Caribbean Memoirs', or should it be 'Life amongst the Coconuts', I don't know now.

Well better get back to liming and I don't mean being British!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Damn good plants - Illicium floridanum, Purple Anise

We tend to forget what a wealth of plants North America has to offer.  During the early days of exploring, many collectors came to North America in search of new plants to feed Europe's horticultural appetite.  Before the Asian continent was opened for European trade, it was considered the height of fashion (as well as a show of wealth) to have gardens rich in North American floral exotic's.

illicum floridanum
In America, gardening with native plants seems to go through waves of popularity.  Many native prairie styled perennials like Coneflowers and Black Eyed Susans have enjoyed a renaissance over the last decade.  Lots of new cultivars have entered the maketplace with varying heights and colors, increasing their popularity for use in our gardens.  However, native woody shrubs have been lagged behind with the same range of choice.  One shrub though that is stepping out of the shadows is our own native Anise, or Illicium floridanum.  

I first encountered this shrub when a customer presented me with a photo of an evergreen shrub, much like a Rhododendron, but with deep crimson star-like blooms.  Some how we managed to name this plant as a Illicium but there it remained as just a photo for a few years.  More recently I've began to noticed more mainstream nurseries listing it and every year newer varieties seems to be dribbling out from production. My own garden boasts a couple of varieties with room still to add one or more as the selection of choice continues to grow.  No longer is it just found as a typed listing in a mail-order plant catalog.

Rare white flowered form
Listed as a threatened species, Purple Anise is native of northern Florida and Georgia's moist woodlands, spreading into coastal plain areas of Louisiana.  Given its southern location, I have found it grows quite well in my colder zone 7, Northern Virginia garden.  This evergreen shrub reaches heights of 6-10 ft tall in an upright, but rounded habit.  The foliage is elliptical, smooth and glossy, which when bruised will emit an spicy anise-like aroma. The Latin word 'illicium' means allurement, referring to the aromatic properties of this plant. Although a close cousin to the Asian Star Anise (Illicum verum), don't be fooled into thinking  of consuming it as its highly toxic.  Nodding dark red flowers appear from April into May and emit a fishy fragrance when up close, but tend to be overshadowed by its glossy foliage.  Plants do best in areas where they don't receive the hot afternoon sun and needs organically rich, moist but not excessively wet soil.

So given the fact that the flowers are fishy and the foliage is toxic, why grow Illicum?  Easy, its one of a few native evergreen shrubs for shade that deer detest and secondly, there's a lot of different varieties now to choose from.

Below is a list of some of the varieties that have passed through the garden center at different points.

'Florida Sunshine'
'Florida Sunshine' - A chance discovery by Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery, came across some unusual seedlings grown by Florida plantsman, Charles Webb.  After several years of evaluation, one was selected for its bright chartreuse yellow foliage and brilliant red young stems.  My own plant is still to young to flower but not much is said in references online about it.  One article did comment that the bloom color is near white and doesn't show against the foliage very well.  It can suffer with leaf burn if exposed to too much winter sun and is best located in partial sun to shade. Smaller in height at maturity than the straight species, this shrub will act like a beacon in a shadier corner.

Haley's Comet
'Haley's Comet' - Awarded the Pennsylvania Horticultural Societies 2009 Gold medal, 'Haley's Comet' is an all round improved variant over the species.  Bigger and better blooms appear in large numbers over an extended period.  It has shown better cold tolerance and faster growth than others and is mentioned to be tolerant of dry shade once it gets established.

'Pink Frost'
'Pink Frost' - This was discovered in 2003 as a sport or branch mutation growing from another variety of Illicum called 'Shady Lady'.  Upon evaluation, 'Pink Frost' showed dramatic improvements in form over its parent plant.  A well branched habit with outward held creamy margin leaves.  During colder temperatures or when new growth appears in spring, the creamy margins are replaced with a pink tint, leading to its name.  Flowers are a deep maroon-red that really pow against the foliage.  I also find the aroma produced from bruising the leaves to be much sweeter when compared to others.

'Shady Lady'
'Shady Lady' - This 1989 discovery had been in underground circulation until recent popularity in the group forced it into the spotlight.  Discovered by Dodd & Dodd Native Nurseries of Alabama, this variety has a brighter creamy white splashing of color across its green to blue-green foliage.  The foliage also has a crinkle to it that adds some textural qualities.  Flowers are a soft peachy-pink but are hard to distinguish against the riot of foliage color.

A worthwhile cousin to mention, although not as flashy, is the Yellow, Star or Ocala Anise Tree, Illicum parviflorum.  A native to Florida's central moist woodlands and swamps, this evergreen shrub or small tree does equally well in Virginian gardens too.  It is slightly bigger than the Purple Anise at 10-15' tall and 6-10' wide and can colonize through root suckers.  The olive green foliage emits the same fragrance as all Anise shrubs and is left alone by browsing animals.  Yellowy- green flowers appear in late may but for the most part go unnoticed.  Mostly for these reasons it lends itself well to hedging as it lacks the drama and refinement that the Purple Anise has and responds well to shearing and training.  Best growing in moist sites in light shade but can tolerate more sun as long as they are provided with uniformed moisture.

These variations may not keep the species true to form but it does improve its marketability.  Through the work of many nursery people, this obscure and little known shrub is beginning its march to becoming a potential mainstay of domestic landscapes.  Any time you can find a plant that isn't favored by deer it becomes worthy of attention, and this plant deserves all the respect in the world.  March on! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bringing Nature Home

One of my children's most watched films is 'The Lorax', based on the book of the same name by the famous author, Dr. Seuss.  It is a fable chronicling the plight of the environment as the 'Oncer-ler', a character representing corporate greed, strips the land of natural resources for production of a 'Thneed'.

It highlights the dangers of unsustainable growth as the last 'Truffula' tree (the Once-ler's major raw material), is cut down forcing the Once'lers factory to close. In the mean time, all the wildlife that coexisted with the Truffula trees becomes displaced as their environment is filled with toxic pollution.

This past weekend, I jumped at the chance of taking my daughter to meet a real life Lorax, who like Dr Seuss was 'giving voice to the trees for they have no tongue'.   Doug Tallamy, who I featured in a post entitled America's Top Gardeners is a Professor of  Entomology and Wildlife Ecology for the University of Delaware. He was in town to talk about award winning book, 'Bringing Nature Home', and to address the plight of our own environment. What I discovered during the presentation was a revelation, that my own gardening philosophy was causing more harm than good.

Bluebird with caterpiller - kansasphoto
Tallamy discussed that 96% of bird life relied heavily on insects, mostly caterpillars, to feed their young. These protein rich morsels contains pound for pound more protein of beef that allows chicks to develop quickly. However, this food supply has been declining, adversely effecting everything within the food-web. So frightening is the rate of decline that since 1966 we've seen a drop of 1% per year of migratory birds who over winter in Central and South America. That is a 50% reduction in 50 years! Habitat loss is one area of concern but failing food-webs are the other.

As we all know, most insects feed on the foliage of plants. Plants are able to capture the energy of the sun, while insects are very good at converting this plant tissue into other types of energy, in the form of themselves. But, plants are smart. Many plants produce toxins to prevent being striped of foliage, which would lead to their demise. As a result, selected insects have co-evolved with selected plants to become exclusive consumers, resistant to the toxin that would otherwise kill them. The down side to this specialism is that when food plants become endangered, then the insect can't adapted to new sources and declines in numbers. This limiting factor then effects the next level up that relies on the insect for food, triggering a collapse of the  food-web.

Monarch Caterpiller - mean and pinchy
One example Tallamy used was the demise of the Monarch butterfly. The Monarch caterpillar only feeds from the foliage of milkweeds, Asclepias sp. For a long time, both milkweeds and monarch could be found in mass numbers among crops grown for agriculture. However with hybridizing, many of our crops have been bred to resist damage from herbicide spraying, funneling more nutrients to the intended crops but eliminating the population of milkweeds that would have grown wild in our fields.  96.4% of migrating Monarchs have gone, leaving only 3.6% of what that number was. Apart from Monarchs, 11 other butterfly species are known to reproduce on Milkweeds.

The last stand of the Monarchs - Henry McLin

New sanctuaries have to be found if change is going to occur and Tallamy's answer is our gardens. Plants are the lifeblood of earth but our gardens have always been designed as status symbols. In America, nearly 45 million square acres (3 times more than irrigated corn crops) of lawns are grown, fed and watered for purely aesthetic reasoning. However, lawns don't filter water, don't provide clean air and don't support wildlife. We also fill are gardens with exotic, non native plants that are impervious to insect damage or spray harmful chemicals to ward off attacks.  In theory are gardens have becoming food deserts, unable to support live. Tallamy's suggestion was to take some of this area and convert it back.

"If half of American lawns were replaced with native plants, we would create the equivalent of a 20 million acre national park – nine times bigger than Yellowstone, or 100 times bigger than Shenandoah National Park."

Doug Tallamy

One example Tallamy used was of a courtyard garden (15ft x 15ft) found growing at the Department of Agriculture in Delaware. The garden contained just four plants of milkweeds but were found to be supporting over 150 monarch caterpillars. With such a small area set aside for native plants, it had become an island where a threaten population could find a haven.

'Native plants support native insects' was Tallamy's clear message. If you want birds you have to have a food source for them. In turn, to provide a food source for birds you need plants that are hosts to insects. The dilemma for a gardener is to except that your prized plant will at some point be nibbled on but the payoff is greater than the worth. An oak can support up to 550 different species of butterflies and moths which in turn provides food for birds, while an invasive Norway Maple is food for none.

I've learnt that by filling my garden with exotic, non-native plants that insect don't feed on, I have produced an environment of little value with green statues everywhere. This coming year I will be changing some of my planting to include more wildlife friendly, native plants. It would be a sad day if a stroll in the garden didn't include the song of a bird or the fluttering colors of butterfly wings, Unless.....

“But now," says the Once-ler, "now that you're here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” 

― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Check out Doug Tallamy website by clicking here