At my town’s film festival last weekend I met a filmmaker just out of USC film school whose masters project had been accepted by (and then won an award from) the festival. The short film – True Colors by Bethann Morgan – is the scripted true story of Sally Fox, the plant breeder who invented a naturally grown and dyed cotton that’s strong enough to be machine-spun and is therefore marketable. Her path to plant-breeding glory naturally ran into global competition and pushback from the Cotton Board – the lobby for conventional growers of white cotton, the kind that needs lots of pesticides, bleaching and dyeing.
This student film – funded largely by the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, which supports science education – opened my eyes to the harms caused in the production of white cotton, and introduced me to an inspiring young female plant breeder who never gave up.
There’s no trailer for True Colors but I did find this old Smithsonian Institution film about Fox and her research, which bega..
Photo by Zoe Rodriguez Photography
“acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow.”
These are the words that have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.
“attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.”
These are the words that have replaced them.
This is not a new controversy, but the first I’d heard of it was during a moving and enthralling talk by author Terry Tempest Williams, given last week as part of a local lecture series by internationally known authors. It’s called Babel and is put on by Just Buffalo Literary Center.
These replacements of words associated with nature correlate well with the ongoing threats to protected natural spaces, including US national parks and monuments. First, there are the dangers imposed by nature—wildfires, c..
Tree of the Week
Silver Maple: The Paradox
By James R. Fazio | October 17, 2017
Silver maples, wrote naturalist Donald Peattie, “impart to every stream and bank where they grow, to every big red Hoosier barn and little white farmhouse, to all the village streets and the long straight roads where they have been planted, an air at once of dignity and lively grace, a combination rare in a tree as in a human.”
Elders among the silver maples are a friendly sight in communities throughout America. Their massive trunks remind us of how long they have stood there, providing a link with the past in a fast-paced world that seems ever looking ahead. Flashes of silver beneath their leaves signal updrafts and approach of rain, and their spring shower of large, twirling seeds is a delight to children.
Silver maples were a staple in many new towns and homesteads on the frontier. Their rapid growth provided quick shade — and they weren’t at all fussy about where they w..
When I dug in my Berkshire garden this summer I found a host of earthworms. That, it turns out, is bad.
I was raised to regard earthworms as the gardener’s best friend. It’s true, these benevolent creatures (or so I regarded them then) aerate the soil with their tunnels and eat organic litter from the surface of the soil, carrying it back underground to excrete it as “castings” that are full of nutrients for plant roots.
My mother, a devoted gardener and my first horticultural instructor, always impressed on me the beneficial role that earthworms play in the garden. Later, when I had graduated college and was studying horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, my favorable view of these creatures was reinforced by a book written by no less an authority than Charles Darwin: The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits. In this book, Darwin cited calculations that the population of earthworms in the average garden numbered some 53,..
Nice news this week via Brad McKee, editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine, who writes:
Kate Orff, ASLA, became the first landscape architect to receive a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, which carries a $625,000 award over five years for “originality, insight, and potential.” Orff was among 24 fellows named by the foundation today, who also included artists, activists, scientists, and historians.
Brad notes in passing that six (!) architects have won the coveted “genius” fellowship.
This first-time inclusion of a landscape professional reminds me of a similar trend at the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the body that reviews important projects here in D.C. The seven Commissioners there now include three landscape architects – the most ever by two – and they’re all women. I reported the milestone in this post.
But back to Kate Orff:
Her description of the design firm she founded resonates with me especially: “We’re science-driven, research-driven, and activist in our approach.”
The Living Urn: Helping Families Grieve and Grow Tree Memorials for Loved Ones
By Arbor Day Foundation | October 13, 2017
Guest post by Mike Wallace, The Living Urn® .
The practice of planting trees in memory of the deceased dates back thousands of years and is common in many cultures.
At The Living Urn® , we wanted to take this beautiful practice a step further. We wanted to make a difference in the lives of others while at the same time giving back to nature. We thought, what if we could plant trees with the cremated remains of a loved one.
After spending years working with leading soil scientists and arborists and multiple eco-friendly manufacturers, we were ready to introduce The Living Urn® .
The Living Urn® is a patent pending bio urn and planting system designed to grow a healthy and enduring memory tree from our proprietary BioUrn® using cremated remains. Our planting systems are made from recycled plant materials and produced only by ..
All photos via Shutterstock
I went to a legal pot dispensary in Denver this summer. Marijuana, you’ve no doubt heard, is a hot commodity in Colorado. The dispensary reminded me of the Long Branch Saloon on the long-playing television series Gunsmoke (1955-1975). Miss Kitty traded gossip in the saloon with U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon and Doc Adams but kept a close eye on the brothel upstairs.
The skunky aroma of marijuana distinguished the pot dispensary from the Long Branch Saloon. No stench of stale cigars or whiskey in the pot dispensary. Though the Gunsmoke cowboys packed six-shooters, no one was caught dead huffing a one-hitter in the Long Branch Saloon—or in the pot dispensary, for that matter.
In Denver, a nice hostess took my driver’s license and told me to wait downstairs. Someone upstairs would come for me in a few minutes, she said.
I sat waiting with a half-dozen men and women— a melting pot of ages, colors and piercings—staring warily at one another. Were they thinking th..
This provided a long-lasting accent in a dull area.
Lessons learned from the 2017 gardening season (so far):
Morning glory (convolvulus): The central mission of this (gorgeous) blue cultivar seemed to be to envelope every plant within its reach, while making sure to release as few flowers as possible in the process. The blooms, when they arrived, were too few and far between to overcome my disgust with the plant, which by then had enveloped most of a rose bush. I should have known when it was advertised as a “lovely ground cover for difficult areas.” I suppose many of you will think I should have known, period.
Black-eyed Susan vine (thunbergia): The orange cultivar I had was a star performer in trials, but, again, total domination without flowers was the motto. It got plenty of sun, too. I think I counted 2 flowers as of yesterday. And it’s a real pain to unwind from its host plants. (I like to encourage climbers to grow amid roses and other shrubby plants, but not wi..
Tree of the Week
Red Maple: Sunset in the Forest
By James R. Fazio | October 10, 2017
Red. The color of passion — and the extremes that go with it. It is love on the one hand and danger, warning, or even hate on the other. In the psychology of colors, red has a lot of meanings, but mediocrity is never one of them. Red is not a color to be ignored.
How appropriate for a species like red maple. Here is a tree of great beauty and extremes. It is a tree loved by many but despised by some. It offers a year ‘round highlight in home landscaping but is an aggressive tree in the forest that some people think is crowding out species of greater value.
The Red Maple has a lot of claims to fame, including the greatest north-south range of any tree species living entirely in the eastern forests. (Newfoundland to southern Florida). It is also the state tree of Rhode Island. No one seems to know the whole story of why it was selected by the citizens of this smallest of stat..