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The Family
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Laurel Robison

I have loved gardening and wildlife since I was a child. My grandfather was a determined gardener who spent all his time when not at work out in his half-acre vegetable garden behind his and my grandmother's suburban California home. I remember the roses and gardenias he grew were phenomenal, not to mention the fresh vegetables. I remember following him around as he watered and cared for the peppers, squash, tomatoes, and beans, and particularly I remember snapping a lot of beans for him! He never used pesticides, and he used to say "the birds and bugs need to have their share - there's enough to go around". 

 

I spent a lot of time exploring the natural areas around the places we lived, although mostly they were suburban landscapes. One apartment we lived in overlooked a slough where I first saw Blue Herons and turtles floating amidst rushes and cattails and native margin plants. That complex also had a series of constructed ponds that I was drawn to explore as often as I could. At the next apartment there was a huge greenway with these giant pines that were great for climbing. I remember spending hours exploring the greenway - it was a sanctuary for me. From my very earliest memories I recall feeling a deep connection with nature and a powerful desire to protect it.

I studied environmental science and geology in college, and that was where I began learning about native plants, pollinator gardens, climate science, ecology, and the larger processes at work in the natural world. I have always had gardens as a hobby, even when it was just a few potted plants. In the past twelve or so years my interest really turned to gardening with native plants. However, discovering Gardener's World during the winter of 2019 was catalytic. The show completely opened my eyes to gardening on a different scale. It had the effect of suddenly connecting all the dots of my environmental education with my own personal scale impacts on habitat & species loss and climate change as a member of industrial society.

In 2019 I planted close to 125 trees on the property. As covid hit - I had an abundance of time at home - I started gardening with a higher intention, and with a fervor. In 2020 my husband and I put in a cottage garden and a pond and started the first rewilding area we call "the meadow". In 2021 I continued working on the native planting, adding many more native shrubs, propagating hundreds of my own perennials and rewilding a much bigger area of the property. As we head into 2022, my focus this gardening season is on:

  • Learning to maintain the wild areas so they stay prairie

  • Establish more native flower and grass species through a combination of mowing and seeding

  • Begin to monitor the diversity and abundance of species I am seeing show up, and participate more in citizen science efforts

  • Help other home gardeners rewild parts of their gardens and get interested in the wildlife showing up - including building as much content to this website as possible!

I will add to all of this that I am NOT against cultivars and non-invasive exotic ornamentals. Beyond being a crazy plant lady, I am also a bit of a crazy rose lady. My cottage garden has somewhere around 30 different varieties of roses (very many of them David Austins). I enjoy growing peonies, dahlias, tuberoses, succulents like aloe and "flapjacks", tropicals like cannas and hibiscus, magnolia hybrids, japanese maples, poker plants, western agastache varieties, cyclamen, hepaticas, siberian iris, bulbs of all varieties, and on and on and on. I actively have all of these and more mixed throughout my cottage garden and north-facing beds, or potted around the porches. I will probably always grow roses and dahlias for the pure joy of their abundant and beautiful flowers. 

The material point is that I have my human-sized garden to enjoy. But I have also discovered that I love a naturalistic aesthetic which is provided by the prairie habitat that the cattle ranching naturally cultivated on this property for generations. I love nature's succession planting where something is always blooming from spring until first frost. And I also have a heart for the creatures that rely on it to survive - so much more than I even intellectually understood I did. When I stopped mowing my entire 5 acres into a tidy Victorian-style lawn, I started to see species abundance explode - many more butterflies, mantids, grasshoppers, spiders, frogs, toads, newts, cottontails, birds, and more - and a far greater diversity of species. The amazing things is, even with such a greater abundance of insects and animals, they were attacking my "precious" garden plants far less (go to the rewilding page and learn about what happens when you attract more wildlife). 

 

What brings me the most joy of all is just seeing the entire garden brimming and buzzing with life. Seeing the bees out foraging in mass in the clouds of clover that appear early in the spring. Hearing the chorus of birdsong in the mornings, and frog song in the warm summer evenings. Seeing the countless dragonflies hunting over the fields at sunset - the sun catching their stained glass wings. The blinking of hundreds of lightning bugs in the meadow at dusk. Watching greater diversity of colorful butterflies visiting the flowers than I have ever seen before, and feeling the buzz of the bumblebees in the air as they amble on warm summer days. I have watched two years in a row as a green lynx spider takes up residence on one group of flowers in the cottage garden, then produces an egg sac which she guards through the later summer, eventually building a nursery web and hovering protectively around the young spiderlings until they have completed their first few molts. The magic of finding like treasure all around the gardens the chrysalis' of the next generation of wild monarch butterflies, and then later the empty cases where they were once green - signifying that this wild area I have made has successfully reared another season of monarchs. All of these things have deepened my understanding of the inextricably connected nature of our individual actions and intentions, and the survival of all life on earth. I have experienced a deepening of my awareness of all nature - not just the mighty ocean or mountain or apex predator, but the myriad of tiny insects, plants, birds and small mammals - as thoroughly conscious, perceiving in the same measure and depth that it is perceived. None of these creatures will address you in the king's English, but they are there, waiting to come into connection just the same.