Endangered species

Building the Land With Flowers. Really.

Welcome to the 21st century!

Some 21st Century Feral Crested Wheatgrass

In this century, we’ve finally learned that a grassland is nothing without flowers. Here’s why:

That’s right, bees, 500 kinds of wild bees and wasps that live in the grassland, all of which are struggling right now. But we’re not planting flowers just for bees, we’re also planting them for beetles.

Well, beetles and bees, really.

And, not just for them, but for flies, too.

Well, yes, but flies, ants and wasps, really.

Grasses alone won’t colonize a slope in a dry rainshadow climate. Planting flowers is a fast way to weave them into a supportive web, because it brings in the birds, and they do much of the rest. There need to be flowers for ten months, from the first sunny days in February through the last splash of sun long after frost in the fall. A grassland with embedded wetlands and a rich diversity of plants maintained by fire did this all for at least 5,000 years here. Now, we need to help out. So, here goes:

  • Since our forests are overgrown and grazed by cattle, they are almost barren of flowers for bees, and
  • since the water that might grow flowers in high country wetlands is diverted for agriculture, gardening and home use in the valleys,
  • in the 21st century, the Earth is asking us to dedicate our gardens and roadways as wetlands, to produce flowers for bees where intensive care (gardening) can make up for their small size through density,
  • concentrating on a mix of species, native and introduced both, to provide continuous nourishment for bees, especially wild bees.
  • To help the Earth out, we will legislate the planting of wild parsleys, to support bees in February and March,
  • and will give each a rock, angled to collect snow, rain and sun, to provide heat, shelter, water and nutrients.
  • Ideally, these rocks will be primed with lichens by being cropped in a lichen-rich area for two or three years before distribution.
Rocks like this will fetch a premium price.
  • We will plant pussy willows on every street, to use up water that currently runs through the storm drain system and into Okanagan Lake, where it is released, unused, to Washington. It’s our turn to benefit from that water, starting in March, like this:
The fur coat makes it all work.
  • We will extend the range of these early-season crops with lily beds…
Yellow Bells see bees through the first days of spring.
  • herbs like thyme …
Naturalized and Very Healthy
  • as well as oregano, coriander, catnip, dill and European parsley, all of which support tiny wasps only a few millimetres long, and
  • sedums…
Sixty years ago, rock gardens like this were all the rage in the grassland, kept by widows, who had been the wives of the first generations of ranchers on this land. My mother took me to tea with many of them, and brought flowers home for her own garden. We need to bring this aesthetic back, for ourselves and the bees.
  • Planting locations will include gardens, as well as the bottoms of slopes, especially with a cutbank, rocky outcroppings, the bases of fenceposts, ditches, road margins, and anywhere else water naturally extrudes from the soil, which can be replenished by summer rainstorms, however brief. This subdivision retaining wall is perfect:
It’s a natural. So, too, is the two-metre wide strip at the bottom, that catches any water that might have been missed above. Notice the decorate highway median in the foreground. We will need to legislate better care for that.
  • At the same time, we will plant wild roses, apples, hawthorns, choke cherries and mock orange wherever a little water can be collected on the land. Like here:
Just more of it.
  • Together, these plants should see the bees through into May. At that point, balsam roots will talk over:
  • … and yarrow.
  • And roadside chamomile and chicory, seeded by mower.

And flax, easily seeded and indistinguishable from native flax.

  • And native lupines. NOT the big forest lupines that have ruined Iceland. Little, native greassland ones that don’t create moncultures.
  • As balsam roots are difficult to start on their own, we will augment them with domestic flowers, including onions, irises, poppies …
“Native” isn’t really the issue right now. The bees can’t wait.
  • … thistles, even scotch thistles, maligned as a weed (it isn’t edible to cattle, but that’s so 19th century. We need the bees now.)…
Wavy Thistle
  • and calendulas, which will continue through to frost. Sunflowers will too…
A Reward for the Goldfinches for Helping Out All Summer (and for bees and spiders until freeze-up)
  • In addition, a good crop of clover is always beneficial, especially for wasps, who will stay on it long after frost. Mint, too:
Chocolate Mint in Late October

Because the land’s needs are paramount right now, any plant using its water and not of use to bees will be subject to an environmental surcharge, which will be used to create habitat for more bees. Grass lawns will simply be outlawed, unless they are planted with clovers and thymes, to support life. Golf courses will be allowed lawns, but will follow strict protocols for enriching their properties to compensate for lost flowering space. For the most part, this will only include augmenting species that are already present and using excess irrigation (hey, it’s a thing) to produce a higher berry load on the land (and the corresponding blossoms.) By planting mock orange, saskatoon and choke cherries in this way, we will ensure the survival of Western Swallowtail Butterflies, which are also essential for birds.

Western Swallowtail and Mock Orange

Once we have all that done, we will have a healthy population of bees, and will begin to grow a population of birds. The next step is how we will work with the birds. That’s a good thing to talk about tomorrow, because today is almost over now! The overall point here is that we can have beautiful gardens and landscapes, of great value to humans such as ourselves, houses, land development (within reason), agriculture and a renewed grassland capable of sustaining many species, including humans, over long periods of time, simply by setting legally enforceable by-laws that put the Earth’s needs first. The money is already being spent on lawns and plants that don’t make it more than a decade. Just remember. We’re not doing it out of some sense of goodness alone. It makes economic sense as well. And, well, then there are the birds.

Western Bluebirds, 9 years ago, extirpated now.

We need them back. They play the role here that elephants do in Africa. Tomorrow, then!

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