A few days ago the last of three green ash trees in my front yard had to be cut down. We had gotten the saplings, slender as whips, years ago as a give-away from Plywood Minnesota. As it turned out, I planted them way too close, and even though they had not yet become infected with green ash borer, they still had to be cut down. I will plant another, native, tree in their place, but it will take years to grow, and come this spring, my previously shaded front yard will feel the full sun. All of the shade-tolerant native flowers I’ve planted over the years will need to be dug up and shared with family and friends.
It’s always sad when a tree comes down, but already I’m planning the prairie I’ll plant in place of the woodland. Snow covers the tree stumps where I’m imagining blanket flower, blazing star, Joe pye weed, rattlesnake master, aster, gentian, butterfly weed. In my mind, signs will tell passers-by the names of the flowers and why they matter: bees love penstemmon, Monarchs flock to rough blazing star, chickadees eat sunflower seeds, American painted lady butterflies (whose caterpillars devour my pussytoes) feed on narrow leaved coneflower. Maybe I’ll build a little free library that offers books about prairie and native plants and also little packets of seeds so folks can start their own pockets of native flowers.
Both Kelly and I have shifted over the years from non-native plants to native plants in our yards. Why not watch the abundance of bees and birds and butterflies that come calling? When winter locks up the land with not a native flower in sight, why not dream of our own little prairies and woodlands as we wait for snow trilliums and pasque flowers to bloom again?
We do love winter, but we’ll also spend a bit of our snowy time planning how we can bring a few of those native flowers home to our yards and our gardens. It’s a hope for our yards, for our cities, for our planet, and all of us, animal and plant and human, who share this earth.
Dream a little. And when spring comes again, plant a patch of native flowers. You and the bees and the butterflies and birds will all be glad you did.
Author, Phyllis Root
Photographer, Kelly Povo