THOSE OF YOU who have been around here awhile know I am increasingly obsessed not simply with plants for plants’ sakes, but with what the plants do—and who they do it with, and why. Plants as food for beneficial bugs, or birds, for instance, and also how plants, and insects, protect themselves from being eaten with clever tools like chemicals and crypsis. Plants as places to nest or raise one’s young.
Plants as a window into the mysteries of science, nature, the world.
AT THIS STAGE in my long garden career—I’ve been digging holes 30-plus years on this piece of land—I find myself frequently conducting self-styled madcap experiments to learn more, more, more, and meet more living things.
- Like “un-mowing” areas I’d treated as “lawn” for years to watch what pops up;
- like plugging in small divisions (or seedlings) of natives to the unmown areas to try to make them into thriving pollinator communities;
- like figuring out which “weeds” to pull out of those unwown mini-meadows-to-be;
- like handling the decline or outright demise of big trees in the garden differently;
- like cleaning up less obsessively in fall, especially, to support more overwintering insects, spiders, birds, other animals;
- like intervening less, and just watching more.
In other words, in some areas of the garden I’m getting a little wilder.
I’M NOT a botanist or entomologist or ecologist, though—just one solitary gardener with a giant pile of field guides and a lot of curiosity—so to decode these experiments and figure out what is working or not, and what to do next, I needed help.
I invited Claudia and Conrad Vispo, a field botanist and wildlife ecologist, respectively, who direct the nearby Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program in Ghent, New York, to walk around with me and look through their skilled eyes. (Their full bios are farther down this page.)
I thought I knew this place of “mine” but wow: what they saw, and alerted me to! How could I not have seen all that they noticed? I thought some of you might like to ramble with us, too, and examine some of my experiments and learn how to bring more pollinators, birds, and other beneficials to your place.
Want to up the ante of wild in your garden?
YOU CAN, even if like mine, it began as a collection of unusual plants in formal beds (not very wild!), Come root around and explore with me and Claudia and Conrad on September 15 for half a day. Bring all your questions, and let’s all learn together. Read more about the event, or order a ticket below.
about Claudia and Conrad Vispo
Claudia Knab-Vispo is the field botanist of the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program. After working on plant-animal interactions in Borneo and on ethnobotany in Venezuela, she has spent more than a decade documenting and teaching about plants in and around Columbia County. Her research and educational work are guided by questions such as: How has the flora of Columbia County changed since it was first documented in the 1930s? Which are the rare and vulnerable native plants that currently share the landscape with us, where are they found, and how can we protect them? What importance did/do the wild plants have for people? Which resources do they provide to animals? How can we make our farms and backyards more friendly for pollinators and other beneficial insects?
Conrad Vispo is the wildlife ecologist of the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program. Before returning to Columbia County, NY, where he grew up, Conrad conducted ecological research on a variety of organisms, including mammals, birds and fish in a variety of places, including the woods of northern Wisconsin and tropical Venezuela. Conrad’s recent focus is on agroecology — what habitats can farmland provide for native species and, in turn, what can those native species provide to farming? How does the composition and management of the landscape surrounding the farms influence the ecological services that can be provided by beneficial insects. Conrad’s passion is understanding historical and modern patterns of animal (including human) ecology on the land.