green, or ‘Green?’

I got out of my car the other day at the same time as the driver in the spot next to me.  Wild-eyed and a bit disheveled, she fairly shrieked at me: “You’re killing the planet with your SUV, one-percenter!” Did I calmly explain my particular vehicular needs and preferences to her? Did I remark on the greasy black coating of burned oil all over

Carbon offsets–not a real thing until someone figured out how to make money from them.

the hatchback and bumper stickers of her 30ish-year-old Subaru? I didn’t say anything about the pack of cigarettes on the dashboard in combination with the infant seat in the back, nor did I shout, “I own an acre and a quarter of second-growth native Northwest woodland! CARBON OFFSETS, BIZNATCH!”  Nope.  You can’t reason with the unreasonable (OK.  What I did say was, “As long as we’re on it together when it dies, then cool.” ZING!).

As my friend Elaine noted recently, the Pacific Northwest is very green.  Our wealth of forest and relatively ‘mild’ weather keeps the region looking full and lush even in the bleak winter months; but when you are restricted to Native-only plants, as I am, it can become a chromatic homogeneity that punishes your gardener’s eye for lack of variety.

The region is also very ‘Green’ as well, and this frequently manifests as a brand of environmental class-ism that can lead to plant snobbery, public policy that retains little common sense, and a feeling of moral superiority that causes breakdowns in parking lot social civility.   The Pacific Northwest was famous a couple decades ago for its rather cold, but polite, social reserve.  Now, I’d say, it is a place where anyone’s right to have a nose ends where someone else’s swinging fist begins.

The city I live in forced me to hire a Mitigation Planner who provided a woefully miserable Mitigation Plan.  Upon its failure, I went off-script and have followed my own plan: still all-Northwest-native plants; and unlike the original, still ALIVE.  Nevertheless, I am a lawbreaker, I am wrong…but I wonder if I am more or less ‘Green’ for lack of ‘official’ conformity.  Periodically, I will talk with someone in a nursery or online, maybe at the Washington Native Plant Society sale;  I tell them what I am doing, and they tell me how “Awesome!” it is.  Really? Do you want to have a government body tell YOU what to plant, how to garden, try to force you to pay a third party for services you don’t want and they have shown they are not good at providing? Didn’t think so.

This is THE tree we cut down to build our house. It was lovely, and we have suitably memorialized it by framing it in a nimbus of sunlight. There were some alders too, but they were going to break off or fall over anyway.

The city I live in is also young, incorporated in 1999.  While our elected officials skew moderate- to lightly conservative, I am pretty sure we imported our bureaucrats, functionaries, and supernumeraries from Seattle and King County, government bodies with a rich and storied history of taking ‘the public good’ into the realm of ‘public babysitting.’  I love the green of the Northwest, but how I wish for the color of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire,’ the spring herald of Azalea ‘Hino crimson,’  the Autumn blaze of Acer japonicum ‘Anything…’ plants, incidentally, I cannot have because they are not native–though they are hardly invasive and I cannot see what potential negative impact they or any other non-invasive ornamental plant could have upon my woods, my clearing, or my wetland margin (apart from adding a whole new layer of dietary interest for rabbits, Mountain Beavers, and deer).  And so despite the 1,500-home subdivision just on the other side of my wetland and their suburban pastiche of lawn, of English Ivy, of mow-n-blow-n-go yard services, of daily visits from TruGreen Chemlawn and Scott’s Lawn Care, it is the City’s policy of ‘Green’ that keeps me green.   ‘Greener’ than many, I’d say, and ‘greener’ than I have to be, for despite being told to fertilize and to eradicate my pernicious weeds using glyophosphate (really), I don’t do those things.  Sadly, though, for my parking lot friend, I am not going to drive a Prius anytime soon, because at six-four and 250 pounds I like my SUV just fine, and I can fit lots of native plants, organic soil amendments, and critter-cover-providing boulders into it at the same time.  Along with my ordinance-mandated litter bag.

NEXT: Part Two: green, or ‘Green?’ : The rise of the new Pharisee, ‘Green’ building, ‘Eco-scaping,’ and what they have to do with my backyard

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6 Responses to green, or ‘Green?’

  1. Heather says:

    You’ve encountered my very favorite sub-species of Pacific Northwestern, the ecofreako…
    Nice comeback btw!

  2. Chad B says:

    I got a good laugh at this. I think I’m going to start using “One-percenter” more. Like the next time my wife takes $140 out to buy “shampoo and lotion”. Seriously though, people are incredible and it amazes me what they are willing to accuse people of.

    I do like all the green in your yard but I can totally understand the desire to have a little non-native variety. What do the beaurocrats say about having non-natives in pots?

    • calvincaley says:

      Funny for certain, and I wonder if it is just a ‘here’ thing, or if this is the new civility. There is a fence 5 1/2 feet off the building envelope on two sides of the home, anything ‘inside’ the fence or in the front yard is ‘free and full use.’ I have containers on a deck above with some small fruits and vegetables, and I replaced part of the Confinement Fence with built-in planters (see my post A Garden in the Air). There really isn’t supposed to be anything on the ‘outside’ of the fence besides Native Plants…but I have a bit of the agent provocateur in me, and I DO think that some lightweight containers with color would look good out there; of course, then I just run the risk of creating a salad bar for browse-y wildlife.

      I’ve come across some writings which really poked me in the thinking parts recently, today’s is the first in a multi-part series of thoughts on the native vs. non-native issue. I hope you’ll come back for the rest of it, I am pretty certain I am going to offend some people (and I hope I do, really), but what for many people is theory or choice is the actuality of Mr. Diggy to dirt for me. Thanks so much! Calvin

  3. rainyleaf says:

    This is a great topic for discussion. I’ve always been pro-native, but now you have me thinking. They’re all plants, with stems, leaves and roots. It’s all good, clean photosynthesis happening. And they’re all native somewhere. Some plants have such a broad range anyway, like quaking aspen or fireweed. Shouldn’t the issue in your case be invasive vs. non-invasive? Of course there is wildlife and insects to consider…it’s a sticky web I guess. Looking forward to your next post!

    • calvincaley says:

      Elaine, thank you very much. I don’t want to be misconstrued–I am not anti-native plant,nor am I anti-environment. What is at once a ‘property rights’ issue–local government regulating the private and legal activities of individuals–is also a science+policy issue. The creation of public policy and statutory authority based upon what at best might be specious science creates needless burden on the public. I have regular interaction with the Department of Ecology, among other agencies, in my workplace. On certain issues there is a wealth of science available that is ignored completely, largely for the sake of political expedience, but also to create an accessible and consistent standard of analysis for enforcement purposes. While the regulation of some business activities is an important activity of governance, increasing costs needlessly is not good for anyone–business or consumer–except for government itself.

      This goes extra for private individuals. In my anecdotal experience, let us take Orange Honeysuckle vine. This is a beautiful native plant, beneficial to a broad range of native insects and particularly to hummingbirds. It is also apparently extremely desirable browse for other wildlife, and very expensive and difficult to come by. I would like to provide the benefits of this plant to insects and hummingbirds, so I have planted and replaced 18 Lonicera ciliosa so far, and am going to plant six more this spring and hope they will make it past the seedling stage. I have no faith whatsoever. Would it not make more sense to find a hybrid, sport, or some other variation on the native that might be less expensive, more readily available in the common nursery trade, and still provide the benefits to insects and birds? I think so, and it seems there is some science to support this. Instead, I will likely go to the Native Plant Society sale and hope I win the tug-o-war over these choice plants (this event has much in common with post-holiday clearance sales you sometimes see on the news. Ugly.)

      You are correct that the issue should be invasive vs. non-invasive. I am not planting kudzu, gooseneck loosestrife, English ivy (it’s sold at Gray Barn! What’s up with that?) or Mr. Burbank’s horrid blackberries. It is difficult enough to ‘revegetate’ an piece of earth that nature had kept unvegetated for decades before I arrived. To have additional obstacles and expenses forced upon me seems gratuitous, especially when my nearest neighbors on the other sides of the forest and wetland by my home are a GOLF COURSE and several very large housing developments. Oh, yes; there is more to come. I really enjoy our conversations, and hope that more folks will take part–especially the passionate native plant people, who I find fall into either the “some natives” or “mostly natives” categories, by choice and not “all natives” by statutory enforcement. Anyone? We need to talk.

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