Wednesday, April 29, 2009

State of MD Wants to Plant a Million Trees

The State of Maryland has announced an ambitious goal: plant 1 million new trees by 2011.

They don’t plan to do it alone. They are asking you, me and everyone else to pitch in, buy a tree and plant it somewhere, and they are offering some very generous coupons to places like American Plant, Benke’s and other local businesses. I think it is a pretty cool way to get people planting trees while shopping locally.

There are so many good reasons to plant a tree, especially a native that will provide food, cover or shelter for local wildlife while it beautifies your yard. Trees also clean the water that enters the Chesapeake: one large tree can eliminate 5000 gallons of stormwater run off each year. Trees also help reduce air pollution, and a well placed tree can reduce energy costs by 15 – 35 percent for the average homeowner.

You might think you don’t have enough room for a big tree, but the list of trees eligible for coupon use includes loads of small, understory trees that will fit on even tiny urban lots like those around my neighborhood, as well as some nice, big, slow growing giants. Some shrubs even qualify, such as witch hazel.

And if your yard is already packed with trees and shrubs or you live in an apartment or rental where trees aren’t possible, you can donate to the purchase of a tree to be planted. They will even send you a certificate to commemorate the tree you pick.

Check out this site for more information, including a full list of vendors and a full list of eligible trees.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Parkfairfax Native Plant sale is worth the wretched drive

Today, after pulling invasive plants for an hour in the Sligo Creek as a part of the great Garlic Mustard challenge, I headed off to Northern Virginia in search of Parkfairfax, where I had been told I'd find some of the best native plant vendors in the region, gathered together for a big plant sale.

Here's what's funny: Parkfairfax isn't a park, and it isn't in Fairfax. Its actually in Alexandria. And its a forties style housing development, with condos, townhomes, etc. Its full of trees and very pretty.

But, ah, Northern Virigina. Land of a million confusing place names and twisty roads which allow no return back to the correct highway, back to the place where you MEANT to turn... oh, wait, that WAS my exit.... no wait, that will take me to Mt. Vernon... wait, I think THAT was my turn, aw hell.... I need some gas I'm almost on empty....and hey, Guy Driving Behind Me in a Hummer, will you please stop tailgating? I'm already doing 70 and I have no idea if I need to turn on these roads coming up....

Covered in sweat from the GM pull, and horrified by the number of turns I had to make to remain on 395 before even getting close to my destination, I began to wonder if it was worth the trip.

But then, I arrived to find some of my favorite vendors, including some like Jim Plyler, who normally only sale wholesale, and Enchanter's Garden from Hinton, West Virginia, which always has these huge pots filled with my favorite native perennials. Oh, and did I mention Green and Sticky, the retail arm of American Native Plants in Baltimore? There I was able to secure two of the biggest, loveliest Blackhaw Viburnums I have ever seen for a very reasonable price. Wahoo, it was wonderful. I happily found almost everything my current clients have been looking for, plus some stuff for my own little garden.

I also had the chance to chat wit the sale's organizer, Scott Knudsen. Scot is somewhat semi-famous for his efforts to both attract vendors to this fancy little housing development, and also for being a part of the big effort to remove invasive plants from the Parkfairfax greenspaces.

So, if you are willing to brave the terror that is a Saturday drive from Montgomery County, Maryland to the heart of Alexandria once or twice a year, it is worth the trip! Send Scott an email (Sknudsen at earthlink dot net) and he'll happily put you on his email notification list.

Just be sure to pack loads of water, some snacks and a few good maps that depict what the heck you should do if you find on the return trip that 395 is a parking lot due to construction traffic and protestors shutting down streets in DC. Otherwise, prepare to suffer. Or see a lot of angles on the Pentagon, again, and again, and again.....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Audubon Nature Fair, May 3

Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, MD will host its annual Nature Fair on Sunday, May 2, 2009, 11am - 5pm.

Besides enjoying lovely Woodend Sanctuary, you can buy native plants, see hawks, owls and other animals visiting with Scales and Tales, and listen to lots of music. There are usually loads of hands-on nature activities and crafts for kids, too.

Adult admission is $5. Kids under 12 are free. This is a rain or shine event.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

For about ten days now we’ve had an Eastern Towhee in our yard. At first I only heard it. The song was not familiar to me, and I kept trying to get a view of what I was hearing.

Saturday morning dawned beautifully clear and bright, and my kids went out to play as soon as they had gulped down breakfast. My son found me a short time later. Mom, he said. There’s this weird bird. Its not a robin. Maybe it’s a juvenile robin. Or something. Come look.

Well, there it was, as lovely as could be hopping all around the yard looking for insects. We got out the bird book to make sure we were ID-ing it correctly. Yep. Like a robin, but dressed in a fancy tuxedo. Why, I wondered as I watched it, do robins always look like farmers ready to work in the field, whereas this lovely thing looks like its going out for a night on the town? I decided it was the triangle shape across its chest, which looks strangely like the vest of a tux.

At first we whispered around it. Then, we got over it and decided to go about our business as usual, playing catch, screaming, running, and digging in the garden. Once, late in the afternoon, my daughter watched it and whispered, It is something special, isn’t it?

The great thing was, we were becoming more and more used to it as the time wore on, and I thought about how little was here when we started the garden. We live in an incredibly urban area. But now, after all our work, our yard is host to so many birds, so many butterflies. We’ve overhauled, dug out, planted natives… And my kids have learned the animals of our yard well enough to know what is “weird” or “special” versus what is not. More and more “weird and special” things are moving in. Seven years of hard work have paid off -- big time -- for us and for the animals.

It was the weekend of the birds, actually, because after the Towhee’s grand arrival we saw that the Brown Thrashers had returned. I hope that they’ll build a nest again in the huge overgrown shrub out there. Robins had started their nest out front for the four year in a row, leading to a lively dinnertime discussion about whether it was the same robins building the nest in the same spot or new ones. (My son was shocked to learn that some birds can live 11 years or more, and will return to the same spot to nest.) The Carolina chickadees began a nest in our bird box again, and the Carolina wrens were seen flying around.

And still I wonder, is that Towhee here to stay, or just visiting? Will he build a nest? Or just eat a while before moving on? If the Towhee stays, will it survive and thrive? Or is this just too much of an urban area?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bay Journal: A Naturalist Piece that is Worth Reading

I just read this really great piece in the Bay Journal called "Seasonal Pools Explode with Spring's Song." The Bay Journal is always full of great pieces like this.

Worth reading, for sure. Makes me want to go hiking this weekend... with all this rain we are sure to hear those peepers and find some interesting new flowers up and out.