Category Archives: PERTINENT

The Revolution Surrounds Us

by Tom Gibson

What could possibly interest a driver through the landscape west of Toledo? Flat corn and soy bean fields stretch to the horizon—green in summer, gray-brown in winter. That’s the way it’s been for the nearly 25 years my wife and I have been traveling to Chicago to visit our daughter.

In the last three years, though, we’ve noticed a change.  Instead of bare, tilled soil in winter, the majority of farmland we observe remains untilled and is filled with corn and other crop stubble. Although colors remain pretty much the same gray-brown, what we are seeing is revolutionary. Conventional farmers, who have been growing crops in the best agri-chemical, paint-by-numbers style—so many pounds of artificial nitrogen, phosphorous, etc. per acre–, are now consciously prioritizing growing life in their soil.

Tilled field and…
No till. Still brown, but much more beautiful.

We’re not the only ones to notice this change. Two years ago it even made the New York Times.

Now a book has come out that puts the shift into a worldwide context.  It’s called Growing A Revolution by David Montgomery. Montgomery is a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington; author of previous popular books, most notably “Dirt,” and a winner of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” award.

Montgomery’s thesis is that a consensus is emerging in all corners of agriculture and horticulture—from conventional to organic—that the only path toward resilient food production must include an interlocking trio of practices that fall under the rubric of “conservation agriculture.”  These are: No till soil management, cover crops, and crop rotation.

As obvious as these three practices will sound to Gardenopolis Cleveland’s cutting edge gardeners, the abiding wonder of this book is how often humanity has gotten this apparently straightforward mix wrong.  The Mesopotamians messed up the (once) Fertile Crescent. Thomas Jefferson experimented with cover crops and crop rotation, but also invented and promoted the mold-board plow—that great destroyer of mycorrhizal fungi and their nutrient-gathering capability– and thus managed to undo much of the good of his other innovations.  In the 1970s, a young researcher named Rattan Lal, now one of Ohio State University’s most distinguished professors, vastly improved small farm productivity in African test plots with a version of conservation agriculture. But a few short years after his departure, all his good work had been overgrown with trees.  Only the small-scale farmers of China and Japan appear to have been able maintain consistently healthy soil over centuries (aided enormously by their techniques for safely recycling both animal and human waste).

The main contributing factor to humanity’s soil-building failures has been a combination of population growth and an impatience with gradualism. As Europe’s much-plowed soils were running out of fertility, European colonialists replaced it with the Peruvian seabird waste known as guano. As guano supplies diminished, German chemists developed the Haber-Bosch process to produce artificial nitrogen fertilizer. Artificial fertilizers also became one of the pillars of the so-called “Green Revolution” of the 1960s, that temporarily rescued farmers worldwide from depleted soils and diminished harvests.

You know the rest of the story: monocultures, fertilizer runoff, Monsanto, glycosophate, herbicide-resistant “superweeds,” and a steady decrease in soil fertility that all of the ministrations of Big Ag have only made worse (requiring still more artificial inputs).

What Montgomery has discovered, however, is that we seem to have reached a genuine tipping point that is taking us back to soil and its neglected life-giving potential.  One of my favorite moments in the book occurs when Montgomery, the bearded “Left Coast” professor  is invited to speak to a group of Kansas farmers.

Did he look like this? More gardeners ought to wear overalls. They’re both comfortable and practical. Just be careful not to walk into the Stone Oven coffee house like this!

“As I ended my talk I looked out on a sea of baseball hats.  One elderly fellow in the middle stood up, stuffed his hands down into his pockets, and said he’d taken one look at me and didn’t think I could possibly say anything worth listening to.  I braced myself for what was to come.  But then he surprised me.  He said the more I talked, the more sense I had made.  He’d seen what I was talking about on his farm. It no longer had the rich fertile topsoil his grandfather had plowed. Something needed to change if his own grandchildren were going to prosper working his land.”

What has also changed is soil science.  Mycorrhizal fungi were only named and their function thoroughly described by German scientist A.B. Frank in 1885. Frank contended that mycorrhizal fungi and plants worked in a vital system of symbiosis, with plants trading sugars made via their unique process of photosynthesis for minerals which fungi’s chemical exudates were uniquely able to mine. Frank’s findings flew in the face of conventional wisdom and went through waves of acceptance and dismissal throughout the following century. Yet today we recognize the plant/fungal relationship as the most fundamental to life on land. Neither biological domain could exist on earth without the other (let alone us animals!).

Sara Wright in her lab.

The power of the plant/fungal relationship has only really come into focus in the last 20+ years. In 1996 Sara F. Wright, a U.S.D.A. scientist, first identified glomalin, the mycorrhizal exudate that gives good soil its crumbly texture and, at a micro-level, allows bacteria and fungi to perform their most soil-enhancing functions.  (Why hasn’t Sara Wright won a Nobel Prize!)

At the same time, scientists’ recent ability to decode genomes has revealed a vast, previously unknown realm of microbiological life. To soil scientists the soil microbiome is still, literally, terra incognita. We know enough, however, to understand why the trio of conservation agriculture practices that Montgomery describes work so powerfully together.

No or minimal tillage allows mycorrhizal fungi to extend their appendages called hyphae.  These hyphae, in turn, mine rock and other geological formations for otherwise inaccessible minerals.  They also merge with other like fungi and thus create a vast underground network that, sensing some plant’s need for phosphorous, can both mine and deliver it.

Vetch fixes nitrogen and is a great cover crop.

Cover crops supply their own package of nutrients, including nitrogen (e.g. vetch) and phosphorous (e.g. buckwheat). Harvesting them off above the root, moreover, leaves carbon compounds in the soil to feed all the fungi and other microbiota.

Rotation of multiple crops, the third component of conservation agriculture, follows the lesson that almost every veteran tomato grower knows: One crop in place year after year eventually attracts more natural enemies than it can handle. The more varied crops, the safer they all become.  Moreover, different crops access different mycorrhizal species and networks, as well different minerals. (E.g. sunflowers, which draw up zinc and make it available to the other crops around them).

The lesson: in diversity there is redundancy and strength. All three practices conserve carbon and build soil.  In fact, Montgomery cites a 2014 Rodale Institute that estimates that complete worldwide conversion to conservation agriculture could offset almost three-quarters of then current global emissions.  This might not be as pie-in-sky as a realist might imagine. Montgomery emphasizes throughout how profitable regenerative conservation agriculture can be for farmers (not, however, for suppliers of agri-chemicals!).

Montgomery has clearly written this book for the next potential generation of farmer converts to conservation agriculture and to their potential policymaker supporters. But the predominantly gardener readers of Gardenopolis Cleveland will find the book a useful mirror by which to judge their own practices and act as even more informed consumers. The book is accessible in a comfortable journalistic way, but the reader is always aware that, when required, Montgomery can draw on his deep scientific training to summarize, accept and/or dismiss scientific studies as appropriate.

Some other tidbits/insights:

–Montgomery notes that many “organic” farmers fall short—and their crops suffer- -when it comes to implementing conservation agriculture. The more enlightened seem to be adopting some of the techniques of conventional agriculture—like every once-in-while application of a fungicide—to get their conservation agriculture trio of practices into proper balance. Despite my description above, soil and circumstances vary, and there seems to be a emerging productive middle ground, albeit still with very low chemical inputs.

–The two biggest obstacles to widespread adoption of conservation agriculture in the U.S.?  The first, predictably, is Big Ag, the complex of seed, agri-chemicals, equipment producers, and food distributors.  These companies dominate U.S. agricultural research and educational funding not to mention the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. They are also the only entities to consistently profit off the current system.  The second, more surprisingly, is crop insurance. The ability of make money even through crop failure keeps our present destructive system in place.  Montgomery seems to take special pleasure in describing how well off financially the new conservation agriculture farmers—who pay exponentially less for chemical and other inputs—have become–to the point of fancy wine cellars!. Most are so profitable they don’t bother with crop insurance, even if it is federally subsidized.

–Smaller really is beautiful.  Conservation agriculture with its multiplicity of crops tends to lend itself to much smaller farms than the as-far-as-the-eye-can-see, massive monoculture systems.  Because the former are more profitable, they may also make room for more -farmers and more prosperous small towns to serve them.  Check out this video to see what can happen.

Could a more prosperous rural America close our current rural/urban political divide?

–Finally, a special point of pride for Ohioans.  Rattan Lal, whom I’ve mentioned on this blog before, and David Brandt, a farmer near Columbus, emerge as towering heroes of this book. After reading this book, you’ll appreciate these two state treasures even more.

Meditations at the Winter Solstice

by Elsa Johnson


Night comes early        this time of year             Short twilight

days          fade to dull   washed over dim                  northeast

Ohio winter days                                      edged to collapse   — 

dark         into deeper darkness                           Entire days of

not-day-not-night          almost-but-not-quite            gloaming

Solstice    in a few short days                                  Not a good

climate for   New Grange effect                                   The sun  

so rarely shines                            one would not think to build

a long      cold       slot of stone                        for sun to creep

up    and back down   again             One might wait years    —

How many                  millennium                        would it take

to connect                cause and effect                in this climate?    

Brighter gloaming on   snow-glow nights                   Brighter             

nights than days                                   when snow is grounded


When I was young             I stacked my skis          outside my

door       strapped them on       on winter nights            floated     

almost       soundless      past blackened woods     and     fields

gleaming       bright      in darkness                 (hint of borealis

in blue-black sky)    But these days      creep     to Solstice  —

to beyond                               when     we begin to look for  —

notice     hope     for                       the almost     imperceptible

lengthening      of curtailed light                          toward larger

hours                  The bulk of winter looms ahead             cold

and beautiful                                   but someone has to shovel

walk    and drive         —        at this age one feels     once     is

enough         :        Lake effect weather          dark       to aging

bones               that wish to strap on skis        and flee        fear

less           into wild and quiet         snow-stunned          nights

Rust Belt Riders – Vroom Vroom

by Elsa Johnson and Tom Gibson

Here at Gardenopolis Cleveland we are huge advocates for soil — you may remember that one of our early book reviews was on Kristen Ohlson’s The Soil Will Save Us – and as true believers, we’re all working on making our own soils more productive without the use of chemical fertilizers or tilling. And we know we are not alone in our belief in the importance of healthy soil.

Recently two of us dropped in on Rust Belt Riders, a small composting business located in a warehouse just east of downtown. Cleveland’s Ingenuity Festival shares warehouse space here, storing many colorful props that we had to wind our way around, which made for a strong contrast with Rust Belt Riders, who are basically three guys (all philosophy majors) doing experiments indoors (a tilapia raising tank and filtration tanks to clean the water) while cooking several large piles of compost outdoors.

As gardeners, most of the compost available to us commercially is based on the decomposition of leaves and yard waste, through the process we call composting. It is a large scale production undertaken by our local cities. Most people still, we suspect, send a lot of their ordinary food waste down the food disposal or into the trash, where it ends up — encased in lasts-for-millennia black plastic — in the dump. A smaller number of us home ‘compost’ (raise your hands, please).  

But most of us ‘compost’ rather loosely (I know I do).  We throw organic plant material from our yards and our plates onto a pile stashed somewhere we can’t actually see it (we call this the backyard feeding station), throw a few leaves or grass clippings on top, and expect that in time it will decay into something we can use on our gardens. And hey, in time, it will. But the Rust Belt Riders approach is way more scientific and controlled. They have studied the soil food web ecosystem, that sustainable system by which microscopic organisms in the soil exist in beneficial symbiosis with plants; that system that perpetually renews soil and plant health—-in contrast to the life-eradicating damage done by tillage or chemical fertilizers.

Their stated mission is to Feed People. Not Landfills. Their goal is to restore the soil food web, not destroy it. Don’t you want to get in on that good work? — Putting the carbon back in the soil.

What is their process…?  Rust Belt Riders collect organic food waste from grocery stores, restaurants, and businesses (50 in all) mix it with other organic ingredients in measured amounts, and ‘cook’ it to specific temperatures for specific periods of time. The key is those other organic ingredients—mainly old wood chips that only fungi are equipped to decompose and that comprise close to 60% of the total compost pile. The end result is compost that is alive with the fungi,bacteria, and other micro- and macrofauna like nematodes that, in combination, take plant health to a higher level.  (Biologically active soil also requires less watering!)

In addition to selling the compost, Rust Belt Riders also offers soil consultations, zero waste events, and workshops. But perhaps the most useful way to make use of Rust Belt Riders would be their collection service. Currently they collect from various sources like restaurants and grocery stores. But it seems to Gardenopolis Cleveland that an opportunity exists for communities of various scales (from a street, for example, to an incorporated entity like a city) to get in on the collection end by having a central collection area where ordinary individuals could bring their household organic waste (no meat), and a regular collection date. That would take things to a whole different level.

Interested in the soil food web? Go to:

Interested in Rust Belt Riders? Go to:

Happy Thanksgiving from Gardenopolis!

This Thanksgiving, we thought we’d share some of the garden plants we’re most thankful for. 

Ann McCulloh:

Seems like I’ll be planting bulbs until the ground freezes solid, and some of my very favorite bulbs are the Alliums. There are many varieties of this charismatic onion relative, which bloom at various times in spring, summer or fall. All the tiny florets provide wonderful nectar for bees and butterflies. Best of all, the deer don’t like ’em!

The appeal of Eastern Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica) for me is the wonderful fragrance of the leaves and berries. Since this salt tolerant, semi-evergreen shrub makes a beautiful hedge when pruned regularly, there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scent when trimming it. Lots of birds eat the berries, too!

I welcome frost this time of year, once the houseplants are safe inside – it means a break from laboring in the garden! Another benefit is the softening, sweetening effect it has on the fruits of the native persimmon, Diospyros americana. The variety ‘Meader’ is hardy, self-pollinating and can be easily kept at 12′ tall. Beautiful orange fall color, too.

Catherine Feldman:

Pyncnantheum… native mint. Grows in part shade. Fresh pepperminty smell. Extremely attractive to pollinators midsummer through fall. Spreads by runners. Lovely blue grey foliage — color seems to deepen as the season passes.

Elsa Johnson:

A pleasing combination in fall is Amsonia hubrichtii, Sedum spectablis, and carex.

Amsonia hubrichtii… the amsonias are big clump forming perennials, though not at first, so patience is needed for the first couple years, especially in semi shade. All amsonias have pale, pale blue flowers in spring. Hubrichtii has fine thread-like leaves that turn a deep gold in the fall and is an aesthetic wonder, adding both color and billowing soft texture.

Sedum spectablis…a common garden perennial that is also a great pollinator attractor. The blossoms darken to shades of rosy russet in the fall and really stand out against a background of amsonia hubrichtii.

Carex… this is a cultivar I found ….it reminds me of hair. I find that if carex looks too much like ordinary grass my non-gardener clients think they are grass and weed them out. A non grass color like variegation seems to help.

Nyssa sylvatica… one of my favorite trees. Common name Black Gum . This is an easy to grow tree that is adaptable to many environmental conditions once established, and resistant to many diseases and pests. Has shiny dark green leaves that turn to crimson in the early fall. Deer like to browse the young leaves, so protection is needed while the tree is young.

Sassafras… Tends to grow in a thicket. In a good year the leaves turn marvelous mixed shades of yellow and gold flushed with coral.

Tom Gibson:

My favorite pollinator attractor?  Without question it’s boneset, eupatorium perfoliatum, which not only attracts the usual cast of honey bees and bumblebees, but all kinds of wasps, beetles and flies that often rely on pollen for just part of their diet.  I’ve already written about boneset, but the annual early August show continues to pull me in.  I will stand for 15 minutes at a time just to watch the ecstatic, oblivious activity of the dozens of insect visitors.  Here’s an ailanthus web worm with a mason bee:

Another favorite is the hardy ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum).  It’s not mentioned nearly as much as milkweed as a food source for monarchs, but the butterflies always make a stop on these light blue flowers on their way south during the fall.

Finally, there’s Jacob’s ladder.  It’s one of the first plants to bloom in the spring and is a great source of early nourishment for queen bumblebees, whose self-heated “blood” enables them to begin establishing nests in cool weather.

Jacob’s ladder grows prolifically in my shade garden.  It happens to bloom at the same time as my red and black currant bushes, so Jacob’s ladders provide a nice assist in getting fruit started.

Happy Halloween from Gardenopolis Cleveland!

poem and images by Elsa Johnson

To celebrate the holiday, we have a poem and some pictures of local yard decorations.

Vulture on the World Tree

It was         new territory to us                                                     We

rode the air currents to get there                                    up-drafts

We spread our wings out        wide                          the tips tilted

up      the wind    riffling    through them          There were three

of us         circling               We smelled dead things           We eat

dead things          The scent of dead things travels              When

we catch          that           smell                    we will fly a long way

A meal should be dead        but not ripe  :                     You need

presence in the land of the dead                                  You need a

tree       that stands alone                    You need to see what else

is out there    in that land                            We can clear a corpse

in a couple hours        —        thorough        —       we don’t notice 

what it is                                                     If you have a dead thing

to get rid of                                             you can do worse than us

Reprise of Phenology for Our Snowy Weather

by Lois Rose
The growing degree days on the phenology calendar ( have accumulated somewhat but slowed down recently due to the cold weather. There is damage to buds that had started to develop by the first of March.  For example, look for crocuses  which have had their petals destroyed or badly damaged.  Snow is a blessing when cold air comes—it insulates the plants on the ground.  It is possible that buds of fruit trees and small fruit like currants which were warmed during February might suffer severe damage from the cold we have been experiencing this week. Time will tell. If you are interested in finding out sooner rather than later, you could cut open a bud and see if it is still green on the inside.  A brown interior is not good. Remember that we almost always have frosts and freezes in this part of Ohio until mid-May.


What Shall We Do Next?

Announcement of Upcoming Events and Purposeful Actions

Home Permaculture Design Short Course

March 2nd to April 20th

Thursdays – 7:30 to 9 PM

First Unitarian Church of Cleveland

Shaker Boulevard, Shaker Heights

Given by:  Green Paradigm Partners: Tom Gibson and Elsa Johnson (216) 932 – 8733

Eight week short course introduces students to permaculture concepts including soil building and soil conservation,on site water retention – rain barrels and cisterns, swales, raingardens, & more, pollinator attracting plants, attracting and keeping beneficial insects, plant polycultures, incorporating native plants in the garden, plants you didn’t know were edible, plant layering and edges as design principles, hands-on practice of landscape design.        

Native Plants for the Home Landscape

February 16 at 6:30 with Garrett Ormiston  

at Cleveland Museum of Natural History-Tickets

Participants will learn about the threats that invasive plants pose to our natural areas and gardens, and the many advantages to using native plants as an alternative. Discussions will include how to make responsible plant choices in your home landscaping, planting native plants in a deer-dominated landscape, using native plants to attract native pollinators, and detailed information about the many different native plants that you can consider for your home gardening projects. Information learned in this presentation will lead up to our March workshop, “Designing Landscapes using Native Plants”.


Patrick Blanc (Paris, France), World’s leading expert on Vertical Gardens

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 10:00am to noon

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Email Carol Provan regarding tickets:

Vertical gardening has become trendy in recent years, a movement led by Patrick Blanc. Special patented techniques enable him to explore new territory and create artistic, soil-less gardens on the exteriors and interiors of museums, hotels, corporations and homes of the ultra-wealthy. He is in demand among an international cadre of architects, developers, and environmental groups, but is just as pleased to be invited to Cleveland by the Shaker Lakes Garden Club.

March for the Climate

Washington DC on April 29

There is no denying it: Donald Trump’s election is a threat to the future of our planet, the safety of our communities, and the health of our families.

This new administration is attacking the hard-won protections of our climate, health, and communities, and the rights of people of color, workers, indigenous people, immigrants, women, LGBTQIA, young people, and more.

If the policies he proposed on the campaign trail are implemented, they will destroy our climate, decimate our jobs and livelihoods, and undermine the civil rights and liberties won in many hard fought battles.

Join Catherine Feldman and Elsa Johnson in forming a Gardenopolis Cleveland contingent!


NOW is the time for us to contribute to saving the environment. We hope the following list will facilitate your donations.

Our next few posts will list some city and state organizations.

National Environmental Organizations  

(thank you EarthEasy for these recommendations)

1. Union of Concerned Scientists

UCS maintains a national network of nearly 17000 scientists who believe “rigorous analysis is the best way to understand the world’s pressing problems and develop effective solutions to them.” UCS’s findings and statements are frequently quoted by major news sources; they have become a recognized and respected voice of environmental advocacy. Their work focuses on clean energy solutions, global warming, and the puzzles of large-scale food production. UCS’s testimony has been instrumental in several pieces of important green legislation.

2. Natural Resources Defense Council

Called “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups” by the New York Times, NRDC combines “the grassroots power of 1.4 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals”. This time of year, NRDC offers holiday-ready “green gifts”: your donation results in a gift card describing the action it supports, such as “adopt a wolf in Yellowstone” or “save an acre of whale nursery” to add a tangible meaning to a personalized gift.

3. Environmental Working Group

Known for their annual “Dirty Dozen” list revealing the highest (and lowest) pesticide concentrations in conventionally-grown produce, EWG is known for researching and spreading awareness regarding toxic chemicals, sustainable versus exploitative agricultural practices, consumer product safety, and corporate accountability. Right now, EWG promises that monetary gifts will be doubled through a matching campaign. This is a good pick for those with a passion for clean food.

4. Greenpeace Fund

GreenpeaceMade famous in the 1970’s and 80’s for its seafaring bands of activists peacefully accosting whaling ships and exposing covert nuclear testing, today’s Greenpeace describes climate change as “the number one threat facing our planet”. Greenpeace has not lost its passionate idealism, maintains its corporate integrity, and still inspires many to urgent, hopeful direct action. Courageous efforts by small groups of concerned individuals have influenced governments in the past, as with Greenpeace’s inaugural efforts to stop nuclear testing at Amchitka Alaska.

5. Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth describes itself as a “bold and fearless voice for justice and the planet”. Recent campaigns have targeted bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, “dirty” tar sands oil extraction, and the environmental devastation of palm oil production. Those who oppose widespread adoption of nanotechnology, genetically engineered foods, and human gene patenting will appreciate FOE’s clear stance and advocacy.

6. Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance has gained public recognition with their independent certification of common rainforest products, such as chocolate, coffee, bananas, and tea. Producers must meet strict sustainability standards to gain certification. The Alliance also works with foresters and the tourism industry in ecologically vulnerable areas. Their website offers consumer and traveler information, helping us work together to steward some of the most biodiverse, threatened, and globally critical habitats.

7. Earthjustice

Earthjustice is clear about its reason for being: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer”. Beginning as a Sierra Club team mounting a lawsuit to preserve an isolated California valley from development as a Disney ski resort, Earthjustice has become an independent crusade focusing on high-impact, precedent-setting battles. These are dedicated, experienced lawyers taking on the David-and-Goliath fights many of us feel powerless to influence. Donating here is one approach to evening the scales between the “big bucks” of large corporate interests and the often woefully underfunded voice of our struggling ecosystem.

8. Ocean Conservancy

Ocean“Ocean Conservancy works to keep the ocean healthy, to keep us healthy.” Current areas of focus include addressing ocean acidification, restoration and oil-spill recovery in the Gulf of Mexico, and protecting the Arctic ecosystem from damage by increased shipping and oil and gas exploration. In the words of Jacques Cousteau, “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”

9. Earth Island Institute

One Earth Island proponent describes the group as “a community of creative activists with a great track record and cutting edge worldview.” E.I.I. nourishes ambitious fledgling projects, giving them fuel to thrive and potentially become independent nonprofits, such as Rainforest Action Network and Salmon Protection and Watershed Network. The California-based organization has several locally-focused initiatives under its wing, as well as international projects like the Center for Safe Energy and the Plastic Pollution Coalition, among many others. Supporters can pick and choose which project they’d like to fund. It’s a big strong umbrella under which you can still aim your support at a highly specific goal.

10. The Sierra Club Foundation

Another household name, the Sierra Club has a popular reputation as less radical than Greenpeace, less likely to cause arguments at the family dinner table. Political lobbying and legislative advocacy have always been central to Sierra Club’s mission. Today the Club focuses on moving beyond fossil fuel dependency and preserving wild spaces from harmful development, as well as offering their signature wilderness trek experiences to individuals across the country.

Some of our other favorites:

Environmental Defense Fund

“Environmental Defense Fund’s mission is to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends.

Guided by science and economics, we find practical and lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems.”

Nature Conservancy

“The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

Our vision is a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives.”


“The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. We take our name from the now extinct Xerces Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), the first butterfly known to go extinct in North America as a result of human activities.”

Yale 360

“Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting, and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news.”

 Mother Jones 

“Mother Jones is a reader-supported nonprofit news organization. We do independent and investigative reporting on everything from politics and climate change to education and food (plus cat blogging). Some 9 million people come to this site each month. We also publish an award-winning, 200,000-circulation magazine, we just launched a new podcast, and you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.”

Earth First 

No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth

“The very future of life on Earth is in danger. Human activities—from hunting to habitat destruction—have already driven countless species to extinction, and the process is only accelerating. The destruction of the Earth and its sustainable indigenous cultures has led to tragedy in every corner of the globe.”

National Wildlife Federation

“National Wildlife Federation is a voice for wildlife, dedicated to protecting wildlife and habitat and inspiring the future generation of conservationists.”


Deer Antler Anguish (Or how half a solution can fail much more than no solution at all)

by Tom Gibson

Like most suburban gardeners, I do regular battle with deer.  Over the years I have gradually substituted vegetables deer don’t like (e.g. garlic) for ones they do (e.g. tomatoes).  I have fenced in young saplings whose tender shoots deer have eaten into the ground.  (My young plum tree survived somehow and re-emerged with spreading multiple branches of the type I wanted to cultivate anyway!).  And I jerry-rigged a six foot fence in attempt to block casual walk-throughs.

The latter was my undoing and, far more, that of two full-antlered bucks two weeks ago. For them it was probably the worst experience of their otherwise way too comfortable suburban lives.

The problem was the fence: a combination of wire and fishing line.  The wire was too visible to the deer and the clear plastic fishing line was too weak. The result was that the deer quickly broke through the fishing line and walked through the fence at will.

The ideal short fence, my colleague Elsa Johnson, has kept telling me, is heavy 50 lb-gauge fishing line. Because of the deer’s poor eye sight, it won’t know what’s halting its progress and, confused, it will turn away in another direction.  And the sturdier heavy-gauge fishing line doesn’t break from the initial deer impact.  Installing that sturdier fishing line has been on my project list for at least a year!

But I and my deer friend pests didn’t count on the mating season and new antlers!  Two weeks ago Sunday we found two bucks who had somehow entangled  their antlers in wire fencing. A path they had trod effortlessly as bare-headed adolescents had suddenly become treacherous.  One buck, pawing nervously, was battling a single wire that still provided him a wide circumference in which to struggle.  Eventually, I was able to free it by snipping a wire (at a safe distance!)


The second buck had far worse problems.  It had already snared a large knit hammock in its antlers and that was getting tangled. Six hours later when we returned, it was in even worse shape. It had wrapped itself around the tree until its head abutted (in every sense) the trunk.


Although an early morning call to the Cleveland Heights police had brought no solution, an afternoon call did. A young woman from a private animal control company under contract to the city arrived.  Calmly and professionally, she used wire clippers and a scissor to free the second buck.  The whole process took 45 minutes.

Free at last, the second buck ran off, followed by his little entourage of concerned does.

Neither buck has returned!

Damage to our yard: one black locust tree totally girdled of bark (and doomed to die) and lots of bent fence posts.  Anyone want a well-used hammock?


Reforesting the Forest City – Planning for Climate Change

 By Elsa Johnson

Here I am, sitting on my front porch on a sunny mid-September day, watching the Monarchs drift from buddleia blossom to blossom while listening to a Davey Tree Company crew two doors down the street cutting down and removing 3 huge old black locust trees that all lost their heads in that microburst/possible small tornado mid-summer. This is an older neighborhood, with most houses almost one hundred years old, which means there are an unusual number of unusually old and unusually tall black locusts which that storm unusually affected (one wonders, why did the black locusts, in particular, suffer so much breakage?).



But it must be observed that, of the trees in my neighborhood, which borders a small park, the black locusts (those that didn’t get damaged) are looking good – fresh green, and healthy – despite a difficult summer of heat and drought. The same cannot be said of many of the other trees on this street, which are mostly ash and maple, with a couple horse chestnut trees at either end. The ash, of course, are succumbing to Emerald Ash Borer – and the horse chestnuts always tend to look a bit sorry by summer’s end, but to what are the maples succumbing? On my very short street (7 houses on one side of the street, 7 on the other, for a total of 14 houses) one maple was uprooted by the storm, but half of it was dead already, and of the three maples directly across the street from my house, two of them have many dead or dying branches in their upper canopy – with a bit more dying each year, for the past several years.


In another Cleveland Heights Neighborhood a friend has pointed out an area where many large, old oaks have recently died and been removed, and where others are looking not so good. Then there are the dead and dying large old oaks in certain areas of Forest Hill Park (and now a specimen beech, too).


What’s going on?

So I was particularly interested in Louis Iverson’s presentation on the U.S. Forest Service’s Climate Change Tree Atlas, when he spoke recently at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s 2016 symposium Nature on the Edge. And what a useful tool this is! Using computer modeling, projections have been made for individual tree species’ survival and ability to cope or thrive in best cast and worse case scenarios under climate change by 2100.

This tool is useful in two ways. The first, by helping us to diagnose and understand what is going on around us now – and the second, by helping us make wise decisions in both the public and private spheres concerning tree choices that will survive and adapt to a changed and ever changing climate here in northeast Ohio.

Climate change will not be leisurely, as measured by a tree’s life, with lots of time for tree species to adapt, so maybe what we are seeing now, already, are the first signs of lack of adaptability of certain tree species. And while it may be heresy to some, perhaps instead of seeking to restore species traditional to northeastern Ohio’s forested ecosystems, we should be introducing trees that currently thrive in climatological habitats several climate zones further south. For what the worst case climate change scenario forecasts for us in 2100 is a summer much like the one we just went through, with fierce storms, extreme downpours, and prolonged periods of heat and drought – only all of it, in the worst case scenario, even more so.   

It would be nice if we had time to explore, via research, the possible negative ramifications of such introductions, including the possibility of hitchhiking pests; a tree’s invasiveness potential; and possible disruption to synecological relationships (yeah – I had to look that one up, too), from fungi, to pollinators, to dispersal agents, but in the life of an ecosystem, or most northeast Ohio hardwood trees, 100 years is a short time, where, for us, it is more than a lifetime. Once those old tree are gone and there is no one left to remember them, it will be as if they never existed – things we would try to imagine, like passenger pigeons darkening the sky in vast numbers. There is no turning the clock back.

So what can we learn from the Climate Change Tree Atlas for NE Ohio? The chart lists 70 trees that currently grow in NE Ohio and examines each species for vulnerability and/or adaptability to change, then predicts which trees should show increase, decrease or no change, according to the model. Thus, by 2100, the chart says we can expect to see a decrease in black cherry, white ash, American basswood, swamp white oak, eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, and black ash (there are a few more – I selected those with which we are most familiar). These tree all are rated as having VERY POOR POTENTIAL  to survive and thrive under worse scenario climate change.  Listed as having POOR POTENTIAL are sugar maple, American elm, pin oak, and black maple.  Gee – that’s a lot of the trees we commonly find around here.

And what present tree species can we expect to have good potential? Osage orange, black oak, honeylocust, burr oak, butternut hickory, scarlet oak, and hackberry all have VERY GOOD POTENTIAL to survive and thrive. Also with GOOD POTENTIAL are black walnut, sassafras, eastern cottonwood, shagbark hickory, sycamore, cucumber tree, and shingle oak. These trees are already present here, and would be expected to cope with climate change and increase their numbers/habitat.

Some other existing species numbers in 2100 are predicted to REMAIN ABOUT THE SAME, according to the chart. This group includes red maple, northern red oak, slippery elm, eastern hop hornbeam, pignut hickory, black locust, black willow, Ohio buckeye, and serviceberry.

The chart also includes a list of trees that do not presently grow here but which are adaptable to what this climate will likely be in 2100, and these are on a list on the chart labeled NEW HABITAT.  These are the trees that one might consider introducing: chestnut oak, Eastern redbud, Eastern red cedar, Northern white cedar, chinkapin oak, black hickory, blackjack oak, common persimmon, post oak, shortleaf pine, shumard oak, southern red oak, sugarberry, sweetgum, and winged elm. 


Common Persimmon  

sugarberry-hackberry150                                                         sweetgum

Short leaf pine




Post Oak


Swamp Chestnut Oak


Black Hickory


Blackjack Oak

Interestingly, most of the pictures I found for these trees came from a data base from Texas. Most of these tree are common to Texas, which tells you what worst case climate change may look like here in northeast Ohio in 100 years. And here I leave you – with a lot to think about.

Book Review of “Gardening in a Post-Wild World” by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

A Book Review by Evelyn Hadden of Garden Rant; reposted by with permission from Evelyn Hadden

Big Ahas from Planting in a Post-Wild World


Their primary audience may be other designers, but Thomas Rainer and Claudia West’s Planting in a Post-Wild World (Timber Press, 2016) offers many take-aways for regular gardeners too. The book outlines how to design and maintain an ecological landscape, and does so in beautifully clear, fluid language that is easy to read and absorb.

The first few pages had me reaching for my notebook to jot down phrases from the book and ideas it sparked for my own garden. Even better, Rainer and West pointed out gaps in my own way of designing. My biggest aha was their concept of “design layers.”

“The good news is that it is entirely possible to design plantings that look and function more like they do in the wild: more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious, with less maintenance. The solution lies in understanding plantings as communities of compatible species that cover the ground in interlocking layers.” — page 17

I was used to thinking in terms of vertical layers of plants that physically occupy different niches; this frankly produces landscapes that are ecologically functional and diverse but not necessarily beautiful to those who don’t understand ecology. What makes them beautiful is their robust health and the life they support; visual impact is strictly a secondary consideration.

But Rainer and West present a powerful set of tools for adding aesthetic oomph while maximizing ecological function. They advise viewing a landscape in terms of four different layers (really, roles) that can be focused on individually while designing, and also while determining ongoing maintenance strategies.

Structural Layer: most powerful year-round key parts of a design. These should be retained through the years, replaced if needed, and kept clearly defined as they form the backbone on which the rest of the design hangs.

Seasonal Layer: waves of color and/or texture provided by each season’s visually dominant “design” plants. These are maintained by treating them en masse, thinning or spreading as necessary.

Groundcover Layer: provides the main diversity of the planting and therefore most of the ecological function. This layer does not contribute noticeably to the aesthetic design, except as a living mulch. Manage it by retaining and augmenting diversity as much as possible to maximize its functionality and the health of all the plants in the landscape.

Gap Fillers: self-sowing plants distributed regularly through the planting and encouraged to set seed. This builds up a seed bank of desirable plants which will ideally sprout to fill any gaps that occur.

I love how the authors separate the main aesthetic contributors (the first two layers) from the main ecological contributors (the last two). That makes it much easier to create a landscape that is strong in both beauty and functionality.

For a gardener unfamiliar with ecology (the science of how nature works), this book is a great primer. Sample insights include:

  • Plants fare better in communities.

    “When plants are paired with compatible species, the aesthetic and functional benefits are multiplied, and plants are overall healthier.” — page 47

  • Rational guidelines for moving past the natives-only debate.

    “… place the emphasis on a plant’s ecological performance, not its country of origin… The combination of adapted exotics and regionally native species can expand the designer’s options and even expand ecological function.” — page 42

  • Work with each unique site.

    “For designers interested in creating communities with a rich sense of place, the first step is simple: accept the environmental constraints of a site. Do not go to great effort and cost to make soil richer, eliminate shade, or provide irrigation. Instead, embrace a more limited palette of plants that will tolerate and thrive in these conditions.” — page 47

  • Rather than creating generic “ideal conditions” (by bringing in soil or amendments), rely on plants to gradually improve a site.

    “Hundreds of thousands of root channels will heal and rebuild even highly disturbed and compacted soils over time, and enrich low-lying soil horizons with organic matter. The more roots, the more quickly a soil is restored. In order to get as many roots in the ground as possible, plant as densely as possible and use a diversity of root morphologies to interact with the soil at different levels.” — page 194

  • Cover the ground with plants.

    “Plant ground covers wherever there is space for them: under trees, shrubs, and taller perennials. Fill all gaps between taller plants… Use them like you would mulch.” — page 180

The authors move from details to big-picture with ease. They advise starting each design with a “vision” patterned after a natural landscape (or archetype) such as woodland or meadow. This concept is dear to my heart, and I would like to see it treated in more detail  beyond the few basic archetypes mentioned in this guide. Some of the most affecting landscapes I’ve encountered were created by designers who were intimately familiar with regional ecosystems in their many variations, and were able to use them as inspiration.

Another important point brought home by the book is that a designed landscape — to stay functional and beautiful — needs thoughtful management as well as ongoing attention to its design. An installation followed by generic maintenance strategies will not preserve aesthetics or ecology. This aha combines that beloved old adage “a garden is never finished” with Abraham Maslow’s astute observation that “if you only have a hammer, it is tempting to treat every problem as a nail.”

“Because communities are dynamic, managing them is a creative process… Designers must be part of a planting’s life as regular and ongoing consultants.” — p. 221

Let us hope the well-defined and highly desirable steps laid out by Rainer and West help to hasten the end of the modern “mow-and-blow” approach to landscape management, in which we routinely cut down, poison, or prune plants without regard for their growth habits or their web of connections, applaud sterility and unpalatability, and kill off the majority while pampering the chosen few. Let us follow Planting in a Post-Wild World into a future where humans respectfully manage landscapes for our comfort, our quality of life, and our very existence, while acknowledging (in our treatment of them) the inherent value of these living communities.

Posted by on July 20, 2016 at 1:27 pm, in the category Books, CRRRI