Rains come in May and October in Central Texas. I didn’t read about it in a book, just living here forty years has taught me that. So when I bought $300 worth of native grass seeds in late September, surely planting time was soon to come.
Day after day we waited, pulling deplorables like grass burs to make room for the deep-rooted native grasses. No rain. No rain. No rain. And to think in New Jersey we children chanted “rain, rain, go away, come again some other day.”
November, still no rain. Trees dropped leaves not because of fall temperatures but to survive drought. Instead of the calming cool and nurturing rain of fall, a burn ban and the threat of fire.
Thanksgiving approached and the weather forecast called for 100% chance of 1.5 inches of rain. How many weather forecasts have drifted by and dissolved like clouds? 100% chance of rain, 80% chance, 60% chance, oh, well mistaken again, there was no rain. And yet I open the weather app first thing every day.
Rain came, not a soaking restorative rain, but .79 of an inch. I was out in that rain from waking til dark planting grass seeds. Since I had stopped actually preparing to plant, there was raking and weeding to make ready the ground. For the glorious grass seeds!
You know that modern art is conceptual. Art has always been conceptual, but maybe we think our modern concepts are more important and complex than the choice of subjects or the symbols that made previous artwork conceptual.
Now, it’s time for conceptual gardening.
We need to stop looking at jungle plants and exclaiming over their amazing color and exuberant presence. Instead of looking for a visual feast, finding the truth of nature can be our modern gardening concept.
I am saying this to stick up for the tiny seeds that hopefully got watered into the ground last weekend. They will grow to be prairie grasses, bunch grasses rather than sod, in colors ranging from blue-green to green. Visitors who view my demonstration native grass garden aren’t impressed. “Nice,” they murmur, moving on quickly. In the fall, the grasses turn yellow, brown, and reddish: still not much to look at.
You also can’t eat the native grasses. They seem to be of little value to humans.
And so they are not, unless you believe as Aldo Leopold did that we are part of the community of nature: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Foreword, A Sand County Almanac.
Timothy Egan’s book The Worst Hard Time taught me about native grasses. He described the early 1900’s in panhandle Texas, when entrepreneurs sold land to settlers with the promise that they could grow wheat in the panhandle. Hopeful pioneers moved there and planted wheat.
Native grasses have roots that are deep, some as deep as 40 feet underground. When the massive dry winds of the panhandle blow over the grasslands, the roots remain and resprout. They sustain that environment. Wheat, on the other hand, does not have deep roots. Enter the dustbowl.
We now face climate change which is making our region drier and hotter. What are the tools we have to adapt to this change? Native grasses, for one thing. Long native grass roots hold moisture in the soil deeper and longer. Sitting amongst the roots of a thick bunch grass can keep a lizard ten degrees cooler during those hundred degree days of August. Do the grasses begin to seem beautiful to you?
The human need for food, shelter, clothing and so on remain. But as we seek those human necessities, let’s do concept gardening, with an understanding of the broader natural community to which we belong. We are all in this together.
For now, the seeds are in the ground, and there was rain. Spring is coming.