Photo courtesy of Banna Bazzarie
FOUNDER’S NOTES by John de Graaf
REFLECTIONS: The Allure of Flowers, by Vicki Graham
NEW BLOG POSTS: Justine Burt, Milenko Matanovic, Katharine Trebeck & Jeremy Williams
In 75 words or less, tell us about a place you cherish for its beauty. Why does it matter to you?
Send your beauty note to editor Vicki Graham at firstname.lastname@example.org for publication in our upcoming newsletters.
John de Graaf
Well, summer is less than a week off and here in Seattle, we’ve already had weather in the 90s, not a common event here. As a predicted hot, dry season approaches, the prospect of another period of thick smoke from wildfires is all but certain; we’ve had them for the past two years. Up and down the West Coast the story is the same. The smoke produces beautiful red sunsets, but that beauty comes without the other two conditions ecologist Aldo Leopold believed made things “right”—integrity and stability. There is little integrity in deeply polluted air and little stability in our changing climate.
Still, my family spent the last two days enjoying the beauty of Olympic National Park, only three hours away—from the brilliant blue wind-blown waters of Lake Crescent to the blinding white ridge of the high Olympic peaks as seen from the newly-green meadows of Hurricane Ridge, with its abundant wildflowers and nonchalant herd of black-tailed deer. There was only a smattering of diversity among the hikers on the Olympic trails—beauty…but not for all.
By contrast, two Saturdays ago, Vallejo, California’s lovely waterfront was filled with the beautiful colors and sounds of Pista Sa Nayon, the annual celebration of Filipino independence from Spain. Dancers, singers and martial arts fighters charmed an audience of thousands of all races, not only Filipino. “America’s most diverse city” was showing that diversity is to be welcomed, not feared. Free celebrations like this one add to the joy of a community, and every Vallejoan I talked to, either at Pista, or at the equally diverse farmers’ market, confirmed that. Vallejo looks like America will look in 2050 and it’s something to welcome, not fear. Beauty…for all.
Another week of videotaping in Vallejo with my friend Steve Dunsky introduced me to several more advocates of beauty. Myrna Hayes runs the informal Mare Island Nature Preserve on land once owned by the Navy and formerly home to ammunition dumps and landmines. Cleaned up, it’s now a lovely spot, with uncrowded trails and a funky but fun visitor center. When we were interviewing Myrna, who grew up in Paradise, California, and whose family’s home was lost to last year’s fire, a young Dutch couple showed up looking for a camping spot. They were charmed by the place and amazed to find something like it so close to San Francisco.
We interviewed Peter Brooks at the farmers’ market. He, and everyone we visited with, had thrilling news. The company that planned to build a cement factory on Vallejo’s waterfront had surrendered to local opposition and dropped its plans. The reason, Peter said, was beauty. Vallejoans were determined to keep their lovely waterfront free from industrial pollution. “In the end, it was beauty that killed the beast,” Peter added, recalling the last words in the 1934 film version of King Kong.
Mayor Bob Sampayan and a host of Vallejo sustainability advocates were inspired by a presentation by Anamaria Aristizabal, who was visiting that week from Bogota, Colombia. She explained how Bogota had reduced inequality and greatly improved its quality of life by developing through beauty—new lovely parks and libraries in poor neighborhoods, improved public transit and a plethora of bike paths reducing congestion, plus periods on Sunday when automobiles were prohibited from most streets, freeing them for use by pedestrians and cyclists.
Recently, I’ve been reading letters written by Carlos Sampayan Bulosan, the most famous Filipino-American writer, and amazingly, a second cousin of Vallejo’s mayor. Here’s a sample, from one he wrote in 1944: “The physical wealth of America alone is inconceivable. But let us not forget there is also wealth in beauty and goodness, and love and happiness. We have lived too fast and too foolishly; we have forgotten this great wealth in the human heart. Perhaps there will come a time when we will reckon love and goodness as wealth."
I also am finishing reading a graphic (comic book) biography by cartoonist Nick Thorkelson of the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, who had an enormous influence on my thinking in the 1960s and 70s. He wrote a great deal about beauty in art and nature, which he considered the highest expression of the “life instincts” or Eros. He challenged our emphasis on consumerism, domination of nature and each other, and our rushed, overworked lives, in the name of a kinder, gentler, more feminist society. While he has fallen out of favor in recent years, I find his ideas more relevant than ever. I can’t help but think that, were he still living, he’d be a big supporter of And Beauty for All. He feared the rise of a technological and aggressive American authoritarianism that defends privilege and the exploitation of nature—current events seem to be proving him prescient.
If you have the time, please check out my new piece in the marvelous journal MINDING NATURE, published by the Center for Humans and Nature in Chicago.
It's a long look at the "Progressive Era" (roughly 1895 to 1920) and its focus on beauty and the environment. And while you're at it, check out the entire magazine.
Next up on my speaking agenda is a talk to the garden clubs of Placerville, California on August 13, followed by several presentations in Europe in September. Otherwise, it’s a light summer with time to appreciate beauty.
Wishing you all the same!
May you walk in beauty,
REFLECTIONS: The Allure of Flowers
It’s almost summer, and the flowering fruits and spring bulbs are past their glory. We’re ready for more color, and, to satisfy our desires, the nurseries are filled with flats of brilliantly colored annuals. Pansies, petunias, lobelia, snapdragons, marigolds, and impatiens beckon. The flamboyance of exotics is irresistible. We reach for fuchsias that look like little ballerinas.
Photo courtesy of Serenata Flowers
Or, as I saw in one nursery, salvia with black blossoms, reminding me of tulipomania and the pure black tulip.
Photo courtesy of Amazon
Dazzled, we load up our carts with a wild assortment of annual bedding flowers to beautify our gardens. We did this last year and the year before, and we’ll do it again next year and the year after….
What are we doing?
Pleasing our eyes: “eye candy.”
Photo courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System
At what cost? Forget for a moment the ecological cost of growing, producing, and shipping these beauties. Think closer to home: to you and your garden, however large or small, and your desire for instant BEAUTY!
But maybe it’s time to reassess our concept of beauty in garden design.
Planting natives and landscaping for wildlife is nothing new, yet many of us don’t—because we don’t know what to plant, where to find natives, or how to care for them. Or we don’t see the beauty of wildflowers—less showy, more subtle, than ornamentals.
Photo of the native flower echinacea, courtesy of the San Diego Seed Company
And, we have heard, they take time—propagating wildflowers from seeds, root divisions, and cuttings can take two or three years before the plants begin to bloom.
But you don’t have to propagate natives yourself—in fact, it’s tricky, and there are state and federal rules and regulations about harvesting wild plants in many regions. All over the country you can find nurseries that specialize in native plants for your region. Northeast Pollinator Plants is one example.
Photos courtesy of Northeast Pollinator Plants
Other examples include Morning Sky Greenery in Morris, MN, Elkton Community Education Center in Elkton, OR, and Aurora Nursery in Portland, OR.
And think of the advantages: a garden that is keyed to your ecosystem. Once the plants are established, your garden will require less and less maintenance each year. Instead of buying annuals that must be replanted, you can sit back and enjoy your perennials and watch annual wildflowers popping up everywhere. WATER? If you choose your plants carefully, NONE. The local rainfall will take care of it. NO PESTICIDES, NO FERTILIZERS. You will provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. You will support beneficial insects like pollinators, and, in time, biodiversity will return to your region.
Photo courtesy of the Habitat Network
Beautify your world with the flowers that belong where you live!
Resources for landscaping with native plants:
Botanical Gardens with native plant community displays: (or google “botanical gardens” and your region or state.)
-Denver Botanic Gardens
-Chicago Botanic Garden
-Idaho Botanical Garden
-Sara Stein: Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards. In this lively, carefully researched book, Sara Stein explores the devastating effects on the environment of traditional suburban gardening and charts her own voyage of restoration of the native ecology of her region.
-Sara Stein: Planting Noah’s Garden. In this follow-up to Noah’s Garden, Stein offers step by step advice on how to transform your garden into a thriving eco-system.
-Kathleen A. Robson: Encyclopedia of Northwest Native Plants for Gardens and Landscapes. This is a beautiful book, replete with gorgeous photographs of flowers and plants with detailed descriptions of each species, its habitat, and directions for propagation. As its title states, it is geared to the Pacific Northwest, but much of the information on propagating and caring for native plants is transferable to other ecosystems.
-Regional wildflower field guides: browse the field guide section of a bookstore or library for your region. Most field guides will give you valuable information on habitat for individual species. From there, you can begin to dream up and design a garden to fit the microclimate of your own backyard.
-Check your local Extension Office: most Extension Offices offer not only advice, but programs focused on native plants for master gardeners. Example: Colorado State University Extension offers a Native Plant Master Program
-Most Community Colleges offer classes in botany, native plants, and gardening.
Websites for advice on how to grow and where to obtain native plants: (or google “native plants” and your region or state.)
Ohio Native Growers
Native plant society of Texas
Utah Native Plant Society
NEW BLOG POSTS: byJustine Burt, Milkeno Matanovic, & Katharine Trebeck
Justine Burt, “How Meaningful Work and Just Compensation Can Help Create a More Beautiful World.”
Justine Burt, a climate optimist who focuses on replicating and scaling projects for transformational change, is the Founder and CEO of Appraccel, an environmental sustainability consulting firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her new book, The Great Pivot: Creating Meaningful Work to Build a Sustainable Future, details the green jobs we will need as people transition out of the old economy. Read Burt’s blog to learn more about the future of our transportation system and the ways that automating the driving function will create green jobs for millions of people, building a more beautiful world where we live in balance with the environment.
Photo courtesy of Justine Burt.
Milenko Matanovic, “Art in Changing Times”
Our culture, according to Milenko Matanovic, has set art apart from ordinary life, leading to the neglect and degradation of the physical world around us. He believes it is time for us to reconnect art and life in order to create beautiful and sustainable communities. He sees a new opportunity for contemporary artists: “to loan their talent and expertise to planners and architects and merchants and politicians and environmentalists. Artists can serve the emergence of a new culture in a whole new way.” Read Matanovic’s blog to learn more about this “exciting time to be an artist!”
Photo courtesy of Milenko Matanovic.
Coming July 1: Katharine Trebeck & Jeremy Williams
Authors of the new book, The Economics of Arrival, Katherine Trebek and Jeremy Williams offer our first blog from the UK. They are part of the WellBeing Alliance (WEAll), a coalition of groups looking for new approaches to wellbeing and quality of life. We're excited to have input from Europe! And everywhere else! Wherever you are, consider writing a blog for us!
Dr. Katherine Trebeck is Policy and Knowledge Lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. She is a political economist with over eight years’ experience with Oxfam GB (including developing the Humankind Index). She sits on a range of advisory boards, holds several academic affiliations and instigated the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership.
Jeremy Williams grew up in Madagascar and Kenya, where he developed a passion for the environment and for social justice. He studied journalism and international relations and now works as a writer and campaigner. He has worked on projects for Oxfam, RSPB, WWF, Tearfund and many others, and is a co-founder of the Postgrowth Institute. His award-winning website ( Earthbound.report) was ranked Britain’s number one green blog in 2018.