Frank Landis' Blog


Seed Balling and Guerrilla gardeners
October 19, 2010, 2:49 pm
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At the CNPS-SD plant sale last weekend, I helped Amy Huie sell seeds (Hi Amy!). We had this little legalistic statement on the seed packets, about how they were for landscaping use only, not for restoration. Now as far as I know, that little phrase on the seed packet is a reminder that the seeds came from a commercial vendor, and we have no idea where they were harvested. The idea is that people can do whatever they want on their private property, but we’re not going to recommend that they scatter them in the wild.

One of the customers said, “what does this notice mean? What if we ARE planning on using them for restoration?” I questioned her, and it turned out she wanted to scatter the seeds (including California poppies) in a nearby park. According to her, it was all empty, with Eucalyptus and stuff, and (as I found out through more questions), lots of mustard. She wanted to make it more natural, and she didn’t like that we were being all legalistic. I guess she felt we were criticizing her environmental inclinations, her desire to be a Ninja Do-Gooder in its latest, most fashionable phase: the guerrilla gardener.

We’re seeing more of that guerrilla gardening thing around this year. For example: seed balls, mistakenly called seed bombs. At the last CNPS meeting, a guy handed out seed balls, after he inadvertently sparked an online discussion because someone implied that his balls contained invasives. For the record, those balls don’t contain invasives, just 8-10 species of California native plants, and at least a hundred seeds per ball.

I took one of those balls home and pitched it in the pot I grow native annuals in. The ball was an inch round of solid red clay and it didn’t shatter as it was supposed to. It bounced (surprise surprise) . The thunderstorms a few weeks ago triggered something to germinate, and at least 10 seedlings sprouted right next to each other. A week later, they were all dead. The clay had dried out, and they could not reach the soil. With the current rains, something else is sprouting on top of that ball, but I’m not holding out much more hope for it either.

Even if something does survive, there’s only space for one plant to grow in that ball’s footprint, so 99% of his seeds are wasted at the outset, never mind the ones that will strangle each other through competition. This ball was badly designed, but I’m having fun watching it, just to understand how it’s failing, in detail. I recommend this exercise to anyone who (like me) thinks seed balls are cool. Reality is cool too, and she’s a better teacher.

And so it goes with guerrilla gardening. Seed balls are fun, making them keeps little fingers busy, and since everyone’s talking about them, they must work, right? Moreover, you get to Stick it To Da Man and Help Mother Nature by throwing something over a fence, and that just feels right. Especially if, unlike me, you’re optimistic.

Does it work? Well, that’s the awkward part: I’ve heard one story of seed balls used to sow evening primrose into a canyon restoration. So far that’s it. If you’ve got more stories, please share them.

As for designing seed balls, I’ve started telling people to a) read The One Straw Revolution so that you can see how seed balls were originally made and used (hint, it’s not quite what we’re doing now), b) to use fewer seeds and 1-2 species per ball, so that something has a chance of making it (unless you like wasting seed, which I don’t), and c) if you want that ball to shatter, don’t make it out of solid clay. Otherwise, you’re going to make a seed bomb, which, as you might guess, is going to bomb. Badly.

And while it’s nice to keep little fingers busy making seed balls, maybe we should be teaching little fingers how to grow plants successfully? That’s a little harder, but I think the lesson (“Wow! Mommy taught me how to grow plants. She’s really smart.”) might be more useful than what they’re learning from seed ball making (“ooh, I can make a mess, and it’s fun, but the plants didn’t grow.”) Just saying.

As for the would-be guerrilla gardener from last Saturday, I learned from her that her partner was helping collect seeds for CNPS. So I gently suggested that, while CNPS could never condone trespassing or doing things without permission, if they were insistent on doing something about that park, they should collect seeds from the nearby canyons and plant them. If they followed those very nice collecting guidelines that CNPS has. And after they got the mustard under control.

She didn’t purchase many seeds, and I feel a little bad about depriving CNPS of her money. Then again, do we really need more California poppies in our local parks? It’s not like they’re locally native.

What do you think?

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October!
October 12, 2010, 9:53 pm
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Time’s fun when you’re having flies. Right now, we’re getting new tiles to replace the linoleum in our house, and I’m looking at the things I need to do for the next few months.

–Oh yes, EIR review. Fun. There’s a lot of CNPS activities on right now. For example, on October 16, there will be a plant sale at the Prado in Balboa Park. I’ll be there, and we need to sell a lot of plants.

–Rare plants. Starting in November (November 9 to be precise), I’ll be kicking off the 2011 rare plant survey season. The magic question: what to survey next year? Ideas are welcome.

–I’m trying to figure out better ways to monitor developments. It seems that one way for developers to economize is to paper over issues in developments (rare plants, etc) and hope no one notices. If you’ve got ideas about how to get around this, or if you want to join in one experimental effort, contact me here or via email.

–In the past, I’ve done some educational walks for CNPS. Since I’ll have to have a real job next spring, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to lead walks for a while. I’m thinking about putting down some of my ideas, for other hike leaders. Tentative titles include: yes, you can talk for an hour about poison oak (especially if other Anacardiaceae are around), fun with Baccharis (or how to make Rick Halsey break a broom baccharis branch), fun with Artemisia, etc. Question is, will anyone read it? Let me know.

Probably there are a lot of other things, but I’ll save them for a later post. I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while.