A year ago, I overcame a lifelong fear of public speaking so I could expand my efforts to help nature. My daughter the graphic designer transformed blogs I wrote about Winter Sowing into a killer Power Point Presentation - and showed me how to use it. My husband coached me on public speaking. I realized once I stood up in front of a room full of mission aligned people that when you’re talking about something you’re passionate about, the fear goes away and it’s just like talking to friends.
This summer Nurture Native Nature became a non-profit organization. In December, with the support and encouragement of my family, and my friend Pat, I again gave a winter sowing presentation and combined it with a community native seed exchange.
The audience skewed a bit younger, and was more geographically diverse and interested in habitat restoration than the native plant crowd I spoke to in January, but there was a large overlap between the two. It was inspirational to meet so many folks who are helping their community and volunteering countless hours to help restore their favorite local park, or joining the growing group of people restoring habitat in some way in their day job.
Articles about reclaiming nature are not just popping up in the gardening and conservation world, but just about everywhere else – in the last year the Wall Street Journal shared an article about folks taking brown bagged leaves from their neighbor’s curb to add nutrients and create habitat in their own yard; MarthaStewart.com had one forecasting a future of native plants and wildlife friendly landscapes instead of lawns; Real Simple wrote how to turn your yard into a wildlife habitat; and even Popular Mechanics had an article about giving your yard back to nature.
There’s a growing need for informational resources to keep up with this pivot towards sustainable landscape practices. Yet the slow pace and fussy nature of the niche hobby gardening culture does not interest habitat warriors who don't want to get stuck in the weeds (pun kinda intended!) but want to learn basics about habitat gardening as a means to repairing our world - and sooner than later! I’m looking forward to Nurture Native Nature joining the large and small organizations in Atlanta already filling the gap between interest and knowledge by offering educational activities to give tools and inspiration for restoring habitat in public and private spaces. (The video is from one of my Fall Habitat Yard Workshops)
Normalizing native seed swaps is one of the ways to make habitat gardening more approachable. Seed exchanges create a sense of community, enable information sharing, encourage experimentation, ensure biodiversity, and facilitate using local ecotypes. (A side benefit to propagating native seeds is to learn all the plants that are hard to propagate successfully and might be best purchased at local native plant nurseries.)
Nurturing the seed exchange trend was the reason I included the community native plant seed swap. Pat generously made an obscene number of seed packets to ensure that everyone who came for the swap walked away with plenty of native seeds. Some of the packets included seeds I gave her from my hoard of stored native seeds. The additional native seeds brought by swap participants created an abundance of winter sowing options.
A big plus for seed swaps is they offset the inconsistency of buying native seeds. Seeds of some popular native plant species like milkweed often either can’t be found or sell out quickly from well-known sources. On the flip side some native plants that are not yet commonly known such as native sedge and grass species can also be hard to find. As native plants explode in popularity, the weakness in the complex network needed for the native plant seed supply chain is becoming more obvious. Right now, buying locally adapted seeds in quantities for government supported ecological restoration is insufficient to meet the needs of future. Seeds needed for local restoration projects large and small can also be hard to find. Small regional seed growers are popping up for farmers, homeowners, and growers who want to create a supply chain of plant materials – but demand still often outstrips supply.
I’m confident the native seed supply chain issues will be ironed out over time. In addition to supporting our local and regional seed sources as they continue to grow and adapt, we can nurture a locally healthy and biodiverse seedbank by sustainably and ethically sourcing native seeds from our yards, sharing native seeds with friends new and old , and making informal native plant seed swaps part of our habitat warrior culture whenever we can. To that point - I’ve been searching for white tinged sedge/Carex albicans seeds for years and would love to swap them for one of the dozens of native plant seed species jammed into one of my under counter refrigerator drawers. Message me if you want to trade!
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