Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘social’

04garden1-jumbo

Photo: Mark Baldwin
A dense carpet of woodland perennials. Thomas Rainer, a landscape architect, calls plants “social creatures” that thrive in particular networks.

Today we understand that trees and other plants are the lungs of the planet and that we are losing too many every year, so it behooves us to understand them better and do what we can to help the remainder thrive. Even in our yards.

At the New York Times, Margaret Roach offers some tips from a landscape architect.

“Thomas Rainer and I have both been doing the botanical thing for decades,” she writes. “We know, and use, many of the same plants — and even much of the same horticultural vocabulary. But what he and I see when we look at a butterfly weed or a coneflower, or what we mean when we say familiar words like ‘layering’ or ‘ground cover,’ is surprisingly not synonymous.

“It turns out I’ve been missing what the plants were trying to tell me, failing to read botanical body language and behavior that could help me put plants together in combinations that would solve challenges that many of us have: beds that aren’t quite working visually, and garden areas that don’t function without lots of maintenance. … I asked Mr. Rainer, a landscape architect based in Washington, D.C., to lend us his 3-D vision.

“Roach: You visit a lot of gardens, and probably hear from gardeners like me with beds that just aren’t working. What’s the most common cause?

“Rainier: First, we have to understand that plants are social creatures. Our garden plants evolved as members of diverse social networks. Take a butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, named this year’s Perennial Plant of the Year by the industry group the Perennial Plant Association), for example. The height of its flower is exactly the height of the grasses it grows among. Its narrow leaves hug its stems to efficiently emerge through a crowded mix. It has a taproot that drills through the fibrous roots of grasses. Everything about that plant is a reaction to its social network. And it is these social networks that make plantings so resilient.

“So if we think about the way plants grow in the wild, it helps us understand how different our gardens are. In the wild, every square inch of soil is covered with a mosaic of interlocking plants, but in our gardens, we arrange plants as individual objects in a sea of mulch. We place them in solitary confinement.

“So if you want to add butterfly weed to your garden, you might drift it in beds several feet apart and tuck some low grasses in as companions, like prairie dropseed, blue grama grass or buffalo grass.

“Start by looking for bare soil. It is everywhere in our gardens and landscapes. Even in beds with shrubs in them, there are often large expanses of bare soil underneath. It’s incredibly high-maintenance. It requires multiple applications of bark mulch a year, pre-emergent herbicides and lots and lots of weeding.

“The alternative to mulch is green mulch — that is, plants. This includes a wide range of herbaceous plants that cover soil, like clump-forming sedges, rhizomatous strawberries or golden groundsel, and self-seeding columbine or woodland poppies.

“Roach: If I want to try to do it more as nature does, what am I aiming for? Where do I take my cues?

“Rainier: The big shift in horticulture in the next decade will be a shift from thinking about plants as individual objects to communities of interrelated species. We think it’s possible to create designed plant communities: stylized versions of naturally occurring ones, adapted to work in our gardens and landscapes. This is not ecological restoration, it’s a hybrid of ecology and horticulture. We take inspiration from the layered structure in the wild, but combine it with the legibility and design of horticulture. It is the best of both worlds: the functionality and biodiversity of an ecological approach, but also the focus on beauty, order and color that horticulture has given us. It’s possible to balance diversity with legibility, ecology with aesthetics.

“And it is a shift in how we take care of our gardens: a focus on management, not maintenance. When you plant in communities, you manage the entire plantings, not each individual plant. This is a pretty radical shift. It’s O.K. if a plant self-seeds around a bit, or if one plant becomes more dominant. As long as it fits the aesthetic and functional goals. We can do much less and get more.” More here.

What do you think? I’m not a gardener, but I have a little yard, and I take Rainier’s point about how every patch of bare soil creates problems. I wonder what the Meadowscaping folks might have to say about combining horticulture and ecology in this way.

Read Full Post »

img_6977_custom-cc736ababb2851142350b8484394ed46b6ac9f94-s600-c85

Photo: Matthias Le Dall
Thanks in part to his original songwriting, singing, and guitar-playing, physics doctoral student Pramodh Senarath Yapa won this year’s “Dance Your PhD” contest.

This is such a creative idea: a “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest!

Just as almost any information can be compressed into a haiku, almost any abstract concept can be danced. That’s what my high school dance teacher said when she made us partner with classmates to choreograph scientific principles.  And when Page and I started to choreograph Lavoisier’s discovery of oxygen to the Firebird Suite, Miss Hinney reminded us that we had to give life to the concept, not do a historical reenactment. Hard but memorable.

That’s why I loved this story about dancing your PhD. Emma Bowman writes at National Public Radio (NPR), “Pramodh Senarath Yapa, a physicist currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, has been named the 2018 winner of the ‘Dance Your PhD’ contest.

“The competition, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Science magazine, invites doctoral students and Ph.D. recipients to translate their research into an interpretive dance. The winner takes home $1,000.

“It took Senarath Yapa six weeks to choreograph and write the songs for ‘Superconductivity: The Musical!’ — a three-act swing dance depicting the social lives of electrons. The video is based on his master’s thesis, which he completed while pursuing his degree at the University of Victoria in Canada.

“The 11-minute sing-songy rendition is far less paralyzing than the jargony title of Senarath Yapa’s thesis alone: ‘Non-Local Electrodynamics of Superconducting Wires: Implications for Flux Noise and Inductance.’

” ‘Superconductivity relies on lone electrons pairing up when cooled below a certain temperature,’ Senarath Yapa told Science. ‘Once I began to think of electrons as unsociable people who suddenly become joyful once paired up, imagining them as dancers was a no-brainer!’ …

“John Bohannon, a former contributing correspondent for Science, founded the contest, now in its 11th year. It all started at a party one New Year’s Eve that was heavy on scientist attendees and light on the dancing. ‘I tapped into their competitive spirit,’ Bohannon tells NPR’s Scott Simon. …

” ‘I think in general, they’re exhibitionists. If you’re willing to stand up and defend some crazy obscure research topic that you’ve devoted your life to then there’s probably something in you that wants to dance.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: