“the minute our daughter was born, I suddenly became aware of this howling urban center that’s just 70 feet from my house, and the lack of a rick diversity of wild things coming into the yard, so when she was born I kept thinking well we have to have more butterflies and we have to have more bees.…”
David Newsom, Founder - Wild Yards Project
For this our second week of a multi-episode series looking at the work of native plant organizations and gardeners on the ground and around the country, we head to Southern California where we speak with David Newsom about his growing Wild Yards Project.
David is a filmmaker, photographer, and storyteller. He's also a gardener and when he became a father for the first time, he realized the urgency he felt in making sure his daughter had access to a deep relationship with the beauty and diversity and wonder of the natural world.
He determined that the best place to start was in his own backyard – a short distance from a major highway in one of the big cities of our country. His own wild backyard adventure led his to founding the Wild Yards Project – he joined us from his home and garden in LA to share more.
In our conversation, David discusses the sometimes long and circuitous journey we each take to being in relationship with the native plants and natural world around us. For him, no matter when or how we wake up to these energies and beings around us – there’s never a wrong time or wrong way. He's especially interested in why we start the journey in the first place. David shares his own adult moment of epiphany that took him out of his young adult self-absorption and back into relationship with the nature he loved and was immersed in as a child. He walks us through his own garden, its quirks and beloved native, non-native, fruiting and fruitful for wildlife plant combinations, including some of his great successes and not so great successes.
From his seat, “with 10,000 species a year disappearing with loss of habitat and 40 million acres of lawn in the US waiting to help solve the problem – the new wilderness begins here with native plants in our own Wild Back Yards." His mission in his work and with its cooperative and collaborative platform, is “to inspire and help realize the transformation of backyards to native habitat wherever you live.”
A few final points from David:
1) the mission is everyone’s yard. I consider myself an ambassador, and everyone who transforms their landscapes likewise becomes an ambassador. We want this to go viral!
2) Creating habitat gives one solace and agency. We are awash in existential anxiety regarding our seeming powerlessness against overwhelming change, and creating habitat is a powerful antidote for that. Yes, donate to Sierra Club, but also, start a habitat garden. You’ll feel much, much better.
3) Creating a habitat garden ties one into the vital, dynamic and unique biome that their cities or suburbs have veiled. In short, it gives one a deeply gratifying “sense of place”.
3) This project is for all people, of all class and color (perhaps there’s a better way to say this…?). You don’t need a yard. All you need is dirt, be it in a yard, on a deck, on a windowsill or on a staircase.
4) All donations to the project are tax deductible, and 100% of the money goes to shooting stories about native plant visionaries and web building.
THINKING OUT LOUD this week..
Much like David, I'm always intrigued by when, why, and how someone recognizes and embraces their own impulse to dig in and garden with this world.
Having kids, or having pets, or anything besides yourself to take care of in this world are among those life thresholds. Have you seen Biggest Little Farm, it’s a lovely and uplifting story about how one farm grew and made themselves fully a part – a functioning and contributing member of the larger natural world around them – hardships and all, which all started in part for the love and care of their dog – who just wanted to run and play in open space.
David Newsom wanted his daughter to have more butterflies and birds and bees in her childhood. A botanist friend of mine, Julie Nelson, has shared with me a quote from a friend of hers, Jean Siddall who died in 1997. Julie describes Jean this way “She was an early advocate of native plant conservation and one of her favorite quotes was ‘You may not like living with us now, but conservationists make great ancestors.’”
In an email after our conversation, David shared with me this: “after we spoke, I'm revisiting the subject of my mom who always said to me, “...but I really thought you were going to be a biologist”. She was a paragon of tolerance when I was a kid. In our suburban tract home I had dozens of tanks, filled with hamsters, gerbils, tropical fish, iguanas, old world chameleons, snakes, frogs and salamanders. We raised baby birds to health, took in raccoons from the ASPCA, and for a while even had 3 monkeys- two squirrels monkeys and one capuchin. I owe her more than words can convey.”
This is the kind of parent – to my own kids and to your kids - and the kind of ancestor I want to be too – the one who supports and teaches and embraces more plants, more animals, more life. I know you all get this….
In last week’s program with Courtney Allen of the Native Plant Trust, I put it out there that we – you and I and all of us might want to take on the task of learning more ourselves - for ourselves and to share along. I put this out as a collective community challenge I called the #MyPlantoftheMonthCP – in which we each take it on to learn 1 new native plant in our area and share it and what we learned about it with each other – either by sharing it with me over email for me to share it forward here, or by posting it with the hashtag on Instagram or Facebook, for each of us to find and post
I had so many nice emails and notes about this from you all – and so now I am even more excited. I posted my first #MyPlantoftheMonthCP pick in my monthly newsletter – A View From Here. If you don’t get this monthly newsletter and would like to – go to the Newsletter tab here on the website and subscribe there. In the monthly newsletter, I share things I've not had a chance to get to in the podcast – people and places and plants that inspire or move me.
In the coming year you will get updates on the many speaking events coming up around the new book and Cultivating Place. From Portland to Seattle, Maine to Florida and a lot of places in between – I am hitting the road to meet up with you all.
Until then though, NEXT MONTH in the View from Here newsletter I will post a few of your #MyPlantofthemonthCP picks to share- I can’t wait. If you’d like yours shared send me image and description over Instagram DM or by email!
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