Lester Rowntree 2 - East is West and West is East

I just came in from 10 minutes of sitting with the dawn chorus and a cup of coffee. I want to want to stay there for hours but the truth is my monkey mind starts to jump around soon after putting my bum on the cold stone steps where I like to perch. The crescendo of twittering birds was marvelous though. Not like an English dawn chorus, with blackbird and thrush melodies intertwined. But lovely.

I want to immerse myself right here for years, so that one day instead of undifferentiated twittering I'll hear the individual voices of the birds and know who they are and why they are speaking. I can pick out just a few - dark eyed juncos and wrentits, chattering jays, cheeping chickadees, and a screaming red tailed hawk - with the odd rooster thrown in (and a Harley on highway 17, just a couple miles to the north).

Lester Rowntree would sit for days observing California native plants in their habitat. I want to be like her. But, and here's the thing (as Bill Bryson would say). She was there to ferret out cold-tolerant, gardenworthy plants that she could sell to East Coast gardeners. Hence the name of her book, Hardy Californians. That's the paradox of Lester. She wasn't like "us" - our generation of native plant gardeners with our ecological concerns for fostering local flora and fauna. She wanted to mix it up:
American horticulture would take longer strides if plantsmen in the East knew the Pacific Coast material better and if we on the Pacific Coast were more familiar with the plants and growing conditions in the East. Kipling's 'East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet' need not apply to gardeners and plants. (Hardy Californians lxxx)
Now - I don't know if she had any concerns about invasiveness of California natives in Eastern gardens. I'd have to unearth more of her writings. I don't want to vilify the woman. And maybe we who obsess over ecological purity are just fiddling while Rome burns. I hope not, though as spring ends, and the weeds I didn't get to go to seed, I wonder.

Regardless, my dream now has a domain name:


One day maybe it will have a web site, too, and a nursery of local natives for local gardeners to go with it. And maybe one say I'll become a "plantsman" with the deep knowledge I admire in Jeffrey Caldwell (local native flora and fauna expert) -- and in Lester Rowntree.


I totally agree with you about the birds. I can't tell their twitters apart (except for the obvious sounds of the starlings...). I can ID frog calls for all species in my area, but not birds, not by a long shot. What source will you use? I actually agree with Rountree in that it's nice to grow natives from around the country (in so far as they work in a zone). Finally, your title reminds me of the song "The Gap" by the Thompson Twins, which is now stuck in my brain--I'd all but forgotten about that song but, 25 years later, I still like it!
Country Mouse said…
Hi Monica - Well good for you knowing your frogs. I'll have to work on frogs - and also all those chirpy things I generically call "crickets" too! I've been using whatbird.com for bird calls - though that site has become so encrusted with advertising it's not so easy to use as it was. I think it's great to grow some non-invasive plants from other locales non-invasiveness for me in the boonies that is especially important. I'm still dealing with my Calla lily mistake. And also I think we gardeners should avoid creating "lush deserts" - the whole ecosystem needs plants for breeding and feeding. Thanks for the musical link - I only know their song "Hold me Now." Nice soundtrack to my Indian lunch (eaten at my American desk).
I like your domain name choice--nice to know that not all the good ones have been bought up by squatters who have no intention of putting them to use.

Lester sounds like she was of her time in her interests to find salable plants in the landscape. I'll admit that I often wonder "How would that plant do in my garden?" when I'm out hiking, so I don't know that I've come that far in how I look at gardens and nature. Still, I wonder what the next generation will have to say about all of us.
Barbara E said…
I too wonder whether we are just "fiddling while Rome burns." Still I'm hooked on local and love your new website name. So many of our ideas on gardening and the environment have changed over the years that I choose to accept Lester's amazing insights into our natives, without holding her responsible for wanting to mix them up. Nice post - thanks!