A New Garden Ethic Comes to HNC

A New Garden Ethic Comes to HNC

Benjamin VogtPottawattamie County Conservation is excited to host Benjamin Vogt PhD. – poet, author, teacher, gardener, & conservationist – as our guest speaker for the July installment of the 2017 Speaker Series. Benjamin is the driving force behind Monarch Gardens LLC, a prairie garden consulting and design firm in the Omaha, Lincoln area. Monarch Gardens helps homeowners, schools & businesses choose native plant species to populate their gardens, creating landscape plans that not support responsible gardening practices. Benjamin’s own 2,500’ (soon to be 4,500’) was named a “Top Outdoor Space” in 2012 by Apartment Therapy & has been featured in numerous publications. His new book, A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future will be released October 10th.
For more information on Benjamin & Monarch Gardens LLC please visit his website at www. monarchgard.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Instagram @monarchgardensbenjaminvogt.  
Get to know this multi-talented speaker and prepare for his upcoming presentation, “A New Garden Ethic” coming up July 8th at 4:00 p.m. This event is free with paid park admission & will be held at the Loess Hills Lodge. Click here for more information. 
Launched this summer, the 2017 Speaker Series is a new programming series designed for teens and adults to provide them with an opportunity to learn from and interact with various authorities in the fields of conservation and environmental science. Programs are free with paid park admission and will be held at Hitchcock Nature Center on the second Saturday of the month, May through October. Each program will begin at 4:00 p.m. and will last approximately 1 hour. After the presentation attendees may enjoy conversation with the presenter, a book signing, and refreshments provided by local vendors. Space is limited at these events and refreshments are served so we ask that you pre-register and reserve your spot in advance. Click here to register online in minutes or give us a call at 712-328-5834.
In preparation for our July event, Pottawattamie County Conservation’s Kristen Bieret sat down with Benjamin to discuss Benjamin’s background, inspiration, and his upcoming talk at Hitchcock Nature Center.
Rudbeckia hirta, courtesy of monarchgard.com.

Rudbeckia hirta, courtesy of monarchgard.com.

Tell me a little about your background.

I come from a different route, but one that’s surprisingly common — English degree to garden design. I have a BFA, MFA, and PhD in creative writing. One of the dissertations explored my relationship gardening with my mother when I was younger, and used a lot of landscape design history and environmental research. That, coupled with a new home and a blank slate for a garden ten years ago, and I was off. Now my 1/4 acre lot has over 5,000 square feet of gardens with only a few hundred square feet of lawn.

What sparked your interest in gardening and the natural world?

I could never pinpoint a moment, but wish I could. Maybe it’s a dash of going to nurseries with my mother as a kid, playing with Texas horned lizards in a dry creek when we lived in Oklahoma, or the myriad lakes and woods of Minnesota where we moved to when I was ten. I think the overall spark was touching nature and playing outside. There’s an entire world in taking a stick and poking the dirt, chucking rocks into water, or balancing a pine cone on your finger. I wish every new suburban development included the creation of a dense, wild park of several acres for families to get lost and then found in.
Sedge placed near a client's facility as a start for a native garden plan by Monarch Gardens LLC, via Instagram

Sedge placed near a client’s facility as a start for a native garden plan by Monarch Gardens LLC, via Instagram

You are presenting at the speaker series coming up on July 8th. What are some highlights we can expect at your presentation?

It’s a pretty deep, philosophical talk that — at least the last two times I’ve given it — has elicited tears in someone. We’ll explore what’s at stake in an era of prairie loss, climate change, and mass extinction, why we are so disconnected from these issues emotionally, and what we can and need to do as individuals and cities to bring back wildness into our daily lives. Certainly, it will have lots of ecological and psychological research alongside plenty of pictures.

Tell us about your upcoming book and what we can expect from this publication. Do you have other published works?

I’ve dubbed it Rachel Carson meets Aldo Leopold with a dash of Linda Hogan and Terry Tempest Williams. It’s not a garden book, it’s not an environmental science book, it’s not a climate change book, it’s not a memoir. And yet it’s certainly all of these at times. The core idea is that it’s time to re-imagine how we landscape our cities, practicing a defiant compassion for others, and this new ethic can align with and spur other social justice issues in America. I’ve previously published three poetry collections, and have an unpublished memoir about my Mennonite family’s homesteading the Cheyenne reservation in Oklahoma.
Echinacea pallida in the backyard meadow, via Instagram

Echinacea pallida in the backyard meadow, via Instagram

Why is conservation of native plants important to you?

Eradicating the tallgrass prairie is an act of mass murder — plant and animal species, soil life and insects. There are still countless creatures that depend on native tallgrass plants, and it’s this lingering wild, that prairie echo or absence which I feel haunting me in every step I take through my suburban yard or on city streets. The wild is still among us, and providing what it needs provides us with what we need. For me, native plants are an act of social justice for all species, providing freedom to live and thrive.

One final question: can you share any suggested books or publications for participants who are interested in learning more prior to your talk in July?

I include this same list of books on sustainable garden design at the end of my talk:
Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy
Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West
Garden Revolution by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher
The Living Landscape by Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke
Principles of Ecological Landscape Design by Travis Beck
The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden by Roy Diblik
Pollinators of Native Plants by Heather Holm
Benjamin's established native garden, via Instagram

Benjamin’s established native garden, via Instagram