Good things happening

The summer is off to a rainy start that feels a lot like last year’s very wet summer. If the trend continues, it won’t dry out much until September, which is historically our driest month. On the plus side, we’ve had some beautiful thunderstorms, and temperatures have been moderate. On the other hand, the storms have been a bit hard on the gravel roads.

Starting this Sunday, alcohol can be sold after 12:30 by duly licensed establishments in the City of Blue Ridge, both by the drink in restaurants and package sales in grocery and convenience stores. This includes beer and wine. Blue Ridge has liquor by the drink, but no packaged liquor sales. I haven’t talked to everyone, but Patrick Walker of the Blue Ridge Brewery told me he plans to open this Sunday at 12:30 for Father’s Day. He said that as soon as they certified the vote, he was told that he could go ahead. It surprised both of us how quickly it went.

I’m told that the City Council took no action on the parking meter issue at last night’s meeting. At this point, it isn’t clear whether the idea is dead, or only sleeping.

There’s a new meat market on the lower level of Hampton Square (the old roller rink at the intersection of West First Street and Mountain Street). It features organic beef, and is open Thursday afternoon, Friday, and Saturday. The name is “Dean’s,” and I understand the owner has a real passion for farming. This is something we’ve needed for a long time, and I wish him luck in building his business.

I’ve just finished an important book by Douglas W. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. I’ve understood for a long time, at least on a gut level, that it’s silly and wrong for people to come here, cut down all the trees, and proceed to plant a lawn and a bunch of ornamentals that don’t belong here. After reading this book, I’m really shocked that I never realized the real reason why this is a poor idea. It’s very simple. Almost all of the traditionally used grasses and ornamentals are aliens, not natives, and the vast majority of insects can’t eat them! There are essentially two reasons. Plants have evolved a wide variety of chemical defenses against insects, and if the insects haven’t co-evolved with the plants, they haven’t had the time necessary to develop mechanisms to overcome these defenses. Second, almost all of the alien ornamentals imported into this country are selected because they are particularly “pest resistant” to begin with. The end result is with our wild and natural areas vanishing at an incredible rate, we’re facing the possibility that the insect life that sustains birds and other animals higher up the food chain will collapse. Tallamy’s hope is that people can be encouraged to plant more natives and fewer aliens, and perhaps reduce the total area of lawn. He points out that the traditional large expanse of grass and foundation planting of ornamentals is almost a monoculture, not the richly varied environment preferred by wildlife. He provides a lot of practical pointers and advice about how to do these things properly. I imagine that it will take traditional gardeners a bit of time to get used to the idea that they should be planting natives to provide food for insects, but he makes a very persuasive case. Everyone wants more wildlife, and that wildlife ultimately depends on a healthy insect population. It may be too much to hope that we can save the world by planting native azalea rather than one of the cultivars, but you know what? I think the flame azalea is far more beautiful, and at least it belongs here. I planted one not long ago, which I got from the local Master Gardener’s Native Plant Sale. I don’t have a very suitable are for gardening, but I’m also going to look at some of his other suggestions, like using leaf litter more for mulching. I don’t know what to do about this, but he also points out that all of the terrible diseases that are decimating our native trees came here on imported nursery stock.

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