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August 28, 2012


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There was no data supporting the ban on plastic bags. No one ever offered any data. It was entirely driven by sentiment: talk about the so-called plastic trash island in the Pacific Ocean, which isn't an island and doesn't contain any grocery bags.

We were told that birds and marine life are endangered by plastic bags. Apparently, someone found one in an orca's stomach. We were told that plastic bags "clog landfills," when in fact a plastic bag takes less than one-fourth of the space in a landfill that a paper sack takes.

It goes on and on. And no, I'm not from some chemical lobbying group. It's all about whether people are going to have a factual discussion or not. If for some reason that issue interests you, then you can read through this report by Britain's equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency.

It conclusively and thoroughly shows, from every angle, that the bags Seattle banned are the most environmentally friendly ones, and that includes the reusable cloth sacks that the uber-"environmentalists" think are the best, but actually are the worst. Even the biodegradable plastic bags are worse than the standard kind.


As far as the garden requirements go, these geniuses from city hall didn't even bother to tell us what they think a "native" plant is, much less why they hate our flowers, tomatoes, spices, and veggies.

eric nelson

I'm actually on board, I think; stay with me:
Yes, lunacy abides, but all this fuss has brought together a strong group of contributors. Maybe we and our friends can grow this idea: this community can put together a world-class model program to promote appropriate garden and landscape practices. Candidates for inclusion immediately include UW CUH, WSU Extension, the WSU Master Gardener Program hosted at CUH, the Miller library and it's network of allies in the community, and the regional community colleges, Seattle Tilth...

About that bag ban: can anybody help me find the data supporting the ban? Here we see representation that 'the bag the city banned is the "greenest" one you can use', a sharp reminder that we still don't have workable standards of environmental preferability.

niall dunne

Truly bizarre to even consider applying such a code to home gardens, if that's the intention. Though I wouldn't have a problem with banning the sale/use of known invasives. Good letter by Scott. Could have done without the crude caricature of PNW natives, though.

Tony Avent

So, are they also applying the same standards to pets, edible crops, lawns, insects, and of course, that truly invasive species, Homo sapiens...or is this only an attack on the defenseless, but easily targeted ornamental plant industry?

valerie Easton

Dear Mr. Browne,
I've deleted your comment - if you'd like to respond to Scott or Ian in a polite and respectful way I'd be happy to have your opinions published on my blog. But I won't accept any snarky, rude, disrespectful comments here on Plant Talk....
Val Easton


Eric, I have a different idea. Maybe the City of Seattle should "open the conversation" by not being egregiously vague, scary, stupid, and ignorant of what other cities in the Pacific NW have done about noxious plants.

This reminds me a little bit of the city's recent ban on plastic grocery bags, which was sold as the "green" thing to do. Guess what? It turns out that, of all the different kinds of bags you can use in a grocery store, including the reusable cloth kind, the kind that the city banned is the "greenest" one you can use.

So now we have some idiot from city hall coming to tell us that annuals, lawns, and any plant that wasn't growing here 400 years ago has to not only be banned, but removed. And that same city wants to require anyone who's replacing their garden or planting a new one to get his plan approved by these aggressively ignorant people?

God help us!


There are two threads on this here, and because I have a long comment on the other thread I will be brief here. The city's proposal truly stuns and scares me. Not so much because they want to encourage "native" plants (whatever that really means), or discourage "invasive" plants (whatever that really means), but because the City of Seattle wants to force every homeowner to get local government approval before planting their garden.

Just think of the expense, the hassle, the joylessness, the irritation. Not to mention the petty humiliation of having to get the approval of some faceless, do-gooding bureaucrat at city hall to put in a plant.

These people are absolutely unreal. The city planning department is obviously very overstaffed, and has way, way, WAY too much time on its hands!

eric nelson

Establishing meaningful standards of environmental preferability for use in contract specification is a central issue in contracting, and we are pleased to see the City of Seattle set its objectives so plainly on being GREEN.

Because every project or process takes place within its own context, design and specification must serve the specific requirements of that context. What is GREEN in one time and place is not assured to be GREEN in any other, and the only way to ensure you are GREENer is through application of standards we are only beginning to envision, expose to informed public and academic scrutiny, implement, and promote.

The rigor of this process struggles against the pressure of relentless commercial and pop-cultural assertions of GREENness that seldom offer evidence. In fact, few claims can be proven in any direction until we have developed, tested, and implemented standards applicable to limitless numbers of rapidly developing products.

By soliciting comment upon this draft proposal, the City of Seattle has opened a conversation that can inform broad and useful questions about what GREEN means and how to show its truth in any context. Does GREEN mean GREEN for humans, wildlife, air, water, soils, future generations? How? Is there a formula? and how can we prove it? This is not a short or easy process, but necessary to help us all manage the impacts of our behavior toward environmental benefit and provide models others can test and improve.

This discussion of the draft City policy presented here has represented a team that could inform this intention to environmental benefit with insight and practical experience. Let's hope to help the city make use of this resource.

Until clearer guidelines are formulated, we need to use our eyes, our brains, and our colleagues to just do less environmental damage and more environmental good. It's not rocket science and "to encourage thoughtful landscaping" is a great place to start, then we can tell everybody about our success, so they can do it too.

eric nelson

Thank you, Scot, for your excellent presentation and you, Val, for bringing his words into the light. Most people really do not want to damage the environment in which they and their families live, but nobody has a reasonably well-researched concept, much less a list, to show what is a sound choice and what is not. In my career analyzing the environmental consequences of various materials and applications and helping people choose standards and measurement processes to optimize their choices, it became clear that we can't arrive at a regulatory approach until we have arrived at well-reasoned and researched standards and specifications. This well-intentioned draft policy and the comments herein are a promising start to a much larger conversation. Might we hope to look to the UW Center for Urban Horticulture for leadership and venue?

Ian Barclay

Laweinberg: You're implying that because something isn't native it automatically should be shunned as an invasive. Tens of thousands of plants have been cultivated in the Northwest, yet only a handful of these have made it to the noxious weed list: these are largely prohibited from nursery sale. If anything, most annuals and certain perennials (Heuchera, anyone?) have the opposite problem: they aren't bred to be tough enough to survive in an outdoor environment without tons of pampering in what becomes an essentially artificial setting. On this we may agree; that any plant pumped up with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and growth regulators and tons of excess water is detrimental to native plants and wildlife. But let's create regulations that focus on eliminating these harmful practices rather than reducing diversity of plantings based on the false assumption that exotic plants are *automatically* problematic.

Furthermore, let's remember that 15,000 years ago Seattle was under a mile-thick sheet of ice. The native plants/communities have changed significantly several times since then and are currently far more arbitrary than people usually think.

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New Book: Petal & Twig

  • Petal & Twig Made The New York Times!
    From Anne Raver's review: "Valerie Easton, a Seattle-based garden writer, discusses the art of growing and arranging cut flowers in “Petal and Twig: Seasonal Bouquets With Blossoms, Branches and Grasses From Your Garden” (Sasquatch Books; $16.95). Written as an informal diary, with photographs of arrangements from her own garden, and tips on cutting and keeping flowers fresh, the book inspires ideas not only on what to grow but on how to combine (or not) those beauties inside. See review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/29/garden/new-books-on-growing-and-arranging-flowers.html?scp=1&sq=petal%20&%20twig%20anne%20raver&st=cse
  • The first reviews on the new book are in! From Publisher's Weekly:
  • "Open your eyes and keep it simple: those are two lessons Easton passes on from her own 40 years in the garden. When selecting and arranging flowers for bouquets, you needn’t spend a bundle buying a bundle of imported flowers.....The result will be unique, local, imaginative, and inexpensive. Color photos throughout illustrate and inspire."

In the News

  • Montreal Blogger Reviews "A Pattern Garden"
    I was so pleased to find that "A Pattern Garden" is still being reviewed...check out Allan Becker's generous review on his Garden Guru blog.. I felt like Allan really understood what I was working towards in that book....he writes...."There is a delightful abstract quality to this publication. In it, the author takes good garden design to a higher, more spiritual level. Instead of discussing the aesthetic and scientific elements of design, as so many traditional garden design books do, she focuses on the role played in garden design by archetypal ideas - a.k.a. patterns - that reference the longings of human beings. These pleasure and comfort-rooted ideas are those that inspire designers to create gardens that are satisfying beyond their beauty." see more at http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/journal/valerie-easton
  • Planting art
    Check out this interview with Val in the Chicago Tribune on using art in the garden...

The New Low Maintenance Garden

  • Reviews Are In....
    "Over the years, countless books have espoused a low-maintenance approach to gardening. None have been as engaging, practical, or inspiring as this latest of Easton's contributions to the gardener's bookshelf,"
    - Pacific Horticulture magazine, Jan/Feb/Mar 2010

    "A handy guide to a garden you can raise without a corresponding increase in your blood pressure..handsome and informative...."
    - Metropolitan Home, Dec. 2009

    "This book is an invaluable addition to the garden library – destined to be a classic for many years to come."
    - Garden Design Online

Photo Credits

  • The banner and portrait photos were taken by Jacqueline Koch; all other photos by Val Easton unless otherwise credited.


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