It all started with two small bags of seeds. Each one-pound bag holds about 80,000 seeds in it. I asked my colleague and plant enthusiast, Alexander Gonzalez, “How many seed balls can tiny hands make?”
“Let’s start with 500,” he said.
We knew the kids were going to love making these and hoped the adults would embrace their inner child as well — we could just imagine people of all ages playing in the mud.
There is something infinitely healing about planting, and it’s an even more special experience when shared with neighbors. Síclovía was the perfect opportunity for us to connect with our neighbors, and to help them connect with nature — the kind of nature that’s local, diverse and full of promise in its ability to attract birds, bees, hummingbirds and butterflies — and that’s exactly what we did during last Sunday’s event.
Landscape architecture firm TBG Partners — in partnership with Beatrice Caraway and Joan Miller of the Native Plant Society of Texas and Milberger’s Nursery, respectively — opened up the gates to our office’s courtyard at 1221 Broadway St. and invited people in to talk about native plants, along with their benefits in providing seasonal color and attracting pollinators, but, most importantly, together we made 1,000 seed balls that will be planted throughout the city over the next two months for springtime blooms.
The seed balls were made of clay, to protect the tiny beginnings of the new plants, and compost to provide nutrients. These two materials dried into a hard coating that soaks moisture to help seeds grow into seedlings; the coating slowly breaks down and the roots can reach deep into the soil, rooting firmly in the earth where they’ll grow into flowers including: Texas Bluebonnet, Plains Coreopsis, Indian Blanket, Clasping leaf, coneflower, Cowpen Daisy, Black-eyed Susan, Prairie Coneflower, Drummond Phlox, Lemon Mint and Evening Primrose. The technique was used by Native American tribes to protect their planted corn kernels. In fact, agriculture clay seed balls are a sustainable way to plant the next crop of grain or vegetables without plowing or disturbing the residues of the previous crop.
During the event we built a bug hotel; this wittily named pollinator shelter is an essential element for native gardening that children giggle over and love to make. Between laughter and playing with mud, it was especially satisfying to engage the community in plant talk and to clarify one of the most common misconceptions: native plants do not necessarily have to be succulents, like cactus. Natives can be soft, colorful, billowy and textural.
Ultimately, the best part of all was getting to know our neighbors. What we’ve learned at TBG is that Síclovía is so much more than just a transportation or health event — it’s an opportunity to start a dialog and engage in placemaking, which is what we love to do. TBG volunteered in the first Better Block installation during Síclovía in 2011 on Jones Avenue before Rosella Coffee and Overland Partners had moved in, and that event strongly influenced our decision to move into the neighborhood. It’s also a huge part of why our courtyard at the corner of 12th and Broadway will soon become a public garden open to the neighborhood.
We want to give back to our neighborhood and help people connect with nature. In retrospect, the event always seems to highlight how health, transportation, nature and placemaking are all connected and how they must come together to create successful, happy and memorable communities — and in many ways a seed ball is a good metaphor: you need the right quantities of each ingredient to come together to protect and help a seed thrive. River North and the Broadway corridor would thrive much more if we introduced more nature and focused less on vehicular transportation. Our proportions are off.
For now, we’ll do our part with our courtyard, and hopefully in the coming years Broadway can be lined with trees and native plantings — and residents walking from GS 1221 to Maverick Park will be able to spot a handful of native species, and maybe even a Monarch.
*Top image: Alexander Gonzalez helps a child make a seed ball during Síclovía. Photo courtesy of TBG.