Into the Great Wide Open
THE GALVESTON OF TOMORROW COULD BE TODAY
A lush sea of yellow flowers ebbs and flows from block to block, creating colorful waves as you ride your bicycle through midtown Galveston. The coreopsis creates an effortless visual unity, connecting this once-forgotten community throughout the spring. A place formally void of nature, “not spacious enough” for protected prairies, and not wealthy enough to be a priority for beautification. People worked hard but most had no means for high maintenance landscaping or new trees to replace those lost in hurricanes. The summers were too hot. There was no shade for sanctuary from the sun, not enough water to keep the grass lawns green and the ornamental flowers in bloom, and too much demand for expensive energy across the grid. If it wasn’t a brutal drought, the opposite was worse. Streets and lawns would fill to the brim with water anytime the clouds would open for too long on a random Tuesday, often without warning. Neighbors would trudge through knee-high rivers that used to be roads on their way back from parking their cars at the closest high ground they could find. They would hold their breath when trucks would drive through too fast, causing wakes to lap onto their front stairs. For many years, the sound of rain filled their chests with anxiety and reminded them how hard it was sometimes to just stay afloat. Enjoying nature was not for them; they were left to constantly fight against it instead.
It didn’t have to be this way, though. One winter, the whole island froze over. It was unlike any of the other fights against nature to which the locals were accustomed. Very few plants survived…but as the ground thawed, new ideas began to sprout. What if they worked with what nature gave them in abundance? Relentless sun. Extra rain when they already had too much. Those little yellow flowers that took over every May no matter what that year’s weather had brought. Some residents began to realize that, just like ecosystems adapt to fit together, perhaps they could learn to do this too. They started looking around, observing and learning about what was right in front of them. The Texas silver star sage bushes had survived the freeze effortlessly and sunflowers returned with ease when all of the ornamental garden plants had died. As spring began, they took photos of plants all around the neighborhood and learned about what they saw. Tiny flowers that were important to keep as the first food for bees and other pollinators to survive after each barren winter. Prairie grasses and tall flowers that grew roots so long they repaired the soil, absorbed floodwaters, and protected the land from erosion. Summer came and the wildflowers that offered themselves up among the grass didn’t need a drop of water to keep blooming during the drought. The residents that learned or knew about these special native plants found each other and discussed what they had each been doing to help support them and create “pocket prairies” in their yards. They connected with local organizations that sold seeds, young plants, and provided free trees to the community. These people worked in their yards to pull out competitive plants like deep-rooted sedge, sand burs, and non-native grass and mowed high and less often to let the free native flowers prosper more each year. But some people in the city called these important native flowers “weeds” despite their obviously beautiful and pleasant yellow, red, purple, and white blooms. And these flowers grew easily and free to the residents without water, pesticides, fertilizers, or fancy pots. They kept coming back no matter the challenges. Perhaps these “weeds” were resilient because they truly belonged? The definition of a weed is an unwanted plant, but these were wanted by the community, needed by the wildlife, and cultivated by the residents who learned how beneficial they were.
It took time, dedication, and collaboration by the pocket prairie advocates and a mindset shift by city officials, but over the years people learned and grew to understand the importance of putting yards to use. Slowly all of the short grass lawns that ate up water and fertilizer and didn’t help pollinators were replaced with beneficial pocket prairies, rain gardens, and bioswales that beautified the city, reduced flooding, and more. And now we have a gorgeous sea of yellow flowers every spring across our seaside city.