Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Green Against Gray

Green Against Gray




The color of life is green, but a city is brown, black, and gray. A big city spreads over the earth a crust of brick and concrete, metal and glass. Thousands or millions of people live and work and play there. Tall apartment houses and office buildings rise above paved streets and sidewalks without much breathing space in between. Only a little green can be seen, and that is found mostly in parks, in gardens, in the backyards of a few houses, and high on the terraces of apartment houses.

But all over the city there are also vacant spaces, empty lots where children play, places where apartments do not rise, where streets do not go, or where buildings have been torn down. These may be the dumping places for bottles, cans, boxes, broken furniture refuse of many kinds. But here, if you look, you can also find weeds: delightful weeds, unpleasant weeds, most often unseen and ignored weeds. Where did they come from? How do they survive?

Look closely as you walk  at the cracks in the sidewalk; along the gutter's edge; in between buildings; around the edges of parking lots covered with asphalt; in old railroad yards, with rails, rock beds, and cinder banks; along dock sides, where salt air discourages much greenery. Look everywhere, and you will find wild plants in places so unlikely and so unfriendly to growth that you can only be amazed at the toughness and vigor of the plants that survive in the rubble, in the cluttered "gardens" of their own making.



Untended and despised, these green things are the only friendly sights in some areas. Neglected, run-down places are brightened by a patch of lamb's quarters, a tall clump of rag-
weed, or a variety of grasses. Barren spots come to life in one season, and if they are left untouched for one, two, or three years, they will become tangled wild gardens. If we look closely enough, we can often identify the most astonishing assortment of wild flowers. And they are beautiful. We will find sunflower, aster, Queen Anne's lace, evening primrose, milkweed: fresh green plants with flowers of pink, yellow, white, blue rainbow of colors.

hat do we call them  wild flowers or weeds, a joy or a nuisance, loved or unloved? They are the orphan plants of a great city  the neglected, the trampled upon, the underprivileged. But isn't it cheering to see a small but beautiful dandelion fighting its way to sunlight between a brick, a bottle, and a tin can in some dingy vacant lot; or a milkweed shoot breaking through an asphalt driveway by its sheer urge to be alive?

he never man ceases to be watchful  if he fails to repair a crack in the sidewalk or to remove a pile of dust in a corner plants will appear. And if large areas are opened up  as in bombed-out London during World War II they will soon become gardens of wild flowers. Within two years after the big air raids of 1940-41, dozens of species of wild plants had moved into the London cellar holes and piles of rubble. In the normal times of the 1970 s, over 90 species have been round in New York, over 60 in Denver, over 1 30 in Los Angeles.

In this book we are not concerned with plants of parks and parkways and gardens. They have mostly been put there by man, and though they may have to struggle to stay alive, they
are watched over and encouraged by gardeners and replaced promptly when they die. The weeds which come up among them profit from the watering and cultivating and are, in a sense, pampered too.

Neither are we particularly concerned with plants growing in the strips of vegetation that reach into some cities, like Pitts burgh, along the course of hollows or old railroad cuts or places never built upon. These plants are not pioneers, but old-timers, growing in what is really a leftover bit of the country that has remained untouched as the city spread around it. Though they are not cared for and do have to fight for their lives in city smog, they never had to renew themselves in an area that was once cleared. The ancient fertile topsoil is still there, and so are many of the animals and insects that were part of the original life pattern of the region.

The plants that do interest us are the ones that have some how made their way into places where, one would think, nothing at all could grow. So let us look at what we find in these truly neglected city lots from April through November in New York, Denver, and Chicago, and all year round in Los Angeles
and New Orleans. Since  as we shall learn  the color of life is green, we will be cheered and encouraged when we find how much green there is in this concrete jungle.

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