Monday, April 24, 2017

A mockingbird sings

In the waning evening light, I was checking the veggies out front.  Hmm, a bit of slug damage there, no cabbage white caterpillars, maybe I'll get a few small broccoli heads, and what am I going to do with the huge red cabbage plants (with very tiny heads).

All the while a mockingbird was singing loudly in a tree across the street.  I'm here, he's saying.  This is my territory.

And, for the moment, things are fine in the garden.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Another harvest (leeks and chard)

Chard and leeks
A small vegetable garden is capable of producing a lot of veggies (what else is new?)

I've really enjoyed the spring leeks and chard and am closing in on the last of the kale (red Russian kale salad with a citrus dressing was part of dinner tonight, as were roasted leeks.). Have I mentioned that I'm a bit tired of greens?

Recent rains have pumped up leaf growth in the spring-planted chard, collards, lettuce, and broccoli, and cool weather is keeping them in good condition.  Hmm.  I've picked off some cabbage white caterpillars from the collards unprotected by the wire cloches, and slugs have made inroads, too, but...I guess I'm still wanting to have more greens?

I'll be planting pole beans, tomatoes, and squash soon, juggling plantings for harvests when we're here this summer, even though we'll have home exchange folks here for the times we're gone and the neighbors were glad to harvest last summer, too.

The sugar snap peas are only about 4 inches high, so they don't look promising this year.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Science, Earth Day, and gardening

Connemara, Ireland
I'm a scientist by background and have been a science educator (from college, to youngsters, back to adults) throughout my career, and now in my post-work life, I've continued that.

Although it was buoying, I found it quite depressing that I needed to "March for Science" on Earth Day in 2017.

I'm old enough to remember the first Earth Day in 1970 (I was fifteen).

The environment (at least in the US) really needed help then, not from climate change but from pollution of air and water, which was significant.  I did a 5th grade piece in class about how a young boy had died from typhoid, because he ate some watermelon that had been in the Hudson River.  And I remember the choking air as a 7th grader, visiting NYC in the summer, when my dad was on sabbatical in upstate NY. And the uranium mine that I visited in a class as a sophomore in college was alarming (this was in a class taught by one of LBJ's former
environmental folks, and then a retired president of UT Austin):  it was a good class, and he advised me to follow my interests in graduate school, which I did.

So, as I listened to the young organic farmer rail against the evils of glyphosate and Monsanto, I couldn't help think about the MUCH worse pesticides that we used to use. And the much worst pollution that we used to have.  DDT? 2-4D? And there are plenty of their offspring that are worse than glyphosate, in my opinion as a scientist, who's tried to do due diligence as a gardener and natural history/garden educator.

Science, not silence, one of the signs said.

We spoke out as scientists (and conservationists, and environmentalists, etc.) starting a long time ago.  Perhaps this is a continuation of that.

A high school senior was the organizer for the March for Science in Asheville. How cool is that?


Thursday, April 20, 2017

An updated vegetable garden

I was a bit bemused this afternoon to be "editing" my veggie beds. 

garden in front of house (late April 2017)
They're in front of the house, so we look at them every day.  Today, I was thinking it was a bit out of balance, even as I harvest Red Russian kale, perennial leeks, assorted lettuces, etc.  And the rosemaries in the corner of the front bed were looking downright scruffy.

 So they've been uprooted and replaced with new, smaller versions (with the uprooted ones to give away this weekend (or sell for $1) at my garden club's plant sale on Sunday.

And it was remarkable to see how simply editing some of the leeks and kale (for dinner tonight) shaped the look of the beds.  I was pleased.

late April raised beds

Toward our "blue house" neighbors
And the front & side garden is looking good, too, towards our neighbors.  In an urban landscape, it's all about creating shared view scapes!







Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Perennial leeks

Ancestral leek, Allium ampeloprasum, is a common and highly variable wild species native to Southern Europe, according to Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, in their book, Vegetables (Random House). Variants were found in Western Europe, too -- in Ireland and England, often associated with early Christian sites.

They write that numerous varieties of leeks are now grown, differing mainly in the color of their leaves, hardiness, and tendency to form bulbils at their base.

I've been growing (and sharing) perennial leeks for some years now, obtained through Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  I've been writing about them for a number of years, too.

They're really wonderful and productive.  Eaten as young leeks, they're delicious from bottom to top; as a bit older leek, they're still great for the tender parts, with tops for soup.

And productive -- well, each leek that I have now (which I didn't separate in fall) is a huge clump of young leeks, surrounding the original one. The ones I did separate and replant look like these (from last year's harvest).


I'm planning to share a number of clumps in my garden club sale this Sunday;  they're winners and productive in my garden.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A first monarch sighting

I saw a monarch flying past the porch yesterday at lunch time. That's a monarch, I said, somewhat startled, as it's unusual to see them here in the mountains in spring.

And I was even more delighted to read a post from my neighbor, Phyllis Stiles, founder of Bee City USA, this afternoon about a female monarch oviposting on her young milkweed shoots.

http://www.beecityusa.org/blog-and-news/my-very-first-monarch-egg

That must have been the monarch that I saw!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More greens

Beet green harvest
I'm hoping for some broccoli in late spring, and maybe a few sugar snap peas. Something different, please?

I really shouldn't complain, but I'm tired of my delicious spinach, beet greens, and chard.  This was a good year for all, so I had greens in fall AND overwintered greens.  In abundance, in my small raised beds.  And there are greens in the freezer from last fall, which I'm diligently trying to use, too.

Hmm, when you have greens in your garden, it's hard to justify buying anything else green at the grocery store.  Thank goodness for onions, peppers, and mushrooms!


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Native wildflowers and natural gardening

We spent an lovely afternoon with old friends (from Upstate South Carolina) exploring the Botanical Gardens of Asheville.  It's still an bit early, but we saw lots of treasures (aka woodland wildflowers and shrubs) in bloom.

It's reminding me how botanical gardens, as well as our preserved natural gardens, are special places.

We need to connect with the natural world, whether it's in our backyard, in wild places, or places in between. The natural world is increasingly depauperate, outside of national parks, reserves, and "wilderness" areas. My country (the U.S.) still has the privilege of wilderness areas.

In some other parts of the world that we've visited, "wild" nature has been pushed behind the fences, protecting what's left (tigers, special grasslands, etc. ) -- I'm thinking of Southern India, in particular.  But in Laos, we had that feeling, too, although northern Vietnam still has wild and natural places to visited in their parks and reserves.

An inspirational Irish garden designer, Mary Reynolds, has created gardens that evoke wild Ireland; they're lovely, and totally wonderful, but I'm mindful that they evoke an Ireland that has been shaped by humans for over a thousand years, and have been totally transformed from whatever they once were, prior to logging and agriculture.

Interesting how we respond to places and landscapes, both "natural" and not.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Common milkweed

At an interesting panel discussion at the end of a workshop sponsored by Bee City USA for their regional affiliates, I participated in a discussion about planting for pollinators.

One of the most interesting threads, for me, was around common milkweed.  How do we incorporate this in our gardens, community spaces, and roadsides?

I shared my experience (summarized by my blog posts over the years: http://naturalgardening.blogspot.com/search?q=Common+milkweed;  it's a wonderful host plant for monarchs, of course, but challenging in a home garden setting.  After a summer or two away, without editing, it pretty much took over.

But I've seen it used in small median/sidewalk plantings where it looked fine, although perhaps they were just young plants (they're quite nice-looking when diminutive).

But I have a hard time (as an experienced native plant gardener) encouraging folks to plant it, in a normal space.  I'm afraid to plant it anywhere in my mountain garden!  Perhaps I'll try Swamp Milkweed in the pocket meadow this year, and see if we might encourage planting Common Milkweed along one of the green ways nearby (it would be better than the poison hemlock and other weedy things along the upper slope there now).

Swamp milkweed 
So I'm thinking (and searching) for ways to include small-scale patches in home landscapes. A fellow panelist cuts hers back to encourage caterpillar-friendly growth. It's relatively easy to pull up shoots; our meadow became overcome over we started spending summers in the mountains, with less time to edit, etc.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Where are the native plants in our nurseries and garden centers?

I had a less than inspiring outing this afternoon to simply refresh the wooden box on our front porch.

It currently has an overgrown Carex, a Heuchera "Purple Palace," and a robust Japanese Polygonum, with a remnant patch of a sedum.

It needs total reworking, but as I told my gardening companion, it needs to have some seasonal change!

We go in and out that door every day, and although I do enjoy dwarf conifers, they don't exactly change much over time (that was his suggestion).

Aromatic aster
My visit to two of our good nurseries, and one to a local big box store, didn't provide much inspiration or any good plants. The Heuchera cultivars that the nurseries offered were quite awful (from my point of view), totally unnatural in color and form.

I bought French Tarragon at Reems Creek Nursery and a Heuchera cultivar at Lowe's (one that had the same characteristics that I'd had before -- "Purple Palace" again.  It's actually a decent-looking cultivar.

But my overall thought was were are the native plants? Where are the pollinator-supporting plants? They were slim to non-existent.

At least the local nurseries had "bee-friendly" labels, documenting the lack of neonicotinoids, but outside of the Coreopsis, Rudbeckia, Salvia, and some of the Echinacea, and a few of the shrubby blueberry relatives, what was really ecologically-sustaining?  Not much, I thought.

We need to keep asking our garden centers and nurseries to add natives.

Yes, I can tell people you need to search them out, find native plant sales, etc., but surely we can support our wholesale (and retail) native plant growers such as North Creek Nurseries, American Meadows, Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery, etc. so we have access to them as "mass market" plants, in our local garden centers, too.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Designing with Native Plants: A Naturalistic Approach

The post title was the title of my talk this afternoon at NCBG.  It was a bit of a stretch, perhaps, for a plant ecologist and gardener to be talking about design, but my message was really about how inspiration from nature, and wonderful plant communities, can inspire our gardens and how we create them.

It was a lovely afternoon, and I'm so glad to be part of a long-term sponsored program, now endowed, by Nancy Preston in honor of her mother, Evelyn McNeill Sims.  Thanks, Nancy!

The "rules" of design are fluid, but can be constraining, and my message around gardening with native plants (as used by talented naturalistic garden designers), is one of evoking nature in our gardens.
Piet Audolf garden:  his work exemplifies naturalistic garden design
A fellow garden blogger, Tony Spencer, shared this on his blog, from another talented native plant designer, Roy Diblik, on a post awhile ago:

“Each plant is like a note of music. It may be beautiful on its own, but it doesn’t mean anything until it’s combined with other notes to form a melody.  That’s what the design process is all about using plants to create music in space and time.”  

I really love this, and it resonated with the audience this afternoon.  What naturalistic garden designers try to accomplish in their gardens is creating and evoking nature in the lovely forms that we see on hikes and visits to wonderful natural areas.  

There are fewer of these than there used to be.  I embraced gardening for nature as an antidote to my gloomy thoughts about how we were losing natural habitats all over the world.

 So, my latest version of this talk is posted on the sidebar, along with updated reference lists.

Please send me an email if you have questions  -- education and encouragement is what I'm about in my post-paid work life (hmm, that's what I did when I was paid, too, now I'm thinking).  Let me know if I can send you reference lists/handouts, etc.!
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