Regional Roots

The Ecology of The New England Garden

Book List 57UTCpm5720101 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — regionalroots @ 313101UTC

A few pieces of thoughtful literature that I have found interesting at recent:

A Re-enchanted World: The Quest for A New Kinship With Nature
James William Gibson

Dessert Solitaire
Edward Abbey

The Heart of Thoreau’s Journals
Ed. Odell Shepard

Turtle Island
Gary Snider

The Garden Earth
Bruce Allsopp

The Unsettling of America
Wendell Berry

My Garden Book
Jamaica Kincaid

Silent Spring
Rachel Carson

Second Nature
Michael Pollan

A Place of My Own
Michael Pollan

Thoreau’s Garden: Native Plants for the American landscape
Peter Loewer

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses
Robin Wall Kimmerer

Eating Animals
Jonathan Safran Foer

Uncle John’s Certified Organic Bathroom Reader: An Entertaining Look at the Green Movement
The Bathroom Reader Institute

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Annuals

Filed under: Uncategorized — regionalroots @ 312401UTC

It was really fun in May and June when we would go to Sarah’s Windsock gardens every morning and fill up the back of Cush’s truck and my Subaru with flats and six packs of beautiful, colorful annuals that we’d be putting in the ground that day.

Sarah is a very nice woman with an exceptional green thumb. She grows her flowers from seeds, which she carefully picks out during the winter months and begins the sprouting process in her greenhouses across from the airport in Swanzey. She has wonderfully unique varieties and they are all healthy as can be, with strong little roots that grow up into amazing gardens. Every color of the rainbow. I loved walking through her greenhouses in the mornings with a cup of tea as her and Cush went through the lists of things they needed to gather for the day. With the morning sun washing over the sides of the greenhouse and setting all the colors aglow as steam from the early-morning watering started to evaporate into the promise of another summer day. I couldn’t help but be excited about all the different little plants around me, touching them all to look right into the flower heads and revel in their simultaneously simple yet intricate beauty. It was especially cool when Kristian would come in and swoop through the place like a wizard picking up ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘a few of those’ and somehow arranging an awesome grouping of style and color that looked as if it took weeks to plan, throwing it in the back of his truck and driving off with a smile and a tip of his big white cowboy hat.

Sarah’s is open to the public and I recommend you go take a look if you’d like some special annuals in your garden that you just won’t find in a regular nursery. Even just walking through to enjoy the vibrant colors is an experience worthwhile.

 

Rain

Filed under: Uncategorized — regionalroots @ 311801UTC

It rained the entire month of June. And then, it rained most of July. It really just rained a lot. I remember the day I got hired and the way Betty casually mentioned “… and we work through the rain,”. And I replying “oh yea, that’s fine”. Pssh. I probably should have referred to a farmer’s almanac before so confidently assuring her it was nothing. It was a little bit of a deal this summer, at least. It wasn’t awful though, and it most definitely saved me financially since everyone else I knew who had outdoor jobs were out of a paycheck for about a month and a half. I went to Sam’s to get my rain gear, some tough looking, dirt-withstanding jacket and pants and then some hearty goulashes that seemed fit for the amazon and I sure did put them to use. Somehow, even with my wet-proof getup from head to toe, I still managed to get soaked through on the days it was really pouring.

I learned a lot about the character of rain this summer. How absolutely refreshing it is when you don’t fight it. At first I tried to stay dry. I mean I really tried. I was obsessed. I’d have a baseball cap on, and then the plastic rain hood cinched up tight around that. The sleeves of my raincoat Velcroed like air-tight seals around my yellow plastic gloves. But it never worked, I’d end up cursing under my breath as water somehow snuck into the finger nooks of my gloves, pruning up my skin like an evil little leech. My hood would slowly shift off of my head and soon enough I’d feel droplets sliding down the back of my neck. If I turned too quickly the water, so innocently collected on the brim of my hat, would splash menacingly right into my ear. Ugh! Then, there was the incessant pattering of glopping-wet rain drops on that darn plastic hood when it was all up and around my head, blaring out anything else I might have otherwise noticed… especially voices. Cush and I would often attempt to hold a conversation on those rainy days, but they eventually would dwindle out because the majority of our words always ended up being “what?”. Even if I was doing a decent job of staying somewhat dry, I would always, without fail, forget that I had my muddy, wet, grimy gloves on my hands as I went up to wipe a trickle of wet off my my brow, smearing everything from the garden onto my face in an instant. Truly, a total catastrophe.

I finally decided it wasn’t worth it. I was getting wet and I was annoyed the whole time. So, I just gave in. I peeled my hood back, took my hat off and let the rain wash over my head and right down my face in a fresh, invigorating cascade. I tore off those yellow gloves in a suction-frenzy of skin and wet plastic and dove my bare hands into the cool, glorious soil. It was wonderful. I felt an instant release of so much built up frustration, a new spark of appreciation for the element, an utter child-like enjoyment. I remembered all of those times I would willingly run outside to dance in the rain and splash in the puddles. Suddenly I was having fun again. It was a brilliant realization.

From then on, I just got wet. I allowed myself to accept and appreciate the rain on my head. And I generally enjoyed myself a whole lot more. Unless, of course, it was cold and raining, which is just not a combination that appeals to the senses much, but I won’t get into that. I’ve re-learned to not just love the sound of rain, and the look of rain, but the feel of rain,and the total immersion into the weather of the day.

 

Names

Filed under: Uncategorized — regionalroots @ 310301UTC

I remember the rigid, dark-green leaves that grew all over the forest floor by my home and how I discovered their invigorating smell when ripped apart and put close to the nose. I’d always pluck a few of them up off the ground and carry them around with me as I wandered around the yard and through the woods. I knew the smell of those leaves long before I’d experienced minty gum (since gumballs and bazooka joe don’t particularly have a minty variety). But when the day came that I did try a new flavor, I jumped up and proclaimed to my parents, in an excited burst of recognition,”this flavor is made from those leaves that grow outside!” They had absolutely no idea what I meant, so I skipped out to gather samples of the little green leaves in order to prove myself, chewing away at my Wrigley’s joyously. That is when I learned that my favorite smelling leaves were called wintergreen (gaultheria procumbens), and when my parents learned that those leaves grew outside.

Thus began my interest in plant names. I suddenly realized that everything I knew so intimately through the senses also had a label, a way of expressing its distinction from the things around it. I immediately began to ask about trees and bushes and soon learned that my favorite thing in the backyard, with its smooth, gray bark and strong limbs for climbing, was a beechwood tree.

One of my very best friends went to college for horticultural studies. I always thought it was cool of him to do so, but I never really considered it as an option of study for myself. I guess I assumed that I was meant to be “english oriented,” as so many of my high school teachers urged and so I opted for the humanities approach rather than the sciences (which, I might add, I have very much enjoyed). However, I should have realized my innate attraction to his line of study when I began asking him to send me the powerpoint slides (which he used to study for exams) of plant identification and soil testing. They fascinated me. I would go through them for hours, trying to memorize them as if I too were studying for an exam.

There are so many names to learn, so many varieties. And on top of it all, you have the “common names” and then the scientific Latin names for everything. Whew! It’s fun though, to quiz yourself and see if you can remember the names of everything in front of you. I like the challenge, it adds a whole other dimension to planting and gardening. I’ve had such a great time all season memorizing new names and trying to identify everything I planted in a particular day. I sure do need more practice, but I’m sure that will occur naturally so long as I keep planting.

A few of my favorite’s this summer have been (a mix of annuals and perennials):

Nemesia

Catmint

Morning glory vine

Sweet Pea

Dahlia

Hylotelephium (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’)

Platycodon (Balloon Flower)

Hollyhocks

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)

Nerembergia

Phlox

Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mix’)

Field Poppy

Anemone

 

Memories of the Garden

Filed under: Uncategorized — regionalroots @ 314101UTC

Being in the gardens always keeps your hands and feet busy, but usually your mind is free as a feather in the wind. Its refreshing to let your mind wander, to sort through your own pile of thought-works and re-visit memories that have long been ignored. Since I was gardening, I naturally fell into a pattern of reflecting on all sorts of moments from my past that somehow relate to the garden. I realized how embedded my personal history was in my love for this work, and how I’ve grown into a gardener and not just been plopped down into the rubber, water-proof shoes of one.

Garden Chores

One of my regular chores was to gather green beans for dinner from the garden outside. After some time, I realized that most of my chores were things to whine about, but i never considered getting the green beans a real chore, and usually asked if I could get green beans even when dinner did not call for green beans. I’d gladly frolic outside with a bucket or bowl and roam around in the garden just because. At the time, I didn’t understand the growing process, all I knew is that my mom would ask me what kind of seeds she should plant, I would say “green beans!” and then some time later there were green beans for me to pick for dinner. It’s a favorite family story to tell of the time I asked my mother to please plant a “spaghetti plant” because, after much consideration of which seeds I’d like mama to plant most (the kinds of seeds that turned into foods which we ate for dinner), I loved spaghetti dinners most of all. I have then since learned that not all foods grow from seeds. It always intrigued me how my dad could point to a patch of green leaves and tell that they would turn into pumpkins. I remember lingering outside until dusk looking for slugs on the base of the plants, convinced that if i worked hard enough, found every last one, and threw them into the woods, my mother would thank me endlessly since she disliked very much when she found slugs on the lettuce leaves while washing them off in the sink.

Florida

When my family moved to Florida about the time I was six, I was given the opportunity to plant my own garden in a corner of the yard. I got to pick out my own flowers, and paint things on the birdbath made from clay pots, and have tea parties on the little table, paint rocks any color I wanted. It was my heaven, my prized possession, the first thing I showed all my friends when they came over. I had elephant leaves, they were my favorite. I loved watering my plants, especially since it was usually very hot outside, and the cold water was a welcomed relief on my own skin as well as for the flowers. Gardening became synonymous with playing, since my brother and I, or me and my friends, would don our bathing suits and run through the water while I simultaneously watered the flowers. I’m always happy while watering plants. Always.

In Florida, I began to understand the concept of growing climates. The citrus trees that grew outside along the low picket fence in the backyard were new to me and nothing like the green beans from our home in New Hampshire. We had oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruits,one banana tree, and a peculiar looking pineapple plant poking out of a mound in the ground. I can still vividly recall the tangy citrus pinch in my nose when my mom or dad ran over the fallen fruits while mowing the lawn, chopping up the pulpy circles and sending their juicy smells into the air.

Jobs

Even when I worked as a Barista and Gelato server in a local cafe, I jumped at the opportunity to water the hanging planters outside on the porch and patio, tend to the herb boxes that ran along the windowsills, create flower arrangements to put on display, and help customers gather bouquets for their loved ones. I did everything I could to sneak outside during the day and feel the sunshine on my face and fill my lungs with fresh air.

I finally had the epiphany that I should work an outside job in the summer, and started working for Agway in the Garden Nursery. I had an amazing time and learned a lot. Plant names, deadheading techniques, how to prepare soils for plating, climate zones, and hearty plants. I worked with this woman, Linda, who I just loved. One, because she used to bring me snacks every day we worked together, and two, because she loved plants. She was just so knowledgeable about how to make things grow. I remember her talking to customers for hours just giving them pointers, or showing them the correct way to prune things so that they didn’t harm it after they bought it. She loved helping people and sharing her knowledge, but more so, i think , she spent her energies to ensure the welfare of the plant that was leaving the nursery. She really wanted things to thrive. If ever I’ve known a green thumb, it was her. She saw my interest in things and really motivated me to learn more. She lent me her garden books, she gave me house plants from her home to take care of as my own, stayed at work late with me to show me how to properly pot things up. I really like Linda. She’s a kind soul and a gardener at heart. Then there was Matt and Michelle, the nursery manager and his wife who worked with us off and on when she wasn’t tending to gardens elsewhere. They both loved plants and talked about gardening and landscaping almost as if they were reminiscing about old buddies that they wanted to see more of. It really made me realize how much people can fall in love with plants and the lifestyle of gardening. I wanted to experience that kind of connection, I wanted to be a friend of the garden like they were. And so I did.

 

Soils

Filed under: Uncategorized — regionalroots @ 313201UTC

Whenever anybody asks me if I like my gardening job I always catch myself responding with, “Oh yeah, it’s great. I get to be outside all day and get dirty”. I can’t help but love the combination. Being outside, no matter what it entails, has always been my favorite pastime. I’m in love with the sun and the air and the trees and the way they all wink and wave and whisper when you walk with them. But also, ever since I can remember, I’ve had a desire to prove I’d been outside. I wanted people to see the outside on me, wanted them to imagine all the adventures I’d had just by looking at me. Hence, the ‘getting dirty’. I suppose this derives from my early childhood when I’d come back inside with little twigs in my hair and pine needles tucked away in the tops of my socks and my parent’s would exclaim with such delight “Oh, Jenny, you look like you had fun!” I would just gush about the new rocks I’d found and how many ants were in the ant pile out by the wood stack and how there was an orange salamander under one of the logs. I began to take pride in my little scrapes and scratches from climbing trees, began walking barefoot so as to toughen up my “indian feet,” as I called them, and always came back dirty and happy.

So, this job was immediately to my liking. I came home absolutely covered in dirt every day and smiling like a fool. Just fantastic, really. Couldn’t be happier. I’ve found, however, that it does add to the laundry bill significantly.

One thing that has changed since my early appreciation of the ‘dirt’ that I so proudly display like a badge of earthly honor is my understanding of it’s significance in the ecology of the garden, or the forest, or the field. I no longer see just dirt, I see soil. I see the intricate makeup of the land that I have my hands sunk into, the different textures and densities, the acidity and the abundance of nutrients. It’s not just dirt at all, it’s an entire world in there. And I am amazed.

The soil is what makes things happen. Without good soil, you won’t get a good garden. In the early spring we did a lot of soil preparation. Getting things ready for all the little plants takes some time, but it’s worth it. You have to turn things over, get the air working for you. Add peat moss and compost and maybe some good ‘ol manure to get the nutrients up to par for the new arrivals.

We used a lot of Coast of Maine, packed full of good stuff for plants and flowers to wiggle their roots into. We also tried to get compost soil from Ideal Compost in Peterborough as often as we could. That, I must say, is an amazing company with an amazing product, and I recommend it to anyone and everyone who ever wants to plant anything.

A giant pile!

Whenever we got a load of their material to plant with and anyone would catch a glimpse of it they usually came right up to admire it, and comment on it’s richness. You can see it’s goodness. I remember clearly one gentleman, a neighbor passing by our customer’s house, who exclaimed, “ I don’t know a thing about planting, but this here looks like a good pile of stuff!” How true that was. It’s neat how people can intuitively tell if something is good quality. And Ideal Compost, really truly has the ideal compost. Their product is treated like gold during the planting season, and you can’t help but feel a warm ray of excitement when you call them up and they still have enough left in their latest batch to fill up the back of your truck.

For more information about their products, how everything is made, and details about their company, take a look at their great site at http://www.idealcompost.com/.

They have really great mulch, too, which we used on the majority of the gardens this season. It keeps all the moisture in and protects the roots and minimizes soil erosion very well. Plus, it has some nutrient value to add in addition to the composting soil and keeps a lot of those troublesome bugs away. When we couldn’t get Ideal Compost, we used Agway’s natural cedar mulch most of the time, which smells heavenly, and has a lighter color in appearance when dry than the Ideal Compost if that’s what you prefer.

Then there’s the Osmocote and the lime that we added during planting. Osmo’ is wonderful. The flowers grow so well with a little sprinkle of it mixed with the first bit of soil that it’s roots encounter in the ground. I never went a planting day without my little shaker of Osmo’ glued to my hand.

Lime, although a very simple soil additive and commonplace in gardening, was a confusing thing for me to wrap my head around. For some reason, since its called ‘lime’, I assumed that it added acidity to the soil (because, limes, as a fruit, are quite acidic). However,it is precisely the opposite and lime adds sweetness to the soil to help with plants like hydrangeas,dianthus, lavender, and dahlias, who don’t particularly like acidic soils. I’ve since learned that lime is actually the chemical compound calcium oxide, usually made from the thermal decomposition of things like limestone.

It was a wonderful thing to become so close to the soils of my local landscape this season. Every day I encountered a slightly new mix, a distinct variation. I loved working without gloves so that I could feel the coolness on my fingers as I planted. There is an undeniable therapeutic effect of having your hands in the dirt. You become connected, you feel your own personal roots springing out through the tips of your fingers and into the ground that you work. Your thoughts, your labors, your feelings, your fears and joys, your history, and your dreams of the future all flow right out of you and into the earth in a steady release that soothes you to your very soul. It’s as if all the cares in the world translate into this one little plant you are cautiously laying into the ground and hoping everything will work out all right. It’s like planting hope, over and over again.

Me, spreading some mulch!

Me, spreading some mulch!

 

An Introduction

Filed under: Uncategorized — regionalroots @ 311401UTC

This past spring of 2009 I was lucky enough to get an internship/ job with a small landscape gardening company called Tender Lawn and Garden Care. I worked primarily with three wonderful women– Betty, Jean, and Karen (who goes by Cush)– in many privately owned gardens around the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire. We often took direction from head landscape architect Kristian Fenderson, a nationally recognized figure for outstanding garden design.

During my first season with this small group of kind, hardworking, plant-loving people, I’ve gained an immense amount of knowledge about the ways of the New England garden, the inner workings of the Monadnock community, a strong regional awareness, and a means of self-cultivation that’s working to change my very life. When I applied for the position, I expected to have a great summer; what I got was a new-found love, a passion for plants, a catalyst for all of my future endeavors. I not only found a job, I found a calling. This blog is a small reflection on my experiences during this first season as a gardener, a mix of basic gardening technique from the eyes of a beginner, and some musings on my personal history that have intermingled and collaborated to form the person I am today; a person with ever-growing regional roots.

When speaking of the ecology of a garden, I intend to incorporate both a biological aspect and a social aspect in my discussion. The biological aspect, such as the interactions between the soil and the plant, the insects and animals in the gardens, the effect of weather and disease on the plants, etc., are probably the more commonly thought of interactions when discussing ecology. These interactions are extremely important, for obvious reasons, and without them the garden would have no life. However, the social aspect that I suggest stems from the definition of “gardening” itself, in that it takes human agency to create such a space. There is a distinct interaction that occurs between a gardener and his/her environment that I find very compelled to explore further. There are personal interactions, changes within the individual as they create changes within the garden, and also communal interactions that depict a broader order of operations within regional networks and social organizations.

For the first time in my life I’ve been able to really feel an active participant in the makeup of my local environment. While passing through the different parts of my community now and see the bushes I’ve trimmed, the flower beds I’ve worked, and the trees that I’ve planted. There a physical signs of my work, actual fruits of my labors. I know my neighbors’ names, their dog’s names, and what kind of flowers they love. What’s more, is that I have not only cultivated my surroundings and my sense of community, but I have also cultivated myself. My heart and soul rejoice in this work, and in my contribution to society and nature alike. I feel happy, I feel accomplished, and I feel home.