A Goodbye to a Much Loved Garden

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When you have to move and have to relinquish a garden that you have nurtured for twenty eight years, every moment you have left becomes precious.  As spring approaches, I spend as much time as possible walking the grounds and basking in the memories of each small vignette:  The twenty eight foot Weeping Spruce growing in the secret garden that my son brought home one day from school after an Earth day program his kindergarten year. He proudly presented it to me in a small paper cup. The Beautiful Cherry that dear friends gave us in a gallon pot when our daughter was born. The Hostas I dug up and transplanted from my first house.  The stand of Brunnera a girlfriend shared from her own garden and the different varieties of Pulmonaria I collected through the years now in glorious bloom, just as I am getting ready to leave. As gardeners, we all know that a gift of a plant will always have meaningful memories attached to it and long lasting  life. As such, I walk away with an ache in my heart but with the realization that the plants will endure and hopefully will give joy for many years to come.

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My wish is that the new lucky owners of this piece of land, home to nesting birds that return from migration to this patch year after year, home also to the bunnies who eat non stop and the deer who make their morning and evening rounds,  home to frogs and garter snakes that keep pests in check and the woodchucks who eat the dandelion flowers as they are fresh each morning . The squirrels nesting in its trees and the chipmunks who dig tunnels in the most inconspicuous places. They all belong here more than us.  My message to these lucky new owners (as of this point, unknown) is that they can draw peace and inspiration from its beauty, bask in the shade of its mature trees and receive joy from the song of its many resident birds as we did for so many decades.

I face a new beginning in my gardening journey, moving South to zone 9 in Central Florida, fauna and flora quite different from Pennsylvania which affords me the opportunity of learning new plant families and create gardens that require less water and more sun. I will explore the rich world of Cacti and Succulents and experiment with some tropical plants and fruit trees. I am eager to explore and share my journey with you and hope you continue to join me in the adventures to come!

“A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space — a place not just set apart but reverberant — and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.”
Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

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Beauty in Autumn

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Chrysanthemum “Duchess of Edinburgh”

Under an impossibly blue, brilliant sky, golden leaves rain down on the garden bellow. The cool temperatures suit these fall bloomers. They offer the last gift of color for us and nourishment to pollinators before the leaves start to come down for a last hurrah!

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Aster

Asters are classic fall bloomers.  Don’t you love them? A full 250 cultivars have been classified, covering a wide spectrum of colors, native and perennial.  These are a perennial variety I have enjoyed for decades.  I buy Asters, Chrysanthemums and other fall bloomers to plant in spring, I then almost forget them. Always makes me happy when I see them burst out just when I thought the garden was done!

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Melampodium

Sold as an annual, Melampodium reseeds itself every year. I collect and scatter its seeds were I want them in other parts of the garden. Also a drought resistant plant and best of all, deer have do not go after them! Very tidy and showy mounds full of blooms! at this time of the year it is like a basket of sunshine.

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Tall Sedum and annual Browallia

I grow this tall Sedum sp. in my pots and add a variety of annuals each year in the spring. Deer love them and always eat them in the garden. They do well in pots and awaken every spring even more energized than the year before! Their succulent foliage is very attractive in early spring and drought resistant which makes them a great plant if you don’t want to water all that much! The late blooms at times appear alive as pollinators flock to enjoy their nectar!

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Exploring Wild Mushrooms

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Since Joining the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Society last year, I have had the privilege of attending educational meetings and foreys in the many forested parks around the city which have opened up a new world of the diversity and abundance of mushrooms. A word of caution, you should always have your mushrooms examined by an experienced identifier or Mycologist.  Some mushrooms, as we all know, can make you very sick and in some cases can be deadly. It takes time, study and dedication to learn to identify and differentiate the choice edibles from the poisonous and deadly species.

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Chicken Mushroom

Aptly named, this mushroom tasted like chicken, really! I have tried it on its own tossed in a hot pan with butter, in a vegetable stir fry or a creamy soup. All delicious!

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Deadly Amanita

This beauty was at least eight inches in diameter.  Harvested for educational purposes only, it was an impressive specimen. Deadly.

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Red Reishi

I found this specimen in my own back yard!  Red Reishi  Turns out to be quite rare and prized for its many medicinal properties. It has been used for millennia to fight decease and boost the immune system.

These are just a few of the many specimens found and collected on our forays. I have enjoyed many Chanterelle dishes in the past weeks so excited to find them, I forgot to get a photo! The benefits of mushrooms are many but going out into the woods have the added reward or being in the outdoors exploring another aspect of nature. If this interest you, follow the link to the Mushroom Club above and join us at the next meeting or foray.

“Mushrooms are miniature pharmaceutical factories, and of the thousands of mushroom species in nature, our ancestors and modern scientists have identified several dozen that have a unique combination of talents that improve our health.” Paul Stamets

 

 

Weeding Blues

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I left my  garden during the height of the summer for a month. The weather was hot and rainy while I was gone evident by the profusion of weeds I found when I came back.  Photo is not great, but yes, there is basil under all those weeds!  At first I could not even see the plants from the weeds.  This particularly pesky weed is Prostrate Knotweed, Polygonum aviculare. An annual weed, it spreads widely and very difficult to eradicate. Just finding the root is a real challenge!It covered all my vegetable beds even in places where I had laid black weed prevention cloth.I also found abundant Crabgrass some plants as wide as a child’s swimming pool! Not exaggerating… In my perennial beds, Prostate Spurge, Euphorbia maculata, Ground Ivy, Healall, Deadnettle, Dandelion and my archenemy, Canada Thistle! Clearly, I had a lot of work ahead!

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Here, one small area after weeding.

This brings me to the purpose of this essay. WEEDING. It requires tenacity, discipline and above all, the right frame of mind. To all those who have asked, no, there are no shortcuts. I always advise against using synthetic herbicides . Besides affecting our health and that of our beloved pets, they disrupt the delicate web connecting the millions of organisms that populate our soil.  I do recommend the use of organic controls such as corn gluten which is a pre-emergent that prevents seed from germinating. A very economical -and eco friendly-  homemade herbicide mix I use: 1 Gallon vinegar, 1/4 cup of Dawn and 2 cups of epson salts. Mix in sprayer and apply.  Works quite well on hard surfaces like  brick patios and driveways, or applied directly on deep rooted weeds like dandelion. Best sprayed on a sunny day. A cover of mulch on bare areas is a good option too. Here are some more tips to make weeding more manageable:

Be consistent.  Pull them when you see them and do not let them go to seed or you will have them forever.

Get those roots. If you are doing the work, might as well get the whole plant.  Most can regenerate within weeks if some of the root is left behind.

Do one area at the time.  This has the benefit of giving you that sense of accomplishment by seeing your results without being overwhelming. You will be surprised by what you can accomplish in just one hour a day.

Plant densely. Weeds are opportunistic.  If there is available exposed soil they will be the first to populate.  So use perennial ground covers in the front of your borders to keep them out.

Make the best of it. Look at all the positive aspects:  Spending time outdoors, can be a great workout once you incorporate some stretching and moving around, music or podcasts really help, my IPod happens to be an indispensable tool when weeding. Or just tune in to the sounds of nature. I am always surprised of how much is going even in a very small garden! So, get “in the zone”and weed on…

“Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be.  Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony.  It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative’s latest example of unreasonableness.”  ~Christopher Lloyd, The Well-Tempered Garden, 1973

 

 

Sharp insights on Native Pollinators

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Hillary Sardiñas will reveal to you amazing facts of the hidden world and habits of our native pollinator bees.  She has a PhD from UC Berkely in Pollination Ecology and specialties in Restoration Ecology, Agrobiodiversity, Habitat Restoration and Bee Conservation. With an easy pleasant manner and in great detail, she describes the habits and challenges that our native bees face in today’s agricultural world and what we can do to protect them.  I came across this insightful podcast in Delicious Revolution, a podcast about food, where it comes from, and the many specialists involved in getting it to us. It is reassuring to me to know that so many brilliant young people are actively advocating for our environment and food safety.

“We think we can make honey without sharing in the fate of bees, but we are in truth nothing but poor bees, destined to accomplish our task and then die.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

 

Trees of the Northern Forests

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Stepping out into the vast forests of Southern Ontario invokes a sense of the magnificence and resilience of the Northern forest trees. Here, on this island in Algonquin Park, where a fire cleared out all vegetation in the mid 1930’s, towering shapes of White Pine or Pinus strobus, form the most striking feature in the landscape. These trees can grow up to 80′ in height towering over the forest canopy and can live over 300 years.

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Kayaking along the shore of these glacial lakes, one of the most prevalent tree is the Eastern White Cedar or Thuja occidentalis. They favor impossible sites at the water’s edge, practically growing out of huge boulders in all sorts of contorted areal configurations.

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This example is by no means unusual on lakes all over Ontario.  some trunks extend twenty to thirty feet out to hold their canopies over the water and providing a very unique habitat for fish and other aquatic life who seek out the shade and refuge the massive fronds provide.

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I spotted this Hemlock or Tsuga canadensis, about fifty feet in height, growing out of this boulder in one of my hikes.  That entire root system covered and area approximately twenty feet around.  The oldest living Hemlock in Algonquin Park has been documented to be 454 years old!

When traveling to these Northern woods I am awed by the power of the natural world.  To see these giant trees surviving against all odds though harsh winters, scalding summers, fending off the onslaught of insect armies and then, providing wildlife with food and shelter!  They are rooted in place like giant sentinels towering over the forest. Then one day, inevitably, they will relinquish their story and riches to start anew upon the forest floor.

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
John Muir

 

The Deadliest Product in your Shed

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It appears the science is in and in all recent studies the reality of the toxicity of Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide is coming to light. The results are downright terrifying. If you read the findings of scientists studying its effects, the story that develops is one that belongs in a science fiction plot except it is real and we are uncovering the truth more fully every day.  It is now linked to the majority of chronic modern diseases in Western society.

Glyphosate, developed by Monsanto and billed as a “safe, biodegradable and environmentally friendly” is anything but.  In combination with other additives that Monsanto is not required to disclose, this herbicide becomes systemic in the plants it is sprayed on.  It is now known that it will persist in our soils up to twenty years after the last application. Originally designed to be used with GMO crops, like corn, sugar,soybean and wheat in order to control weeds in the fields, it started getting our of control when the weeds became resistant and farmers applied more and more product to compensate.  It is estimated that in the last couple of decades 2.6 billion pounds of Roundup has been dumped in our fields. As we are finding out, not only does it not biodegrade, but because it is systemic, it is not just in the plant, but also in the fruit the plants produce, in the soil, in our water, and as a result in our bodies now as well.  According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff, research scientist at MIT, glyphosate residues “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.”  She has linked it to diseases like Cancer, Autism, Allergies, Parkinson’s  just to name a few.  I urge you to take the time to read the study and and watch the video “The Horrific Truth about Monsanto’s Roundup” were Dr. Seneff  gives the specifics of how this insidious, poisonous herbicide affects our bodies.

As gardeners we are in close contact with our individual environments.  Every decision we take affects the natural world and our own health and that of our families and pets. Let’s go out and garden in a responsible and natural way. Happy organic gardening!

Related reading:

Widely used herbicide linked to Cancer. Scientific American.

Study finds Monsanto’s glyphosate in 100% of wines tested -even organic ones.

Glyphosate fact sheet

“We have some very suggestive evidence that the use of pesticides and herbicides affects our mental function and brain physiology, including increasing the incidence of Parkinson’s disease up to seven times in those most heavily exposed to them. This is not exactly a surprise when we realize that pesticides are designed to be neurotoxic to the pests.”
Gabriel Cousens M.D., Conscious Parenting: The Holistic Guide to Raising and Nourishing Healthy, Happy Children