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Posts Tagged ‘garden’

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Photo: Mark Baldwin
A dense carpet of woodland perennials. Thomas Rainer, a landscape architect, calls plants “social creatures” that thrive in particular networks.

Today we understand that trees and other plants are the lungs of the planet and that we are losing too many every year, so it behooves us to understand them better and do what we can to help the remainder thrive. Even in our yards.

At the New York Times, Margaret Roach offers some tips from a landscape architect.

“Thomas Rainer and I have both been doing the botanical thing for decades,” she writes. “We know, and use, many of the same plants — and even much of the same horticultural vocabulary. But what he and I see when we look at a butterfly weed or a coneflower, or what we mean when we say familiar words like ‘layering’ or ‘ground cover,’ is surprisingly not synonymous.

“It turns out I’ve been missing what the plants were trying to tell me, failing to read botanical body language and behavior that could help me put plants together in combinations that would solve challenges that many of us have: beds that aren’t quite working visually, and garden areas that don’t function without lots of maintenance. … I asked Mr. Rainer, a landscape architect based in Washington, D.C., to lend us his 3-D vision.

“Roach: You visit a lot of gardens, and probably hear from gardeners like me with beds that just aren’t working. What’s the most common cause?

“Rainier: First, we have to understand that plants are social creatures. Our garden plants evolved as members of diverse social networks. Take a butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, named this year’s Perennial Plant of the Year by the industry group the Perennial Plant Association), for example. The height of its flower is exactly the height of the grasses it grows among. Its narrow leaves hug its stems to efficiently emerge through a crowded mix. It has a taproot that drills through the fibrous roots of grasses. Everything about that plant is a reaction to its social network. And it is these social networks that make plantings so resilient.

“So if we think about the way plants grow in the wild, it helps us understand how different our gardens are. In the wild, every square inch of soil is covered with a mosaic of interlocking plants, but in our gardens, we arrange plants as individual objects in a sea of mulch. We place them in solitary confinement.

“So if you want to add butterfly weed to your garden, you might drift it in beds several feet apart and tuck some low grasses in as companions, like prairie dropseed, blue grama grass or buffalo grass.

“Start by looking for bare soil. It is everywhere in our gardens and landscapes. Even in beds with shrubs in them, there are often large expanses of bare soil underneath. It’s incredibly high-maintenance. It requires multiple applications of bark mulch a year, pre-emergent herbicides and lots and lots of weeding.

“The alternative to mulch is green mulch — that is, plants. This includes a wide range of herbaceous plants that cover soil, like clump-forming sedges, rhizomatous strawberries or golden groundsel, and self-seeding columbine or woodland poppies.

“Roach: If I want to try to do it more as nature does, what am I aiming for? Where do I take my cues?

“Rainier: The big shift in horticulture in the next decade will be a shift from thinking about plants as individual objects to communities of interrelated species. We think it’s possible to create designed plant communities: stylized versions of naturally occurring ones, adapted to work in our gardens and landscapes. This is not ecological restoration, it’s a hybrid of ecology and horticulture. We take inspiration from the layered structure in the wild, but combine it with the legibility and design of horticulture. It is the best of both worlds: the functionality and biodiversity of an ecological approach, but also the focus on beauty, order and color that horticulture has given us. It’s possible to balance diversity with legibility, ecology with aesthetics.

“And it is a shift in how we take care of our gardens: a focus on management, not maintenance. When you plant in communities, you manage the entire plantings, not each individual plant. This is a pretty radical shift. It’s O.K. if a plant self-seeds around a bit, or if one plant becomes more dominant. As long as it fits the aesthetic and functional goals. We can do much less and get more.” More here.

What do you think? I’m not a gardener, but I have a little yard, and I take Rainier’s point about how every patch of bare soil creates problems. I wonder what the Meadowscaping folks might have to say about combining horticulture and ecology in this way.

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Photo: Pearl Mak/NPR
Girard Children’s Community Garden in Washington, D.C. was created on a vacant lot and is now a thriving community space for neighborhood kids.

Most of us know that spending time in nature makes us feel good, but many city children have few opportunities to find that out for themselves. A chain of community gardens in Washington, DC, provides anecdotal evidence that green space reduces stress, and now a controlled Philadelphia study gives more scientific proof that that is exactly what’s going on.

Rhitu Chatterjee reports at National Public Radio, “Growing up in Washington, D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, Rebecca Lemos-Otero says her first experience with nature came in her late teens when her mother started a community garden.

” ‘I was really surprised and quickly fell in love,’ she recalls. The garden was peaceful, and a ‘respite’ from the neighborhood, which had high crime rates, abandoned lots and buildings, she says.

“Inspired by that experience, years later, Lemos-Otero, 39, started City Blossoms, a local nonprofit that has about 15 children-focused community green spaces across Washington, D.C. She wanted to give kids from minority and low-income communities easy access to some greenery. …

” ‘Having access to a bit of nature, having a tree to read under, or, having a safe space like one of our gardens, definitely makes a huge difference on their stress levels,’ says Lemos-Otero. ‘The feedback that we’ve gotten from a lot of young people is that it makes them feel a little lighter.’

“Now a group of researchers from Philadelphia has published research that supports her experience. The study, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, found that having access to even small green spaces can reduce symptoms of depression for people who live near them, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

“Previous research has shown that green spaces are associated with better mental health, but this study is ‘innovative,’ says Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor at the department of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley, who wasn’t involved in the research.

” ‘To my knowledge, this is the first intervention to test — like you would in a drug trial — by randomly allocating a treatment to see what you see,’ adds Morello-Frosch. Most previous studies to look into this have been mostly observational.

“Philadelphia was a good laboratory for exploring the impact of green space on mental health because it has many abandoned buildings and vacant lots, often cluttered with trash, says Eugenia South, an assistant professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and an author of the study. …

“South and her colleagues wanted to see if the simple task of cleaning and greening these empty lots could have an impact on residents’ mental health and well-being. So, they randomly selected 541 vacant lots and divided them into three groups. They collaborated with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for the cleanup work.

“The lots in one group were left untouched — this was the control group. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society cleaned up the lots in a second group, removing the trash. And for a third group, they cleaned up the trash and existing vegetation, and planted new grass and trees. The researchers called this third set the ‘vacant lot greening’ intervention.”

You can read what happened at National Public Radio, here.

Photo: Pearl Mak/NPR
Girard Children’s Community Garden will be celebrating 10 years this year. The garden signs are in both English and Spanish.

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I love stories about people who get a good idea and just go do it. In this one by Deborah Allard at Fall River’s Herald News, a man who enjoys gardening is sharing beauty in his own way.

“Del Thurston examined the earth oblivious to the traffic rolling up and down busy Bedford Street.

“The drivers probably didn’t notice the gardener either, but it would be hard to miss the wall of yellow blooms that sprouted up this summer like a centerpiece in the middle of this cement-heavy city neighborhood.

“ ‘I wanted something to brighten up the corner,’ Thurston said.

“And, he found it in the form of sunflowers. The lemon queen variety flowers stretch across the front of the empty property on Bedford Street, and along the corner of Oak Grove Avenue. …

“A gardener who came to the literal field later in life, he approached the property owner in the spring and asked if he could plant sunflowers. With the go-ahead, Thurston nurtured the flowers from seedlings and has watched them stretch toward the sun all season long. …

“He said he used to drive by the vacant lot and noticed the raised flower beds on the property, formerly used by the YMCA.

“ ‘I would see these beds,’ Thurston said. ‘It had good soil. I’ve always wanted to try this with sunflowers. …

“ ‘I’ve met some absolutely phenomenal people in the neighborhood,’ he said

“The fat and happy bees seemed OK with his work, too. They buzzed around the blooms, paying no attention to the humans keeping watch on them, doing what bees do. …

“Gardening has become a favorite hobby for Thurston, who has been involved with the Bristol Community College community garden. … He said he started gardening when he was in his 50s, but Thurston’s knowledge of plants and seedlings seems more mature than a mere decade or so.

“He pointed to the center of the property where herbs and perennials, including sage, sprouted up on a mound of dirt.

“ ‘The rabbits jumped on my pineapple sage,’ he said, extending a leaf that emitted a nice scent of the fruit that bears its name. …

“ ‘This has been very empowering for me,’ Thurston said. ‘I like the positive feedback from the neighborhood.’ ”

More here. Hat tip: @FallRiverRising posted this on twitter.

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Photo: Kirk Crippens/ Insight Garden Program
Today’s post is about an illicit prison garden, but a 2014 story at NPR, here, suggests that approved gardens are finding favor with corrections officials. The photo is from San Quentin.

This story from the Marshall Project on twitter is about a secret garden behind prison walls — and what it meant to the gardeners.

Matthew Hahn, an ex-offender, wrote the article in collaboration with the online magazine Vice.

“I used to be a vegetable smuggler. It’s not how I got to prison, but it’s what I did once I was there.

“I wasn’t alone. The men with whom I worked in the garden on ‘China Hill’ at California’s Folsom Prison were there with me, every day, waiting in line to get back into the prison building and hoping the guards wouldn’t discover the vegetable contraband they had secreted away in their clothing.

“In my left boot, slightly smashed and carefully wrapped in a sandwich bag, was a single jalapeno pepper. In my right, bundled tightly and also wrapped, were a couple dozen shoots of green onions. …

“Officially, we were landscapers. There were about 20 of us, and we had been assigned to the landscaping crew atop the grassy knoll within the prison’s walls known as China Hill, spending our weekdays in what felt to us prisoners like the wilderness. …

“We had a hill, and a job on it, and a single guard, also our supervisor, who expected us to work only a couple of hours per day, after which he permitted us to while away the rest of our time as we saw fit.

“We weren’t actually allowed to garden, but that didn’t stop us from doing it. The unspoken agreement between the guard and us men was that we would keep China Hill from becoming an overgrown jungle, and in return he would pretend he didn’t see any of our vegetables growing there. It was motivation to keep us working.

“The vegetables we grew were the kinds that never would have made their way into the chow hall: We had squash, peas, chili peppers, bell peppers, watermelon, green onions, tomatoes.

“China Hill was divided into sectors, just like the prison yard. Black guys had the land in one spot, the Southsiders (a Mexican gang) in another, the White Boys near the Southsiders and the “Others” near the Blacks. Despite the determined segregation, it was peaceful. If the Southsiders wanted to eat some peppers with their burritos, they could trade a watermelon to the Others. …

“There was another aspect of working on China Hill that wasn’t usually shared with the men on the yard, but which made it one of the best jobs in Folsom: It offered the potential, at least, for solitude. The lack of noise — that was the feeling of belonging to the Earth again, and having a small part of it belong to me, and to us. …

“We were never able to smuggle in enough vegetables for entire meals — just morsels, just momentary freshness in our stale world. But we smuggled in memories when we smuggled in those tastes: memories of freedom.” More here.

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When I was at the magazine, I often sought out authors from different regions who could write about the benefits of community gardens to low-income neighborhoods. Kai remembered that and tagged me on Facebook when he posted an article yesterday about a comprehensive farming initiative in inner-city Detroit.

Robin Runyan writes at the website Curbed Detroit, “This week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) revealed its plans for the first Sustainable Urban Agrihood in the North End.

“Wait, an agrihood? It’s an alternative neighborhood growth model, positioning agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development. There are some agrihoods around the country, but in rural areas. This is the first within a city.

“MUFI’s agrihood spans three acres on Brush Street, a few blocks up from East Grand Boulevard. MUFI runs a successful two-acre garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, and a children’s sensory garden. They provide free produce to the neighborhood, churches, food pantries, and more.

“The big part of the announcement was the plan to renovate a three-story, 3,200-square-foot vacant building that MUFI had bought at auction years back. …

“The Community Resource Center will include office space for MUFI, event and meeting space, and two commercial kitchens on the first floor. A healthy cafe will be located on vacant land next to the CRC.

“Tyson Gersh, MUFI President and co-founder, said at the announcement that they want to be the first LEED certified platinum building in Detroit.”

The article credits Sustainable Brands, BASF, GM, and Herman Miller and Integrity Building Group for providing much-needed help on the project.

More here.

Photo: Michelle & Chris Gerard
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

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It’s so interesting to see all the different ways people are taking to farming. We’ve already covered a number of angles. Now Adele Peters at FastCoexist writes about how would-be farmers in Brooklyn are testing out “vertical farming.”

“When it opens this fall in Brooklyn, a new urban farm will grow a new crop: farmers. The Square Roots campus, co-founded by entrepreneurs Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, will train new vertical farmers in a year-long accelerator program. …

“The campus will use technology from Freight Farms, a company that repurposes used shipping containers for indoor farming, and ZipGrow, which produces indoor towers for plants. Inside a space smaller than some studio apartments—320 square feet—each module can yield the same amount of food as two acres of outdoor farmland in a year. Like other indoor farming technology, it also saves water and gives city-dwellers immediate access to local food. …

“It’s intended for early-stage entrepreneurs. ‘We’re here to help them become future leaders in food,’ says Musk, who also runs a network of school gardens and a chain of restaurants that aim to source as much local food as possible.

“After building out the Brooklyn campus, they plan to expand to other cities, likely starting with cities where Musk also runs his other projects—Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh.”

More here.

Photo: SquareRoots

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Among the sights I’ve wanted to photograph in the last few weeks is a sculpture outside the Umbrella Community Arts Center. It invites you to look through and focus on an aspect of the view.

Next up, the old house where Ephraim Bull developed the Concord Grape. Another sign there told me that there was a “Sale Pending.”

My friend Meredith is a featured artist at Concord Art’s new juried show. She has done several treatments of her fica plant, but the one in the show is a lovely collage of painted paper.

I recently discovered on a morning walk that the Providence Preservation Society has generously opened its multilevel garden to the public during certain hours of the day. What a peaceful place to just sit and think! Not far away is the What Cheer Garage (I like the name). Across Providence, you can discover a fine-looking hen on the wall of Olga’s Cup and Saucer, and a street art stencil recommending Speak no evil, See no evil, Hear no evil.

I also like the alley alongside the Providence Performing Arts Center and a hilly street that looks more like Europe than New England.

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