Garden Notes : In your own backyard
Old Chinese Proverb
"If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk.
If you want to be happy for three days, get married
If you want to be happy for a week, slaughter a pig
If you want to be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden"
- Miz Dubya
Michael Pollan, the scheduled keynote speaker for the annual Slow Food Martha's Vineyard potluck dinner on July 22, wrote an essay in the April 20 New York Times Magazine titled "Why Bother?" [about climate change and associated problems], which echoes the wisdom of the above proverb. Read the entire piece, from which I copied the following excerpt, at his web site: michaelpollan.com/article.php?id=92.
He writes, "....the act I want to talk about is growing some - even just a little - of your own food.... Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it's one of the most powerful things an individual can do-to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind....
"A great many things happen when you plant a vegetable garden, some of them directly related to climate change, others indirect but related nevertheless. Growing food, we forget, comprises the original solar technology: calories produced by means of photosynthesis....
"Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself - that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we're all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.
Photo by Susan Safford
"But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen."
Things to see and do
Welcome back to the resurrected Middletown Nursery. It is heartening to see the newly spruced up, plant-filled premises reviving John Gadowski's original vision.
The spectacle of the mature camellias at the Polly Hill Arboretum (PHA) is in full swing, but there is always something of interest happening in the plantings there. Spring is a particularly rewarding time to visit and view, with an eye to evaluating what we can add to our own gardens. The 2008 PHA Schedule of Events has been published, with a full roster of plant tours, classes, and speakers planned.
In feedback from Tim Boland, the executive director, concerning Carex pennsylvanica, PHA is propagating it and will have plugs available for its Martha's Vineyard Wildtype program. (This is the sedge I mentioned in the April 24 Garden Notes, which makes a low-maintenance lawn or groundcover.) Visit the Arboretum and see what else they are propagating. Arboretum plant sales are scheduled for Saturday, May 24 and Saturday, September 13. Mark the calendar.
A valuable service of the UMass Extension Service is the Landscape Message, a weekly newsletter that contains phenological data correlating information on bud-break, bloom, and emergence times of various plants and insects (umassgreeninfo.org/landscape_message/landscape_message.html). Take advantage of this information: taxpayers fund it.
As mentioned in the Landscape Message and as many of us have seen with our own eyes, adult red lily beetles (Lilioceris lilii) have emerged and are feeding. I do as much handpicking as possible, catching them when temperatures are cool in the morning or evening, when they are less lively than in the heat of the day. I sever their heads from their bodies with my thumbnail: the Direct Method.
Sprays made with Neem oil work by disrupting normal development of many insects' larvae, including Lilioceris lilii. Neem spray should be applied every week, but I find that sprays and sprayers of all kinds are a nuisance to use compared to the Direct Method. Chemicals like Merit and Sevin that kill lily beetles are available as well, but since they also kill beneficials and are dangerous to humans, I still recommend the Direct Method (could we copyright that?).
Also noted in the Landscape Message: ruby-throated hummingbirds are back. It has been cold - dust off the feeders! There is a whole list of plants, often red-flowered or tubular, that hummingbirds visit, including four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa), Monarda spp., honeysuckles, trumpet vine, and annual and container plants, such as fuchsias, petunias, and salvias.
The curious gardener eventually wants to identify the weeds that appear season after season, in beds and vegetable gardens as well as roadsides and waste places. Some, such as the "bamboo" (Polygonum cuspidatum, Japanese knotweed) that grows in every Island town, are well known and need no introduction.
Other weeds pique our curiosity, especially when we think identifying them may be useful in helping us understand the soil or conditions where we are gardening. The little Draba verna and Euphorbia maculata, both plants of sandy soils, were formerly characteristic here, but are gradually giving way to weeds of richer soils, like docks, hairy galinsoga, purple deadnettle and henbit, as we improve the soil's overall quality.
My bookshelf holds two useful photo reference books for identifying wild plants, which others may want to buy or search for as used books. Both these works in turn contain extensive bibliographies, for further titles on the subject. "Weeds of the Northeast," (397 ppg.) by Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso, is published by Comstock Publishing Associates, a division of Cornell University Press. "Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America," (311 ppg.) Turner and Szczawinski, Timber Press, is also a helpful reference. Many plants we did not know to be toxic actually are so. Contact is a growing problem for increasing numbers of people with impaired immune systems or allergies. Another growing trend is wild-collected foods; we have to be cautious and well informed when using them.