The admonition to “Keep Christmas in our Hearts all year long,” a laudable sentiment, appears to have originated with Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” However, a wag observed, “both Christmas and Earth Day happen once a year. So why is it we are told only to keep Christmas in our hearts year round?”
We need, more than ever, to keep both Earth Day and Christmas in our hearts, year-round. There is much piety about the meaning of Christmas — Peace, Goodwill, and honoring the Child; but faith and practice year-round are the “proof of the [Christmas] pudding.”
It’s astounding to me that it takes a food writer, the New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, to link most of the critical issues facing our nation in one pithy column, “Is It Bad Enough Yet?” (Is It Bad Enough Yet? – NYTimes.com). These issues require the attention of our brightest and most highly paid leaders and policy makers, whose silence on them remains deafening. Yet Bittman is neither policy maker, ecologist, nor politician.
In this excerpted paragraph, Bittman touches upon Garden Notes themes of food, gardens, and quality of life:
“I have spent a great deal of time talking about the food movement and its potential, because to truly change the food system you really have to change just about everything: good nutrition stems from access to good food; access to good food isn’t going to happen without economic justice; that isn’t going to happen without taxing the superrich…. The same is true of other issues: You can’t fix climate change or the environment without stopping the unlimited exploitation of natural and human resources…. Same with social well-being.”
Garden making is above all a visual process. Although travel is not required for it, the stimulation and cross-pollination of ideas that are so fruitful for garden making remain stunted and small without a good measure of garden visits.
The arrival of an important new garden style book, The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements: a Practical Compendium of Inspired Designs for the Working Gardener, by Michael Valentine Bartlett and Rose Love Bartlett (David R. Godine, Boston, 2014, 270 ppg., $40.00), demonstrates the value of garden travel, as its authors visited and photographed hundreds of gardens over a thirty year period.
Originating as visual aids for the couple’s garden talks, the image collection eventually grew. Organizing the photos and producing a design compilation with them that would document gardens and essential design elements emerged as the logical goal. Michael Bartlett (1953-2008) was diagnosed with a brain tumor, however, and wrote feverishly to conclude the work but died before completion. Co-author Rose Bartlett and David R. Godine, publisher, revised and concluded the compilation of the material and have now brought it to publication.
Initially this work, which could be called a stylebook, is almost overwhelming. Stuffed as they are with such riches of detail and image, from “Alleés” to “Walls,” its twenty four sections are well organized however, and provide the necessary framework to zero in on the specific details one is after, each chapter containing, more or less, two dozen color photos.
My bookshelf already contains predecessor volumes, such as The House of Boughs, and Garden Ornament: Five Hundred Years of History and Practice, yet I find that more is better. Look elsewhere for a book of plant combos or color themes. The subjects of the approximately one thousand photos are not necessarily Vineyard style, but they share enduring qualities that one encounters when visiting the great gardens of the mainland, and the world beyond.
Bibliographies of source materials for further reading and appendices are welcome in a book of this sort; this one contains a copious bibliography; website info for the book’s hundreds of gardens that welcome visitors; and a glossary of landscape, garden, and design terms.
Martha’s Vineyard is rich in gardens in a general way, but because it is small its private garden treasures may be viewed in a couple of season’s worth of Open Garden tours, or else remain hidden. The publication of Garden Elements, coincides with winter’s quiet, when imagination takes over from action.
Winter in the garden
Many would like to finish up the work of the garden year in November, but the Vineyard reality is that it cannot be concluded until December. This autumn’s plentiful — some would say torrential — rainfall may be great for the water table, but makes it hard to finish up.
Will rainfall patterns translate into heavy snow? Stay tuned: official winter arrived December 21, the solstice. UMass’s instructive Garden Calendar declares that by Christmas day the setting sun is already two minutes later! The sun continues rising, however, later and later until January 10.
Chilly days are good for bringing out the pole saw — the arm action warms! Leaves have dropped, making it possible to see what one is cutting: prune for balance, eliminating crossing branches, and elevating the canopy of shade trees.
Christmas cactus, tender cyclamen, paperwhites, amaryllis (hippeastrum), among others, will be given as gift plants. In most cases, following a few simple practices can prolong their bloom and lifespan. Bright, even light and cool temperatures where possible are generally best.
Water amaryllis and cyclamen from below and avoid over-watering: let soils dry before re-watering. Paperwhites and cyclamen flowers and leaves may flop if kept in a warm, sunny environment such as a south-facing window; bring them back upright in a cooler environment. Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) need little water while blooming, but increase water and fertilizer from January onwards.
January’s Homegrown focuses on soil testing. Get yours done now (soiltest.umass.edu) and bring in the results for discussion January 18, 2015 at 3 pm, Agricultural Hall.