Conditions have been up and down, as is typical of the Vineyard January. The witch hazels along our driveway have repeatedly furled and unfurled their delightful thread-like orange flowers with great attentiveness to the fluctuations. On a sunny, bluebird Wednesday last week, it was so mild and pleasant I was able to dig the dahlias of a garden situated in a very exposed location, but by Saturday there was ice-skating on Parsonage. By Monday all was covered in beautiful deep snow, sculpting itself into magical drifts. For those from afar who wonder about winter on the Vineyard, that is fairly typical and underscores the usefulness of garden mulch as an insulator.
In the last Garden Notes I was remiss with the image of the skimmia in not mentioning that it is growing at the Polly Hill Arboretum. It is one of three male Skimmia japonica clustered in Hilly's Garden near the entrance to the visitor center.
In brushing snow from trees and shrubs, exercise care and work quickly while snowfall is still fluffy, if possible. Try to avoid tearing off twigs and evergreen foliage. Post-snow falling temperature often freezes the snow onto branches, making removal difficult and harmful.
Tastes in garden writing
The postings at a garden blog where I was recently bottom-feeding, were in response to the question "Who is your favorite garden writer, and why?" The nominated favorites ranged from lowbrow to highbrow, from nuts-and-bolts to ultra aesthetic, from Mr. Green Jeans to Elizabeth Lawrence. Some of them write folksy DIY columns and some can sustain a theme through an entire article, chapter or book.
One blogger contributed, "Everyone else may be a good columnist, a good gardener, or a good writer," but presumptuously allowed that his personal choices, alone of all nominees, were truly garden writers.
How do I see myself fitting under that great leafy dome of garden writing? The term garden writing means vastly different things to different people, and as the blogger said, may mean writing by a columnist, by a gardener, or by a writer. The broad rubric of garden writing extends from folk nostrums to cultural history and aesthetic philosophy. I frequently ask myself as I write Garden Notes, "How many bases am I trying to cover here?"
It was encouraging to read that the bloggers repeatedly nominated some of the garden writers I too enjoy and admire, such as Anne Raver, Eleanor Perenyi, Henry Mitchell, and Christopher Lloyd. I wish to emulate them. But it also defined for me, made me more aware, that there are discrete sub-categories under the broad rubric of garden writing.
Take two well-known examples, Ken Druse and Judith Tankard. Both are stimulating and expert garden writers. His beautiful, though still eminently practical "Making More Plants" (Random House), on all aspects of propagating, is a vastly different kind of work from her "Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement" (Abrams), a detailed treatise on an entire philosophy of landscape design, as its title indicates.
As a consumer of garden writing, the category to me means something more like literature and less like an extension service bulletin. As a producer of garden writing, I surmise that often what readers want is "How can I get rid of bugs on my cukes?"
The American way of life is non-negotiable
Recent dispatches from global financial networks have been interesting of late. Again, as with January weather on the Vineyard, conditions have been "up and down." What has become increasingly clear is that, since the end of the 1990s, the primary essentials of a stable life - jobs, pensions, and house prices - are all under threat. It is a good time to check out what innovative thinkers have to say about these times and how we are going to get through them.
Within the broad category of garden writing, numbers of recent books attempt to address our position in the context of the present conditions and, possibly, those of the future. It is not so much that the present American Way of Life will disappear but that fewer and fewer of us can afford it! (No reason not to come up with another good American way of life however, one that might even be more egalitarian - after all, that is what we Americans are renowned for.) Here are some places to start.
These include the self-reliance books, the 100-mile diet category, closer looks at permaculture and sustainable gardening, and mastering the "neo-sauvage" lifestyle category, as personified by the likes of top eco foodie writer, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, of River Cottage (Ten Speed Press) cookbook series fame. I am thinking of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver (HarperCollins), "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan (Penguin Books), "Plenty" by Alisa Smith and J.B. McKinnon (Harmony Books div. Random House), or "A Slice of Organic Life," edited by Sheherazade Goldsmith (DK Books).
If you live on the Vineyard, you are already in a good position to put these authors' ideas to the test. You already have a leg up as far as feeding and fending for yourself, and living in a smaller size community. We are somewhat less at the mercy of urban or mainland-style problems of population density or toxic contaminants; however, there is a problem for each eco-system and every locality in this brave new world of ours - lest anyone think I sound overly self-congratulatory.
One treatise of interest in a different arena and medium is a short film by Paul Grignon entitled "Money as Debt," which may be viewed on the Internet at video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9050474362583451279.
Help us connect local farms with local schools. Please join Island Grown Initiative - together with parents, cooks, chefs, school staff, administrators and committee members, teachers and farmers - to build connections between local farms and schools. Join us as we work together to bring more local foods into school meals, develop agricultural curriculum in the classroom, and create new school gardens and greenhouses. A Farm to School meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 7 pm at Island Co-Housing, Common House, in West Tisbury. Follow the signs from Chicama Vineyards road. This meeting is free and open to the public.
RSVPs are appreciated. So are questions and comments. Send them to: email@example.com.