Garden Notes: The garden and Earth Day

And this is what you see on your Rosa rugosa.

A spill of daffodils casts a spring spell. — Susan Safford

Gardeners are doing lots of planting from here on out. Time to think about soil ( A soil thermometer says soil temperatures are still cool, for the most part. Absent an errant cold spell, this is fine for all seeds and crops described as cool-season: brassicas, onions and leeks, potatoes, spinach, carrots, and beets. 

Sunlight is strengthening. This means that “hardening off” is wise before setting out young tender plants, to avoid setbacks of damaged foliage or cold shock. The experience of the ages, modern scientific data notwithstanding, claims that moon planting is a critical component of success. Use this calendar as a guide:

In the garden

Screen and lay compost.

Rosa rugosa: To avoid weather that can harm buds if pruned in fall, our MO has been to cut back in spring. This year, disfiguring galls looking like oversize burs have become common ( Apparently, a small wasp, Diplolepsis spinosa, makes them; hmmm, maybe fall pruning for now.

Other shrubbery pruned in spring include: Hibiscus syriacus; hypericum; caryopteris; potentilla; hydrangea; buddleia; lavender; santolina; and roses. Rule of thumb: Cut back by about one-third, unless otherwise indicated.

Reminder: Arbor Day, April 29. 

Mark spring bulbs for dividing before maturing foliage and locations disappear.

Bedwork: As they emerge, side-dress perennials with low-number, organic soil food by scratching in around crowns. Avoid brittle emerging tips of bulb lilies, platycodon, hosta, bleeding heart, and peonies. Dividing perennials that spread, such as rudbeckia, phlox, Siberian iris, and daylilies, is OK if done now; seasonal rain and cool temperatures help them establish quickly. Place peony supports.

What lies beneath

It has been said that all life on Earth depends on 20 centimeters of topsoil. Although in truth every day is earth day, April 22, Earth Day, is the one official day when media focus on the livable, living earth and good soil practice.

The sand pictured sustains little, while allowing free movement of harmful pollutants. Human life is directly dependent on soil. Soil is not only the source of nutrients and water for plants, which offer humans one of their primary sources of food, but it is also the reserve of water: Without oxygen and water, a human cannot survive. Without oxygen and water, little else survives either.

The gardening teacher, designer, and philosopher Gilles Clément developed the idea of “planetary gardening” after he saw the first photographs of Earth from space. Clément imagined extending the confines and care lavished on home gardens to the whole globe, based on the responsibility of gardeners not only for their garden but through and beyond it, for the whole world.

Clément asks a significant, precautionary question: Could looking to the future perhaps be the most appropriate, pertinent form of gardening?

Farmers and gardeners in the U.K. have long had the advantage of the Soil Association, and a sort of national extension service for soil science, the John Innes Centre ( Here in the U.S., we have state soil science services, which do good work, mostly based with our land-grant universities.

However, as Charles Benbrook reminded us in his March glyphosate talk at Agricultural Hall, these ostensibly public resources are at risk of corporate capture: Ecological perspective is diminished, and replaced with a purely transactional philosophy of soil chemistry.

In New England, we have resources such as Woods End Laboratories (, MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association), and NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) to support more informed ecological and biological perspectives on farming, gardening, and our environment.

Stand up for what you stand on

Nanoparticles of plastics and other substances are found throughout our oceans, land environment, food supply, and us. Supposing there was a handy indexing calculator with an answer button one could press, for true costs of all our behaviors, not only to Poor Martha but also to Planet Earth: Would we heed that?

Farming, landscaping, and gardening, as 21st century America practices them, are nonrenewable, plastic-intensive, ’cide-heavy (pesticide, herbicide, fungicide) industries and pastimes. Every ounce and molecule of plastic and chemicals produced, whether we focus our awareness there or not, exacts a cost in environmental harms and, eventually, to our own health and ecosphere.

For much of the U.S., commercial development and industrial operations prefer to see sites and soil as mere dirt, something to be bought and sold, moved about at will, or “lost” when contaminated or inconveniently blocking progress and profit. With development on the Island at a fever pitch, we see this up close, too. 

I urge all Island gardeners and landscapers to make responsible choices. Familiarize yourselves with bylaws and regulations; adhere to them. When we employ ’cides, dig and cut recklessly, litter mindlessly, and ship it all far away to make it a problem for others in some other hemisphere — hah, the chickens come home to roost. There is only one biosphere, our own finite Planet Earth. 

Luckily and admirably, it appears that increasing numbers of Island growers and gardeners are already “standing up for what they stand on,” arriving at this realization, and striving, struggling even, to amend their operations to align more with healthy practices: for their businesses, for themselves, and for our earth.

Livable island versus more, more, more?

If we want to change actions, we must change attitudes. It seems to be part of humans’ makeup, in our thoughts and emotions, to want simple and easy answers to things that are complex and enigmatic. The world around us is neither simple nor easy. Therefore, memes and parables are devices to gain order and insight.
Here’s an example: The Four Laws of Ecology, attributed to Barry Commoner: “All things are interconnected. Everything goes somewhere. There’s no such thing as a ‘free lunch.’ Nature bats last.”