A Garden is You

>> Monday, April 28, 2008

You can tell a lot about a person’s outlook on life by looking at the company they keep, in their garden. I have always had this notion that a perennial garden, with its extreme diversity of color, size, shape and texture is an open window into the gardeners soul. Much like a painting or a sculpture affords the artist the opportunity to express to the world 'I am here and this is what I make of life'.

Some gardens are orderly and formal, others are, well, less formal and less organized. An overcrowded garden may indicate the designer wants to experience a little bit of everything that life has to offer and refuses to be limited by available space or existing boundaries.
Without trying to be judgmental or jumping to conclusions, here’s my view on how a garden can reflect the designers personality:
Vegetable garden – frugal and demands better quality food;
Herb garden – health conscious and mindful of our interaction with nature;
mono color – uncluttered and simple;
theme garden – playful, doesn’t take life too seriously;
small, low lying garden – uncertain and reserved;
bold colors and free-flowing plants – flamboyant, expressive;
mixed colors, shapes and sizes – non committal and unwilling to follow rules;
trimmed and formal – organized and perhaps a bit rigid;
Some gardens have lots of hardscape incorporated into them, such as benches, gazing balls, sundials, sculptures and other items that don’t actually go to support the growth of the garden flora but adds another dimension that further defines the designers character.
Then, of course there is signage that, in case you missed the point, just outright tells you what they think.
Gardening is something that, I think, should be experienced by everyone. Partly for selfish reasons and partly for an altruistic reason. If more of my neighbors had gardens it makes sense that there would be a greater opportunity to exchange seeds for plants I haven’t tried yet. :) Also, more people raising more gardens means more people in tune with nature, which could possibly help slow down our destruction of it.
I would like to say that gardening is becoming more popular, there is much discussion and no hard facts to prove one way or the other. The explosion in the number of garden blogs and websites might show that our population of gardeners is booming but I suspect this only reflects the proliferation of the internet to already existing gardeners. Sure, there are a few new gardeners coming onto the scene and maybe increasing food prices just might push more homeowners into the yard to grow their own food, but the jury is still out on that.
Expressing yourself through your garden is very therapeutic and personal. It becomes a place where we can escape the nine-to-five world where expectations of ourselves are not always our own. Some of us are more willing to share with the world what we have created. Some of us may not want to subject ourselves to anticipated criticism. Personally, I have found garden bloggers to be very supportive and if they do have a harsh opinion are willing to at least not acknowledge it in a blog.
If this post reaches someone who is not yet a gardener and is maybe thinking of starting your own plot, my advice is to just go for it. The satisfaction I get from pushing a shovel into the ground for the first time, knowing that I am about to create a fresh palette for my latest expression of myself, is priceless. Seeing plants ‘wake-up’ after a long winter of freezing temperatures brings a level of joy I haven’t found anywhere else. And the thrill of bringing wildlife to my yard knowing I am helping in their survival is beyond words.
The expression ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ comes to mind when I view a garden and I may not see it in the same way the designer intended. To me it may be more beautiful because I am seeing it from a less interactive way than they do for they have invested time, effort and money in getting their garden to look the way it does. Whereas, I am merely a passive observer and therefore have nothing invested in the interpretation of the design. Which reminds me, the true beauty of gardening is that you do it for yourself.


Gardening in the city and the sky

>> Sunday, April 20, 2008

Green roofs are nothing new, but they are beginning to make a come back. With a greater realization of the need for sustainable living, the novelty of vertical farming is quickly becoming a necessity.

Many of us may have visions of goats grazing on a green roof such as on this roof in Wisconsin, but green roofing is coming into its own as a more environmentally friendly alternative to asphalt and tile shingles.

While at first it may seem counterintuitive to place farms in the city it is but a small leap from green roofing to garden roofing. New York magazine asked four architects to dream up proposals for a vacant lot at Canal and Varick Streets near the Holland Tunnel entrance requiring only that the design include a residential component and meet zoning requirements. One of the architectural firms, Work Architecture Company, known for their Public Farm 1 project, which you really should check out for their unique design ideas in city farming, came up with this interesting concept. The design creates an urban farming center that would lessen the amount of time food crops languish between harvest and market thereby providing shoppers with fresher food as well as decreasing the amount of fuel used and pollution generated to bring food to our tables. Four large water tanks would collect rainwater for irrigation and a farmers market could be established at ground level.

This second design comes from Mithun Architects of Seattle Washington. The concept won "Best of Show" in the Cascadia Region Green Building Council's Living Building Challenge and is being hailed as a "Center for Urban Agriculture." The building, located on a .72-acre site, includes fields for growing vegetables and grains, greenhouses, rooftop gardens and even a chicken farm." According to CEO Washington, the building also would run completely independent of city water, providing its own drinking water partly by collecting rain via the structure's 31,000-square-foot rooftop rainwater collection area. The water would be treated and recycled on site. Photovoltaic cells would produce nearly 100 percent of the building's electricity for the sites 318 small studio, one- and two-bedroom affordable apartments. No doubt the rural feel, along with related smells, would emote a sense of living in the country.

This third example is Toronto based architect Gordon Graff’s Sky Farm. A concept proposed for downtown Toronto's theatre district, it is 58 floors tall, provides 2.7 million square feet of floor area and 8 million square feet of growing area. It can produce as much as a thousand acre farm, feeding 35 thousand people per year. A service core at the back of the tower would include irrigation and electrical systems, and an isolated lower area could house chickens bred for both eggs and meat.

It is predicted that 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers by the year 2050. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed us using traditional farming practices. Currently, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices.

Where is this new land going to come from? Vertical farming is the obvious answer. Creating farm land in towers near and within our living spaces to provide fresher food with less pollution is a concept whose time has come. Vertical farming offers efficient use of space, promises urban renewal, creates year-round sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply, and allows the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.

These examples illustrate intensive farming on a grand scale that could potentially feed more people in less space. Other advantages of vertical farming are:

cuts down on weather-related crop failures

eliminates diseases spread by livestock

reduces pollution to water sources from runoff by recycling

returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions

dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping)

creates sustainable environments for urban centers

adds energy back to the grid through composting

provides fresher food crops to groceries and restaurants

Here’s a teaser on future farming concepts. Robots tend crops that grow on floating platforms around a sea city of the future. Water from the ocean would evaporate, rise to the base of the platforms (leaving the salt behind), and feed the crops.

Find more intriguing future farm concept in the links below.

For more futuristic farming see:

Sea City 2000 (1979)

Robot Farms (1982)

Farm of the Future (1984)

Futurama Farming in New York

From Green Roofing to Vertical Farming

I also write a blog covering environmental issues called Are We Green Yet. Check it out for more information on green roofing, sustainability issues, advances in alternative energy, conservation techniques, and what people are doing at the local level to become less of a burden on our over-crowded planet and our rapidly depleting natural resources.


New idea for a drip system

>> Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This year I’m planning on adding more container plants to my back deck, which is in full sun. I also plan on taking several trips that will leave those containers to fend for themselves. In order to have live plants when I get back I have been looking for ways to provide them with moisture without bribing the neighbors to look in on them, at their convenience. Even with the best of intentions having neighbors look in on your plants doesn’t always work out.

While looking through my collection of environmentally related articles through Google Reader I found an interesting setup by a self professesed recovering mechanical engineer by the name of Paul at “things that make you go green”. I have been reading this blog for some time now and have always found fascinating ways to help our environment. Check it out and if you like it then subscribe for more tips.

He appears to be very adept at mechanical engineering and it looks like a system that can be built anywhere by anyone.

A big pat on the back to you Paul. Thanks for sharing.


Flower Blasting

A new term to add to my ever increasing garden vocabulary.

It seems that if a bulb sends up a flower stalk that results in a misshapen flower or an aborted flower, then flower “blasting” may be the reason. These two examples, the daffodil on the left and the daylily below, illustrate deformities that could be caused by any of several reasons. Improper storage of the bulbs, late planting, inadequate or excessive moisture, sudden temperature changes, or viruses.

I have had bulbs send up leaves without any flowers, but that is because the bulbs have multiplied and the space has become too crowded for them. Simply dig them up and divide them and they will all bloom next year. Providing, of course, they don’t get “blasted” in some way.

In daffodils, bud blast is most common in late-blooming and double-flowered cultivars. There are blast-resistant double-flowered daffodils such as 'Meeting', 'Sir Winston Churchill', and 'Tahiti'. In addition, 'Baby Moon', 'Grace Note', 'Geranium', and most of the poeticus varieties are late-blooming daffodils that are also blast resistant, according to the American Daffodil Society.

I have read about studies involving irrigation, mulching, and shading to either prove or disprove that late freezes, inadequate moisture, and wet autumns are responsible, but they have all come up as inconclusive.

Late planting is probably has the most likely reason because bulbs don’t have enough time to form an adequate root system before they bloom.

You can more easily tell if a virus is causing the problem because color streaking occurs in both the flower and the leaves. These bulbs should be lifted and discarded immediately.

I had never thought to investigate why this happens, I just wrote it off as a probability factor given so many flowers bloom without problem. It just seems you will eventually have a mutation.

Now as to why this daisy freak happened, it is probably a virus or bacteria. It does look pretty cool though.


Bareroots are ugly

>> Saturday, April 5, 2008

There is no doubt about it. No one brings a bareroot plant into the garden to display it as a focal point.

When we buy a bare root plant to add to our family we are buying into the future of what those ugly roots will produce for us. They remind me of a scraggly, unkempt plant that looks like it is about to transpire its last oxygen molecule. Some people just pass on any plant that looks like this relegating it to the compost pile. Others see them as an opportunity to test their nurturing skills, or simply as a mercy mission. Some see them as an opportunity to cheaply fill in that nagging empty space.

What type of plant person are you?

Bare-roots are ugly, but we buy them knowing they have so much potential at being beautiful, at being the star blossom that shines brightest in just the right spot, or at being a supporting player in your symphony of color and texture.

Seeds, with their various surface markings and colors are more beautiful than bare roots. And who can deny that nasturtium seeds have a lot of character.

Sunflower seeds come in solid black to grey and white stripes no two looking exactly identical.

Pumpkin and squash seeds can come in yellow, gold, white and mostly flat.

All seeds have their own character and distinguishing marks. They come in every color from black to white, rose to orange. All sizes, and shapes. Some even have wings, Maple for example. Some come in their own pods. Campanula itself comes in many different sizes, shapes and colors.

Bare root plants have a lot going for them over seeds. They already have roots and a collar, where the roots meet the growing stock, is clearly visible so you know exactly the correct depth to plant them, and they have a huge head start over seeds.

This is a particularly good time to shop for bare-root roses, fruit trees, and other nursery stock. Through mail order sources you will often find varieties that are not available locally, and planting bare-root plants in early spring is one of the most economical ways to add new plants to your garden. Plants will develop a strong root system that will adapt to our native soils.

Bare roots may be the ugly duckling of the garden world but in most cases they are an economical way to add a lot of beauty to your garden.


Gardeners are a Dreamy Lot

>> Friday, April 4, 2008

Up every mornin just to keep a job

I gotta fight my way through the hustling mob

Sounds of the city poundin in my brain

While another day goes down the drain.

-- Five O’clock World – The Vogues

Some gardeners don’t have the time to garden but that doesn’t stop them from dreaming about one day starting one. Maybe they dream about creating their very own refuge from their five o’clock world, where they can sit and wind down from their daily stress. Maybe they dream of creating some beauty to counter the concrete jungle they spend more than a third of their day engaged in.

A good portion of a gardeners life is spent dreaming. Before the first plan is put to paper, before the first seed is sown, before the first catalog is ordered, we all envision what our perfect dream garden will look like.

If we are fortunate to find some spare time to start digging, we see a future peony or dahlia or rose beautifully blooming right where we sink our shovel. As our energy is expended in preparing the new plot, we find ourselves revitalized from the prospect of seeing our dream come true.

Time is the one necessary factor required to fulfill our dreams. Finding time to get started, stealing time to prepare the beds, grabbing spare time to put in seeds and new starts. Committing time to care for and coaxing the plants to take root. And of course time slows as we wait for each plant to mature and to develop into the dream we started out with.

Beginning a garden can be a stressful experience full of doubt and anticipation.

What will my garden look like? Will the roses, tulips and lilacs grow as big and beautiful as their pictures show? How often should I feed them? Will I lose everything to insects or diseases?

As you water and weed your expectant patch you see signs of new growth and your doubts begin to dissolve and your anticipation turns into encouragement. Soon, shoots become fully developed foliage and buds become blossoms. Your dreams begin turning into something you can actually see, feel and smell. You develop a new appreciation for life and the miracle that is nature.

Then nature sends a reminder of who is boss as the icy cold winds of winter arrives with its killing frost and piles of snow. Once again doubt and anticipation return and we have to wait. We sit impatiently, only slightly consoled by the knowledge that nature has done this for millennia and plants have survived over and over again. But still, this year, your hard work and time was invested. Did you follow the plan well enough to ensure your gardens survival? Will nature be forgiving of your first attempt at gardening? Will your dreams be for nothing?

As days turn into weeks, your attentions become focused on non-gardening activities. Realizing the fate of your garden is out of your hands, you begin relaxing enough to sleep all night again. Then, the endless stream of garden catalogs begin arriving and your dreams come flooding back.

Yes, we spend a lot of time dreaming. For without our dreams our gardens would seem like just another chore in our already busy lives.


Signs of Spring

>> Thursday, April 3, 2008

With the temperatures reaching the 50’s, okay only twice, but I’m optimistic it will be a regular thing soon, I found signs that the garden is awakening.

One tiny sprout from a daylily Stella De Oro has awakened and is poking through the mulch.

Veronica Sunny Border Blue is beginning to take off.

Crocus have been blooming for a couple of weeks.

One lonely Early Stardrift.

The Woodstock Hyacinth are beginning to fade after blooming for about two weeks now.

Lilac Fragrant Purple, Syringa vulgaris, an old-fashioned common lilac, purchased from Stark Bros in spring 2005, are increasing in size each spring and this year are showing more buds. I have three surviving plants out of a package of ten (the only way are sold) and they are growing at different rates. The one planted in a raised bed is fairly scrawny compared to the other two, perhaps the soil is too rich for it. The other two are planted a little too close together so will need to be transplanted soon, probably next spring. My plan is to replace a few other lilacs that were growing here when we moved in and were not very well kept. But since I began pruning them out the last two years they are starting to show improvement. I don’t know what the cultivar is but I might keep those and give these to my daughter.


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