Admiring A Horticultural Refuge

Stella Kalinina

Community gardens have been a regular topic in our pages over the last decade. We never tire of the subject. I personally have a soft spot for roses, especially those found in unexpected places. So, Raúl Laly Fernández, you are my hero. I hope that the next time I am in Los Angeles I will find you in this garden and bear witness to the rose wonders I see in these photographs. Kudos to the writer/photographer Stella Kalinina for capturing this intersection between immigrant culture, working class refuge, and horticultural knowhow:

Mr. Fernández decorates a sitting area in his plot with roses that he grows.

In Los Angeles, Glimpses of an Oasis With Deep Immigrant Roots

The San Pedro Community Gardens have provided physical and spiritual nourishment for the past half a century to multiple generations of immigrant Angelenos.

Kimberly Mentlow received a plot in San Pedro after three years on a waiting list. “Being able to plant something or see something grow — it’s extremely therapeutic,” she said.

Ten minutes from my home, next to a decommissioned landfill, a freeway and the largest port in the country, sits an unlikely hillside oasis of vegetables and fruit trees.

Emerging like a mirage from its surroundings, the San Pedro Community Gardens occupy a six-acre parcel of city-owned land in the otherwise highly industrialized area of the blue-collar harbor community of San Pedro, in Los Angeles. Continue reading

The Unalloyed Joy Of Given Plants

Being a gardener has an odd way of attracting the kindness of strangers. Illustration by Daniel Salmieri

Charlotte Mendelson addresses a topic that we can relate to as we repopulate a one-time farm, primarily with coffee but plenty of other goodies as well, most of them gifted to us:

Give Me All Your Cuttings

Free stuff is the zenith of the gardener’s life, the soil tender’s greatest thrill.

I may tell myself that I chat up my neighbors out of a post-quarantine craving for connection. I can pretend that I haul myself outside for a swift ten thousand steps because I’ve finally learned the value of tending myself, body and spirit. But the truth is that I have one motivation for every social interaction, city walk, or strenuous cycle ride: free stuff. Continue reading

Beauty Of The Wild

Library of American Landscape History has published this book, which came to our attention thanks to this excellent article (again) by Margaret Roach:

Three large islands at Storm King Art Center are planted with a mix of prairie grasses, including little bluestem, big bluestem, Indiangrass and switchgrass. Jerry L. Thompson

Your Garden May Be Pretty, but Is It Ecologically Sound?

Darrel Morrison, the elder statesman of the ecological landscaping movement, offers some advice for gardening in a changing world.

Mr. Morrison’s mesic prairie design for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum Native Plant Garden, with the larger Curtis Prairie restoration in the distance. Robert Jaeger

Some gardeners react to any mention of ecological landscaping — the merging of environmental science and art — as if it were a compromise or concession meant to limit their creativity. Darrel Morrison, a landscape architect who has been practicing and teaching this philosophy for some five decades, begs to differ.

“There is the implication that you are suggesting a vegan diet,” said Mr. Morrison, the creator of influential designs at Storm King Art Center, in Orange County, N.Y., the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. “A lot of people, when they hear a phrase like ‘ecologically sound landscaping,’ they think they are giving up something. But they are not — it only enhances the experience.” Continue reading

A Way To Garden

20 years after planting, this palm has reached for the sun, and found it.

When we completed construction on our home late in the year 2000, we had a small palm tree in a planter on our terrace. It was perhaps two feet tall at the time. Sometime in 2001 we planted that palm to the side of the house, and ever since it has been reaching for the sun. The opening sentence in the article below, combined with the photo from the same article that I have inserted with it, struck a chord. We need to think about this tree’s future in a way we did not when choosing where to plant it 20 years ago. My thanks to Margaret Roach– who wrote the article and is the creator of the website and podcast A Way to Garden, and a book of the same name–for this:

Questions About Tree Care? You’re Not Alone.

Many people find trees a little enigmatic. But there is help for the asking. (And it’s free.)

Younger, container-grown trees will settle in and start growing faster than field-dug specimens that may take three to five years to reestablish root systems and resume growth. The Morton Arboretum

The biggest plants in our gardens often get the smallest share of our attention. And it’s not because trees don’t need or want attention — or because we intend to neglect them.

Maybe it’s because they look so strong, holding most of their foliage overhead and not making their needs known near ground level, where we are busy paying attention to everyone else. Or maybe we just don’t have much tree-care confidence.

At The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., Julie Janoski and her Plant Clinic colleagues respond to gardeners’ and green-industry professionals’ questions — about 17,000 a year. And many of those questions are about trees. Continue reading

Blooming Where We Are Planted

Ietef “DJ Cavem Moetavation” Vita plants seeds with daughter Libya LeaDonvita in the garden at their home outside Denver. Vita is among a growing list of Black gardening enthusiasts-turned-entrepreneurs across the country who’ve launched seed businesses during the pandemic-inspired gardening boom. Rachel Woolf for KHN

Urban farming was an early and has been a frequent topic on this platform, and we have covered it from multiple angles and elevations. In the last year we have focused on a few acres of urbanized land to regenerate bird habitat. So when I scan daily for a story to share, this has been a top-of-mind topic for years. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for another:

Black Entrepreneurs Sow Seeds Of Healthier Eating During Pandemic Gardening Boom

Vita, a vegan rapper, wants to encourage people of color to eat healthier by growing their own vegetables. He sells his own line of kale, beet and arugula seeds. Rachel Woolf for KHN

Ietef Vita had planned to spend most of 2020 on the road, promoting Biomimicz, the album he had released on his #plantbasedrecords label in January. But the pandemic cut those plans short, says Vita, known to his fans as “DJ Cavem Moetavation” and “Chef Ietef.”

He was playing in Berkeley, Calif., on Feb. 29, and “literally got out of town right before they shut the whole country down,” recalls the 34-year-old vegan rapper, who has performed for the Obamas and is known as the father of eco-hip-hop. “It was scary.”

Suddenly sidelined at his metro Denver home with his wife, Alkemia Earth, a plant-based lifestyle coach, and three daughters, Vita struggled to pivot. Eventually, he accepted that he would need to stay put and, as the saying goes, bloom where he was planted.

Vita has mailed out more than 20,000 packets of his kale, beet and arugula seeds to urban farmers across the country. Rachel Woolf for KHN

He and his wife launched an impromptu campaign: mailing out thousands of the more than 42,000 packets of kale, beets and arugula seeds that he’d planned to sell at his shows, all emblazoned with his likeness and the QR code to hear his digital album. Continue reading

The Language We Use To Know About Plants

Like Magnolia, Begonia, Iris and a few others, the genus name Camellia has been assimilated into English, rather than having a common name assigned to it. “A handful of iconic garden plants have names that are easy to pronounce and spell, and are so widely used that they’re devoid of dread,” said Ross Bayton, the author of “The Gardener’s Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names.” Drawing from “The Gardener’s Botanical.”

Thanks to Margaret Roach for this review, whose subtitle–Latin might seem like an obscure, inscrutable language for naming plants. But it can open up the botanical world in ways you can’t imagine–is its central recommendation. Things I can’t imagine, maybe especially when I need to make a Plan B for planting, are a welcome resource these days. As always, if you decide to acquire this book and can do so from an independent bookseller you will be doing the world a favor:

Simply knowing a plant’s genus, such as Hydrangea, doesn’t tell you the whole story. The second word in the botanical Latin binomial — the species name or specific epithet modifying the genus — offers further clues, perhaps describing the plant’s place of origin or its appearance. In the case of Hydrangea macrophylla, it means big leaf. Drawing from “The Gardener’s Botanical.”

The plants are trying to tell us something — if only we’d learn their official language, botanical Latin.

“I am the Allium with just one leaf,” says Allium unifolium. (Get it?)

“I am the juniper that carpets the ground,” says Juniperus horizontalis (whose alternate name, Juniperus prostrata, nails its appearance, too).

And Aster alpinus chimes in: “My ancestors hailed from above the timber line — you know, like, the Alps. I won’t appreciate some sodden, clayey spot in your garden.”

Not all plant names offer such easy clues about traits like appearance, preferred conditions or place of origin. Continue reading

Intimate Ecological Ethos

A view of the Cherry Esplanade from the top of the Robert W. Wilson Overlook at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. George Etheredge for The New York Times

Beyond books and other published material, New Yorkers have plenty of places to see natural spectacles, places where nature can be better understood in an otherwise concrete jungle. Ecological ethos describes the new feel of the intimate 52 acres in one of those places:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Turns Over a New Leaf

A wild meadow and woodland ‘ruin’ are now on exuberant display. The new, ecologically minded garden boasts shaggy clouds of vegetation.

Lavender asters burst through ground-hugging meadow species at the overlook. George Etheredge for The New York Times

Only a skeleton staff at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden witnessed the blizzard of cherry blossoms scattered by spring breezes during the pandemic shutdown. Delicate blooms of wisteria tumbled over pergolas and plump roses unfurled with no appreciative fans to say “Oooh.”

The garden reopened in August for a limited daily number of socially distanced visitors. Now, as fall’s vibrant, showy display begins, meadow and woodland gardens completed at last winter’s onset are finally coming into their own. They are the culmination of a yearslong evolution, as the garden turns over a new leaf with the selection in September of Adrian Benepe, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, as the new president and chief executive. Continue reading

Reviving A Garden Can Revive More Than A Garden

Among the reasons we have stayed  committed once we embarked on restoration of a parcel of a coffee farm buried two decades ago, it is a welcome distraction. Also, it is good exercise. Those side benefits add motivation to continue uncovering and then reviving a buried agricultural treasure. If you are not in a place where you can do such a thing, but are in need of a breath-slowing, jaw-unclenching respite, other options exist. Do gardens and/or stories of agricultural revival get you there? The video above, or the classic to the right might be options to consider. Thanks to Helen Rosner for bringing them to our attention in this essay:

The Soothing Pleasures of “The Victorian Kitchen Garden,” a Vintage BBC Docuseries

“The Victorian Kitchen Garden,” a thirteen-part series on the particularities of Victorian horticulture, is a serene display of domestic competence.Photograph by Anne Gilbert / Alamy

Some time this past spring, I had my annual realization that if I wanted to plant a garden this year I should have got started weeks, maybe months, earlier. Then I set about my annual task of Googling how to make a garden happen. A few days later, clearing out my hundreds of open browser tabs of horticultural-advice forums, I paused over an open Web page that I hadn’t noticed: a grainy upload on the mysterious and vaguely European video-hosting Web site Dailymotion. “The Victorian Kitchen Garden – S01 – E01 – The Beginning,” it said. Curious, I pressed play, and a gentle wave of clarinet arpeggios sounded from my laptop speakers, and a mist-veiled greenhouse appeared on the screen. My breathing slowed, my jaw unclenched. Continue reading

The Garden, As Illuminated By Jamaica Kincaid

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The word garden currently catches my eye more effectively than any other word. Jamaica Kincaid gives good reason for it:

The Disturbances of the Garden

In the garden, one performs the act of possessing.

By Jamaica Kincaid

Nature Nurtures

First, a recommendation of AbeBooks, one of the many alternatives you might consider for buying this or other books. Second, I recommend Rebecca Mead‘s riff on the book, The Therapeutic Power of Gardening in the current issue of the New Yorker.  When I last read her work there it was a stretch of the culinary imagination. This time, the opposite, with the subtitle of the essay asking “Can anxious minds find solace working with plants? A therapist and her husband, a garden designer, say yes.” We are in the middle of a perfect case study for the core thesis of the book and of Mead’s essay.

In the last six days we planted nearly 100 trees, like those pictured here, which will fix nitrogen in the soil, provide shade for the coffee, and beckon birds for both food–parrots in particular mob these trees when the flowers are in bloom–and nesting. There is an obvious connection between the concept of biophilia and what is discussed in this book and essay, but this quote captures a nuanced point differentiating cultivated versus wild nature:

“When we sow a seed, we plant a narrative of future possibility,” Sue Stuart-Smith, a British psychiatrist and psychotherapist, writes in her new book, Continue reading