Monthly Archives: December 2009
Eat This,   Unusually Clever People

In Praise of Seed Savers Exchange

Seedsavers My 2010 Seed Savers Exchange catalog has been sitting on my kitchen table for the last week or two.  I sit and read it while I eat my lunch and imagine growing the following strange and wonderful things in my garden:

Prickly Caterpillar (Scorpiurus muricatus). I had to go look this one up.  It appears to be a legume that puts out these crazy little hairy green seed pods that resemble caterpillars. From the catalog:  

"Low-growing plants make a
nice ground cover and are sure to be the best conversation piece in
your garden. In days past, caterpillars were added to salads to
surprise unexpected diners, but not meant to be eaten,
mostly because they are so hairy. Try growing
in containers, if space is tight. Great historic novelty that should be
grown in every garden."

Crazy.  Amazing.  And:

Luther Burbank's sunberry, a somewhat controversial solanum because Burbank's detractors claimed he had not actually hybridized a new plant but just re-introduced an existing one. Anyway, it's a beautiful dark blue fruit and I can't even begin to imagine what it must taste like–but I'd like to know.

Hill Country Red Okra, which I have no hope of ever growing in this cool climate, but wow, who doesn't want a beautiful green and red-striped okra?  I like a martini with a pickled okra in it; I wonder if the coloring of this one would hold up to the pickling process.

Habanero Mustard peppers that belong in a still life, not a stir fry.  Wow.

Ten  Commandments gourds.  Again. A work of art.  I don't even know what I would do with them and I want them.

And don't even get me started on the pickling cucumbers.  

And here's the thing.  If you become a member, which only costs $35 per year, you get their magazine, and a discount on your orders, and all kinds of other good stuff. Really, if this catalog is not already on your kitchen table, get over to their website and make it so.  I think it's the most beautiful and readable catalog of the season so far.

Posted by on December 16, 2009 at 5:10 am.   This post has 8 responses.
Taking Your Gardening Dollar

What?! I can haz bulbs? Still?

Far be it from me to encourage anybody to spend more money
on bulbs, BUT. Brent and
is still shipping a surprisingly good selection of indoor-forcing
bulbs. And they’re 50% off. Normally, by this time in December, you would not expect to
be able to get such exotic tazettas as Grand Soleil d’Or (above) and Golden Rain (the
double form, below) but they still have them and a lot of other varieties, including
some nice hippeastrum and freesia. Most bulb houses have shut down their fall sales by this time.

I have already ordered mine, so felt it only fair to post
this, in case any of you were interested. They really do make terrific gifts,
in a nice glass vase with river stones. I have been giving them for years, and
the recipients always report successful blooming.

So there you have it.  I felt sharing
this information was the right thing to do.

Posted by on December 15, 2009 at 10:00 am.   This post has 4 responses.
Eat This

In which I meet my dinner

Young Tamworths

This has never happened before. Over the 30 or so years that
I have been an enthusiastic home cook, almost all of my ingredients have been
purchased in retail establishments, punctuated by trips to local farmers’
markets. Meat came from the urban butcher or in packages. And I was fine with that. In fact, I’m still fine with that.

But my magazine did a local food issue and the rest is
history. There is a farm specializing
in heritage pigs
just 20 minutes away from my office, and a suckling pig from
this farm seemed perfect for my yearly holiday dinner. Last month we visited
the farm to view these special animals and I must say that they seemed like the
happiest pigs I’ve ever seen. I don’t think Babe had as much running space as
these Tamworths, Gloucestershire Old Spots, Large Blacks, and various hybrids.


Rich, owner of T-Meadow Farms.

The farm is owned by a local schoolteacher who bought a
disused farm in order to breed these pigs. He has built fences around
several acres of his property so that the pigs can ramble freely, rooting up
scrub as they go. Many of the cleared acres become arable land, where crops can
be planted to feed the pigs. It’s not quite a full-circle yet, as some of the
feed for the pigs still has to be bought in, but it’s getting there.

 I was surprised to find that the lifespan of pigs isn’t as
long as I thought it might be; they live about 10-14 years. Our farmer assured
us that the Tamworth patriarch (Henry) shown here would never go to the
processor. The pigs that do get consumed often find their way to the tables of fancy Manhattan restaurants, via downstate distributors.

 So today I’m going to pick up my pig (which has already been dispatched by a 3rd party). It seems like such a
simple thing to do, but in terms of how food usually gets to our table, it’s a
rare occurrence indeed. We'll have to remove refrigerator shelves, and I don't have a roasting pan large enough, but that's part of the adventure.

Posted by on December 15, 2009 at 5:13 am.   This post has 17 responses.
Gardening on the Planet

The White House Grounds are Greening

GGheader450 Now I'm as happy as the next gardener about all the kitchen-garden news coming out of the White House this year.  Mrs. O's laser-like focus on healthy eating is right-on – nothing's more important than that.

Okay, I've said all that; now I'll return to my usual schtick – low-maintenance, more sustainable landscaping.  When I was contacted by an aide to the First Lady-Elect about my ideas for a kitchen garden I was so excited, I kind of forgot to tell her I know nothing about kitchen gardening.  Volunteered to compile some suggestions, though – for the whole 18 acres.  (They may have gotten me confused with someone who actually had ideas for a kitchen garden, but really, would you have told them that?)  So I called everyone I know and wrote up my proposal for Greening the White House Grounds, including the suggestion that they adopt the Sustainable Sites Initiative landscaping practices and make a big splash of it and educate us Amuricans to at least stop "greening-up" our lawn in the spring, arguably the most harmful of all gardening practices.

A year and hundreds of news reports of the kitchen garden later, I've never stopped believing that this White House would change their ways, starting with stopping the (presumed, not proven) overfertilizing that's polluting the Chesapeake Bay.   And their hiring of Jim Adams as the top Park Service horticulturist there has only fueled my optimism.  He's not old-school; he's totally up on best practices and was transforming the gardens at the British Embassy in his last job.

Greening ALL Federal Facilities
Then in September I went to DC's GreenFest, met the guy appointed by Nancy Pelosi to Green the Capitol, and learned from him that Obama had created an office within his own environmental staff to be in charge of greening all government facilities. Omigod.  So I run to the website to see if there's anything there about the landscaping – not a word. 

Long story short, I passed along to them some examples of progressive landscaping within the government – at GSA, the National Arboretum, and the Botanic Gardens – and hope to see them all talking to each other.  (What I found curious in all this was that none of the agencies I talked to had heard of the green-the-federal-government initiative!  I know; it's a big government.) 

But Back to the White House
More big news, something I learned in talking about all this is that people on the White House garden staff ARE talking to the Sustainable Sites Initiative folks!  Those consultations are already in progress. It's happening.

It's been a week since I heard that and I've calmed down enough to say Michelle, there's no need to expand your focus (as we know everyone's been urging you to do, me included).  Heck, news about the South Lawn and the Rose Garden will get plenty of news coverage even without your involvement.  Just send Jim out to talk to the cameras or give a certain garden writer a tour,  and put the full scoop on the White House Blog.  And thanks!

Posted by on December 14, 2009 at 5:07 am.   This post has 5 responses.

What the government teaches

Next, what the Government Tells the Public
big-picture, imagine the entire federal govenrment taking the lead in going
green in their landscapes, ending 50 years of really, really bad practices by
government and everyone else, but let's start thinking about the next step,
shall we?  That would be doing something to fix and coordinate the information
our government is tell us about how to treat our own land.  The Sustainable
Sites folks are preparing what we know will be a terrific version for
homeowners, but the public is most often blithely directed to consult their
nearest Cooperative Extension Service for answers, and the elephant in the room
is that most of the information they dole out sucks.  (Exceptions are few but
very appreciated – Cornell, Maryland, Minnesota, etc.)  Sure, these are state
universities but they DO get federal funding.  Just a thought.

The EPA's Greenscaping
program is, thankfully, on the right track, but it doesn't get a fraction of
the attention (or links) that Extension Service sites do – those outdated advice
from agencies that far too often get their funding from industry (since cutbacks
during the Reagan years). 

But Extension Services that suck are the topic for anotherrant.

Posted by on December 13, 2009 at 4:14 pm.   This post has Comments Off on What the government teaches.

Just looking at nature makes us nicer

A new study from the University of Rochester found that paying attention to the natural world makes people feel
better and behave better.  Its 370 test subjects, viewing nature rather than man-made environments led people to “value community and close relationships and
to be more generous with money.” 

That says a lot for the value of green space in cities, and the lead researcher commented that “Incorporating parks and
other representations of nature into urban environments may help build
a stronger sense of community among residents.  To the extent that our
links with nature are disrupted, we may also lose some connection with
each other.” And the lack of green space
in cities may explain higher levels of indifference, and estrangement in urban dwellers than rural dwellers.

SO gardeners, it's not just us or even just plants. (But we knew that.)   

(As an off-topic aside, I've always wondered what it's like to be in beautiful natural places killing wild animals – but then I'm a nearly-veg suburban girl, so I'm never going to relate.)

Read the article and research study. 

Photo: Sunrise on Pawleys Island, South Carolina.

Posted by on December 13, 2009 at 5:17 am.   This post has 12 responses.
Everybody's a Critic

“The World According to Monsanto”

World_according_to_monsanto_dvd1 You won't be surprised to hear that a documentary about the maker of PCBs, Agent Orange and Roundup has lots of shocking bits. 

  • Monsanto falsely claimed that Roundup is biodegradable and a French court made them stop.
  • In a more criminal move, Monsanto tried to bribe a Canadian health agency.  Good lord.
  • There's a toll-free number (1-800-Roundup) for ratting on farmers who are, against Monsanto policy, saving their Roundup Ready seeds.  The full story is told in Seeds of Suicide, which won the "Alternative Nobel".

But here's the real shocker:  this documentary may put you to sleep.  Maybe it's just me, but watching the filmmaker enter search terms into Google is not my idea of exciting investigative journalism, and a shocking chunk of the movie is just that – Internet searches.  

But hey, it's free on Youtube and conveniently divided up into eight parts, so you can take your Monsanto evil in small, stay-awake doses. Here's Part 1.

To be fair, I did enjoy the part about Kay Jenkes, the awesome EPA employee who blew the whistle on Agent Orange.  And Treehugger's reviewer liked the movie a lot more than I did. 

Posted by on December 12, 2009 at 5:04 am.   This post has 9 responses.

Tree or not to tree?

Susan's recent post about street trees being offered in her neighborhood inspired me to seek out this photo:


This is my street, in around 1905, I'm guessing from the mutton-chop sleeves on the women on the porches.  My house is the one with the hammock on the porch.  We don't have a hammock there now.  We'd have to listen to the sound of the air conditioner next door while swinging. It hardly seems relaxing.

Caroline Street circa 1905 is lovely, though shady.  The trees enforce a kind of consistency on the neighborhood, which is nice.  I'm guessing that they are elms, which would explain why we don't have giant street trees today.  Of course, we do have some old surviving sugar maples on this street, which are struggling in a warming climate, so it's possible that they were all maples, though their crowns don't seem quite round enough for maples.

The street doesn't look like that today:

Too bad we've replaced dirt with asphalt.  Many times uglier.

And many of the trees are gone.  A neighbor convinced the city to take an old one down just last year.  The city agreed that the tree was sick, but I'm not so sure local officials aren't just eager to get everything out from under the power lines.

Here is the front of my house last spring:

Where there were once large street trees, there are now young peach trees.

I think that's okay.  I think times change, and real food is more important at the moment than a consistent, verdant look for the neighborhood.

I like the old photo.  But if you gave me a choice, I'd never give up the bit of sun I've got here today. The front of my house faces south, and it represents a rare chance to grow a rose or a food crop.  

I'm in the Henry Mitchell school: Trees belong in forests, not tiny city yards.  

Posted by on December 11, 2009 at 3:31 am.   This post has 29 responses.
Unusually Clever People

Guest Rant: Valerie Easton


Y'all please welcome Val Easton, here wade into the oh-so-tricky discussion over low-maintenance gardens.   Don't gardeners want to garden?  Isn't that the point?  What say you?  Say it with enough eloquence and spirit in the comments and we'll send you a copy of Val's book. Okay, here's Val:

Since Garden Rant is “flabbergasted at the idea of a ‘no maintenance garden’, I feel pretty lucky they let me on here to offer up a free copy of my fresh-off-the-presses book “The New Low Maintenance Garden: How to Have a Beautiful, Productive Garden and the Time to Enjoy It,” from Timber Press

Okay, this title wasn’t exactly my idea anyway. Turns out authors don’t get to pick their own titles anymore…that’s up to the marketers. I preferred “The Simplified Garden: How to Love Your Garden, Save Your Back and Get a Life”, and not just because it didn’t set me at odds with the Garden Rant Manifesto….

Can we agree that just about any garden has the potential to be at least lower maintenance? Maybe not maintenance free, but also not the great devourer of time and resources that so many of us are tied to tending….

And in that spirit, we’d love to hear about the stupidest, least necessary, most high maintenance task you’ve discarded along the way to enjoying your garden….an autographed copy of my book awaits one liberated gardener.

To kick start your maintenance memories….here’s a short list of things you never, ever, need do again:

· Double-digging, which used to be held up as the mark of a superior gardener (and one with an aching back) has been proven to damage the tilth of the soil. Better to simply layer compost and mulch on top, and let it filter down all by itself to improve the soil.

· Dig a deep hole for new plants. In fact, they suffer from soil amendments lovingly mixed in around their roots. This can stunt a plant’s growth long term– it needs to buck up and get used to the native soil it’ll be growing in. So dig a nice wide hole, no deeper than the root ball, and back fill with native soil. Really. You still need to water the plant in.

· Use a leaf blower. Raking leaves is good exercise and blessedly quiet… don’t worry about getting every leaf up. Your garden is outside, for goodness sake.

· Put pebbles, or the shards of a terra cotta pot in the bottom of a container to help drainage. Nope, not ever. Nor any Styrofoam noodles – just good soil all the way through is best. Water pools up where one material meets another, so sticking stuff in the bottom of pots is a sure way to drown your plants’ roots.

Let us know the best decision you’ve made to simplify your gardening life ….

Me? I’ve banished iris or any other perennial that needs dividing at the blink of an eye, and whittled my rose passion down to a single specimen (‘Westerland’) that’s so iconic, so deeply fragrant and ruffled, that it mutes my rose lust.

An autographed book awaits the cleverest/funniest/most likely to be widely imitated entry…..can’t wait to hear from you….

Posted by on December 10, 2009 at 5:11 am.   This post has 53 responses.
But is it Art?

The Best Cover of 2009?

Wow.  Wicked Plants is up for's Best Cover of the Year.  After an initial round of voting, it's made its way into the top ten.  If you've got a minute, I'd appreciate your vote–and tell your friends!

Go here to vote.

Posted by on December 9, 2009 at 8:02 am.   This post has 7 responses.
Taking Your Gardening Dollar

Why Are Clay Spheres So Unbelievably Awesome?

Clay ballIt's just a round ball of clay. Why do we love them so?

I try, every year, to come up with the obligatory list of gift ideas for gardeners.  The list ends up being some combination of marital advice and marching orders for non-gardeners who must shop for the gardener they love.  I realized several years ago that nobody ever buys me garden-related gifts; they either assume that I already have it or that I don't want it or that I'm so highly selective that they would surely give me the wrong thing. This, of course, is ridiculous.  I want all kinds of stuff, and preferably more than one of everything.

Thus the list.

This year, I issued the following set of instructions to the non-gardener who needs one sure-fire, completely perfect gift that will fit any gardener.  All gardeners. To compile my instructions, I wandered around the garden center looking for such a thing, and there it was.  The clay sphere.  Cheap (but scalable–you can buy a dozen if you've got the money), elegant, and weirdly appropriate for any kind of garden. Who thought of the clay sphere and what, exactly, makes it so appealing?

I don't know.  But here are my instructions, in case you need to print them out and leave them sitting around for a certain someone:

Here's how this will work. You'll walk into the garden center and walk around for a little while, lost and confused, until some helpful employee walks up and asked you what you're looking for. You won’t want to ask, because it sounds so weird, but eventually you'll have no choice but to say, "Uh—do you have—uh—any clay spheres?”

The employee will light up and say, "Of course. They're over here.” He or she will lead you to the section in the garden center where they keep flowerpots. There, among the pots, will be these things. Clay spheres. There's really no other way to describe them.

You'll pick one up, feeling like an idiot, wondering if I'm playing a practical joke on you by making you pay twenty-five dollars for a ball of clay. Then you'll have to figure out how to wrap it. Then you'll spend the next few weeks worrying that you've made the wrong decision, and you'll go out and buy a scarf or a picture frame as a backup, just in case you have to pretend that the sphere was only a joke and not actually the real gift.

But then the big day will arrive, and the gardener you love will open whatever oddly-shaped package you've managed to put together, and the sphere will sort of roll out into her hands, and then she will say, in a deep and sensual voice usually reserved for much nicer gifts than this one, “Ooooooh.”

She’ll roll it over a few times, and then she'll wander outside with it, and maybe move it around once or twice before finding the perfect spot for it. If it's on the north side of the house, it will eventually get covered with a lovely green moss. If you pour buttermilk over it (or maybe eggnog — I'm pretty sure leftover eggnog would work), it will soon sport a patina of mottled white mold.

You may never understand why this is all so wonderful. That’s okay. The important thing is that you did good. Just bask in the glory.

Posted by on December 9, 2009 at 5:22 am.   This post has 20 responses.
It's the Plants, Darling

Making my (separate) peace with poinsettias


December 12 is National Poinsettia Day. I wasn’t sure if
Susan would want to celebrate it then or not (she posts that day), so I’m
jumping the gun a bit. There’s a cute post about these ubiquitous seasonal
plants on Neatorama
Go ahead and read it, but here are my favorite facts (all
readily available everywhere on the net and in any plant encyclopedia).  

The common name for euphorbia pulcherrima comes from Joel
Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. minister to Mexico, who brought them to the
U.S. in 1828.

* Apparently, they became associated with Christmas when they
started growing miraculously from some weeds gathered by a devout peasant girl
in the 16th century

* Johnny Carson may be partially responsible for their popularity;
they were marketed on his show and Bob Hope’s during the 60s. That makes sense;
they have a flamboyant, blowsy look that would have appealed back then.  The Ecke family, who bred them to their popular compact form, had a monopoly on
these until the 1990s, and still control 50% of the market

Actually, there are circumstances under which I actually
like poinsettias. Botanical gardens throughout the U.S. like to use them in
displays like the clever one from the
Birmingham Botanical Gardens shown at
top (the image came from flickr, not the gardens). I’ve also seen large poinsettia standards that were nice. Red and pink
doubles and the lemon-lime varieties are also attractive. Sadly, for me, these plants
have become so tainted by their universal use and all the horrible glittery, day-glow
varieties at nurseries now, I can’t use them

Here are three of my favorite alternatives to poinsettias for holiday décor. Cyclamens can be kept inside as reliable flowering houseplants (much easier than poinsettias), while the helleborus niger can be planted out in spring. I might even be able to keep the euphorbia Diamond Frost going long enough to use it as a container plant in late spring. Or not. 

Poinsettia "tree" Image courtesy of southern pixel

Posted by on December 8, 2009 at 4:55 am.   This post has 11 responses.
Shut Up and Dig

Corporate Urban Gardening, No Greenwashing Allowed

 We all know there's a lot of greenwashing going on these days, with companies making empty gestures to suggest they're doing great things, often to cover up the not-great things they're doing.  But let's look at what they could be doing instead – real greening.

The Whole Foods Garden-for-Every-Store Strategy

Now this may just apply to the Mid-Atlantic Region – Whole Foods is a very regionally-directed company – but at least around here the company's urban gardening effort is deep, widespread, and having an impact.  Though it didn't look that way at first.

A few of IMG_6961us garden writers attended a press release announcing WF's $25,000 contribution to start gardens and beehives at 56 community centers in DC.  The mayor and other politicians were there holding the big fake check and grinning, along with WF's regional president Ken Meyer (the shockingly young guy second from the right).  But you know how gardeners think:  How far can $446 per garden go?  And supplies are nice but who's doing the labor, especially the on-going maintenance?  Oh, and who's teaching the neighbors to garden?

Sure, we're kind of jaded about press conferences, but that's where follow-up phone calls come in handy – to city Parks and Recs folks and to WFs' gardening coach Mark Smallwood.

Turns out they have an ambitious goal – to have gardens near every WF store in this region – something that's already under way in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to much acclaim.  (In Pittsburgh they turned a vacant lot into a 4,000-square-foot community garden, with rain barrels and all. WF staff oversee the garden on company time.)  So when a Parks and Rec organizer approached the company to hit them up for money, they were a really soft target. 

The goal of each community-center garden is to teach kids about the environment and healthy eating – primarily by getting them to grow food. Ancillary programs include teaching cooking and preserving, with teaching taking place in stores, schools and other community buildings.   They think of these as agricultural learning centers.

But back to who does the work.  Americorps volunteers will do the installation of raised beds and what-not, and the Parks and Rec's "queen of greening" will be traveling the circuit to oversee the gardens, but we all know that's not enough.  When I read in the press release that WF is "encouraging area store employees  to participate in all aspects of the program, such as constructing and tending to gardens, providing scraps for composting, hosting workshops, and hosting cooking demonstrations" I was skeptical.  Sounded to me like project death, but if WF employees are actually doing this in other cities, especially on company time, then okay, I'm a believer.

But bottom line, community gardens have got to be gardened by people in the community, and it turns out there's a whole slew of groups committed to helping, though not the group they need the most – D.C.'s Master Gardeners.  (Instead, they're still getting "community service" credit for pulling weeds at the British Embassy and other private gardens…it's a long story.)

All in all, my skepticism remains on standby but I'm pretty encouraged by WF's commitment and the organizing abilities of the DC Parks and Rec folks.  Just one last dubious moment from the press conference was when Mayor Fenty called the $25,000 donation "the largest donation of its kind in the country".  Hmm, wonder what "'its kind" means – keep reading.

Fiskars' Garden Make-Overs and Grants

So what about companies who don't have retail stores embedded throughout the city?  What if, in fact, you're a Finnish tool manufacturer?  Fiskars's Project Orange Thumb is their answer.

This is a combo plan, starting with small grants of $2,000 to 22 existing worthy projects every year. (Applications are now open, and the deadline is 2/19/10.)

But what's more exciting – because they're dramatic one-day events and I actually visited one in the making – are the large garden make-overs in select cities.  Recipient cities so far include Chicago, San Francisco, Orlando, Toronto, Atlanta and Baltimore, whose Oliver Street neighborhood saw the instant transformation of a vacant lot into a garden.  Information about the Oliver Street Project is here, and others are in the sidebar.

It all starts with Fiskars's Nicole Mayasich's hunt for cities with great partnership potential, and in Baltimore she found a serious partner in the city's Cleaner Greener initiative.  Then Joe Lamp'l was brought in to meet with the community and based on what they want, planned their garden.  Then for the BIG DAY Joe returned, along with in this case about 15 Fiskars employees from their headquarters in Wisconsin (including their national prez). Other volunteers came from the state transportation agency, plus the local and national offices of the EPA – about 100 volunteers in all.  The nearby Home Depot coughed up some donated goods, but the largest financial contributor was Fiskars, which spent "well over $100,000 on the Baltimore project," according to Nicole.  That included a good-looking wrought-iron fence around the entire property.

The result is a place to grow fresh vegetables and flowers, which will be distributed in the neighborhood, and a place for people to learn.  Several schools and community groups will have access to the garden.

And then there's Scotts

I'd intended to compare these approaches side by side but after talking to folks, I nixed that idea – the companies are just too different.  I say hey, as long as there's serious commitment and attention paid beyond the big photo op, great.  As long as there's lots of community buy-in and attention to the long term, great. As long as it's not companies just BS'ing us about how environmentally responsible they are.

Speaking of which, a little Googling of the word "greenwashing" yields more than one mention of the gardening world's very own Top Gun – Scotts – and they managed to make it to this list of Top Ten Greenwashers.  It's no wonder there's so much squirming among garden writers over Scotts's support of the Garden Writers Association.  Scotts even does some of their own squirming – like donating big-time to our national symposium but declining to show up with a booth on the trade show floor to talk to us face to face.

Full disclosure: Fiskars is a sponsor of my website and blog.  No, there's no quid pro quo about covering their
good deeds but because I know them and Joe Lamp'l, I dropped in on the big event and cite it as an example.  Good things
happen when
good companies partner with garden writers.

Posted by on December 7, 2009 at 5:43 am.   This post has 10 responses.

Sustainable and Urban Gardening News December ’09


GardenRant edition. The full version is right here.

In the News

  • France's
    highest court has ruled that Monsanto, um, didn't
    told the truth about the  safety of Roundup, falsely claiming it's "biodegradable" and "left the soil
    clean". Monsanto lies – who knew?  Here's the story by the BBC.   

  • San Francisco's mandatory composting law is now in effect – support is mixed. 

Urban Gardening on the Web

Sustainable Gardening on the Web

Posted by on December 6, 2009 at 5:04 am.   This post has 2 responses.

Gardening as healing for vets

This won’t surprise you avid gardeners; it’s confirmation of what you already know.  It’s here in the NY Times.

“But being with the plants gives me time to think and meditate, to feel
the soil or clay or whatever you’re working in. I talk to my plants.
Maybe it’s crazy, but it’s given me a chance to get out, work with
others, grow something and do something that’s right, not just for
myself, but for the whole community.”

Patrick Corcoran, who served with the Marines in Lebanon, said: “It just lowers the volume in my head. It allows me to think on a rational level.”

Posted by on December 5, 2009 at 6:29 am.   This post has one response.

A Holiday Season Dilemma: Where Will People Shop for Us?

Yes, yes, it's better to give than receive. We all know that.

But we have it easy. We don't have to give to the mad gardener in the circle of family and friends. Because that would be us.

And shopping for gardeners, is, I think, extremely difficult. Of course, most of us always like plants. You can give me any amaryllis at any time, and I will be thrilled.  Ditto a citrus tree in a pot.  I'll be polite about an orchid, even though I have never gotten one of those inert things to bloom twice. I'll even take a whack at keeping a potted gardenia alive again, though I've killed a few of these in my time.

But when it comes to the hard goods, it's not easy to find something nice. Let's face it, we are really short of great merchants in our world.  And the endless collapse of garden purveyors from the West Coast Heronswood Nursery to Smith & Hawken–as well as the slimness of most gardening magazines, with their relatively few advertisers–suggests that it is not easy to make money off of us.  Are we too earthy?  Too bored by material goods?  Too cheap?

As a result, most garden things sold by most garden purveyors have no dignity. Too small, too silly.  The only thing that's right about them is the price point.  I mean, resin bunnies?  Most garden ornaments seem to be made for children, and I don't think we gardeners are an exceptionally childish group.

Personally, I miss the old Smith & Hawken terribly, Smith & Hawken circa the early 1990s, when my mother-in-law, a very talented and considerate gift-giver, would send me a handmade white clay Guy Wolff pot at Christmas.

You can still buy Guy Wolff pots: his website sends you to a purveyor called Goods For The Garden, which has interesting pots by other makers, too, including these poppy pots:

Poppypot They also have the very nice planter below in a pretty purple color for $33 including shipping.

Footed pot

It would be great if we could all persuade local potters to make reasonably-priced, cool things for our gardens. But I don't know…so few artisans seem to think of us, I suppose because we are so hard to make money off of!  Always spending it on bulbs and not on stuff.

Of course, there are antique stores, which give the present-giver the opportunity to look for ten years without finding anything nice that's garden-related.  Yet, I just found the perfect present for myself, and pretty cheap, too, in a New Jersey antique warehouse otherwise stuffed to the gills with gold leaf:


I've been searching for one of these big dragon pots for years: I love the color combination of olive brown, golden yellow and turquoise and I love the rough finish. My friend Bob tells me that these pots were used to store century eggs, weird Chinese preserved eggs, as in the wikipedia photo below.


Apparently, these give off such a powerful stench of ammonia that they are sometimes referred to as "horse urine eggs."  You eat the eggs, I'll keep the pot.

It's still possible for an extremely devoted relative or friend to find very nice-looking English and Dutch garden tools on-line, but the great thing about the old Smith & Hawken was that it was a major advertiser and catalog-mailer accessible to non-gardeners, and it had fantastic tools. Again, I cleaned up here, thanks to my mother-in-law, who sent me wonderful elbow-length gloves for rose-wrestling and an English-made edging spade that continues to be beautiful and useful 18 or so years later.

Of course, if there is a sugar daddy or sugar mama in the picture, a gift-giver for whom price is no object, there are always English companies like Haddonstone that will make your garden monumental.  But I think Elizabeth Licata, who has a cool piece of art in her garden, has the right idea: befriend a sculptor or ironworker, who will want to give you a holiday present or at least sell you his or her work at a price you can afford.


Posted by on December 4, 2009 at 4:12 am.   This post has 27 responses.


HEre's their skills.

The mobile permaculture demonstration (Permibus tour) is a 10-20 minute
permaculture primer during which we walk folks through our bus systems; that
includes bio-fuels, solar power, greywater, humanure composting, hydroponic
garden, permaculture curtains, and composting (including chickens and worms). As
we walk folks through the tour of the bus, sharing the possible, we incorporate
permaculture principles, which are displayed throughout the bus in large color
graphics designed by Starhawk. This is a very popular offering. We did over 400
mobile permaculture demonstrations in two days at the Common Ground Fair in
Maine in the fall of 2008.

In addition we often have on-going chicken
informationals (a 10-15 minute talk about chickens). Both the chicken
informationals and the Permibus tours are circular so people can come in at any
point and then leave when we get back to where they started.

– GREEN DAY: Howard University
– 11 am-3 pm. Program to be


This training
is open to Washington DC public school students only – contact Delyla at if you are
interested in attending
-Time and Location to be

North Capitol Street, N.E.
-PERMIBUS OPEN HOUSE: 10 am to 1 pm

click here for image – for this story.

Posted by on December 3, 2009 at 5:03 pm.   This post has Comments Off on Permibus.


Story about Farmville

Posted by on December 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm.   This post has Comments Off on Farmville.

Cruise Liner Gardens


HEre's the story.

World’s largest cruise ship will include an oasis of foliage plants


Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas cruise ship is creating much needed business for Florida foliage nurseries

Royal Caribbean Cruises is spending $1.5 billion on its new Oasis of the Seas,
which is the world’s largest cruiseCruise2 ship. When the ship departs on Dec.
1 for its first cruise to Haiti, it will be carrying more than 12,000
plants of over 100 species (check out the Final Preparations video
Gardens at Sea).

According to the Miami Herald,
a majority of those plants will come from Florida growers Michaels
Nursery in Boynton Beach and Southeast Growers in Wellington. The
plants will be part of one of seven themed “neighborhoods” that include
parks, squares and arenas. The plants were installed in Fort Lauderdale where the boat is currently docked at Port Everglades.

Bill Churchill, general manger at Michaels, told the newspaper that
the cruise ship project couldn’t have come at a better time since
business is down 10% from last year. He said the Oasis project is the
company’s single biggest project this year. Churchill said many of the
area nurseries are looking for new business. The cost of the plants
alone was around $15,000. The plants will be installed into aluminum
plant modules that are part of raised beds equipped with a below deck
irrigation system. Rich Kern, president of Southeast Growers, told the
newspaper that producing the plants for the ship has been especially
helpful in these tough economic times. He said sales this year are down
about 30% from last year, which was a record year for the company. Five
temporary employees were hired to handle the additional work created by
the job. The nurseries are hoping that they will be able to do
additional business with the cruise line, including the Oasis’ sister
ship, Allure of the Seas. Churchill said companies that are looking to
survive can’t expect to be doing the same thing they were doing 5 years

Posted by on December 3, 2009 at 4:01 pm.   This post has Comments Off on Cruise Liner Gardens.
Ministry of Controversy

When Greens go NIMBY over Street Trees

sweetgumballFlickrliberalmind1012UPDATE:  See site details and photo below.
First, I love my neighbors – most of the time and as a group.  And as a group you could hardly find a more environmentally concerned bunch – until it comes to planting trees in front of their homes.  (So okay, technically it's NIMFYism or maybe NIMROWism for "Not in my right-of-way".)

The Arborist's Plan
Of course part of the job of the city arborist is to reforestation, so toward that goal he's targeting streets that are bare of street trees, including my own, and planting 'em up.  On the side of the street with power lines he'll be planting 18 'Thunderchild' crabapples, which grow to 15-20' tall and wide in 20 years, then die (they're short-lived).  Their fruit is the size of cherries.  Now for the controversial part: 14 sweet gum trees will be planted on the side of the street with no power lines.  They'll eventually be really, really tall (80+ feet).
The Reaction
That news led to a spirited discussion on our Yahoo group, including:
  • "While I like trees as much as the next person, I don't think more trees is always better."
  • Objections to shade trees altogether ("We have SO little sun!")
  • "Sweetgums drop the spiky balls that are lethal to bare feet"
  • Concerns that with more trees, cars won't see kids playing.

Turns out there are plenty of unconflicted treehuggers on the street, but they're expressing their tree enthusiasm in person, not stirring the pot on the old listserv.  Smart neighbors.

The greater good at stake here includes a slew of benefits, starting with the cooling effect that trees have on our homes.  And the land to be planted on is city-owned (the right-of-way).  Nonetheless, the city is allowing people to opt out and decline to have trees planted in front of their homes.

A ConfessionIMG_5886

As surprised as I was by the number of anti-tree emails, I've gotta say I'd feel pretty conflicted myself if monumental trees were slated for MY right-of-way.  (It's true – we have SO little sun!)  But because my right-of-way is already full to bursting with plants, including two small trees, I'm exempt.  Whew.

Should Homeowners be allowed to Opt Out?

The scuttlebutt is that while homeowners now have the option to decline new trees, the city may soon eliminate that option.  It's public land, after all, and trees benefit us all (though gardeners, admittedly less so).  But readers, what do YOU think?  When your Environmentalist Self battles your Gardener Self and your Personal Freedom Self, who wins?

More about the Site

Here's a photo of the right-of-way that includes my own, filled with perennials and Yoshino cherries.  It's only 43 inches wide, and on the other side – with power lines and scheduled to get crabapples – it's only 41 inches.  The houses average 25-30 feet from the sidewalk and the back yards are blessed with many mature trees.  So shady back yards are common in this heavily treed old neighborhood.

Sweetgum photo credit.  

Posted by on December 3, 2009 at 4:35 am.   This post has 38 responses.