Boston’s Gardener’s Gathering

Celebrate the start of the gardening season! The 44th Annual Gardeners’ Gathering brings Boston-area gardeners together for a free day full of informative workshops, engaging exhibitors, networking, and inspiration. Held at Northeastern University, the Gathering features more than two dozen workshops on everything from Healthy Soil to Urban Foraging. Urban homesteaders can learn about keeping bees or chickens, making fermented pickles, and growing gourmet mushrooms. Gardeners can hone their skills with workshops on garden planning, managing pests and diseases, and more.

This year’s Gathering will feature special guest speaker Aziz Dehkan, Executive Director of the New York City Community Garden Coalition. Aziz is an activist, community organizer, former organic farmer, and a tireless member of #Resist. He has worked for many social and environmental organizations including Mother Jones, The Coalition for the Homeless, The Fortune Society, and Peace Action Network of NY. Aziz will address the history, current state, and future of community gardens in NYC, looking at them through the lens of social justice and climate change protection. He’ll speak to gentrification and racial inequality and delve into how community gardens can be in the vanguard of climate change monitoring, adaption, and mitigation.

When
Saturday, March 23
10AM-5PM

Cost
FREE

Contact
617.542.7696 x2115
mdelima@thetrustees.org

Shillman Hall, Northeastern
115 Forsyth Street
Boston, MA

I’ve been posting and whining about the weather being too cold to do any gardening and about a week ago I got this fabulous flyer from the Trustees of the Reservation about their Gardener’s Gathering.

What’s so interesting to me is that rather than just being another “plant conference,” (not that there’s anything wrong with those–we do all need to learn!), this “Gathering,” seeks to address ways in which gardeners can be part of important solutions to very real problems.

I am getting some questions in my lectures about whether growers are addressing things like climate change as they breed plants so I do know it’s on gardeners’ minds. It’s certainly on my mind when I shop for “replacement” plants–what on earth should I be doing to try to help our environment and what on earth should I be planting if I need to replace something long-term like a tree or a shrub?

Unfortunately the timing of the conference isn’t one that I can attend. But I sincerely hope to see more like this. And perhaps some of my readers in the area are able to go and to get some benefit from this interesting day of education!

Another Way to Deal with House Plant Insects

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You probably don’t recognize this photo from “Gardening Resolutions #1.” It’s the variegated plant–otherwise known as a kumquat–in the picture–the one that I talked about as having fooled me by dropping leaves. It was the one that had spread spider mites to the whole rest of the plants in the window.

Well, so far so good on the rest of the plants, but this one I am a bit nervous about so I decided to give it the “shower” treatment. That way, any hitch hikers and any new hatchers can just wash away down the drain–no fuss, no muss and no sprays (other than the water) required.

I had read this past fall that Brie Arthur (who wrote the wonderful outdoor vegetable book about incorporating vegetables into your landscaping in the most creative ways! The book is called The Foodscape Revolution for those of you who want to get a head start on some ideas for this coming year’s edible garden) suggested that it was “meditative” to wipe down the leaves of your house plants as a protective way to keep insects at bay.

God bless Brie, but that isn’t going to work for me and my 180+ plants! I prefer to take a single plant (or a windowful, if that’s what’s affected) to my shower, give them a quick, but thorough spray down with some water and let them dry.

It’s easy, it’s chemical free, and it dislodges spider mites (and aphids) quickly and painlessly. A nice side bonus is that the plants get thoroughly watered as well.

But, if you only have a couple of plants, you might want to try Brie Arthur’s method to see if that works for you. Different things do work for different folks–or as I always say, if we all liked the same thing, we’d have a pretty boring world!

When Weeding Uproots More Than Plants

Once a year, I need to weed the area around my entryway. Most of it is “fern covered” but the cracks in between the slate paving stones have to be cleaned out once.

And for some reason, there’s an area under a mugo pine where the ferns won’t grow, so that will get weedy too. I haven’t figured out a good ground cover for under there yet.

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So I start with an area that looks like this.

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And finish with this.

This year there was a minor complication. I was weeding out my slate cracks….

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Can you tell what happened? Perhaps with this closer photo.

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I wound up “weeding” up an ant colony. I had to go away for a bit to let them resettle themselves.

But it could have been worse, of course. It could have been hornets!

Dealing With the Fallout from Last Year’s Yard Poisoning

I know that I have a lot of new readers this spring so you all may not have been following me last summer when I told the tale of my neighbor’s lawn care company accidentally  “fertilizing” my lawn and spraying weed killer on my vegetables,  perennials and shrubs.

When the very nice and very apologetic management came out, I was assured that there would be no residual effects this spring.  I was told that whatever was sprayed was not like a glysophate, so it shouldn’t have a killing effect.

Really. I find it interesting (and frankly heartbreaking) that none of our clover has come back in the lawn. How long is this soil going to remain contaminated by whatever they put down?

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We have only one small area of violets. The area around that yellow magnolia used to be covered in blue.

And my vegetable garden? The raised bed right under the yellow magnolia? All the perennial herbs are dead. Some had been in that bed for almost a decade.  It wasn’t that bad a winter. So clearly I don’t dare use it for vegetables this year. I will grow flowers and hope that I don’t poison the pollinators.

Our yard had been organic for literally decades. I have no idea how long it’s going to take the “good” soil bacteria, organisms and other living things to recover.

This is just an unbelievable experience.

Let’s Leave The Ants Be

On Monday I had a photo of muscari, or grape hyacinths. I said that I would talk more about those in a different post. This is that post.

It’s not Pollinator Week yet–that’s June 18-24 this year. But nevertheless, I always try to talk about one of the unheralded pollinators of the garden, the ants, this time of year, because in my part of the world this is when they are making themselves known and so this is when most folks are reaching for sprays, traps–or worse.

Please: if the ants are just harmlessly going about their business somewhere safely away from your home, please just let them be. Ants serve valuable purposes in our ecosystem.

If they are in your house–fine. Do what you must. But before your break out the heavy duty poisons, try discouraging them by washing away their trails with a soapy cloth. It doesn’t always work, but it you get it early enough, it will.

Ants are actually good for your ecosystem. If you have heavy soil, they will help break that up.

But more important, they pollinate. They pollinate lots of early spring wildflowers. Here in the northeast, many of our spring ephemerals like bloodroot, trillium, and others with a special sort of structure called an eliaosome are pollinated this way.

I also find that my muscari are, if not specifically “pollinated” by ants, certainly propagated by them. I have never planted any in my lawn–and yet, my lawn is full of them. At first, I thought chipmunks or squirrels must have done it–and then I realized that it was the ants.

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It’s not a question of the muscari naturalizing–these plants are too far apart and much too widely spaced to have done that. And they are far too random for the seed to have just scattered (although I suppose anything is possible). Rather they appear in small clumps as if they were brought there somehow–which is why I originally blamed the chipmunks.

It’s a nice effect–and since I am the only one in my neighborhood to have it (and the only gardener crazy enough to let the ants be, no doubt), I suspect this is what’s happened.

So with our bees, butterflies, bats and other pollinators in such trouble, why not give your ants a chance? You might be pleasantly surprised.

 

 

Sustainable Gardening

It’s easy to walk into a big box store–or even some garden centers–and get very discouraged by the bewildering array of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. All you need to do is approach these aisles and you can smell these products. And generally, they are not good smells.

With all of that going on, then, it’s hard to remember that we’ve come a really long way since that first Earth Day over 50 years ago! More than ever before, people are indicating an interest in growing organically and growing their own food organically.

And more than ever before, people are listening when you tell them, please don’t spray this–or please don’t spray now–because you will endanger our pollinators. Those sorts of things really are resonating with a majority of people in a way that they might not have 10 or 20 years ago.

In fact, I have even had people tell me that the word “sustainable” is too out of date. I am not sure what the current word or term or phrase might be. I kind of like “sustainable.” To me, it indicates something that’s going to be around awhile. Isn’t that what we’re aiming for?

The other thing that’s almost mainstream these days is native plants. Even the box stores are carrying them. They may not have big signs screaming “Get Your Native Plants Here!,” but they will have some tough, hardy natives that grow well in almost every region available.

Part of this has to do with planting for pollinators. Part of this has to do with planting for unpredictable weather–natives seem to cope with that much better than other plants (once they are established, of course). And part of this has to do with the fact that natives are just nice plants to grow–many of them bloom for a long time, or produce berries or have lovely fall color–all attributes of other ornamentals that might be harder to grow or fussier in other ways.

Back on that first Earth Day, almost no one was growing natives–or if they were, their neighbors were looking upon them with suspicion as “long haired hippies”, no doubt.

And those first Earth Day chemicals? Names too terrible to mention. So we really have come a long way.

Recycling and “Other” Life Changing Events

On Monday, I talked about the many ways my life had changed since that first Earth Day in the 70s or even since I first “married” my house and my husband 22 years ago. These things are all changes for the better and they are so automatic that for the most part I don’t even think about them–which makes them far easier to incorporate into daily or weekly routines.

What sorts of things am I talking about? How about lighting for a start. Does anyone use incandescent bulbs anymore? Or how about CFLs? For the most part, our home is all LEDs and I am so grateful we’ve made the switch both from an energy efficiency standpoint, but also as someone who gets dreadful migraine headaches. The LEDs are much easier on the eyes. The CFLs have an almost imperceptible flicker–but if you get migraines and are sensitive to light, you know what I am referring to.

Then there are the reusable totes. I hope most folks are using those by now. They save so much plastic. I did recycle my plastic bags prior to using these–but if I never have to take a plastic bag, it so much the better. I just place them back in the car when I am finished and they’re ready to go for the next time (the question of laundering–or wiping the insides of the plastic-y ones, is best saved for a different discussion).

And then there is recycling. Of course, the optimal goal is to have as little trash or recycling as possible. I am in awe of those families whose yearly trash fills a shoebox. I am not there–or anywhere close–yet. Still, our trash goes out just once a month (in winter months–in summer we roll the bin down more frequently just so it doesn’t become more fragrant).

We do have more recycling than trash. Our bin is full every two weeks without fail. I like to think that that is because we make a concerted effort to recycle every single thing we can–and that’s partly it. The other part is that we still get too many paper newspapers (I can’t convince The Spoiler to go digital) and too much junk mail, sadly.

One Monday, I will talk about the many ways the garden is improved from that original Earth Day in the 70s!