The Case Against Earthworms by Thomas Christopher

When I dug in my Berkshire garden this summer I found a host of earthworms. That, it turns out, is bad. I was raised to regard earthworms as the gardener’s best friend. It’s true, these benevolent creatures (or so I regarded them then) aerate the soil with their tunnels and eat organic litter from the surface of the soil, carrying it back underground to excrete it as “castings” that are full of nutrients for plant roots. My mother, a devoted gardener and my first horticultural instructor, always impressed on me the beneficial role that earthworms play in the garden. Later, when I had graduated college and was studying horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, my favorable view of these creatures was reinforced by a book written by no less an authority than Charles Darwin: The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits. In this book, Darwin cited calculations that the population of earthworms in the average garden numbered some 53,..
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Landscape Architect Wins MacArthur Genius Award by Susan Harris

Nice news this week via Brad McKee, editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine, who writes: Kate Orff, ASLA, became the first landscape architect to receive a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, which carries a $625,000 award over five years for “originality, insight, and potential.” Orff was among 24 fellows named by the foundation today, who also included artists, activists, scientists, and historians. Brad notes in passing that six (!) architects have won the coveted “genius” fellowship. This first-time inclusion of a landscape professional reminds me of a similar trend at the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the body that reviews important projects here in D.C. The seven Commissioners there now include three landscape architects – the most ever by two – and they’re all women. I reported the milestone in this post. But back to Kate Orff: Her description of the design firm she founded resonates with me especially: “We’re science-driven, research-driven, and activist in our approach.” ..
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Ask Your Budtender First by Allen Bush

All photos via Shutterstock I went to a legal pot dispensary in Denver this summer. Marijuana, you’ve no doubt heard, is a hot commodity in Colorado. The dispensary reminded me of the Long Branch Saloon on the long-playing television series Gunsmoke (1955-1975). Miss Kitty traded gossip in the saloon with U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon and Doc Adams but kept a close eye on the brothel upstairs. The skunky aroma of marijuana distinguished the pot dispensary from the Long Branch Saloon. No stench of stale cigars or whiskey in the pot dispensary. Though the Gunsmoke cowboys packed six-shooters, no one was caught dead huffing a one-hitter in the Long Branch Saloon—or in the pot dispensary, for that matter. In Denver, a nice hostess took my driver’s license and told me to wait downstairs. Someone upstairs would come for me in a few minutes, she said. I sat waiting with a half-dozen men and women— a melting pot of ages, colors and piercings—staring warily at one another. Were they thinking th..
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Closing edicts by Elizabeth Licata

This provided a long-lasting accent in a dull area. Lessons learned from the 2017 gardening season (so far): Never again: Morning glory (convolvulus): The central mission of this (gorgeous) blue cultivar seemed to be to envelope every plant within its reach, while making sure to release as few flowers as possible in the process. The blooms, when they arrived, were too few and far between to overcome my disgust with the plant, which by then had enveloped most of a rose bush. I should have known when it was advertised as a “lovely ground cover for difficult areas.” I suppose many of you will think I should have known, period. Black-eyed Susan vine (thunbergia): The orange cultivar I had was a star performer in trials, but, again, total domination without flowers was the motto. It got plenty of sun, too. I think I counted 2 flowers as of yesterday. And it’s a real pain to unwind from its host plants. (I like to encourage climbers to grow amid roses and other shrubby plants, but not wi..
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The Gardens (and More) of Asbury Park, NJ by Susan Harris

Goldenrods and Boneset (I think) blooming in Asbury Park this week When I go to the beach it’s in the spring or fall, and even in glorious weather like we’re enjoying this week, I don’t really lie on the beach. As a plantaholic, I gravitate toward nearby gardens and plant-filled natural areas instead. There the blogger in me takes over, so I snap photos and later post my favorite scenes here. (See North Beach, MD or Rehoboth Beach, DE.) I’ve walked and cycled Maryland and Delaware beach towns so many times over the decades, it was a thrill this week to discover a beach I’d heard about (from Bruce Springsteen) but never visited. I’d read that Asbury Park had gone to the dogs but that lately, it’s returning to its glory days. So finally, people are fixing up the funky old homes, and some of them are even gardening. Like these I noticed in or near Asbury Park. I won’t show you the typical homes I saw, with their sad patches of turfgrass and nothing else. Hey, maybe the owners will no..
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More on Hard Cider by Thomas Christopher

In my last post I wrote about hunting for the apples with which I make hard cider. Having done that – I’ve located two trees full of what appear to be ‘Golden Russet’ apples — I thought I would add a few notes about turning the fresh, sweet cider I’ll press from that fruit into the fermented, alcoholic product: hard cider. The best introduction to this process is a book that Annie Proulx co-authored early in her career, long before she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Shipping News. Cider is the succinct title of this early effort, which Proulx wrote in partnership with cider-maker Lew Nichols. Together, they introduce the reader to every detail of cider-making, from selecting the fruit, to bottling the finished product. One detail this book does neglect is the fine points of selecting an appropriate yeast. This is a point of some contention. Some cider makers just go with the yeasts that naturally occur on the apples. This is, no doubt, how hard cider making began millennia ago,..
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I Found my Bird Feeder Bliss by Susan Harris

For decades in a former garden, my bird-watching consisted of standing on my deck and pointing the trusty binocs at the bird houses in the wooded valley below. I can’t you what birds actually filled them – I’m that bad at bird recognition – but anyway, my favorites were the flying squirrels that lived in the triple-story house shown here. I would have added some bird feeders to create a closer-up venue for avian entertainment, but my lot was hilly and there was no spot for them that I could see from inside. What a mess! Then five years ago, after moving to an on-grade lot, I jumped at the chance to feed and then watch all day if it moved me. In my tiny front yard I hung a couple of feeders, added a bird bath and boy, did the flocks ever arrive. Bird meet-ups ensued. My neighbors objected to the feeders because the flocks’ favorite meet-up spot was apparently on branches overhanging their cars, so bird poop on them was inevitable. Another problem was the mess that the feeders creat..
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Solidago solidarity by Elizabeth Licata

Goldenrod and another wildflower by North/South Lakes in the Catskills A recent post from my good friend, gardener and blogger, Gail Eichelberger, poses the question, “What’s wrong with goldenrod?” She then swiftly answers, “Nothing!” I couldn’t agree more. Here is one of my favorite, if not THE favorite, late season plants. I rejoice when it spreads to cover entire neglected lots. I love how it pops up in inhospitable back alleys and inbetween houses. I also adore seeing it where it is welcomed: in state and national parks, along trails and around lakes and ponds. I rarely see it cultivated in gardens, and that’s too bad. There are a couple reasons for that, as Gail points out. First people think it causes hayfever/allergic reactions. It doesn’t; that’s ragweed, which is out at the same time. Here is another lovely stand of it in Buffalo, along Lake Erie. Second, it is undoubtedly aggressive. I have the same philosophy as Gail on this; she notes, “I have a love affair with rough ..
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Dennis the Menace by Allen Bush

Louisville’s Olmsted Parks Conservancy photo. I drove to Cherokee Park’s Big Rock Pavilion, adjacent to Beargrass Creek, on Friday afternoon, anticipating a profusion of white bonesets, blue dayflowers and lingering yellow wingstems. I wasn’t disappointed. But there was more. A hundred yards downstream, I could make out rock sculptures—dozens of them. They looked, from a distance, like cairns—unmortared rock piles. I wandered down a slippery slope toward Big Rock. A modest, young man explained what he was doing. “Piling up rocks,” he said. His stacks were fascinating, but I wondered if he realized the next heavy rainstorm was going to knock all of his work back to the Silurian streambed, if kids or the park authorities didn’t topple them first. He wasn’t concerned. His palette of creek and fieldstones was laid down 435 million years ago, so why should he be worried what might happen over the weekend or the next millennium? The young man introduced himself as Dennis (“like the Men..
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The Clarion Call of Brugmansia by Bob Hill

October is peeking its nose up over the horizon now, shortening the days, painting the landscape, dredging up reluctant thoughts of the leaf blower and raggedy sweaters. And yet it’s been 90 degrees here in Southern Indiana, even as the rest of the world deals with snow, torrential rains, earthquakes, forest fires, a toilet in Switzerland stuffed with 500-Euro bills and the threat of nuclear extinction. But I am happy to report there is no frost yet on our pumpkin, and, as a result, our brugmansia is hanging out a full flush of huge, pale-orange-yellow flowers for the fourth or fifth glorious time this year. A brassy section of Angels Trumpets about eight feet tall and five feet wide. Yes, at a time when the gardener’s mind usually runs to mums, asters, beautyberry, winterberry and next year, the most noticeable thing in our yard is a zone 9-11 tropical with dangling fragrant flowers, the living personification of a cavalry charge. Right here in zone 5-6 Indiana. Up until this yea..
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