It’s Over: Ending 19 Wonderful Years in the Nursery Business  by  Bob Hill

As anyone who has ever opened a small, home-grown retail nursery can tell you, the economic reality for such is straight out of the veteran horse gambler’s prayer: Lord, I hope I break even, I need the money. So it went as we opened our Hidden Hill Nursery & Sculpture Garden 19 years ago on a hopeful wing, happy ignorance and a prayer. History was not in my favor. My obligatory role as a newspaper columnist had always been to make cheerful fun of capitalists, not become one. Yet I had grown to love plants; a sweet addiction with no known cure – had I even been interested in one. I had eight acres of relatively open Southern Indiana land and an old barn, a modicum of plant knowledge and a yen for the nursery business. I had growing connections to the specialty wholesale nurseries and companies that catered to the needs of we the possessed; tiny exotic hostas, glorious blooming shrubs, weeping trees, stone owls and fountains from which water fell in rhythmic wonder. My plant enablers..
Read More

On the Dissing of “Ornamental Plants”  by  Susan Harris

Anyone else bothered by the term “ornamental” to distinguish certain plants from those that are considered useful, usually edibles? For example,Wikipedia uses this petunia to illustrate the term and offers this definition: Ornamental plants are plants that are grown for decorative purposes in gardens and landscape design projects, as houseplants, for cut flowers, and specimen display. The Wiki authors (and I’ve noticed, users of the term generally) make it clear that the plants are for aesthetics only: Commonly, ornamental [garden] plants are grown for the display of aesthetic features. In all cases, their purpose is for the enjoyment of gardeners, visitors, and the public institutions. If we hadn’t already gotten the point: (bold in the original) Ornamental plants are plants which are grown for display purposes, rather than functional ones. While some plants are both ornamental and functional, people usually use the term “ornamental plants” to refer to plants which have no value..
Read More

Thoughts on water, living with water, and storms  by  Elizabeth Licata

This is some stage of Arthur, off Topsail Island, NC, July 2014 We’re drawn to water and connected through water, especially gardeners. Most of the gardeners I know—not just in WNY but all over the US—spend half their growing seasons hoping for water in the form of rain. They have rain gauges and weather stations and use apps and websites to monitor annual rainfall in their areas. They have become amateur rain scientists. Gardeners try to save rain with rain barrels and to stop it from running out into storm gutters—as much as they can—through creating rain gardens and other plantings that capture water. We revel in water as humans, seeking out opportunities to swim, splash, and float. I’m often scheming about how I could get a small, good-looking pool installed, and I haven’t given up. I love beaches even more. For years, we have spent at least one summer week on the beautiful coast of North Carolina, a place very familiar to me from childhood summers spent there when my father was i..
Read More

The Iconoclastic Gardener – Breaking May’s Stranglehold  by  Scott Beuerlein

Way back in 1914, an awful calamity happened that would ruin gardening in America forever. With the seemingly benevolent stroke of his pen, Woodrow Wilson foisted the Tyranny of Mother’s Day upon us all. Soon after came the backhanded slap from the long arm of the law of unintended consequences. To be clear, I’m actually fairly okay with honoring moms. I’ve got one, and my wife even became one too. Willingly. What I don’t like, however, is that this holiday has established the second Sunday in May as the one and only epicenter of the entire Horticultural Universe. As if graven on stone tablets, it was apparently ordained that every homeowner in America must cram a year’s worth of yard work, and do all their garden shopping, within two or three days of that holiest of holy days. As you can imagine, because people inherently buy from garden centers things that are in flower, this has ensured that every last homeowner’s yard explodes into bloom right on Mother’s Day and sheepishly goes ..
Read More

“Invasive” Ground Covers and the Case for Allowing Periwinkle  by  Susan Harris

I have a beef with the inclusion of Periwinkle (Vinca minor) on my coop’s list of banned plants – banned because they’re considered invasive (despite NOT being listed on the Maryland Invasive Plant list). I’ve grown it in two suburbs of DC and in neither location (or the gardens of my neighbors) has it grown vigorously. If anything, my complaint, echoed by other area gardeners, is that it’s not vigorous enough. So let’s find out where it’s invasive and under what conditions, shall we? The Invasive Plant Atlas says it’s “invading natural areas throughout the Eastern U.S. It inhabits open to shady sites including forests and often escapes from old homesites.” The State of Indiana says: “Once established, Vinca minor forms a dense carpet to the exclusion of other plants. This creates a problem where it is competing with native flora.” Moving west, a California source says it “tends to become invasive in hot Mediterranean climates.” Indeed I finally found a spot where Periwinkle IS c..
Read More

This is why I don’t grow my own vegetables  by  Elizabeth Licata

Daniel Oles, Oles Family Farm (photo: Stephen Gabris) Normally, we try not to repeat recent topics, but I, too, have been thinking about small family farms, which Allen posted about yesterday. Like Allen, I am a frequent patron of farmers markets. I am also a CSA (community-supported agriculture) customer. I’ve chosen one of the best sustainable farms in the area, Oles Family Farm, which dropped off corn, tomatoes, peppers, kale, Napa cabbage, potatoes, onions, and yellow beans today. I expect an avalanche of beets and kohlrabi very soon, when the fall crops begin to arrive. Daniel and Jane Oles participated, along with three other area farms, in a recent roundtable discussion published in the magazine I edit (the discussion is not online yet). While the Oles are largely known for their vegetables, the other farmers specialize in dairy, fruit, and meat production. The outlook is not good, but nobody’s giving up—yet. Here are some of their statements: On labor: “In terms of labor, we’..
Read More

How Do We Raise More Farmers?  by  Allen Bush

I may have come across the future of American farming. Mind you, what I found was small-scale farming, but if farming and rural communities are to survive, it may come down to farm internships and incubators to nurture young farmers. When Rose and I were visiting family last month in Bellingham, WA, we went to the Saturday Farmer’s Market. In the midst of vendor stands full of veggie samosas, meat pies, cut flowers and produce, I found Cloud Mountain Farm. Business was booming. We bought plums, fat figs and little ‘Centennial’ crab apples. I asked a few questions, but there wasn’t much time. Annah Young and Aram Dagavarian were managing the farm stand. Annah is Cloud Mountain Farm’s Education Coordinator, and Aram is a farm intern. Bellingham Farmers Market A crowd was waiting behind us. We didn’t linger long. I was intrigued. I wanted to visit the farm and find out more. The next day Rose and I drove to Cloud Mountain Farm Center (CMFC) in Everson, WA. American farming and rural c..
Read More

Lots of Raves in my 53-Minute Podcast Interview  by  Susan Harris

Podcasts – they’re hot and they’re here to stay. So hot, I even got invited to be on one of them – the Organic Gardener Podcast, with host Jackie Beyer. (Here’s the episode I’m on.) Jackie interviews a nice variety of gardening people – some expert and some just opinionated, like me. I’ve enjoyed these episodes on topics and people I follow: Lee Reich on pruning and weeding, Mark Highland on soils, Judy Frankel on her quest to fix Washington (good luck!), Michael Judd on permaculture, Joe Lamp’l with inspiration for Earth Day, There’s even an episode about edible insect farming, and something called the Kentucky Hemp Project. Jackie’s a lot of fun to chat with, so I was less nervous than I feared. I also worried that I’d say something to get me in trouble and and waited anxiously to hear it online. Turns out, my only jab was about the bedding annuals in my town, the topic of a recent Rant. (So that bridge, if there is one, is already burned.) On the bright side, I had the chance t..
Read More

Eleanor Perenyi: an Appreciation and Reconsideration  by  GR Editor

Guest Post by Constance Casey Meeting Eleanor Perenyi in print was like having someone understand and appreciate my toil, and relieving me of guilt for failures. In gardening, anyway. A friend gave me her Green Thoughts back in the early 1990s (it was published in 1981) when I was a lowly apprentice to a Washington, D.C. garden designer with high standards and demanding clients. (“I want 100 white clematis going up the wall across from the pool, and I mean blue-white, not ivory.” or “The wedding is next week; we’d like an arbor of pink roses.”) The giver, not a gardener, loved the Andrew Marvell lines that gave Perenyi her apt title. Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade. Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden consists of 72 essays, arranged alphabetically – asters and annuals through perennials to weeds and women. (A loose arrangement, no awkward stretch to pull in an X or a Z.) Her alphabet closes with a bang – “Woman’s Place”, in which Perenyi digs ..
Read More

A Toast to GMO crops!  by  Carol Reese

Some bacteria have developed resistance so let’s ban all antibiotics. Electricity kills and injures people directly by electric shock, and indirectly, by black lung disease. Cars kill people, and are not “natural”. Big orange pumpkins do not occur in the wild, so they are to be avoided. Don’t take that ibuprofen! It and similar NSAIDS kill about 16,500 people annually and send over 100,000 to the hospital, if not taken as directed. Of course, most of us flip on the lights to read the instructions before dispensing antibiotics to a sick loved one, and grab some ibuprofen to ease the muscle pain caused by unloading the large pumpkin from the car. We do these kinds of things every day, with caution, but without fear. What’s my point? We weigh the good points against the bad, and make decisions that give the most benefit in spite of risks. We choose to accept the risks of driving a car and minimize them as best we can by safe driving. We have managed to minimize risk further with better ..
Read More