A Question For The Gardeners Out There

In the past, I’ve dabbled with gardening.  I particularly enjoyed planting flowers at our old suburban home and watching them bloom and grow and flourish.  I liked getting my hands dirty and seeing the product of my manual labor, and I even accepted weeding and watering our small flower beds as a useful weekend activity.

img_0090But all of my experience with flowers is Ohio-centric, from having a sense about the kind of flowers that seem to do well here, like the zinnias I planted at our old house, right down to following Mom’s admonition that you shouldn’t plant flowers until after Mothers’ Day.  I’m guessing that a different rule of thumb would apply in a different climate, like Maine, where the weather might not really warm up until well into June.  Drawing exclusively upon midwestern Ohio experiences and trying to apply them to a rocky northern coastal area that is constantly exposed to salty air and experiences periodic nor’easter storms seems ill-advised.

So, a question for the expert gardeners out there:  if you want to learn about gardening practices in Maine, or any other new location, where should you go?  Is there an authoritative guidebook or website that provides information by region and can get into detail about the basics, like the native plant life, the safe time to plant flowers and which ones are most likely to thrive given the climate and soil conditions, whether planting seeds or seedlings is the best course, and whether particular kinds of grasses or shrubs are more prone to succeed or fail than others?  Can you trust the folks at the local hardware store or gardening shop to only offer plants that have reasonable prospects for success given the local conditions, or is that approach doomed to failure?

I feel like a newbie here, and I’m not sure that doing random internet searches and trusting to the Google Gods is the best way to go about gathering information.


Gardening As A Gateway

Russell’s friend Emily Staugaitis is one of those people who seems to be a kind of natural difference-maker.  Where other people see challenges she can identify opportunities, and she’s not afraid to tackle a big project — like trying to set up an urban apple orchard in a depressed part of the Detroit area.

https3a2f2fcdn-evbuc-com2fimages2f223578392f1807581212702f12foriginalOne of Emily’s projects is Bandhu Gardens.  It’s a collective effort that uses gardening to help Bangladeshi immigrants in the Detroit area use the green thumbs they developed while growing up in south Asia to connect with each other, and with local restaurants that are interested in fresh, locally grown foods.  It’s also a way for Bangladeshi women to make some extra money, achieve more autonomy in their households, and get a taste of the business world in our capitalistic society.

Last year, the Bandhu Gardens group collectively sold 120 pounds of greens, beans and peppers and 25 pounds of squash to restaurant accounts.  They’ve also hosted “pop-up” dinners, including some at local restaurants owned or operated by women, have begun to offer cooking classes, and this year will be selling their produce at a large public farmers market in Detroit.

It’s a classic American immigrant story, of how people come to our country and begin to make their way forward, drawing on their traditional experiences and know-how and applying them to realize opportunities in their new home.  Sometimes, though, it helps to have someone who can help to point out the openings and make the potential opportunities into realities.  Congratulations to Emily for helping to serving in that important role for some of the new arrivals to our land of immigrants!

Cactus Fail

IMG_5006What happens when you introduce a desert climate plant, like a cactus, to a climate like Columbus, where you are going to get cold, wet winters?

Apparently, this.  It’s an ugly, withered, collapse of a once-proud plant.

All of which reminds me — I’m looking forward to doing some gardening this year, with a new yard, new flower beds, and new challenges.

The Monster Zinnias Of Cavendish Court

This year I planted multiple varieties of zinnias in our back beds.  One was called “State Fair Zinnias.”  Who could resist “State Fair Zinnias”?  But who would believe that State Fair Zinnias would turn out to be monstrously sized mutants that tower over our other flowers and sport enormous, block out the sun leaves and huge blooms?  These awesome beasts of the flower bed can easily exceed two feet in height before I trim them back.

I expected decent growth when I used potting soil with Scott’s Miracle-Gro in planting these flowers, but I never expected this.

The Tree That Wouldn’t Die

We  used to have two pear trees in the middle of the arced flower beds around our patio.  They were the same kind of trees, planted at the same time.  Some years ago one of them was taken down by a storm.  Two years ago the other one began to split in two and had to be chopped down, leaving us with no shade and two stumps in our flower bed where we now perch flower pots.

The first tree that fell just died.  It left a stump and roots behind, but they promptly began to rot away and now break apart easily into spongy shards when nicked by a shovel.  The other tree, however, refuses to give up the ghost.  Two years later, it still clings to life as best it can, sending up dozens of leafy shoots from its rock hard roots.  The shoots grow up among the flowers and through the shrubs framing the rear of the flower bed, and because they are harming the shrubs and interfering with the flowers, I snip them all off at ground level — and then, a month or two later, I do the same thing over again.

As this process has repeated itself I’ve developed a grudging respect for this feisty tree that refuses to accept its unfortunate fate.  Now I feel somewhat guilty when I take out my clipper and cut down the shoots.  I guess some trees, like some people, are just more stubborn than others.

The Flowers, Nestled All Snug In Their Beds

Another weekend chore checked off!  I’ve finished with the flower beds.

This year, I’ve decided to stick with the zinnias, which were great last year.  I’ve gone with orange, yellow, and two unknown color types:  state fair mix and Magellan mix.  To give the beds even more color, I’ve lined the rear of the beds with Victoria Blue Salvia Farinacea.  The planters have pink and white geraniums, with some of the other flowers mixed in at random.

I’ve got dirt under my fingernails, I’ve torn loose the same patch of skin on the palm of my hand that always gets torn loose because the heel of the hand shovel rubs against it as I dig — and I forgot, as always, to wear a garden glove — and I am a happy camper.  I always try to plant as soon after Mother’s Day as I can.

A Yard Work Saturday

We’ve reached the point in the summer where all of the fruits of your spring yard work have begun to, well, rot.  Those loathsome weeds have once again invaded your flower beds.  Your shrubs have sprouted stray shoots that make them look as unkempt as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Your brickwork looks more like weedwork.

Today I decided to tackle those problems.  It was a brilliantly sunny, hot summer day.  I began by trimming the shrubs and the fast-growing bushes that the neighbors planted to screen their house from ours.  Those plants grow at a ridiculous rate and have virtually made it impossible to grow anything in our side yard, so I cut them back.  It felt good to use the clipper and, after some liberal pruning, to see the sunshine once again reaching our hostas.  Then it was on to weeding and watering the beds — nothing like reliving a bit of your childhood and drinking cold water straight from the hose on a hot day! — and finally to the brickwork on the patio and the front walkway.

Some people would hate to waste a beautiful summer day on yard work, but I find it immensely satisfying.  For those of us whose jobs often do not involve clear cut success or immediate congratulations on a job well done, yard work allows you to have a sense of prompt accomplishment.  You begin with a weedy, somewhat overgrown yard and you end with neat, tidy grounds, well manicured flower beds, dirt-stained hands, and a budding farmer’s tan.  After a yard work Saturday, a cold beer sure tastes good.