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.

Planting Day At Webner House

Yesterday the weather was beautiful in Columbus.  Conditions were perfect for planting flowers in the beds around our patio, and I was itching to buy a few flats and get some dirt under my fingernails.

I went to the new garden store in the neighborhood and purchased four flats — red Salvia, orange Marigold, yellow Zinnia, and “ice cream banana” Celosia.  I wanted to try to  create a kind of color and size pattern.  I would plant the taller, fireapple red Salvia at the rear of the beds against our shrubbery, and then add rows of the progressively lighter and shorter Marigolds, then Zinnias, and finally Celosias. As the same time, I would create pots for the front front steps and backyard.

It felt great to get out the garden shovel and potting soil and to kneel down and put my hands in the warm earth.  It was a hot day, and soon my glasses and shirt were streaked with sweat.  But the sun felt good on my back, and I quickly achieved a kind of zen-like gardening state.  Shovel out a small hole, drop in some potting soil, carefully remove the plant and its square of soil from the tray in the flat, put them in the ground, and fill in the rest of the hole. Do it repetitively, one after the other, without thinking too much about it.

I worked steadily and before I knew it, I was done.  My back ached, my hands were filthy, and I got blisters and lost patches of skin in the expected places on my palms, but I felt an immense sense of accomplishment.  Shortly after I finished, a helpful thunderstorm rolled in and gave the new flowerbeds their first watering, and I watered them again this morning, enjoying the neat rows of flowers and the rich colors.

Gardening, like other household chores, offers immediate rewards for those who are willing to contribute the sweat equity.  You start with a bag of soil and some flats of flowers, and you end with flowerbeds that, in my humble opinion, look pretty darned good.