In June, the Living Landscapes committee of the Green Team completed a native garden project at the Chester County Art Association. The CCAA is located at 100 North Bradford Ave. in West Chester, PA. See map of the location of the site below:
The two garden plots are on the north-facing side of the building and by the parking lot. Additionally, the committee renovated the two large planters on the CCAA’s back patio by replacing the soil and planting edible herbs and native plants and put in a mix of native and hybrid plants in the garden beds. Some of the native perennials added to the garden beds included: Solidago “Fireworks,” Eupatorium dubium “Baby Joe,” and Tiarella cordifolia. The plants included in the plots are diagrammed below (drawing by Julie Morse).
These plants should bring beautiful textures and colors all year long and attract a wide variety of pollinators to the area, as well as fend off local deer that might be tempted to eat the new plants.
The project was completed over several weeks with the volunteer help of Laurie Moran (CCAA), Julie Morse, Megan Schraedley, Courtney Finneran, Eric Schraedley, Jacqueline Alnes, Gus Shrevelius, Chris Pugliese, Craig Mikus, Sara Getz, and Mary Manning. Special thanks to Julie Morse for leading the committee by coordinating donations from local nurseries and providing incredible expertise in landscape design for the site.
Donations of plants and reduced cost for plants contributed by Manor View Farm, North Creek Nurseries, Sam Brown’s Nursery, Organic Mechanics, and Aronimink Golf Club for helping us with plant material for our work in planting pollinator-friendly gardens at the Chester County Art Association.
Challenges/Triumphs: This project experienced several challenges including first, figuring out how to source plants economically and efficiently. For example, we received generous donations from nurseries that were geographically far from the planting site, complicating our carbon footprint in creating the garden. Second, the site itself is located in significant shade throughout the day, and therefore we had to be thoughtful about what plants would thrive in this location. Third, we had difficulty figuring out how to water the plants once installed; the site did not have an easily accessible outdoor water spigot and therefore, we’d recommend always talking with your partner about how they will practically care for (weed, water, fertilize) the garden once installed.
We had success in sourcing mostly native plants which will thrive in the climate and conditions of the site. Additionally, our partners (CCAA and board members) were very open-minded about the site plans and plants we suggested – this is not always the case and we felt incredibly lucky to work with such flexible and passionate partners. Finally, we installed the garden in only one day instead of over the course of two or three days thanks to the high number of motivated volunteers who joined us for the planting. We recommend sharing information about planting events early and often with potential volunteers!
The Heart of Uwchlan project comprises three gardens in Baird Park, the campus location of the Uwchlan Township offices. The campus is a historic farm site with ponds and a park. The gardens include a Milkweed garden designated as a “Save the Monarchs” Monarch Habitat garden along the meeting room wall; a riparian Streamside Garden on the stream below the lower pond; and a Wetland Garden at the end of the parking lot. The gardens are enrolled on Douglas Tallamy’s Homegrown National Park. In addition, a Nature Learning Trail was marked out through the park with education stations using the flora and fauna. A Handbook is available.
The Uwchlan Township campus Baird Park is located at 715 N Ship Road in Exton. It is just off the interstion of Ship Road with Route 100 in Exton. Coming north on Route 100 from West Chester, turn right at Swedesford Road. Take right into the Uwchlan Township campus.
The Milkweed Garden and Streamside Garden are in their third year of growth. This is the second summer for the Wetland Garden. The Heart of Uwchlan Project arose out of Toni Gorkin’s Pennsylvania Master Naturalist education; it was approved by the Uwchlan Township Environmental Advisory Council and has the support of the Uwchlan Township Board of Supervisors. The Heart of Uwchlan team has been small, about six volunteers, due to COVID, but its members include two Master Watershed Stewards and now another PA Master Naturalist. Hours are logged to the PA Master Naturalist and Master Watershed databases. The sites of the gardens were chosen in consultation with the leadership of the Township’s parks and grounds maintenance and the Township Manager.
The goals of the Heart of Uwchlan Project are to: • Introduce native plants and enhance the biodiversity of Baird Park • Support SustainableUwchlan goals and EAC initiatives • Provide education for the public of sustainable gardening practices through examples
The Uwchlan EAC has conducted education, including webinars, events such as “Monsters, Masks and Milkweeds,” and demonstrations of winter seed sowing in plastic jugs. There are plant list handouts available also on the Uwchlan Township website, with special pages for Heart of Uwchlan. (See below.)
The practices employed in developing the gardens include “lasagna gardening” (applying cardboard, leaves and mulch through winter) to prepare weed-free sites, live-staking with suitable cuttings at the Streamside and Wetland Gardens, and winter seed sowing. Last winter over 60 plastic jugs of native plant seeds were sown to undergo winter stratification. Hundreds of plants were used to fill out the gardens and made available to the public. The Heart of Uwchlan team has harvested seeds from the garden and made them available to interested gardeners.
The Milkweed Garden has thrived and hosted monarch caterpillars as well as many pollinators. Its location along the side of the meeting room has made it a successful point of interest for the public attending meetings and using the park. Initially it was just milkweeds, but other native perennials have been added to support adult butterflies and pollinators with nectar and to enhance the color of the site. Swamp milkweed, common milkweed, and butterfly weed have done very well there.
Educational signage highlights the Streamside Garden. It is in its third summer. It survived Hurricane Ida well, including some of its live-staked elderberry plants. Plants include swamp milkweed, blue vervain, red and black chokeberry, alder, boneset, asters, cupflower, and other perennials. Plans are to expand it somewhat, especially with live-staking, and continue to explore options for it. It is hard to allow the banks of the stream to just grow, as that conflicts somewhat with the clean, park-like environment, but we are doing education to help enhance the bank’s natural growth to support the macroinvertebrates in the stream.
Another challenge is keeping algae at bay which washes down from the pond above the stream. Like many ponds and streams in our area, these are man-made. Nevertheless, the garden provides an example to citizens who may have a stream in their property to try something that “looks a little messy” compared to what they may be accustomed to, for the health of the stream and prevention of erosion.
The Wetland Garden
The Wetland Garden has demonstrated very well “right plant in the right place” in an area that was too wet to be mowed. It not only reduced the lawn area, it allowed some native plants (ironweed, sedges) to regenerate naturally in addition to the ones planted. The plants selected were specifically adapted to wet areas, such as swamp milkweed, swamp goldenrod and phlox, obedience plant, native iris, river oats, boneset and blue vervain. The plantings have dried up the garden somewhat, demonstrating to our citizens how they might manage the wet areas they are experiencing more with recent wet years and large storms.
A grove of trees was planted to develop into an understory, including redbuds, river birches, a swamp oak, and buttonbush. At the center of the garden is a sweet bay magnolia to provide an accent point. Plans are to continue to incorporate the garden into and enhance the surrounding area. A new educational sign was erected at the Wetland Garden to recognize support of grants from the Gorkin family and the Harriet Jarosh Environmental Education Fund. The garden is typically abuzz with pollinators, even into the fall.
In addition to its own gardens, Heart of Uwchlan began collaborating with Rhondda community volunteers in 2021. The Rhondda HOA / community is just across Ship Road from the Uwchlan Township park and consists of over 600 homes. A new Rhondda Pollinator Garden was planted this summer. The garden is at risk due to plans to hydro-rake a pond that is a stormwater basin to remove excess sediment. The hope is that the debris can form the basis of a meadow. Rhondda volunteers are also supporting Heart of Uwchlan. The hope is to extend a green corridor in the region.
Our Heart of Uwchlan team has met recently to look at the future, having met the goals of establishing the three gardens. In addition to maintaining the gardens, we plan to continue education and outreach to the public and to support SustainableUwchlan initiatives. We hope to support other parks and areas in Uwchlan Township, for example, refurbished stormwater basins, with native plants. We also hope to expand consciousness of the value of trees and look at opportunities for tree planting to restore the many trees being lost to disease in our area.
We also plan to enjoy increasing collaboration with other EACs and other Pollinator Garden projects in the County through groups like the Northern Chester County EACs and other organizations like the Green Team. And to grow the membership of public and personal gardens in the Homegrown National Park.
Bondsville Mill Park is a unique East Brandywine Township park on the grounds of Bondsville Mill Village dating back to the early 1800’s. The park is open from dawn to dusk daily for passive recreation including a trail network. Some of the Mill property remains are being restored to reflect on the history. The gardens have been inspired by Doug Tallamy’s Homegrown National Park Program and as such, the focus of the expanding gardens has been to remove invasives, plant natives, use Keystone Plants where possible, ensure use of host plants, pollinator plants and habitats, and to use the gardens and programs to educate our neighbors and local communities so they will be inspired to start native habitats on their properties. We have hosted active programs that cover topics such as a milkweed workshop, meet the trees, natives, butterflies, habitats including live stream insects, endangered species day, animals in winter and annual backyard bird count, among others. Our aim is to study, restore and preserve the natural habitat and to provide support and information that will inspire our neighbors to respect and care for nature in their backyards.
Map and Directions
1647 Bondsville Road, Downingtown PA 19335
From West Chester Route 100 North, take US 30 West to PA-340 W/Bondsville Rd, take the PA-340 exit and bear right at the end of the ramp to travel on Bondsville Rd/PA State Rd 4015 for 1.4 miles. The park will be on your right.
History of how this garden was created: timing, designers, sponsors, workers
When the first garden area next to the parking lot was being cleared of bittersweet, Norway Maples and other invasives, we were rewarded with milkweed hiding under the bramble. So, the Butterfly garden was started in 2017.
Next were the Parking lot garden and Bridge garden—all created with native plants from a neighbor’s gardens, including shrubs. With the creation of these gardens, passers-by could see that something was being done on a Mill building. Up until then, the only line of sight was across the bridge. Visitors began arriving; so we cleared space to let them walk to the creek. This was so popular that we decided to clear the area from the Memorial to the creek for a picnic area. The Hummingbird garden was added when we were given Cardinalis plants. That summer, a hummer was seen in the garden on a regular basis. These areas are now identified as the Memorial Garden and the Creekside garden.
These successes prompted the development of the Pollinator garden in 2019 and the Milkweed garden in 2020 (the first 3 gardens were volunteer-designed). Then the Racewalk garden designed by David Culp was started in 2020. The new Culp‘s Clearinggarden, a nearly one acre David Culp designed project in front of the Mill buildings started in 2020 and is continuing with infrastructure work. The new Bruce Rawlings designed Amphitheater gardens were cleared and planted in 2022. The amphitheater and the Culp’s Clearing will be handicap-accessible when completed.
The gardens are managed by volunteers with occasional additional assistance from community support including Restore Our Roots, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, Downingtown area high school students and community neighbors.
The Chester County Beekeepers and Hardy Plant Society provided grant money for the Racewalk plants.
Culp’s Clearing garden is the result of grant support from county and state.
Amphitheater and Culp’s Clearing diagrams below; plant list is appended at the end of the document
Problems: Weeds! Deer, groundhogs, non-native praying mantis. Hurricane Ida flooding caused damage to the butterfly garden, the parking lot, some trail bridges and required shoring up the south vehicle bridge which caused significant delays in the Culp’s Clearing garden progress.
Triumphs: We’ve attracted more volunteer gardeners with a diverse set of skills, and we have a great community response when we request additional help on our big work days. We’re very thankful for grants we have received to date including Hardy Plant Society, Beekeepers, state and county. The Beekeepers are creating a bee classroom on the site and have donated a native bee hotel.
Future plans for Bondsville Mill Park
We are waiting on news regarding two grants that will provide funding for benches in Culp’s Clearing garden and additional plants for the Amphitheater.
Once the floor of the amphitheater is complete, we will be placing benches and we anticipate the space will be used by both the Bondsville Mill Park volunteers and the public for programs and education. We anticipate the David Culp designed garden area being prepared in front of the buildings to be completed in 2023. David has already introduced the leadership from many Philadelphia gardens to what’s being done at the Mill. We expect that David’s meadow design for Culp’s Clearing will be on many future garden tours. David hopes to have the bus tours that have visited his nearby garden to end at the Mill. With the planned parking lot with spaces for 60+ cars and bus drop-off spots we’ll be able to begin a regular schedule of nature, gardening, fitness programs,and to be handicap accessible.
Because what’s good for pollinators is good for people!
The West Vincent Pollinator Pitstop Program was designed by the West Vincent Environmental Advisory Council to blanket our township in native flowers. The goals are to 1) provide residents with free and low-cost native plants that benefit our pollinators and birds and beautify our world and 2) to raise awareness of loss of biodiversity, risks of pesticides, the negative outcomes of our lawn monoculture, ways to keep your leaves on your property, protecting plants from deer, and the physical and mental health benefits of being in and connecting with nature and our neighbors.
The project began in the fall of 2021 with the preparation of our first demonstration Pitstop Garden in Evans Park, the park in which our township building sits. Our aspiration is to plant and maintain Pitstop gardens in each of our WV parks. In early November, 2021, we held a demonstration of the easy way to convert lawn to garden – the lasagna method. We collected Amazon boxes and bagged leaves and rocks, laid out the 12’ x 4’ garden, and placed a small temporary fence around it to hold in the leaves. We then put down the cardboard, placed rocks on top to hold it down, and put about 2’ of leaves on top. We left it to sit for the winter, with a Pollinator Pitstop Hatching sign in front.
The project continued in January. The EAC held a free butterfly milkweed seed giveaway on a very cold Saturday in January. We gave out plastic milk jugs to anyone who didn’t have one, and we handed out written instructions, which were on our webpage with an instructional video. There was a line of cars through the township parking lot, with dozens of people cold-sowing native plants for the first time!
Next, in March, the Girl Scouts planted 650 butterfly milkweed plants, which were raised inside under ideal (for milkweed) conditions so that they would bloom the first year. These plants were given away at our Community Day in mid-May, where we also held a partridge-pea seed ball activity for the kids. EAC members wore butterfly wings – we felt really goofy, but it ended up creating great energy and being a real conversation starter! We had enough plants for our township gardener to plant them throughout our park and our Community Garden space.
At the end of May, after the soil had warmed up, we finally planted the Pitstop Demonstration Garden. Several families had purchased the full complement of Pitstop Garden plants through the Ludwigs Corner Horse Show Assoc., so they followed along and planted a similar garden at home. Our lasagna method had worked perfectly! The grass had died, the cardboard was completely gone, and there were just enough leaves left to serve as a pretty mulch. The 4’ x 12’ design had been selected to be easy to reach into from the front to weed. The planting was quick and easy, as the soil under the “lasagna” was light and easy to dig in. The final step of the garden preparation was to lay down flat stones, with landscape fabric underneath, so it would be easy for the lawn crew to mow around it.
Many people showed up for the planting – some of them first time gardeners! So far, we have 179 households participating in this program. We are all gardening together and learning together. Some of our goals for next year are to add spring and fall nectar sources, trees, and shrubs, and to demonstrate plants with deep roots for stormwater maintenance.
At the end of the 2022 school year, the West Vincent Elementary School hosted an environmental day based around our Pitstop program. Regular classes were suspended for the day, and the children participated in educational sessions mixed with hands-on learning, centered around the Monarch butterfly theme. Each child participated in seed planting, making seed balls, and creating a drawing of their version of “What Makes a Butterfly”, (sun, rain, soil, children with watering cans, etc., etc.), and the resulting 650 six-inch square drawings were woven into a paper quilt, which will hang in the school lobby.
Our community has been enriched by this program.
Our Pollinator Pitstop Demonstration Garden is located in Evans Park, just to the right of the parking lot on Rt. 401, between St. Matthews Rd. and Fellowship Rd., Chester Springs, PA.
In May 2022, the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID) spearheaded a landscape project in partnership with the West Chester Green Team, to enhance the natural beauty of the Borough’s downtown business district. Behind the Chestnut Street Parking Garage along Prescott Alley is a beautiful new garden that focuses on the ecological benefits of native plants. This garden offers pedestrians a warm welcome to West Chester, habitat for our pollinators and a passive educational opportunity to those who pass by every day.
Designed by local resident and landscape architect Chris Pugliese and built with the help of over 20 volunteers, the 1,700 square foot garden was funded by the West Chester BID and planted with over 400 perennials, 10 trees and dozens of shrubs. One outcome of the planting plan was the creation of an almost instant “settled-in” garden, achieved by grouping species in swaths along the linear planting area, and using larger perennials in 1-gallon containers sourced from local nurseries including Clearview Nursery out of Souderton and North Creek Nurseries in Oxford PA. Even though the garden is considered young (it’s still under one year old!), it looks like it was planted several seasons ago. Integrated into the design is a gravel walking path with a bamboo edging fence, allowing for the community to engage and view the garden up close.
A major goal for the garden was to become certified by Penn State University as a “Pennsylvania Pollinator Friendly Garden.” Requirements for this certification include 1) provide food for pollinators; 2) provide water sources for pollinators; 3) provide shelter including a bee box; 4) remove invasive species; and 5) eliminate pesticide use. Certification is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.
This is the first of many projects planned by the BID to help its members revitalize and green their alleyway properties. We invite you to come close and enjoy the garden through all your senses and take some time to enjoy this bit of habitat in the downtown.
The Chestnut Street Garage is in the middle of the above map from the BID, at the SW corner of E. Chestnut and N. Walnut. The garden lies along the southern edge of the garage, on Prescott Alley.
Photos, preliminary plan and plant list thanks to Chris Pugliese.
One week after Earth Day, seven women from Dr. Kanan Sawyer’s Event Planning class at West Chester University hosted a celebration for the West Chester Green Team. The event boasted bright green decorations, fun activities, and inviting event hosts. Attendees made their way around Sykes Patio to the different stations.
The first station was the plant pot decorating, where all were welcome to take home their own pot and seedling. Next, the attendees played a couple of rounds of sustainability trivia. After that, guests dug into some delicious Earth Day themed cupcakes.
Finally, the last station hosted a wall that attendees plastered with sticky notes that explained their ways of staying sustainable!
While the event lasted from just 10:00 – 11:00 am, it did an incredible job of raising awareness of sustainability practices and the West Chester Green Team to many West Chester students and residents alike.
Thank you Dr. Kanan Sawyer and your students for this exceptional event!
Last weekend a group of Hillsdale parents, students and community members erected eight garden beds on the backside of the elementary school’s property. Once the build and mulching is complete, the beds will be filled with plants provided by the Chester County Food Bank. Students across all classrooms will take part in a school wide planting day on Earth Day, April 22. The gardens will be tended by Hillsdale families over the summer and students will then get a chance to help harvest the bounty when they return in the fall. The majority of which will be taken to the Chester County Food Bank for distribution into the community. The remainder will be used for teaching purposes (and probably some light snacking).
The mulching phase of the project is planned for Saturday. If you find yourself with some free time this weekend, volunteers are still needed. Sign up here.
The West Chester Green Team is again matching up residents who would like free garden space with community garden plots that we have located for summer 2022. Our garden plots are usually 4 X 4 or 4 X 8 feet (we might be able to help), tools, and your time. To the left: beds at the Barclay before planting, 3/17/22.
We particularly want to help area residents who wish to grow some healthy food, for themselves or to donate, but who lack space of their own. Children are very welcome to join family members in the garden areas, and we also are planning a regular program of readings and events to introduce kids to the environment.
The West Chester Green Team believes that gardening and growing food offer us all good ways to get in touch with the natural world, give us a feeling of acting for the good, and are educational to all concerned.
If you are interested, please act expeditiously, as some early crops can be sown as early as March, and we will assign beds as soon as we have a good match with interested people.
To apply, please email here with this information:
• Your name and names of others in the family who would be gardening with you
• Your address
• An idea of what you’d like to grow
• Any prior gardening experience
• Any other remarks that would help us assign you to a garden.
For inspiration, see our 2020 garden video series here, a report in Hello, West Chester about our 2021 community garden program here, and “Community Gardens are Good for People” here.
Even in the midst of the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 turned out to be a successful and dynamic year for the West Chester Tree Team and the Living Landscapes Committee. Our community chose to prioritize spending time outside, gardening in the soil, and educating themselves on the benefits of native planting. Below is a recap of some of the highlights. Stay tuned next month to learn about some exciting things that our committee has planned for 2022, including several native planting volunteer events at Goose Creek and Chestnut Street Garage. If you are interested in supporting our group, please email WCTreeTeam@gmail.com and let us know!
Street Tree Plantings in 2021
Over the spring 2021 and fall 2021 planting seasons, the West Chester Borough Arborist planted a total of 190 new trees in street right-of-ways and parks across town. We are still counting on our Tree Team volunteers (that’s you!) to keep an eye on our street tree canopy in your travels across town. Remember that in the Borough, a permit is required for any tree work performed on street trees as well as use of a preapproved landscape firm.
Goose Creek Invasive Removal Project (April 2021)
WCGT partnered with the Tree Commission in organizing a volunteer invasive removal and native planting project. On April 17, 2021, approximately 20 volunteers showed up to remove invasive vegetation from a 200-ft length of the banks of Goose Creek near Greenfield Park. Once the area was cleared, volunteers laid down a thick layer of wood chips provided by the Public Works Dept. Invasive species removed include: Multiflora Rose, Porcelain Berry, Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Honeysuckle, Garlic Mustard, Knotweed and more.
Following the removal, local Borough residents Linda Glaum and Woody Lathbury have continued to care for the project area by showing up regularly to continue to remove invasive species, and planted native perennials and grasses alongside the native riparian trees planted by the Borough Arborist. Native plantings donated by the Glaums include Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), a PawPaw, Virginia Willow (Itea virginica), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), and false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides),
This project was led by the West Chester Green Team in partnership with the Public Works Department, the Borough Arborist, and the Borough Tree Commission.
Lawn to Native Pollinator Garden Conversion (May 2021)
In May 2021, members of the West Chester Transition Team’s Living Landscapes Committee created a publicly accessible native pollinator garden located in the 500 block of South Maryland Ave in West Chester Borough to showcase an affordable DIY project to convert a monoculture lawn into a gorgeous and ecologically beneficial native pollinator garden.
Accessible from the sidewalk, the new 200-square-foot native pollinator garden provides nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds and food for caterpillars. Native plants have evolved to act as hosts to our native insects and therefore provide a highly valuable resource that cannot be provided by non-natives.
Green Man Garden Tour (June 2021)
In June of 2021, the WCGT developed a self-guided walking tour of 10 home gardens across the Borough. The tour included a scavenger hunt where each of the home participants hid a green man/woman in the landscape of the garden area. The WCGT website contained all the details including the sample walking route. The tour focused mostly on showcasing native gardens including lawn conversions across various scales, including some established, some new, and some in process. This may be an annual tradition, so reach out if you are interested in supporting this effort in 2022!
Chestnut Street Hellstrip Garden (September 12, 2021)
The WCGT Living Landscapes committee organized a native planting project for the “hellstrip” along East Chestnut Street at the Chester County History Center. This strip of dirt between the curb and sidewalk now includes a 7 ft long x 3.5 ft wide strip of native plants — all donated by WCGT members — including “shorter” perennials, grasses, and cover.
E. Prescott Alley / Chestnut St Garage Garden (October, 2021)
The West Chester Business Improvement District (BID) reached out to the WCGT to help beautify one alleyway in downtown West Chester in an effort to achieve an important goal in the BID’s five-year plan. Members of BID and WCGT together recognized the urgent need to install a native pollinator garden which would provide an educational component with informational signage, an ecological oasis providing habitat for pollinators, and a beautiful landscape component of the urban environment. Phase 1 efforts completed in 2021 included planning and design, and a volunteer-led work day where approximately 20 individuals removed the original mature invasive shrubs, installed a new garden path, planted several redbud trees and 12 native shrubs. In Spring 2022, volunteers will be asked to help plant over 2,000 perennial plugs to help complete the project. This new garden is located at the base of the Chestnut St Garage (on the East Prescott Alley side) and serves as a highly visible entrance point for visitors to the West Chester Borough business district.
Many of us in Chester County celebrate Earth Day every day. Earth herself is being mistreated, but we can work hard to mend our human ways toward her, and at the same time mend our own life styles and diets.
One way of making things better between ourselves and Earth is enjoying the thrill of seeing seeds wend their way into flowers, vegetables and fruits… and healthy food on the table.
If squash wants to grow twenty-foot vines, should we interfere? It’s a question of philosophy: some of us would give it free rein, even at the expense of other plantings being submerged; others of us would severely restrict it to its appointed space.
Sometimes the distinction between the esthetic and the edible isn’t clear. The tomato, imported to Europe in the 16th century, was originally grown there for decorative use and the fruit was considered toxic!
When we garden, we install plants in a hybrid environment, neither in the state of nature nor protected by four walls and a roof; and in return, they enter into a state of symbiosis with us: we give them a place to grow; and they offer us satisfaction, beauty, and food.
It is a particular pleasure when we see desirable plants seed themselves or resprout another year. Many flowers do this, of course, from one year to the next, such as the invincible annual cleome; and some, like foxgloves, are on a savvy two-year cycle (with perennial tendencies). The attractive white and yellow flowers and glossy leaves grew from a potato that lurked in the ground over the winter.
Gardening also teaches us some valuable life lessons:
• It takes time for plants to grow, and like people they go through recognizable stages. Pea or squash vines, starting as small seeds, develop fast in their infancy, move along to maturity, weather permitting, and produce what can be, if we save seeds, the next generation.
• Consider remaining open to surprise and giving unknown plants a chance to declare themselves before we weed. Plants can unexpectedly overwinter or self-seed, or appear from unknown sources. This bloody sorrel, a red-veined spinach-like leaf crop with an unfortunate name, must have been carried into the vegetable garden by a passing bird.
• Good results depend on patience and continuous effort. If we stop weeding for a few weeks we will spend more time repairing the damage than we saved by taking a vacation; if we stop watering when our plants are drying up, they will not come back.
• Let’s learn our limits! We can collaborate with plants but we can’t control them, or their needs, or the weather; we can amend the soil, but only within limits: it would take generations for clay to become loam and lawn will always be reluctant to grow under trees.
• We need to pay attention, look for facts and evidence about what is going right and wrong, and remain in touch with something outside ourselves: the reality of the garden.
• There are no good shortcuts; compost and mulch, our friends, take time to produce. To the right: unusable organic matter from the kitchen returning rapidly and aerobically to nature, under a strong wire mesh, bordered with stones to keep rodents from feasting.
• But pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers destroy soil organisms, beneficial insects and worms, and ultimately the soil itself.
• Peace of mind and inner relaxation — qualities not easily acquired in today’s busy life — do dwell in the garden for us to gather in to ourselves along with what grows there.
Gardening also fosters a whole consciousness and understanding about the Earth and how we relate to it:
• The climate is changing; many areas are more subject to drought and floods, heat and cold, than they have been for many centuries. Large areas in Australia and California have been burning due to record hot and dry weather; the prospective 2021 grape harvest was destroyed in France by hot weather followed by freezing; one of the prime wine regions, the Jura, is becoming inhospitable to the grape. We can think “It can’t happen here,” but it will.
• Because native plants have adjusted their needs to our climate and soil, they do a lot better than exotics when adverse weather strikes. And, of course, they evolved in symbiosis with native pollinators, which depend on them.
• The amount of water that soil can hold depends largely on the amount of organic material in the soil. This would be a good time for American gardeners and farmers to depend less on chemical fertilizers and more on treating soil as a living organism that also takes carbon out of circulation.
• Nature has evolved as one great system in each location. When we add in chemicals, we are not only changing plant and animal life but subverting the natural order with consequences we can’t foresee. But we do know that if we want to eat healthy food, it must be grown in healthy soil.
By gardening in our own yards, we show our appreciation of nature; and also we can give away some of our produce to those who need it, and we can encourage others to garden… and in turn to spread the satisfaction and knowledge of feeling in harmony with nature.
Many of our neighbors have been working hard to bring us programming, both online and in person, about how we live on and with the Earth. Please find the large array of locally accessible events in our calendar at the bottom of our home page; and join in!