Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rethinking lawns and yard space

Lawns usually require the most energy and water in landscaped spaces. The Ecological Landscape Association recommends allowing grass to grow longer between mowings and letting lawns go dormant during the height of summer. Using seed mixes that tolerate drought and resist disease are also beneficial. Local landscapers often use Ecoblend, Pearls Premium and Pennington's Smart Seed. Of course, if your lifestyle allows it, forgoing or limiting grass in the overall landscape works too. Groundcovers can easily replace grass especially on steep slopes that are too dangerous to mow. I have also seen show-stopping perennial gardens take the place of traditional front yards. Many folks are now using edible landscaping instead of grass. Of course, a really low-maintenance option is to use wood chips (or gravel for more urban sites.) Providing a thick cover of material is applied, the area will be virtually free of any needed landscape management, energy expenditure or watering.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

World Water Day

It has been pouring rain in Boston. The weather feels appropriate since Monday was World Water Day. Every year, this day highlights global issues regarding access to safe, drinkable water. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), there are several ways in which gardeners can help preserve this precious resource and prevent polluted runoff. Whenever possible, we should use natural fertilizer such as compost, manure, bone meal or peat. In addition, using drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses will prevent overwatering our lawns and gardens. Decreasing impervious surfaces will also lessen the load on our public sewer systems and improve drainage into the soil. Finally, NRDC recommends maintaining septic systems properly - they should be cleaned out every three to five years to prevent contaminating the local groundwater. This year, I am going to take advantage of this crazy New England weather by installing rain barrels on our downspouts. Come summer, we'll have extra water from Mother Nature to irrigate with.
To learn more about how we can clean up our water go to

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mediterranean style

This year, I am creating a potted garden on our south-facing deck. My previous experience with container gardening, and the copious amounts of water it can require, has led me to seek out drought-resistant plants. These days, no one can ignore basic sustainable design as water has become an increasingly scarce resource. Luckily, my favorite natural landscape in the world, the Mediterranean, can give me some direction. This area of the world receives little rainfall so most of the plants from this region do not require a lot of irrigation. Areas of the United States, like California, share many of these species. However, even colder areas can utilize some of this plant palette. My hometown, Boston, is hardly a warm climate but it is in Zone 7. Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) can tolerate a Zone 7 climate. There is a cultivar named "Tiny Tower" that is perfect for small urban gardens. French lavender (Lavandula stoeches) can also live in Zone 7 (although English lavender is a bit hardier.) Colder climates down to Zone 4 can use Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina.) Of course, commom herbs like rosemary and thyme are perfectly easy to include as well. There are some plants that will not survive our Boston winter and will need to be brought indoors. So when it gets colder, I can bring some of the Mediterranean into my home with small potted Meyer lemon and Kumquat trees.
(Photographs taken in Kas, Fethiye and Bodrum in Turkey.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Giving gardens

Last year, our community garden group decided to donate a portion of our harvest to a local food pantry. A weekly basket of fresh fruits and vegetables was delivered to those in need. In all honesty, I initially balked at the idea of giving up some of my hard-earned bounty - then I remembered all of those tomatoes and zucchinis that went to waste. (How many loaves of zucchini bread can you make your family eat?) This year, half of my little plot will be set aside for a "giving garden." In this way, I'll be making a concerted effort to grow food for donation. I'll also be encouraging all my friends who have expansive yard space to do the same. During the Depression era, there was a movement to create Relief Gardens to address hunger and poverty. Of course, WWI and WWII initiated Victory Gardens as our nation directed its efforts towards the "good fight." Today, with record unemployment and foreclosures, it might be time for gardeners to roll up their sleeves again. I have asked fellow blogger, Carol Duke of Flower Hill Farm in Western Massachusetts, to help spread the word.

Winter harvest

Just a quick note. At long last, my microgreens are ready to harvest for our evening meal. I snipped off my arugula sprouts and washed them gently in a salad spinner. After our broiled tilapia was done, I put a little haystack of greens on top with a drizzle of olive oil and a squirt of lemon (Eastern Mediterranean style.) I have to say that I am hooked on microgreens!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A brave new ecology

Peter Del Tredici held an educational session at this year's New England Grows conference. As a long time Senior Research Scientist at Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum, Dr. Del Tredici has led the way in studying our contemporary landscape. His new book "Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast, A Field Guide" challenges traditional views of "native" landscape design and gives a glimpse of what our future cityscapes might look like. A lot of species, formerly seen as invasive weeds, may become an appropriate part of our plant palette as gardeners and landscape designers. Although there will never be a use for poison ivy or rag weed, there are some "volunteer" plants that deserve a second look because they require little to no maintenance or irrigation. As municipal budgets dwindle and efforts to conserve water increase, using or preserving some of these plants just makes sense. For instance, instead of clear cutting vacant lots, selective weeding could be done instead. "Green is good" even if the plant was once called a weed. Certainly, some of the 158 species outlined in this new book are worth a second look.
Please note: the Phragmites australis depicted above is not an appropriate landscape plant for our wetlands. However, on large industrial sites, this species has been successfully used to clean up contaminated soils.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Horticulture at work

Although most people create pleasing home environments, we often neglect our work places. The same is true for gardeners. The only greenery on my design table is a struggling pothos. So I have turned to my friend and fellow co-worker, Carl Johnson, for inspiration. For the last ten years, he has been tending a small forest of Norfolk Island Pines behind his desk. His hardy beneficiaries are glossy and lush despite typical office-air quality, low humidity and sparse lighting. Carl says he routinely waters his plants once a week but not much more. They have indirect light from an east-facing window and have stayed happily planted in their original pots. (I also think Carl's positive energy has something to do with their health and longevity.) During the holidays, the pines are festively decorated. Small red velvet bows are tied on the end of every branch like a little girl's braids. Last but not least he has a "retirement meter" on the wall. Once the tree tops hit the mark, it is time to move on. I hope his plants don't grow too fast. I like having Carl and his pines around.