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.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Microgreens, greens harvested after the first leaves (called cotyledons) appear, may become the ultimate home-grown food of the future. They are nutrient-dense and can be grown year-round near a sunny window with minimal time or effort. Common vegetables used for microgreens are: arugula, broccoli, beets, cabbage, celery, chard, cress, endive, mustard, pea and radish. Today, I planted some arugula in a covered container with drainage holes on top of fresh potting soil. I covered the sowed seeds with a paper towel and watered them well. After about 2 weeks, in a sunny place, sprouts should appear. At this point I'll take off the towel and wait for a few more days. After the first leaves appear, I'll be ready to harvest the greens for a fresh salad, sandwich or entree. Of course, using old food containers to plant in and buying seeds in bulk makes this effort very cost-effective. I often order from Also, a great book on the subject is "Microgreens, A Guide to Growing Nutrient Packed Greens" by Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vertical gardening

Living walls have transfixed my imagination since 1998 when I stumbled upon one of Patrick Blanc's installations at the Fondation Cartier in Paris. For the last decade I have tried, without avail, to create some small version of my own. The first attempt was with an old shoe holder that had plastic pockets. I grew plants in yogurt cups and popped them into the shoe pockets on top of felt made from recycled bottles for drainage. This effort worked well but was not very visually pleasing. The next step, with the help from my husband, was sewing a planter out of recycled felt and and old shower curtain. Because our sewing machine could not handle the density of the fabrics, we had to hand-sew most of the sections. This was a lot of work. Recently we found a similar version by the Woolley Pocket Gardening Company at Vessel (our favorite store in Boston.) Because these products were on sale at half price, we were able to justify the purchase and got two small wall planters. The next step was to go to Logee's in Danielson, Connecticut while visiting friends. This nursery has the largest collection of exotic houseplants I have ever seen. It is a horticultural wonder world! After surveying our options, we chose some sturdy succulents. We still want to make our own planters but it is nice to put some greenery up in the meantime.
Get inspired and check out Patrick Blanc's website at

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Helping an old wall

One of my projects this winter is securing funding for our community garden's much needed improvements. Continuously tilled since 1923, this particular community garden is one of the oldest in the United States. Today, the retaining wall that encloses the site is in need of repair. This structure was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC.) The CCC, created by President Roosevelt during the Great Depression, was a public relief program for unemployed men. A local historian told me that walls built with round field stones and concrete caps are typical of this era. I confirmed this information by researching our park department's annual reports in the local library. As is delineated on the wall's weather-worn inscription, the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act (ERA), which extended the CCC program, funded the project in 1935. Finding this information was lucky because the CCC's walls are usually not registered as historic landmarks. Many of these structures are falling apart without anyone knowing about them. Bolstered by this knowledge, I submitted an application for funding to restore the wall. If successful, I'll follow up with other grant programs for a new gateway and educational signage. Fingers crossed!
A great website for finding funding sources, for nonprofit efforts, is the

Sunday, January 3, 2010


We recently visited San Francisco and toured the California Academy of Science. Located within Golden Gate Park, this new facility contains hundreds of exhibits of the natural world and is an exemplar of sustainable design. Gardeners will be especially impressed by the 197,000 square foot living roof! This verdant creation, designed by Renzo Piano, uses seven hillocks to suggest the city's rolling topography. The stability of these mounded slopes are ensured by biodegradable trays which allow plant roots to grow and intertwine (the Biotray by Rana Creek Nursery is now commercially available.) Horticulturalists also sought sturdy species of native plants. The most prominent perennials are Strawberry, Self Heal, Sea Pink and Stonecrop. Annuals such as Tidy Tips, Goldfield, Miniature Lupine and California Poppy are also used. As in any garden, the space will continue to change and grow. The Academy is planning to expand the roof's habitat in order to protect the endangered Bruno elfin butterfly and the Bay checkerspot butterfly. Read more about this remarkable living museum at