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.