Posts Tagged ‘vegetable gardens’

Slow Gardening

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Okay, so I’ve been slow to add my two cents on “Slow, Easy, Cheap, and Green,” the piece on Felder Rushing’s adorable brand of “slow gardening,” which appeared in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago. But slow is the name of the game, right?

If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a look. Felder is a hoot. The self-described “lounge lizard,” who hosts a weekly radio show on Mississippi Public Radio, is the bad boy in the otherwise boring world of “garden communicators.” Picture Jerry Garcia with a pitchfork, kicking back among his plastic pink flamingos and recycled tire planters when not driving his “container garden on wheels,” a beat-up brown-and-white Ford F150 pick-up truck with a garden planted in the back. The effect is circa 1966 commune, with the sweet scent of Cannabis wafting through the air.

Felder is the leading proponent of slow gardening, which of course was inspired by the slow food movement. The idea is to stop stressing out about the lawn. Pass up Echinacea ‘Mac ‘n’ Cheese’ ($21.95 a pop), or anything “NEW!” from the White Flower Farm catalog. (“I’m not into the latest and greatest,” Felder told the Times reporter, speaking of the dowdy ornamentals like gladiolas and dusty miller that fill his garden.) Channel your inner Dale Chihuly by creating bottle trees with Bud Lite bottles from your last barbecue. Grow lettuce in pots, instead of in the ground, for easy maintenance. (Best line in the article: Felder’s quip that “lettuce is embarrassingly easy to grow. I grew some in a hanging basket last year. All it took was a squirt of vinaigrette, and I didn’t even have to bend over to eat it.”)

I was just warming up to this vision of the good life when, in a most unfortunate bit of timing, Rick Griffin, a local landscape architect who, we learn, helps Felder with garden design, arrives on the scene. According to the Times, “The men stood in the garden, debating a design element to fill space around an art installation made of three large glass circles.”

Oops. Maybe Felder’s idea of gardening isn’t so laid back after all. I mean, forget about the gladioli and the container garden on wheels. If you really want to slow down, plant a native wildflower meadow if you have sun, or some native woodland shrubs, wildflowers, and ferns if you have shade trees on your property, then let nature take care of most of the maintenance. To keep yourself out of trouble, plant some fruits and veggies, preferably in containers or raised beds, by your kitchen door. And/or some potted flowers by the patio to attract butterflies and other pollinators for free entertainment all summer long.

Linking Food & Native Plants: You Have a Friend at NRCS

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Mark Ludwig of Sand Lily Farms writes:

You will be glad to know your local Conservation Districts and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are both promoting field borders for farms and natural landscaping at home. There are cost share programs for field borders of native plants with guidelines for native pollinator and predator promotion and protection. Many counties have native plant sales and promotional events.

On its website, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (or NRCS, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) describes simple and inexpensive ways farmers and gardeners can increase the number of bees on their land. Some of these, such as “exercising care with pesticides,” are no-brainers. Others are less obvious, like minimizing tillage to protect pollinators that live underground for most of the year, and allowing leafy crops like lettuce to bolt (flower) if possible to provide additional food for hungry pollinators. The NRCS website also has links to local Conservation Districts around the country.

Mark wasn’t the only person who reached out to offer ideas on resources and networks that could be useful for forging links between native plant and local food advocates. A couple that were mentioned repeatedly were Fair Food Matters and the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation program. And don’t forget all the great information on the best native plants for attracting beneficial insects based on research at Michigan State University.

Linking Food & Native Plants: The Hybrid Yard

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Tom Springer writes:

To me, the logical approach (although certainly not novel) is to combine the two: promote the use of manageable and hardy native plants that are attractive, make for good landscaping, and are also edible! Service berries, gooseberries, wild strawberries, wild blueberries, and hazelnuts are some examples.

He points out, too, that native trees often seen as “weeds”—such as sassafras and hackberry—can be pruned and shaped to make attractive shade trees, and that these species are not hard to find, even locally. 

He suggests that we resist the temptation to be purists:

To really make this mainstream, I think we have to forgo the notion that most people are going to quit having a yard entirely, or pull out their tulip bulbs and grandma’s favorite lilac. What we’re really talking about is a hybrid yard, where people more and more get comfortable with natives. If we could increase by just 25 percent the amount of natives planted across a community, what a difference that would make! And, having natives that you can eat—and readily use for cut flowers, as is the case with prolific natives like black-eyed susans and purple coneflowers—seems like a great way to get started.

Enlisting the help of a landscape designer at a local mainstream nursery would make all of this a lot easier, says Tom. It would be a big help for people just getting interested in natives if such a person could draw up a basic landscape plan that includes plenty of native plants. ”Once they have a plan in hand,” he says, “people can fill it in as the seasons come and go, whenever they get the money or energy to plant more.” 

Linking Food & Native Plants: A Landscape Designer’s View

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Douglas Kent, one of the country’s leading sustainable landscape designers, weighs in:

You are certainly right—natives make excellent  companion plants, attracting beneficials if not pollinators, or repelling unwanteds. Cal Poly’s Center for Regenerative Studies, where I teach, uses a lot of natives to enhance their food production.

Ripping out a lawn to plant food is not an environmental movement, though. It’s economic, or at least economic symbology. The best Tom and Nancy could do is to frame their position in those terms—natives will reduce costs (pesticides and water) and increase productivity. The Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden is seizing this trend and has designed, but not yet installed, an edible native garden (grape, miner’s lettuce, elderberry, currant, etc).

Getting people to rip out their lawns is completely  different (I’ve tried to understand and change this for the last 25 years). People that hold onto their lawns are not gardeners, and don’t want to be. Requiring no special care, lawns only need $100 a month and a service of mowers  and blowers. Interestingly, studies show that most beginning gardeners start by growing veggies, then evolve to more sophisticated styles of gardening, like natives, over time. Tom and Nancy should rejoice—food is a gateway.

Considering that agriculture is the number one destroyer of native landscapes, Tom and Nancy should not lament the food movement—what better use for urban/suburban landscapes than to protect those truly wild places. 

What You Think: Linking Food & Native Plants

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

You came through for Tom and Nancy! For the next few days, I’ll be blogging about some of your ideas on how to build on the interest in local and homegrown foods to promote native plants.

On Friday, I suggested that one way might be to use the growing number of farmers markets to spread the word through a “love local food?/ help a pollinator/ grow native plants” campaign. I also noted that it might be possible for supermarkets like Whole Foods that sell organic food to participate by promoting and selling native wildflowers instead of just cut tulips and the like.

Robbin Simmen, head of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s GreenBridge project, one of the biggest and best community horticulture programs in the country, responded:

I like the idea of encouraging retailers of food to sell native flowers. GreenBridge did this a couple of years ago with the Sustainable Gardening project where we reached out to the community gardeners who grow flowers to sell at the East New York Farms! market and asked them to grow Echinacea and Rudbeckia. They loved it because these plants are so bright, drought tolerant, and easy to grow, plus it’s an extra piece of interest for the shoppers to learn that they’re buying native plants.

Robin noted that another way to make connections between native and edible plants is to spread the word about native food plants. For example, she said she’ll be speaking on edible landscaping with native plants at the Brooklyn Food Conference on May 2nd. In her words, she’ll “be plugging blueberries and paw paws for human consumption, and lots and lots of native species for wildlife, the point being not to forget wildlife in our drive to feed ourselves!” 

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Growing

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Whaddaya do when the economy is sinking like a stone, and you can’t even fall back on peanut butter sandwiches as a cheap culinary staple without fearing for your family’s safety? According to a new National Gardening Association survey, you grow your own groceries. Among the findings:

• 43 million U.S. households plan to grow their own vegetables, herbs, and fruits in 2009, up 19 percent from last year.

• 21 percent of households said they plan to start a food garden this year.

Among the reasons cited were that home-grown food tastes better (58 percent of those surveyed), it saves money (54 percent), and it’s safer (48 percent).

The NGA announced the findings at the 5th annual Garden Writers Association teleconference last week. A white paper with the details will be available on its website soon.