May 25th, 2012
Our Life in Gardens

by Mary Gray

“We gardened as if we would be there forever, in an immediate pleasure in the moment that seemed to imply an inexhaustible future. Little of what we did there then remains, though the daffodils must, and that thought is very pleasant to us.”

Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd
Our Life in Gardens

I came across this quote today and I know it is going to be haunting me for days and weeks to come. Only a select few gardens are preserved and maintained after their owners pass on. Since we know our gardens will almost certainly change beyond recognition once we leave them, in what other ways can we leave a garden legacy? Photographs? Diaries? Teaching? Writing? Seed saving?

How do we leave traces of our passion?

blog-mary-gray-2-050812This is a picture of my grandfather, who grew wonderful flowers and vegetables in his small urban lot in Detroit. It was taken in July of 1959. He died long before I was born. A few years ago I asked my mother what kinds of flowers he grew. “Hmmm, roses and peonies. Oh and dahlias, I think,” said my mother.

At the time I thought: too bad, those aren’t really my thing.

But in April of this year I found myself curiously, unexpectedly, drawn to roses. In April I planted a bareroot ‘Therese Bugnet’ in my side yard. And I’ve been pausing over the dahlia pages in nursery catalogs.

The garden is a habitat of mighty forces, and I’m not just talking about photosynthesis.

Mary Gray is a teacher, writer, and gardener from Burke, Virginia. She holds a certificate in Landscape Design from The George Washington University and works as a freelance garden designer and coach in the Metro DC area. She loves to muse about gardening, design, and the environment on her blog, Black Walnut Dispatch.

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April 20th, 2012
Fifteen Beans in a Hole

paigepluckett60x60by Paige Puckett—
My natural tendency is to be bossy. I’m a first born, and I’m used to getting my way. However, when it comes to teaching my kids to garden, I have to balance my desire to do things the right way with letting them explore and experiment on their own. For instance, I did insist that my four-year-old plant pole beans next to a pole, but when he chose to put fifteen beans in one hole and was very excited about doing so, I let it ride.


We spent the entire day visiting a nursery, perusing the farmer’s market and then planting our garden. My oldest was a huge help, and the youngest tried his best to keep up. One potted tomato plant was dropped, several flowers were pinched off the marigolds, the bed of lettuce had the hose dragged across it, corn seeds were tossed on top of mulch by the almost two-year-old, and my spade was stolen on more than one occasion. There was also a nice layer of dirt in the bathtub once the water drained and happy exhausted boys to tuck in that night.

Garden Activities for Kids:

Seeding corn and beans is a great way to introduce kids to gardening. These seeds are easy for little fingers to grab. Beans make for easy picking down at their height, and corn makes for dramatic growth and excellent hiding places.  If you are planting the two in the same bed (which can be beneficial), give each kid a handful of mixed seeds and a stick and show them how to poke a hole in the ground and stick a seed inside. Don’t be picky about the spacing of their holes. Simply let them overplant and you can thin things out later once they sprout.

Another good activity is having kids help dig holes for the tomatoes and peppers, and then fill the dirt around the plants. Show them how deep they need to go with the shovel, and then brace the plants with your hand as they push the dirt back around them. My four year old would dig out the dirt and put in into an empty pot so it didn’t get mixed in with the mulch. He was nervous about hurting the plants, so he had me take them out of the pots and put them into the holes.

Paige Puckett and her husband Joe, both in Land and Water Engineering fields, grew up with hands-on experience helping parents and grandparents in vegetable gardens and creating wild adventures in their expansive backyards and nearby creeks at their respective country homes in Tennessee and North Carolina. Now that they have two boys of their own, they try to engage them in the outdoors despite the obvious confines of downtown living in Raleigh, NC. Paige shares their lessons learned, garden projects and photos at her Love Sown blog.

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April 17th, 2012
From the Forest Floor: It’s Jack-in-the-Pulpit time again!

By Alex Norelli—


Among the half-unfurled parasols of the May Apples…
from the leafy forest floor…
beneath a mix of shagbark hickory and liriodendron tulipfera…
with an occasional white pine grown scrawny in the shade…
just down an embankment from the fringe of a larch stand…
amongst the mossy decaying poles of a log cabin abandoned decades ago…
…the three-leafed propeller of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit (
Arisaema triphyllum) extrudes from beneath the leaf mat, sunning itself in the soft white spring light that has not yet been blocked by the eager canopies of the foliating trees.


Jack-in-the-Pulpit beyond a Mayapple's parasol.

This plant is something I saw in a book before I noticed one growing in a woodlot next to where I’ve intermittently spent more than twenty years of my life. This land was an old iron mine that gave out around the time of the civil war and has since been the setting for a bustling habitat of deer, hawks, owls, salamanders and everything seemingly opposed to the near incessant encroachment of cookie-cutter homes devouring the surroundings. It’s a fitting example of “nature’s” ability to recolonize whatever moonscape we hand back to it, after taking from it what we value—which nature is really rather indifferent about, in the long run.

Once I identified the one, I ultimately became adept at recognizing them not only by their trademark lidded chalice flower (the pulpit), but by the lime green three-winged pinwheel that springs up alongside it, that against the brown forest floor catches the attention quite readily once the eye becomes attuned to their form and stature. Pretty soon I realized this could well be called a haven for Jacks, as they were too numerous to catalogue.


My ensuing wanderings lead me to encounter it in its many stages of unfurling. While technically a flower, it is as otherworldly as a euphorbia bloom, its appearance snake-like enough that an arm-chair Darwinian might surmise its species’ survival is attributed to its approximation to a serpent poised to strike. And perhaps it is? As a matter of fact, Arisaema is commonly know as the Cobra Lily for its startling resemblance to the snake equivalent of JAWS. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s first encounter was accompanied by a jump and skip of the heartbeat. But on second look, one can see this is merely a flower, a unique one, that likes moister acidic soils and a mottled shade, and the one I found was beneath a pine in a lull between two hills.


While I’ve not personally seen an array of these in any one garden, this plant it said to be easy to grow. What strikes me most is that it seems somewhat out of place; its form is tropical and its illusiveness makes it a pleasant find. Its picturesqueness is partially due to the fact it seems to be posing for the camera, maintaining an upright posture. As it matures and its green leaves darken, the semblance to a serpent becomes chilling. However, it is just a plant, and its only danger is its toxicity, which Native Americans once harnessed as a purgative.

ARtist, poet, Gardener

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April 11th, 2012
The Organic Mechanic at the Flower Show 2012!

mark-highlandby Mark Highland—When the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, or PHS, wrapped up the 2012 Philadelphia International Flower Show last month, it was one of the most successful on record. This year’s show theme was “Hawaii: Islands of Aloha.” PHS does so much for the City of Philadelphia with their urban greening programs, especially City Harvest. I volunteer my time each year to help support this special event, as it is their biggest annual fundraiser.

One of my volunteer jobs at the flower show is as a “passer.” What’s a passer? Good question. Within the show, there is the Competitive Classes section, where individuals and garden clubs enter plants to be judged by the region’s top horticulturists. In order to make sure plants are entered in the right class, a team works together to get the plants staged and ready to be judged. A “passer” checks to make sure the plant is entered in the correct class, has no bugs, and has a chalk mark on the back of the pot, so the stagers know how to face the plant towards the judging side. In essence, plants are turned so their good side is facing the cameras and judges. This is paparazzi horticulture!


It’s no joke; people burn through memory cards at this event! In all seriousness, I find it totally inspiring to know that someone has put years of work and love into growing these plants. For me, the Hort Court, the area where the entries in the Competitive Classes are displayed, is the heart of the show. Don’t get me wrong; the exhibits are amazing, too. They are the body of the show, attracting crowds of people that attend. But without the heart, the show would be all commercial and show business.

There are dozens of outstanding exhibits each year, vying for numerous awards, but my favorite this year was a tossup between Michael Pietrie’s “Garden of the Gods” and Temple Ambler’s “Aloha ‘āina: A Return to Life with the Land.” Temple Ambler (representing Temple University’s Ambler campus) showcased an 18-foot waterfall made from recycled materials, and featured the different terracelike garden areas of a typical Hawaiian landscape. The display included representations of mountains, forest, and organic food gardens. I loved the fact that the designers chose many Mid-Atlantic natives that had a tropical look and feel, to educate people on natives but use them with the Hawaiian design theme in mind. Brilliant.


I was so happy to see the vendor aisles rotated 90 degrees, so you can see down the rows from the rest of the show floor. Good move, PHS. Makes it much more inviting to wander down that way. I was going to visit the vendors that carry or use Organic Mechanics products, folks like City Planter, Linden Hill Farms, Meadowbrook Farm, Peony’s Envy, and Triple Oaks Garden Center, but they were all so busy helping people buy things that I just waved or moved along. People had spring fever, and it showed!

Each year, I am honored to be invited back to speak in the Gardener’s Studio. The studio is a place to sit and learn about a particular gardening topic for about 45 minutes. It’s right on the show floor, and this year I gave two talks: “Making Compost Tea” and “Peat-Free Soils for the Garden.” Both times, there was standing room only, and people asked a lot of questions. Gardeners of all levels of experience are there to be inspired by the show, ask a couple of questions of a fellow gardener, and just have a good time.

Overall, “Hawaii: Islands of Aloha” was a huge success. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it seemed the hundreds of thousands of attendees did as well. I can’t wait to see what the PHS has in store for us next year.

It was on a beautiful piece of Illinois farmland that Mark pushed his first shovel into garden soil. After he “grew up”, Mark focused his M.S. degree studies in the Longwood Graduate Program on compost and potting soil. After the Longwood Graduate Program, Mark started The Organic Mechanic Soil Company, LLC. As a frequent guest on NBC’s The 10! Show, he showcases the joy of gardening. Mark is also an approved consultant for the Institute for Local Self Reliance, working to educate farms and businesses on food-waste composting.

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March 19th, 2012
Red in Redland, a color-journal

—by Alex Norelli

The Guiana Chestnut…or as I like to call it, the Firework Flower

The Guiana Chestnut…or as I like to call it, the Firework Flower

The last three months I had a chance to explore the Redlands, an agricultural region at the southern tip of the continent, just south of Miami. Because of its unique zone 10 climate, they grow local bananas, passion fruit, guavas, starfruit, tomatoes year-round, in addition to a myriad of others that have probably never appeared beyond a farm stand in the Sunshine State.

…and to think I only thought of Oranges when I thought of Florida…, now I think of Mangos, Lulu Avocados, The Sapotes, Pomelo, Jaboticaba, Star Apples, and many more.

While doing my investigations down there during a three-month stint this past winter, I connected with blogger Marian Wertalka, who has made it her mission to document the goings-on and offerings of the Redlands. She offered me an opportunity to give an outsider’s, and an artist’s perspective on this colorful land, and looking through my photos after a winter of wanderings, I found a Red thread in the Redlands.

You can read and see what I found at Redland Rambles.

ARtist, poet, Gardener

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