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Leonard Moorehead, The Urban Gardener: Before and After

Saturday, December 27, 2014


Follow an eternal cycle

Urban gardeners follow an eternal cycle. No people are more alert to the solstices. We measure our year according to sun, earth and moon. We have paid our homage to the shortest day and now embark onto new efforts in the garden cycle. Our careful mulching, pruning and careful harvests are now dormant, poised, the future is upon us. What a wonderful time in the garden and particularly urban gardeners. 

Janus is the tutelary god

Janus is the tutelary god of beginnings and transition, generally characterized as having a face towards the past and another towards to the future. From these general features, Janus is particular to doorways, gates, entrances, and pathways. All are major garden features. Urban gardeners are all too familiar with built up and congested spaces. Our navigation through the complexities of city life gathers new meaning with an eye towards green and growth. 

Winter is under rated

Winter is under rated by those unfamiliar with gardens. Rather, this is an active dynamic time. The winter garden has much to offer for those who look. The backbones of planting areas are revealed. Carefully observe the orientation of your plots. Note the play of sun and shade. Shadows are now at their fullest. Sunlight areas now are destined to long growing days. Plant your feet on the ground, face the sun and relax. Breath deep, imagine a string pulling upwards and downwards through the axis of head, spine and feet. Be still. Rely upon breath. Inhale, exhale. From far beneath our feet and upwards beyond you are bright, a light, strong and harmonious. Brisk wind, cold air? Enjoy! Be alive, live in this moment. 

Life prevails

Life prevails in seeds and bulbs. Leafless trees, like you, have sent roots into the earth, a trunk upholding leaf and bloom bearing branches rise up. All around the urban garden the new and promising is fundamental. Frost, cold, and its companions, snow and freezing rain are coming. Urban gardeners are not passive. We can’t resist are patrol through the plots, we see promise at every turn, the aspect of growth may call out right away.

A good idea

It’s a good idea to have sharp pruning shears in your garden coat. Last year’s grapevines, kiwis, raspberries, roses and fruit trees are in sharp relief. Good gloves, sturdy jacket and pants, your favorite shoes will keep you warm as you comb through dense tangles of vines, canes, and crossed branches. Prune. Cut out anything that has finished life. I snip most overgrowth into small pieces to fall onto the permanent mulch. Roses are easy to get into just now, prune back to five and three branched main stems. Confused? Relax, soon you’ll discern the differences between green lively stems and those who have passed on. Be confident, pruning imitates nature. Plants readily respond with extra new growth as the sun becomes ever stronger.

Grapevines are rampant

Grapevines are rampant. Vigorous annual growth can appear overwhelming. Don’t be discouraged, especially if you’ve inherited a grape arbor from another. Grapes have very long lifetimes, often far beyond those who have planted them. Pull the longest vines into spans, then cut. I weave wreaths as I prune the grapevines. Each is a totem of future life enclosed within a circle. Follow this technique and you’ll never leave the garden plot with half-finished efforts. Grapes are tough and hardy. Relieved of the past, they leap into the future. Prune while it’s cool and other garden tasks are on hold. Step back once in a while and keep an eye on shape and form. Pruning can be taken to all forms of imagination. Topiary is the special pruning into shapes, follow your pleasure. A general rule of thumb is to prune more severely at the top and less, a wider range, towards the ground. All is indexed to sunshine, the idea is allow as much unimpeded sunshine as possible over the greatest amount of plant. Work with the natural shape and growth, many plants are developed with shape already in mind, such as dwarf fruit trees, bush roses and vines.

Remove leaves

Remove leaves from turf. Nothing demonstrates the power of mulching than leaves covering turf. Leaves are a valuable asset to the garden when incorporated into the soil. Layered on turf however, leaves quickly shades out turf. Grass just can’t abide being covered. Indeed, turf grows any day the temperatures reach above 45 degrees. Hidden under leaves defeats turf, neglected leaves will present bare spots next spring, each full of dormant crabgrass seeds eager to sprout and compete with slower growing turf. Save yourself much weeding or temptation to employ herbicides next spring and rake away leaves.

Warm cup of coffee

Has a warm cup of coffee lured you into warm homes? Just in time to peer into the future. An old tradition still has legs. The mail includes the first of a once mighty river of seed catalogs. Perhaps you are paperless and search online. Whatever your choice, Janus presides over this journey. Savor pictures, descriptions and new varieties. Consider growing something new. This year I tried goji berries with great success. Remember the best and worst of the old. Format in your winter observation of sun and shade. Factor in trees full of leaves. Read carefully for planting suggestions and best practices. This is fun stuff indeed and best done before new bank statements urge moderation. 

Forms of diversity

Urban gardens are the earliest form of diversity. Borrow from neighbors, many with origins different from one another. I learned of kohl rabi from Czech neighbors and figs from Italians. Good diets are rich in vegetables, long ago I abandoned segregation of the various dictums of gardens to form a delightful merger of purposes. No longer a separate place for flowers and another for fruit. Combine the two, let the imagination rule. All gardens reflect the tastes, the aspirations and signature of the gardener. Be true to yourself and shine. Put your name on the garden plot. 

Green in all seasons

Consider growing a plant green in all seasons. Bamboo, a controversial plant, adds mightily to the winter garden. Just now, the bamboo thicket offers shelter to a horde of sparrows. Other birds enliven the resilient grove. Green leaves shed snow and assure gardeners. Yes, winter is upon us. Yet there is much more to come and like the bamboo, we’ll bend when we have too, reach further when we can, over shelter to all and sundry. We a nod to the past, we face the future with optimism. 

{image_3}Leonard Moorehead is a life- long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence, RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit tree. 


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