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Leonard Moorehead, the Urban Gardener: Hunker Down

Sunday, November 19, 2017

 

Gardeners are optimistic people. A garden is alive, our green spaces nourish. Quiet, peaceful gardens are refuges from turmoil. We become better people as we plie our humble tasks, each of us a guardian. Life is our palette, nothing is lost in translation. Gratitude is easy to find in the herbaceous border, raspberry patches and golden asparagus beds. Steady cultivation offers every gardener a vast reservoir of good will. Good gloves, sharp pruners, a keen eye and deep breath are sure fire keys to happiness. 

Fresh produce, sweet fruits, or colorful flowers motivate many gardeners. We’re as complex as any, the garden offers opportunity. Nowhere is the gardeners’ signature more apparent than within the garden. Each potted plant, community garden plot, postage stamp corner is a metaphor. Gardeners can’t resist, our playground is green. There is always a natural chance to express our best natures. 

Bundle up and get outside. Walk the garden. Bring a rake and remove leaves from turf. Pile leaves on canvas painters drop clothes. Drag the kaleidoscope leaves to the compost heap, shred them if you can, save them absolutely. Garden soil has an endless appetite for organic material. Each leaf is a random act of kindness. Heap up the leaves. Lift up the heart. No alter is more certain than soil. Raking leaves is righteous. 

Most garden plants are dormant for winter. Raking leaves is mindful. Observe past season successes. Rake, breath and note: have shade lovers like Hosta become thickset? Did New England asters become dense stands? Have fruit trees grown over sunny places? Perhaps Chrysanthemums are sprawled over turf? Are goji berries on the march? The gardener’s work is never done. 

Cool weather encourages energetic labor. Wear layers, shed or don jackets, sweaters, and shirts. Hosta is a reliable mainstay of shady plantings. Shade changes from year to year, a tree comes down and presto, more sunlight, others grow taller and once bright places are cooler, dimmer. Gardeners are resilient, cool weather is great time to relocate perennial plants. 

Lift and divide is the time tested approach for propagating perennial hostas. Rake away last season’s foliage. Bring compost and place nearby, lay down burlap bags to protect adjacent plants and soil. Each hosta cluster is bountiful. Dig a spades depth around the thick clusters. A tined spade fork is ideal, an oval spade long handled shovel works fine. Hostas root system is 6-8 inches in depth. Once dug around, work the spade under the clump. Take your time. Free? Lift up the hosta clump and lay upon the burlap bags or tarpaulin. Don’t fuss. Break apart the root ball. 

Virtually all stems and roots will grow into fine stands. Break apart the clumps into 5-7 main stems. Cover with the ground cloth for protection from dry wind and sunlight. Seek another location within the garden, offer or swoop clusters to friends and neighbors. Find new homes for the divisions. 

Enrich the original plant site. Incorporate compost and mix into the original bed shredded leaves, peat, or other organic materials. Replace divisions into the site. The surplus harvest is for others. Firm up the additional soil around the roots and duplicate the original soil level. Water, tuck mulch around the stems. The hostas will settle in over the winter and emerge energetic and vibrant next spring. 

Lift and divide technique applies to many perennial plants. Asters, iris, and daylilies are common examples. Siberian iris form dense clumps. After a few seasons, a doughnut forms, the central area dies off as nutrients are drawn into foliage. Blooms diminish. Lift and divide these white or purple beauties. Reset into their former location, nourished with fresh compost and enriched soil. Fresh growth next spring will return, renewed. 

Late fall is an underrated planting season. Vacant spaces sown into peas, kale, spinach and the cabbages jump start spring chores. Sow these cold hearty vegetables in sunny, wind protected spaces. Mark with simple stakes, note planting date and variety. A wide selection of varieties is at your fingertips. Lean towards types with purple or deep green foliage full of vitamins and anti-oxidants. Not least, planted beds discourage anyone from walking upon moist winter soils. Pile mulch between rows, reveal soil only in the seeded areas. Gain several weeks upon late winter/early spring sowing. 

Soils blanketed with mulch are warmer than exposed soil. Frost doesn’t extend deeply beneath mulch. Slow growth over all but the most harsh snow bound days is certain. Expect vigorous growth during warm spells. Most insect pests are winter dormant. 

Garlic is a fall sown crop. Divide garlic cloves and distribute widely around sunny areas. Plant the cloves one trowel depth a few inches apart. Garlic is far beyond a flavorful addition to recipes. Garlic’s anti-septic properties are legendary. Not only good for the gardener’s health, garlic is also repugnant to common insects. Plant garlic around roses and in sunny areas devoted to summer squashes, tomatoes, and beans. Their narrow stalks don’t claim much space, the garlic’s beneficial companion influence lasts until harvest next fall. It’s easy to overlook garlic during the primary garden seasons. No worries, insert garlic cloves in liberal confusion around the garden. Garlic planted over several seasons naturalizes in humus rich soils. Form a concentrated bed for easy identification. Learn their allium habits, tall central stem, and inconspicuous white or purple globe shaped blooms. Any garden that supports bright green chives will support garlic. 

Long ago, potato foliage died back. Few tubers do as well in nearly raw mulch as potatoes. Whether planted into bales of hay, under wood chips or thick seaweed mulch, potatoes store well in the soil. Browse local farmer’s markets for unusual types. Blue, red, and golden potatoes only hint at the vast range in the potato family. The home gardener has no need to dig up entire plantings. Harvest a meal at a time. 

Rake away mulch and reveal the spuds. A gentle touch counts here. Put aside the larger spuds, reserve and re-plant small “seed” potatoes. Cover with a thin layer of soil and mulch. Potatoes flourish for years in well-tended beds. Often over looked or sliced by careless spades, potatoes endure. One of a gardener’s quiet joys is to discover unknown potatoes. Indulge whimsy and plant blue potatoes for novelty. 

Leeks are champion winter vegetables. Plant leeks thickly. Mulch. Pull up the largest leeks as needed, smaller leeks will fill in the gaps. Allow a few to form flowers and seed stalks. Leeks form multitudes of viable seeds and re-sow readily. The leek patch is a reliable and delectable source of tasty vegetables. Very hardy and prolific, leeks thrive in humus rich, well drained soils. Give them plenty of sunlight. 

Parsley comes into its own during the colder months. Its deep green color is always welcome. Once grown in the garden, parsley elevates the commonplace into higher spheres. Robust and pungent, parsley is available for the kitchen throughout the winter. 

Gardner’s never lack for gratitude. Whether conscious or not, our time in the garden opens many doors. Gratitude is always in season. Gather leeks, parsley, and potatoes. Wash and bring indoors. Fill a 6 quart soup pot and combine the vegetables. Simmer in bouillon. Inhale. Divine. Break bread over the vichyssoise. Fill the belly and reach into the soul. Thanks comes easily to gardeners. Invite friends, share. 

 

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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