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Leonard Moorehead, the Urban Gardener: Spring Fever Epidemic

Saturday, April 15, 2017

 

Few are immune. Sunshine, longer days, green grass, signs abound everywhere, spring is here. Cheerful pansies crowd entrances to supermarkets, bunches of tulips and daffodils tempt us in the produce section. No time urges one into the garden like spring. New to gardening? Spring is magical, its spell irresistible. New comers and those with a few seasons under their belt hear the call. Let’s grow our own. Down to our bones we identify the urge, sow, nurture, grow, and harvest healthy foods.  Gardening is catchy. 

Run, don’t walk, to the nearest community garden and sign up, often for free or low cost. You’ll meet others with the same desires, those who enjoy fresh air, the same people who ponder the merits of various beets, lettuces, and flower seed packets in every store. Purposeful intent furrows their brows, dreams are unleashed and run wild within our Eden, each paradise unique, common to all. Do not be discouraged, enroll on waiting lists or go further afield, proximity to home is an unsung but important quality of garden success. The community garden is a fine place to meet neighbors, not only those who cultivate but plenty of folks who lean over the fence and chat. 

Pioneer new spaces. Spring encourages creativity, ambition can lead to astonishing results. Many urban gardens originate from vacant or abandoned lots. Containers offer opportunity upon unappreciated rooftops or paved ground. Vertical walls are often ideal for hanging gardens. Seize the day and indulge yourself. Many tomatoes have grown in large pots, foodie people relish pots of basil, rosemary, tarragon, or lemon grass close to the kitchen. 

Do begonias, spider plants, and geraniums crowd your windowsills? The urge to move them outdoors is strong. Be gentle. Houseplants are unaccustomed to wind and variable temperatures. Frost remains possible, many have moved plants outdoors and mourned broken leggy stems or sun scorched foliage. African violets simply give up the ghost, once flourishing begonias and geraniums founder, spider plants, the epitome of neglected endurance cannot withstand any sleet or snow. Most houseplants have never enjoyed rainfall. Every gardener has moved cossetted house plants outdoors on sunny spring days and smiled. Some have cried later as the elements furl, wind desiccates pot bound plants or topples precious pots into pieces. 

Hardening off is the time honored process of introducing immature or house grown plants to the outdoors. Place houseplants in sheltered places. Be strong, if some leaves wither, much life remains within stem and roots. Pinch back sun scold foliage. Fate may present broken stems, leggy from long days on the window sill. Save them, many plants are easily propagated via stem cuttings. Trim mashed stems, remove all but one or two leaves, moisten the stems and dust with root hormones. Plant in small pots. There is hope.

Scent is important to me and I bring in fragrant rose, nutmeg, pineapple, and lemon scented geraniums for the cold months. They survive infrequent watering and darkness to sprout many tender new stems late in the winter. Each becomes mother to many by way of cuttings. Prized cane type begonias, like geraniums, are ideal for cutting back new stems for rooting. The mother plant can withstand much pruning. Remove the fresh new growth and root in dark glass jars of water or soil. Where once there was one, there are many.

Re-pot houseplants. Grasp pots and tap the pot bottom side up, often a thick mass of roots has filled the pot. Trim back the bottom third of the root mass, untangle those roots that reached the pot’s bottom, turned and grown upwards along the pot’s sides. Loosen the roots, cut back, and renew the empty pot with fresh potting soil, replant and water. Plants may return indoors or flourish anew on front steps, patios or as safety permits, fire escapes. Always place pots in saucers, to keep the bottoms moist and protect wooden surfaces. Potted plants on saucers are like peas and carrots, fine on their own, much better together. 

Long cool spring has many glories. Must one plant right now? Review seed packets. Hold back on those like beans, eggplant, tomatoes, or squashes. Their seeds will not thrive in cold soil. Rather, put in peas, lettuces, cress, mustard, and mesclun mixes. They adore cool weather and grow fast to mature upon the advent of summer. Harvest before they “bolt” or send out flower stalks to set seed. 

Seed savers allow a few to mature, savvy space conscious growers harvest the produce in season while at the top of their game and plant heat loving plants in the same space for double yields. Double check maturity dates on seed packets, peas for example usually mature in 60 days, a glance at the calendar puts their harvest in mid-June. Explore the myriad varieties of beans to succeed peas, Successive plantings produce abundant crops in small spaces. 

Many of us overlook the human side of the garden. Wear hats with wide brims, gloves, long pants and sturdy work shoes. Handle pruning shears and tools with care. Oil rusty parts and supervise children. Avoid lethal insecticides and herbicides. Bend and stretch before marching into the garden armed with long handles shovels. Lift carefully, do not stand on ladder tops or leave rakes and other tools lying about. Gardening can come to a quick halt after a fall or strained back puts one on the garden bench side of your plot. 

Spring is eternal youth. Savor the season. Listen to birdsong, breath deep, engage with family and friends out of doors. Make time to pause in the moment. It’s beautiful. 

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 trees.

 

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