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Leonard Moorehead, The Urban Gardener: Wreaths Go Full Circle

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Urban gardeners grow year round.

Urban gardeners grow year round. We wax, wane, and shine. We are the sun, the moon, and stars. Despite the 24/7 urban spin our spirits are aligned with more ancient, primeval cycles. We left the cave to harvest nature’s moveable feast. Like our more remote ancestors we garner the bounty and stock the larder. With an eye on the sun and frost on the ground our hearts swell. Breath deep, plant feet firmly upon the soil, look upwards, survey surroundings, greet fellows. Gardens are much larger than the sum of their parts. Constant care and growth are not mere annual cycles. They are eternal.

Never sell yourself short.

Never sell yourself short. Urban gardeners are intrepid souls. We live in today confident our safely stored, dry, cool, seeds will prevail. New generations are ahead. Urban circumstances inspire creative approaches to garden. Bulbs, corms, tubers, lay under soils full of random urban detritus. Leaves, hay, seaweed, manure, and the versatile large brown paper bags stuffed like sausages along sidewalks are all useful in the garden. Worms, our humble allies, are active beneath mulch blankets. Their endeavors transform organic materials into ever more useful forms, releasing the miracles of photosynthesis into the perpetual cycle of growth and reproduction. Our community gardens, plots, pots, compost heaps, are microscopic sinks for carbon dioxide rich atmosphere. The best place of excess CO2 is in soil.

We are guides.

We are guides. Our companions are the many plants we’ve enrolled into the human experience. Food plants are but a fraction of botanical species people need for full lives. Herbs provide medicines, concentrations of vitamins and minerals in unique association. Medicine is derived from our long study of plants. Nor are we confined to the domesticated. Surrounding our pavements, buildings, industries, are hardy plants. Each is an inspiration, a reminder of life’s tenacious hold brave in the face of adversity. Nameless to most, cleome, verbena, evening primrose, morning glories, and the essential milkweed, persist between sidewalk cracks, broken bricks, abandoned industrial sites. Golden leafed ginkgo trees transform pavements. Steeped in hot water, ginkgo leaves improve the memory. Brought as a botanical curiosity by Victorian plant explorers in China, the ginkgo is easy to identify and lingers, a genetic testament from a planet once dominated by dinosaurs. With the past in mind, around us, improving us, let’s think of the future.

Sunshine Affect Disorder, “SAD”

Sunshine affect disorder, “SAD”, afflicts many of us. Shorter days, longer nights, disorient the senses. Our mood is hit hard. Morose negativity enrolls us into tiresome futile illogical thoughts. There is a cure, a solution, and it’s within the reach of all of us. Let’s look over the shoulder towards our urban gardens for the remedy.

Hard indeed is the heart

Hard indeed is the heart that dismisses the symbolic. Rather, like gardeners everywhere, we enter the garden not to find statistical beneficial sales, aptly named Black Fridays, for their shadowy tin tin tin. No, the big discount is not in the garden. Urban gardens offer dividends on scales usually enjoyed by the plutocrat. Gardens are net positive; they are beacons during the nadir.

Coniferous plants have long enjoyed

Coniferous plants have long enjoyed important roles during the dark days surrounding the winter equinox. Some traditions festoon halls, doorways, passages, with greenery. Not to stop there, a peaceful tradition is to light a candle each week on the Advent wreath. Literally from Latin, Advent is “before they come”, the bright stars evident on the longest night. So many cultures around the world have made the shortest day one of celebration. Night is defeated, sunshine will increase afterwards. A wreath is a fine symbol, one without the confines of belief or stricture, circular wreaths offer visual confirmation of infinite value.

Do not strip our rural or suburban regions

Do not strip our rural or suburban regions of Prince’s Pine, Creeping Jenny, Mountain Laurel, or native hollies. Life is difficult. Tolerate the native species, we are their trustees. As if rapid climate changes, violent storm systems, howling snow storms or massive rainfall weren’t enough; our native plants have many challenges. Our gardens provide hope’s green colored testimony. Like all urban gardeners, scratch us and find the qualities of do it yourself. Let’s start with Ilex, or the Holly, sacred to many traditions.

Hollies are always attractive

Hollies are always attractive. Their constant beauty is reliable in a world full of flux. Sometimes variegated and hybridized into every shade of green, we have native species and introductions from temperate Europe and Asia. Hollies are an understory small tree or shrub that thrives in moist conditions under or near taller trees such as maples, witch hazels, and shadbush, all species that prefer their feet on the damp side. They do not require much care as long as gardeners respect their first preferences. Hollies have long lives, do not like to be moved, are happy in the acid soils common to the eastern USA, and will tolerate considerable pruning. They survive browsing pests such as the now common white tailed deer.

Hollies are gender specific

Hollies are gender specific, plant a male holly with many more female hollies within a 100 foot orbit. Each female holly will delight those afflicted with S.A.D. A bright red berry is the beginning, happily like dowagers of old; hollies are often bright with red berries. A sprig with a leaf or two of holly berries was once required by every Druid to formulate the spells for eternal life. Somehow, we’ve never forgotten this. Find room in your spaces for the holly. Leave it alone for a year or two, let it put down roots, do not cultivate within the “drip zone” or anywhere beneath the furthest tips of overhead branches. Clip branches full of wholesome green. They remain bright and healthy in water, it’s always good practice to change the water each day and drop in a child’s strength aspirin.

Never plant for one season

Never plant for one season, one person, one purpose. Plant instead, for the long term, eyes on the beyond, our vision unfocused upon scripted details more appropriate for spreadsheets. You will never regret your share of legacy. Hollies are affordable, best planted small when transplanting is less trying for them and so popular they’re ubiquitous in every nursery.

Grapevines are good alternatives

Grapevines are good alternatives for wreath making. Rampant grape vines offer best yields when pruned back. They are pliable and fun to weave into any size wreath. Actually, grapevines lend themselves to huge wreaths that weather into ever more beautiful shades of textured brown stem and bark. Start your wreath with an overhand hitch, just like tying your shoeless just before the two bows, and wrap continuously. Weave, tuck, rotate. As I form grapevine wreaths from the grape arbor I fall under their spell. Enchanted, gardeners everywhere do not regard this rite a labor. We are part of the endless cycle of life, the wheel of existence.

Life is difficult. Do not despair

Life is difficult. Do not despair, give up or surrender to sadness. Urban gardeners know from fingertip to toenail there are remedies. Stroll into neglected grape arbors and cull out last season’s overgrowth. Use sharp garden shears to clip, prune, and groom holly bushes. Look for those common “foundation” plantings required for VA mortgages. Harvest fragrant arbor vitae, the tree of life, select holly sprigs, employ imagination, right or wrong are not values here. Sense the elegant reduction of beginning and ending that exists at every point on a circle. By every measurement, pi is the infinitesimal fraction of spirit within each circular wreath and also, within every urban gardener. Embrace life’s beauty, weave a wreath, hang it. Life just got better. It can for you, within sight, everyone. 

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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