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Urban Gardener: Paradise Survives Snowstorms!

Saturday, February 15, 2014


The snow on the ground and predictions of more precipitation are manna from heaven for urban gardeners. Let our mulches and compost support thick layers of snow. The frozen snow protects planting beds from cold dry gales. Under the frozen snow teems soil full of micro-organisms and worms who feast upon the organic materials wise gardeners pile on the soil surface. An ideal recipe for winter soil enrichment includes tilling organic materials into the soil bringing many surfaces in contact with micro-organisms and insects. Capped with a thick layer of shredded leaves, hay, manure, seaweed or other abundant organic materials the garden weathers through snowstorms, blizzards and cold just fine.

Some of us look out the window, shudder, and turn inward and visualize the future garden. I find this quiets the mind and brings the soul just a bit closer to inspire growth, especially from under a nice thick warm quilt and a colorful mass of printed seed catalogs. Soon, I drift from the printed pages of hibiscus blooms the size of children and Indian corn thick with brilliant colors. Rather the images in my mind are metaphors for those intrinsic concerns so vital to all of us and salways at the gardener’s finger tips. Relax, breath deep, focus upon breathing, inhale the fresh air so important to survival, exhale the enriched breath, full of CO2 and just right for plants to photosynthesize into those complex carbon molecules basic to all vegetative life. As gardeners align themselves with the rhythm of life we are receptive to growth of all kinds. Snow is no longer a barrier.

Teach younger people the importance of diaphragmatic breathing, “just like when you’re sleeping, pull the air in with your belly until your lungs are full and gently push all the air out, and repeat”. Demonstrate, show interest, engage with youngsters and they will learn lessons important throughout their lives. Properly staged, the spirit will guide where formerly gambles and guesses sustained effort. Already, as the snow covers mulch and seed beds, a garden is prepared.

A Time to Be Thoughtful

Gardeners are thoughtful people. There are no barriers to understanding the need for all to expand, encompass, embrace. We emulate nature herself when we nurture. There is much room in the human heart for love and it is love that guides the garden’s course. A glance at the garden beds and a voice unheard yet spoken addresses the soul within and tells us, goodness is found here.

I live to browse through seed catalogs with friends and loved ones. Do you dismiss catalogs as repetitious, an asparagus or zinnia looks much the same from vender to vender. This is a mistake easy to make. Yes, do save trees and resources and look online. Or no, preserve the retro feel of paper, the ability to make notes on margins (yes, no, MUST HAVE) or compare prices with impunity.

I like to cut out pictures and descriptions and tape into three ring notebooks. These pictures guide future themes. For example, I plant a fragrant garden. I’m always looking for plants that explore the lexicon of fragrance. Lemon thyme, lemon balm and lemon scented geraniums all describe variations on lemon. Each has a different approach, thyme for cooking, balm for teas, indeed lemon balm is one of the great herbal teas, mysteriously changing its flavor while it brews and the scented geranium is ideal for drying and mixing with lavender to put in bureaus and chests of drawers. Yet I’d be remiss, indeed utterly negligent, if I didn’t star and highlight lemon verbena.

Lemon verbena is the ultimate expression of lemon in northern gardens. A small shrub in its native Argentina, lemon verbena grows rapidly from small cuttings commonly available in garden centers and especially those all too rare home garden stands. I’ve grown lemon verbena in pots and directly in the ground. They’ll do well in either but for fast outstanding growth in moderate sunshine and plenty of moisture the garden is better. Grown in large pots they are suspectable to drying out, a major hindrance to future growth. This is one potted plant that is always grown with a deep saucer beneath the pot kept wet during the hot weather so conductive to rapid growth. I move the potted verbena to the cellar from November through the end of March. I prune back the shrub like plant to a nice cluster of basic stem and branches. All of the leaves will fall off and to all appearances the plant will appear dead.

Despair Not, Gardeners

Don’t despair! Keep up with a small watering just to keep the soil from becoming utterly dry. Latter, in early spring, increase your watering a tad. As March roles around, slowly increase the watering. There is much promise here. Within days of being brought out into sunshine and given a good soak the potted lemon verbena will sprout leaves. This champion does not quit, stems extend outward and light green leaves emerge con gusto. All parts of the plant contain the truest lemon flavor and uplift the spirit as well as the good will in all who pass by. The scent lingers on the air long after any trace for wind.

Make sure your three ring binder is large enough for many pages. Soon you’ll collate varieties into chapters and discover worlds only suggested in single catalogs. A wonderful example are the daylilies for those who must include blooms in their garden and that surely is true for all of us. There are legions of varieties and many, such as Stella d’Oro, appear in catalog after catalog. Grow this winner and rejoice. Don’t ignore its many cousins. Any sunny border of moderate fertility is fine for these lilies and an excellent choice of plant to use as a teaching aid to learning gardeners. Their thick clumps of roots are best lifted and divided every third year and certainly if the center of the planting has developed an empty hole, giving the planting a donut look. Break apart generous clumps and replant at the same level as before. Beneath the roots and on them, dust with lots of bonemeal and work into the compost and soil in the new locations plenty of fertilizer and compost. This early spring or late fall project is very rewarding and will provide not only stronger, fresher blooms each day but also make fine gifts from youngsters to their older gardener friends. Each home grown division is larger than the sum of its parts when presented in this way: it may be hard to see at first but there is a lot of love and heart with those divisions.

Snow is the gardener’s friend. As it protects the soil beneath from harsh winds and variations in temperatures much life continues unabated. Left alone in the garden it is time for the gardener to snuggle up with loved ones, cookies and brownies, cold milk or flavorful tea and talk, exchange ideas, be together. Breath deep, practice mindfulness and hold hands. Gardeners are loving people, give peace a chance.

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. 


Related Slideshow: 10 Ways To Celebrate Mardi Gras in New England

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Magic Hat Mardi Gras

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Mardi Gras Ball XXI

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Mardi Gras! Beer, Beads And Bad Decisions: The North Star, 222 Friend Street, Boston, MA, 02222

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Cajun & Zydeco Mardi Gras Ball

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Black Eyed Sally’s: 350 Asylum Street, Hartford, CT, 06103

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The International

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The International: 159 Balville Road, Bolton, MA, 01740


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