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Urban Gardener: Garden Holiday Cheer!

Saturday, December 07, 2013


Urban gardeners are a cheerful, optimistic lot. We are of every conceivable stripe, yes, and we keep an eye on day length, the phases of the moon, the tides that lift all spirits. As we move into the nadir of the year and the Earth’s pole points to true North darkness dominates the day. We wonder; will we ever see sunshine again? Will anything grow? Much ritual surrounds growth and growing we perform rites before the ancient deities of the night. Soon my friends, the planet will tilt furthest from the sun, our homage to the equinox will become magic. Winter’s grip will tighten on the shortest day. Its grasp will clench for a few weeks and mysteriously, under the mulches and covers, life will stir. In an uncertain world, these are qualities we can count on.

Memory dominates gardening. Nothing prompts memory like fragrance, that most primitive and enduring sense. I plant for fragrance, for the enormous spectrum of meaningful scents that define so many if not all of the floral realm. Long before chemistry was removed from botany fragrance was a premier motivation in the garden and the only source for scent. Don’t hesitate, gardeners. Follow in my steps and enjoy a subtle joy, the fragrant garden. It is within the scope of any size garden and one best practiced with others, young and old.

My mother was a city girl from Providence and taught me much about gardening. A mere toddler, she gave me a sprig of Lily of the Valley and told me to breath deep. I can see this moment as if this morning. “Enjoy with your nose, never put this plant in your mouth”. Surely, it must have been a morning early in May when the Lily of the Valley blooms in Providence. The pungent fragrance became a fixture in memory and mind. Early garden lessons endure when linked with a scent. You can do this too and I wish to share happiest times with you and yours.

Every garden plot has room for scent. Scent maybe the primary purpose for cultivating a plant or it may be a happy by product. I happen to love the fragrance of hay and fresh cut grass, not the first reason anyone would mow and save grass. Let’s turn a bit to those plants so easy to grow and rewarding to the nose and spirit, there are many. When one plants for the nose, the spirit is nearby and when an arrow is drawn from the nose to the heart one must be careful not to wound. Here is a gardening experience open to all and from all good will flows to lighten the darkness that surrounds the winter solstice. Here are a few plants I usually grow especially for their fragrance.

Roses! Do grow a rose. The first, second, and third requirement for successful rose cultivation is sunshine. Roses are good companions to tomatoes for much of the same reasons: sunshine is critical for success. Rosa Rugosa is among the most fragrant and tolerates very poor if well drained soils. We know them best as the rose that endures along the edge of Narragansett Bay and seashores throughout New England. They bloom in white, red, pink and both single petal and diploid varieties. They offer very fragrant blooms in June and to a lesser degree throughout the frost free months. Everyone can count on the nutritious colorful rose hips, the rose fruit that is a brilliant orange/red color full of seeds. Harvest the rose petals on dry afternoons for keeping. I snip buds, open blooms, and faded blossoms alike. Hips too!

Preserving fragrant herbs and flowers is child’s play. I string a rope up in the garage rafters or in a dry room, even closets. Make the line high enough to be out of the way and allow free air circulation. Don’t over think this technique but do pay attention. Crop plants cleanly near the base and attempt to keep stray weeds away from each species. Tie the bouquet with a tight knot near the cut stems and hang the entire bunch from the rope upside down. Pry apart the bunch to allow as much air circulation as possible and move on to the next harvest. Soon, intrepid gardeners fill the drying space with clump after clump of fragrant cut plants and wholesome aromas fill the air. The spirit rises to the occasion and joyful gardeners throw themselves into the task. There is more to do.

Our garden season is a long and productive time. Lilacs and Lily of the Valley are present in May, Paper White Narcissus begins even earlier. As time marches on more fragrant plants punctuate the garden season. Who hasn’t stood enchanted, bewitched next to a thick planting of beebalm? The blooms are colorful pinks, rose and mauve, the vigorous stems grow tall and easily spread, the leaves are a principal ingredient in Earl Grey tea. We are intrigued and amused by the antics of bees, the many various types so endangered in the wider world find refuge in our urban gardens. Bees share the beebalm’s beauty with humming birds too. It’s possible to harvest great armfuls of beebalm and hang to dry. The dried herb retains its distinctive fragrance for month after month. Grow this familiar herb and recall our ancestors did as well. Beebalm is a North American plant, sometimes known as bergamont or more properly, Monarda. As part of our American legacy and cross cultural evolution this plant was brought into the garden from the wild and spread around the world.

My rafters are full of dried plants. I have great success with the familiar and maybe not so typical. Anise hyssop offers distinct licorice scent. It comes back reliably each year and easily self sows. Volunteers will appear in your garden plot and move onward into the world. Everyone is familiar with marygolds and chrysanthemum. Yes, gardener, harvest and hang. The flowers and foliage are the fragrant parts for keeping. Lavender is a winner for a reason: the imperial fragrance rules the senses. Do it!

Most of my fragrant plants are tucked into odd corners or associated with actual crops for beneficial companionate planting. Drying is a technique useful for preserving culinary herbs which are often a companion plant that encourage other plants’ growth. I like to grow lemon balm and lemon verbena for crisp citrus scent. Each are ideal for children to grow and perhaps the amateur. Lemon balm is in the mint family and requires much the same conditions to thrive if not as expansive as peppermint or spearmint, both worthy candidates for the sensuous garden.

Plant the scented geraniums. I ignore their initial expense and plant the rose scented geranium next to the rose plants. They share the same general soil and light requirements and have a deep musky fragrance more rose like than actual roses. All grow into fairly large plants and dry well retaining their pungent oils.

More favorites to include in your garden rely upon whimsy and favor. Queen Anne’s Lace offer carroty seed heads. Chamomile offers subtle hay like sweetness. When perusing seed catalogs; look for those plants which offer fragrance. I regard this quality as a first requirement in any plant choice.

Why raise so many fragrant plants? They are a joy to behold, eyes closed, in the nighttime garden, near entrances, with youngsters, mothers and fathers. They engrave happy memories on the mind and enter the soul. The intangible becomes real. Isn’t this the definition of magic?

Strip the hanging bunches of dried flowers and herbs from their stems during the advent season. Fill clean brown paper bags without the stems and woody parts and concentrate leaves, blooms and seedpods together. Toss the leftover debris into the compost. Soon, the happy gardener has a unique and very personal tribute to happy summer days during dark depths of winter. We celebrate the winter solstice with New Years and other holidays. Preserve cheerful memories with the dried reminders of summer, spring and fall. Some may call these mixtures potpourri. I regard the joyful mixture as a prompt, a spur, an incentive to visualize gardens from long ago far into the future. Package your mixtures in affordable boxes or any container of choice to allow fragrance to permeate far beyond. I stuff orphan socks full of lavender and toss into the dresser drawers. Good morning!

When I clench a handful of dried flowers and herbs I’m taken to the garden and the mind releases the cares of the day to live in the moment. This is health, this is happiness, this is inexpensive, simple and well within the scope of every urban gardener. Go ahead, enjoy the shortest days and longest nights. They too will pass.

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: 30 Ways To Give In Central Mass This Holiday Season

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Salvation Army

The Salvation Army’s traditional red kettle is an integral part of the Christmas scene, with millions of dollars donated each year to aid needy families, seniors, and the homeless. Donations provide and financial assistance provides Christmas dinners, clothing, and toys for families in need including families of prisoners. Simply make a donation wherever you see their trademark red kettle or do so online by clicking here.

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Goodwill Mass accepts donations of men's, women's or children's clothing and other textiles. Some of the clothing donations are provided to our clients who may need an outfit for an interview or a one week supply of clothing for a new job. Most is sold to neighboring Goodwills, or as salvage with all revenues raised going back into programs and services for Rhode islanders.

You may drop off your old clothing at one of the many clothing donation bins throughout the state or at the drop-box located in 25 Park Avenue, Worcester.

Click here for more information.

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Operation Homefront

Formed in 2002, Operation Homefront is a nonprofit organization developed to support military families. On December 14, Operation Homefront will host a “Holiday Toys for Military Kids” event in Wellesly Hills, Taunton, and Springfield from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Toys are limited and are on a first come, first serve registration process. Once your registration is complete you will receive a confirmation email. Please note that this program is for military dependent children only.

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African Community Education Program

Donate non-perishable food items such as rice, beans, and canned vegetables for Thanksgiving distribution by November 21. Donate new or gently used winter clothing such as boots, hats, scarves, and coats to be distributed to ACE families during the holiday season. Donations accepted November – January.

Contact: Amy Connery (508) 799-3653

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AIDS Project Worcester

Donate gift cards, new toys, and new clothes; personal care items such as soap, shampoo, washcloths, toothpaste, toothbrushes, feminine products, and disposable diapers; and canned goods for December holiday food baskets.

Contact: Patricia Price (508) 755-3773

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Alternatives Unlimited

Donate tickets to sporting events, theatres, and movies; specialty food items, health and beauty items; kitchen essentials; gift baskets; and gift certificates to grocery stores, pharmacies, and department stores.

Contact: Sandra Marquis (508) 266-6517

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Auburn Youth and Family Services

Donate new toys, games, and books for children of all ages; grocery store gift cards for holiday food baskets; gifts for teens such as movie passes, music, gaming gift cards, and personal care items; and gift cards to clothing and shoe stores to purchase gifts for children and teens. Adopt a family and provide gifts for Christmas. Call for details.

Contact: Sheryl Spafford (508) 832-5707 ext. 10

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Big Brother Big Sisters Central MA

Donate gift cards to local grocery and discount stores; board games; craft supplies; sports equipment and balls; and other small gift items suitable for children.

Contact: Melanie Perreault (508) 752-7868 ext. 14

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Boys and Girls Club of Worcester

Donate holiday gifts for children ages 5 – 18 including gift cards for teens to purchase items such as movies, music, and clothing; grocery store gift cards to purchase holiday meals for families in need; and wrapping paper and supplies such as bows and cards. Adopt a family for the holidays and provide gifts. Call for details.

Contact: Liz Hamilton (508) 754-2686

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Burncoat Family Center

Donate new toys, books, clothes, outerwear, boots, and gift cards for boys and girls ages 4 – 18; gift certificates for movies, bowling, and other activities; non-religious holiday decorations and gift-wrap; and food for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.

Contact: Anna Berin (508) 853-6988

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Catholic Charities

Donate new winter coats, gloves, mittens, and hats for adults and children; gift cards to pharmacies, grocery stores, and discount retail stores; and non-perishable food donations.

Contact: Cynthia Taberner (508) 860-2206

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Central MA Housing Alliance

Donate gifts for homeless children of all ages and new household items for more than 80 homeless families including sheet sets, blankets, pots and pans, dishes, silverware, and gift cards to discount and grocery stores. Gifts for teens especially needed.

Contact: Katherine Kerr (508) 791-7265

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Children's Friend Inc

Donate gift cards for discount and grocery stores that will be distributed to needy families during the holiday season to be used for food, clothes, and gifts.

Contact: Karen Ludington (508) 459-6424

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Community Healthlink - Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Program

Donate winter hats and gloves and gift cards to discount stores, grocery stores, and fast food restaurants.

Contact: Brian Bickford (508) 860-1139

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Community Healthlink - Victim Services

Donate new coats, hats, gloves, and mittens for children, adolescents, and adults of all sizes. Donate new board games and gift cards in denominations of $10 – $25.

Contact: Amanda Atchue (508) 421-4501

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Dare Family Services

Donate toys and other items for children ages 10 – 18. Items for teens especially needed.

Contact: Armida Martinez

(508) 755-7100

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Dismas House

Donate gift cards for male residents: sheets and blankets, toiletries, hats, gloves, and pajamas.

Contact: David McMahon

(508) 799-9389

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Family Health Center of Worcester

Donate new items for newborns and mothers in need: baby blankets, toiletries, newborn undergarments, socks, bibs, infant equipment such as car seats, new maternity clothes, and gift cards for discount and grocery stores. Donate new items for immigrants/refugees such as gloves and mittens, hats, scarves, and home first aid kits. Donate new household items for homeless families including sheet sets, blankets, cooking utensils, pots and pans, and dishes.

Contact: Georgianna Sgariglia

(508) 860-7951

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Elder Services of Worcester

Donate small toiletries such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and shampoo to be used as gifts for Meals on Wheels recipients.

Contact: Julia Martiros

(508) 852-3205

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Family Success Partnership

Donate gift cards to grocery stores to purchase items for a holiday meal; gift cards to discount stores; and children’s winter clothing including gloves, socks, and small-sized winter coats.

Contact: Courtney Hale

(774) 245-5416

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Frances Perkins and Foundations

Donate educational toys for children ages 1 – 12; gift cards and gift certificates; and household items such as bedding, pots and pans; personal hygiene products, and diapers.

Contact: Ivonne Suarez

(508) 757-7506

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YWCA of Central MA

Donate coats for women, children, and teens; hats and gloves; books for all ages, journals, and gift cards to discount and grocery stores.

Contact: Amarely Gutierrez

(508) 755-5371 ext. 3014

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Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital

Donate men’s and women’s clothing in all sizes (especially XL and plus sizes) such as sweaters, sweatshirts, sweatpants, jeans, underwear, and t-shirts; toiletries such as hairbrushes, makeup, shampoo, body wash, and lotion; inexpensive male and female jewelry items such as crosses, watches, and rings; games, cards, word search books, and other small gift items.

Contact: Sandy Epstein

(508) 368-3524

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Worcester Housing Authority

Donate Christmas trees and decorations for use in resident community rooms; pie filling or grocery store gift cards for holiday food; and hats and gloves for children in all sizes.

Contact: Lynn O’Toole

(508) 635-3306

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Worcester County Food Bank

Donate non-perishable food for distribution to area emergency feeding programs. Drop off items Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at 474 Boston Turnpike, Shrewsbury. Please call the office before dropping off. Please visit www.foodbank.org for more information.


(508) 842-3663

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Horace Mann Educational Associates

Donate linens and blankets, craft supplies, gloves, hats, scarves, and gift cards to pharmacy and grocery stores. Items donated to individuals with developmental disabilities.

Contact: Tracy Andryc

(508) 298-1129

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Key Program

Donate small gifts for teenage girls in residential shelter such as warm socks, gloves, scarves, hats, journals, and hygiene products.

Contact: Stephanie Towne

(508) 852-6277

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Donate toys for children ages 2 and up including Disney toys, Dora, pretend food items, art supplies, model cars, blocks, and books; gift cards to toy and discount stores. Gift items for teenage boys especially needed.

Contact: Melissa Murphy

(508) 762-3205

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Nativity School of Worcester

Donate navy blue blazers, white button down shirts, khaki pants, belts, and dress shoes for boys in sizes from boys’ small to men’s medium; sports equipment such as baseballs, soccer balls, and related items; art supplies and music equipment such as instruments, scores, and songbooks.

Contact: Patrick Maloney

(508) 799-0100

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American Red Cross of Central MA

Join us for our annual “Holiday for Heroes” campaign. Assist by reviewing, categorizing, and bundling holiday cards that will be delivered to veterans in Central MA. You would need to dedicate about three hours for this one-time seasonal event in early December. Call to schedule date.

Contact: Ray Duffy (508) 595-3762



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