Visiting Seeds of Durham

The seasonal nature of agriculture allows me to venture out in the slower months and see what others are doing in the community to share their knowledge and encourage a new generation of gardeners. Today I dropped by Seeds of Durham to tour their facility, and I was very excited by the program! 

 “Founded in 1994, SEEDS is a two-acre urban garden and kitchen classroom in the heart of Durham. SEEDS develops the capacity of young people to respect life, the earth, and each other through growing, cooking, and sharing food.”

Garden Manager Trevor Hyde encouraged me to walk through the gardens. It is a very welcoming space with a surprise around every corner. 

Classroom and Kitchen

They have paid respect to the natural topography, adding terraced beds and meandering paths with gentle steps where needed. The outdoor classroom and kitchen/dining space sits at an upper corner with a view of the sloped gardens, the chicken enclosure, and the water feature. It’s a warm, inviting and colorful space. 

Terraced garden beds
Beds of winter greens

Even in December, the gardens were flourishing and the chickens were plump and happy…running over to greet me.

Friendly Chickens!

Seeds is teaching children what can be grown in the city in limited space, how to prepare fresh produce, and how to eat healthy. In the era of the farm-to-table movement, this knowledge will be invaluable as this young generation enters the job market and sets up homes of their own. Perhaps some will be inspired to become chefs, farmers, educators…

I believe that all the children who are fortunate enough to experience this program will take away an appreciation for the garden and for healthy living. If you are looking for a good non-profit to support, I strongly encourage you to consider Seeds of Durham.

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Letting Go of Your Garden

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I have been tending my Personal Eden for 24 years. It started as a brand new lot on 1/3 of an acre in a subdivision in Cary, NC. It was a flat, nondescript corner lot. There were a few skinny pines in the front yard and a wooded area in back with pines and sweet gums. A few “builder bushes” lined the front foundation, but that was it. Not much to look at, but I saw potential.

I started with a few beds around the side and back foundation, and right away I learned that my soil was very poor. So each new bed was mounded with added topsoil and compost. I started small, but soon I began to work about half the property. I left woods in back and along the road as a buffer, and as a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife. I left a side lawn for my kids at first, but beds soon began to encroach there too.

Our whole family loves to be outdoors, so I added entertaining spaces in the form of outdoor rooms. I’m a fan of out-buildings and structural landscaping elements, so we transformed a kids’ fort into an outdoor bar/potting shed, added a pergola over the dining patio (one of two patios we built), an entry arbor, and an arbor swing. The fire pit became the center of evening activity. My son Jack helped design a waterfall and small pond that added sound and attracted more wildlife. A rain garden was added to absorb run-off. And stone walls – lots of stone walls! My son Tim added a flagstone path around the side of the house that wound through the vegetable beds. But those beds did not provide nearly enough room for all the edibles I wanted, so I began incorporating edibles in my ornamental beds. Because we spent so much time around the fire pit, we hired Southern Lights to add landscape lighting to the back yard.

The pines and sweet gums did not provide nearly the tree diversity I sought, so I added a ‘Little Gem’ Magnolia, a few Crepe Myrtles, 2 Beech Trees, a weeping Styrax, a ‘Silver Cloud’ Redbud, a Vitex, a Dawn Redwood, a Skylands Oriental Spruce, a Red Maple, an Okame Cherry and 9 Japanese Maples. (I think that’s all, but maybe not…) I won’t overwhelm you by naming every shrub, perennial, herb and vegetable I grow, but suffice it to say I could fund a long trip to Europe with the money spent on plants.

And now, after all this work, all this love and care, I have said goodbye to my Personal Eden. We have decided to downsize and invite my aging parents to come live with us. We don’t have a downstairs bedroom, so we are building a new home that meets our needs. Financially, it makes good sense. But it is hard to leave the home and garden I have tended for 24 years. Two beloved family cats are buried in the garden. Countless parties and family gatherings have been hosted here. I have shaped each Japanese Maple and pruned each rose bush over 20 times. I hope the new homeowner will love it as much as I have, but my fear is that they will tear everything out and cut down the trees. The birds will leave, as will the rabbits and the squirrels. When I drive past as I visit friends in the neighborhood, I fear my heart will break. My real estate agent has told me a buyer could see the landscape as an asset or a liability. I can only hope it’s the former.

But I have to let go. Transitions are a part of life. I know I can take on another landscape and make it thrive. At my age, I may not see as much growth in the trees, but I will enjoy each year’s growth.

To the new owner of my Personal Eden, I hope you will see the beauty and the value in your new garden, and take loving care of it. I hope your family has parties around the fire pit and your children climb the trees. I hope you take time to swing under the arbor, and cut Edgeworthia and Viburnum to bring their heady fragrance inside. I wish you a lifetime of happy memories. I know I will cherish mine. Forgive me if I dig up a couple Japanese Maples before I leave. And my mother’s Irises. And some Comfrey from the medicinal garden. And…

Bee Downtown keeps the Triangle Buzzing

We cannot survive without bees. No bees, no food. We ignore this relationship at our own peril. Central North Carolina has a couple of hive-minded organizations that recognize the urgency of maintaining a healthy bee population – Bee Better and Bee Downtown. I have volunteered for events sponsored by both organizations, and I highly recommend them both.

In December, I spent an afternoon at the Interfaith Food Shuttle’s Geer Street Learning Garden, planting fruit trees, herbs and perennials that attract pollinators. The Geer Street Learning Garden is part of the Interfaith Food Shuttle’s effort to bring fresh vegetables, and the knowledge of how to grow them to a neighborhood that was once a food desert. The garden helps feed the hungry and educate the community, especially children, so that they can grow their own fruits and vegetables. The Durham Agricultural Manager for IFFS,  Eliza Bordley, brings creativity to the endeavor – incorporating hugelkultur, a pizza garden and a soup garden. This planting day was a joint effort between IFFS and Bee Downtown.

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“Bee Downtown installs and maintains sustainable bee communities for businesses in urban areas. Starting with one of the Nation’s fastest growing regions, the Triangle, our beekeepers work to repopulate the environment with healthy hives while providing partnering companies a one-of-a-kind green marketing opportunity.” http://www.beedowntown.org

Bee Downtown has installed hives all over the Triangle, with their most visible hive at Burt’s Bees World Headquarters at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham. They have placed hives at Bull Durham Beer Company, Capitol Broadcasting Company, and Durham Public Schools’ Hub Farm, to name a few.

What makes an organization successful? Its people. While volunteering, I met Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, the founder and CEO of Bee Downtown, and Justin Maness, their lead beekeeper. Both impressed me with their knowledge, commitment, warmth and enthusiasm.

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Super-Sod of Cary donated a BigYellowBag (one cubic yard) of OMRI listed Soil3 compost to the Geer Street Learning Garden. Personally, I welcomed the opportunity to get my hands dirty helping two local organizations do a good thing for the community. If your hands are itching to dig in the dirt and help your local community, contact one of these local organizations.

Eden Has Seasons

“A Winter Eden”

A winter Eden in an alder swamp
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.
It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.
It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feast
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the years’ high girdle mark.
Pairing in all known paradises ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.
A feather hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.
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As a graduate of Middlebury College, Robert Frost has always held a special place in my heart. He was Poet Laureate of Vermont, and taught at the Breadloaf School at Middlebury for 42 years. Everyone is familiar with “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”, but his poems that look into the heart of nature are my favorites. They can be bleak, yet hopeful. Never flowery, always honest, always true.
Last year we lost our beloved Molly, seen enjoying the snow in the photo above. She was a “luxuriating beast” but never gaunt. Even in her later years, Molly had bursts of playful energy. She demanded my attention. If all I wanted to do was relax with a glass of wine, she would bop my leg with her nose. If I did not respond, she would bop my wine glass – not hard enough to knock it over, just enough to rock it a bit. If I was so withdrawn that the wine glass trick did not get me to play, she would bop the cat. She was a fat, furry anti-depressant. Molly’s first reaction to snow was to bolt outside, run in tight circles spraying snow everywhere, and then barrel roll. She was pure joy! Snow was new and exciting to her.
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As a gardener, I have learned that snow makes my garden a completely new space. Snow covers messes, highlights structures, puts a bright sparkle on the muddy, brown places. It also restores moisture in a slow drip that goes deep down to the roots of thirsty plants.
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On this first day of winter I wait for snow (a rarity in NC) and the perspective it brings – a clean contrast of dark and light, a protective blanket over the sleeping plants – and I will honor Molly by running outside when the snow arrives, spinning with the memory of Molly’s tireless joy, knowing that my Winter Eden is preparing for spring.
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Nature wins. Every time.

blowing-rockNovice gardeners are often looking for the “rule book”. If only gardening were that simple – you follow the rules and you get the perfect results! But those who want to follow the rules in gardening miss the critical catch: Nature doesn’t follow rules. But please don’t misinterpret this to mean nature is capricious. That would be an inappropriate anthropomorphizing of nature. Nature is a complex force that is ever-changing. It has no human qualities – no sense of vengeance, no motherly tendencies, no good and no evil.

Throughout history, humans have anthropomorphized natural elements (and animals) to make them more comprehensible and more relatable. We put things into human form because we are egotistical and can only see things through our own lens. The ancient Greek gods are the perfect example. Remember Poseidon? The god of the sea, controlling the tides and the sea creatures, using tidal waves to exact vengeance on disobedient humans. And when we contemplate the possibility of life in outer space, we picture humanoid alien life forms. We have difficulty imagining that extra-terrestrials are more likely to look nothing like us. In our attempt to understand nature, we humanize it. Nature is not a mother, not a Green Man, not a god. Nature does not punish or reward us. Nature is a collection of the 4 elements (earth, air, fire and water) and the carbon based life forms that can choose to either fight those elements or work with them. And that is the most fundamental decision – to fight nature, or to work with it. Just remember one thing: Nature wins. Every time.

Novice gardeners want a set of rules, a calendar, a formula. When can I plant tomatoes? April 15? When can I install a warm season lawn? May 1st? Which chemical fertilizer works best? 10-10-10? They come to the experts and expect a set answer. Often we give them one because they are lost without one. But it is never as simple as we would like it to be.

When can I plant tomatoes? When the threat of frost has passed. When will that be in Raleigh? Well, the Farmer’s Almanac predicts April 4th for 2017. But that could change… Every year it is different. So we say April 15th because that is safe…not necessarily accurate, but safe. Because we know that if we say April 4th, we could get a later frost, and that client will come back and be angry with us because their tomatoes died. Nature doesn’t read the Farmer’s Almanac. The Farmer’s Almanac attempts to read nature. They are quite good at it, historically, but their writers understand the most important rule in gardening: Nature wins. Every time.

Click here to read the Farmers’ Almanac for Raleigh, NC.  http://www.almanac.com/gardening/frostdates/NC/Raleigh

When will Emerald Zoysia be available? When it greens up. When will that be in Raleigh? At Super-Sod we say May 1st because, again, it is a safe bet. But we don’t know the exact date because we do not control nature, we work with it.

https://www.supersod.com/raleigh

Which chemical fertilizer is best? That depends on your soil health and the plants you are growing. We strongly recommend that you do a soil test so that you apply the correct amount of fertilizer and, more importantly, so that you don’t over fertilize. Working with the pH you have is another aspect of a soil test.

The NC Department of Agriculture performs these tests for free most months (they do charge a small fee December through March when they are inundated with farmers’ samples).

http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/sthome.htm

So how does the novice gardener become a good gardener? By spending lots of time outdoors, paying attention to the air, the soil, the lake levels. By observing the plants – really looking at them. Grass leaves react to water shortages by folding their blades in half to minimize sun exposure. When your grass blades look skinnier and grayer, they are telling you they need water. Certain plants are known as “indicator plants”. When your hydrangea leaves droop, all your plants need water.

Ask lots of questions. Don’t just ask where you should plant a hosta, ask why you should plant it there. Dig a hole and get to know your soil. Smell it, squeeze it in your hand, and look for worms and insects in it. Poor soil will support very few life forms. Good soil should be brown and smell earthy. It should hold together when squeezed in your hand, but should not just be a lump of clay. Amend poor soil with compost.

http://www.soil3.com/

Most importantly, let go of that need for control, and reconnect with nature. You will make mistakes and lots of them, and that’s OK. That’s how we learn. I’ve been a horticulture professional for over 20 years and I am still learning. It’s a process, not a destination. Learn to love the earth, because it is the only one we have. And don’t try to win because you cannot (and should not) defeat nature.  Repeat after me: Nature wins. Every time.

Mr. Feathers’ New Lakeside Condo

As November began, we noticed Mr. Feathers was getting bolder about coming inside the store. He would choose a sunny spot just near the door, and lay down. He was spending most of his day hanging out with his pal, our store manager, Judson. Not close enough to touch, still just out of reach, but closer than usual. Peacock 3We had known the day would come when he would need a house. We tossed around several ideas,  but Daniel came up with the simplest – a pad made of pallets and scrap lumber. So he got to work on the two story peacock condo. Using pallets, 2x4s, scrap T111 siding, and a plastic corrugated roof, he built a warm, dry home with a second story loft for the king of birds. When it was finished, he moved it with a forklift to the edge of the lake, warmed by the sun. We placed food nearby and waited. Two mornings later, we saw the straw bedding was matted down and sprinkled with peacock feathers. Mr. Feathers is now the proud owner of lakeside property! Lucky bird.

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