Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Letting go

When we discuss Autumn, we talk about Fall.
     "Fall is the time of year when the leaves fall off the trees."  "Trees lose their leaves in fall," we say, as if the trees are stripped and naked in the freezing elements.

Losing and falling are terms that suggest a mistake or an accident. They are not terms that suggest greatness. And actually, these terms are inaccurate when it comes to trees.

Here are some other terms to describe Autumn: Release, allow, let go.

At the end of the growing season trees begin the process of leaf release.  They let the leaves go when they are no longer needed to participate in photosynthesis and when keeping them is going to do more damage than good. The tree allows the wind to sweep the leaves away. Leaf release is a carefully orchestrated, meaningful action that has nothing to do with an accident or a mistake on the tree's part.

Letting go is well-known phrase these days.  It's associated with 12 step programs and learning when enough is enough.  It's a regular part of growing up and creating boundaries in life.  We utilize this idea in relationships and at work.  It isn't always easy for us but it is biological.

This November I'm thankful for the trees, who have set an example of the healthiest way to live-- breath deep, bask in the sun, create something, let go.

Below is an excerpt from Peter Thomas's Trees: Their Natural History :

    "...leaves act as independent units, similar to a block of apartments.  If a tenant is not paying their rent, they are thrown out; if a leaf is a net drain on the tree--if is using more energy than it produces--it is shed...Leaf shedding is not just a case of leaf death: if a branch is snapped or the leaves are killed by sudden stress, the leaves wither in place but are remarkably hard to pull off.  Leaf fall involves a carefully executed severance..." 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Too decadent for dinner

Autumn's Gems
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are weeding. (I know this doesn't sound like the beginning of a fantasy but stay with me.) Every few minutes a sweet September breeze drifts by bringing cool relief from the autumn sun.  With it the honeyed scent of something fresh and delicious fills your sense. The aroma is like an outdoor candy store.  Distracted, you venture to find its origin.  There you stand at the foot of an enormous fig tree, overflowing with fruit and buzzing with all the other sweetness seekers: bees, butterflies and the like.  Scanning the garden for a container to collect your treasures,  you're nearly frantic that the pollinators will consume all of nature's sweetness before you find a proper basket.  Finally you choose a discarded plant container (a little potting soil never hurt anyone...)

This is not a dream.  This is Tuesday afternoon.

Incidentally it's the day before I am leaving to travel abroad for a thesis case study.  There isn't much in the fridge to make for dinner and I muse about how to use the figs before they go bad. (Their ONLY negative quality is that they really don't keep.)

Another quick Google search leads me to this a delicious sounding Fig and Almond Crostada. Since technically this does not sound like a dinner food, I think for a moment about a way to disguise this obvious dessert as a hardier acceptable dinner option...
To solve this dilemna, I make the most obvious choice: I add Bacon. I mean, the meal obviously needed a protein source. (If bacon is your fancy, slice it small and sprinkle on top before baking.) The recipe also says to combine the figs with a good amount of fresh lemon juice. Sadly without a lemon in the house, and am forced to use the next best thing: a lovely limoncello liquor...Voila, delicate, decadent, flaky, sweet and savory melt-in-your-mouth perfection.

In my defense I did pair it with green beans from the garden when I called it "dinner."

Try it for breakfast the next morning. It holds up well over night and can even handle a quick morning microwave buzz.   Enjoy!

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Carrot a day...

Actually other than "What's up Doc?" and something about the improvement of eye sight, I don't think there's an actual saying about carrots.  But for me, today was a carrot kind of day, as I harvested about 15 carrots that have been growing in my garden since late May.

Funny looking little buggers, home grown carrots, but man are they flavorful!  Today I roasted them.  Very simple recipe:

Clean thoroughly (more like scrub)
Cut off the greens (and save!)
Preheat to 450
Put on a cookie sheet
Drizzle with Olive Oil
Sprinkle with salt
Roast for 20 minutes until you see them turn little brown in spots

You can eat these with your fingers (once they've cooled) or be civilized and have them as a side dish with a knife and fork.

I was most curious about how to use the greens. Rumored to be poisonous, (don't believe it)  (Garden Betty Agrees) (Harold McGee Agrees too) they are delicious and useful.  Tart and a little bitter (think mustard greens and dandelion greens), a quick google search will bring you an array of recipe ideas. I chose this pesto and didn't regret it. As a result of a lack of planning I looked in the cabinet to find that I didn't have any pasta.  I did have red quinoa (how trendy). Given the salty tart flavor of this pesto, the combination worked perfectly.

Carrot Green Pesto

1/4 cup Olive oil
Juice of one lemon
1 -1 1/2 cups of carrot greens (stems removed, I blanched half of the greens and left the other half raw.)
1/2 tsp. chopped garlic
(a few leaves of parsely if you have it)

Put it all in the food processor and process till it has the texture you like!

80 degree temperatures and the early September sun made this day feel heavenly.  After I pulled the carrots, I pulled the spent tomato plants too.  In their place: lettuce, spinach and beet seeds.  'Comm'on Fall!'

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Plants all day, Party all night (LGP and the N. American Experience)

Old Oak @ the Arnold Arboretum
In the second summer of the graduate program, we get the pleasure of going on a week long regional trip in North America.  We don't get to participate in the planning process and are not allowed to campaign for cities or states that interest us.  The Director decides where we should travel and who we will meet.  We are finally able to view our agenda about 1 month prior to take-off.

Contrast at Tower Hill
Throughout the week, we are asked to think about the qualities and leadership styles of the staff we meet.  We are encouraged to discuss the varying operations and discover preferences for future work environments.  We are able to meet with the upper level staff and discuss all manner of operations of the garden or arboretum. From watering techniques to donor cultivation, from education programs to landscape architecture, from budgeting concerns to employee pay, all subjects are open to us and it's fascinating.

This year we traveled to New England, specifically to see 6 different institutions of horticulture in Boston and Maine. One classmate created a motto for the trip, Plants all day, party all night. Our "party" usually ended at 11pm... Although, one highlight did include a quaint hotel in Maine, where we got to sing along with the lounge singer at the piano bar.

On the trip, we each get an opportunity to act as photographer and to act as journalist for the Longwood Graduate Program Blog.  My day to do the reporting was Day 1 when we visited the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University.  My day to do the photography was on Day 3 when we visited Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Worcester, Mass.  

Links are below!

Trip to the Arnold Arboretum

Trip to Tower Hill

Thursday, August 29, 2013


This summer I began a job at a 5 acre home garden in nearby Maryland. Various LGP (Longwood Graduate Program) grad students have worked in the garden over the past decade and the owner is convinced it is collaborative nature of the job being passed down from student to student that makes the garden so unique.

I started in the heat wave of July with weeding and mulching. Then I tried to dig up, separate and replant a large clump of Day Lillies.  These seem to have been there since the land was a farm, 100 years ago,  and so after about an hour or so, I was a little defeated. The Day Lily is certainly the most tangible example of "Steadfastness" that I have ever encountered.

On numerous occasions this summer, I've run into my old nemesis: Poison Ivy.  After a short stare down with the shiny devil, I always back away slowly.  For now, the nasty little vine is winning in the ground cover department but at least it isn't covering my skin too!

In between the Poison Ivy and the heat, I ran across some interesting Fungi co-habitating with the Termites in the mulch pile.  The same day I began digging up a clump of eager Black-eyed Susans only to realize that they were covering the home of some very possessive Ground Bees. A few minutes after that I unknowingly got myself into a losing battle with two angry Yellow Jackets...At least, I discovered, I'm not allergic to bee stings...

Now the heat wave has essentially ended and each week there is less humidity.  This week there was a special scent on the breeze. After weeks of anticipation, finally the figs were ripe.  The buzzing of the wasps and bees around the tree confirmed it. It took a little finesse to avoid a showdown with them but I can't think of a better way to end the day than harvesting figs. We collected a few pounds and then I planned an impromptu dinner party to celebrate.  The evening was marked by abundance.  The sweet aromas of roasted figs and goat cheese toasts, not to mention a delicious yet sneaky little Sangria, were the perfect hint at the beginning of the end of the summer.

In Evie's garden the opportunity to work that is exciting, and though sometimes it's difficult work, it is the opportunity to share--the Harvest, the recipes, the ideas and the time, that are most remarkable.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Trees of Life

Recently I visited Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston, Mass.  Generally graveyards are sad places.  Representing loss--lost time, lost lives, mystery and even fear. Yet, in addition to those common aspects, cemeteries are also known to contain some of the world's oldest trees.

It could be because centuries ago Druids used to gather at Yew trees.  Already known to be sacred spots, eventually churches were built near those trees. And the area containing the trees became the churchyard or the graveyard.  Eternity becomes a real concept in these places but also a fantastic place for trees to take their time and spread their roots. 
Boston Skyline

With the creation of Mount Auburn, America's Rural Cemetery Movement began. Consecrated in 1831, its founders were innovators.  They dreamed of a cemetery that could serve as a peaceful place for burials in addition to a landscaped place of beauty where nature could thrive and life could be celebrated by everyone. 

Bigelow Chapel
And why not? Weddings, christenings, and baptisms are celebratory rites  conducted at churches.  These rites are often performed right next to the grave yards where the deceased from the same families lie in eternal rest.
Mighty Oak

Why not take your children to visit their loved ones while smelling the flowers and breathing the fresh air?  After the tears, they can enjoy the pleasure of the shade, the towering trees and the textured look and sound of the leaves.  It's as if we're teaching them to say, "I will enjoy my time because it won't last forever." 

Auburn Lake
The creation of Mount Auburn marked a shift in the American psyche regarding funerals, burials and death. Romantic notions of Death prevail in the serene loveliness.  Here life and Death become peaceful bedfellows, in a romantic and cyclical dance, as opposed to stark contrasting enemies at war. The vision and foresight of Mount Auburn eventually inspired the Public Parks Movement with the creation of Central Park in 1857.

At Mount Auburn the gardens, the detailed memorials, the hilly landscape and spectacular trees make "in perpetuity" seem like an opportunity to celebrate beauty and cultivate life forever.
European Beech

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Spring is the cyclical reminder of beauty of the earth. Birth and rebirth happen each year without any help from us. If you aren’t a midwife, a father, a child, a pet owner or a doctor, Spring may be the only time you really get to experience nature’s miracle of birth and rebirth. Sadly, the heralds of spring have been stifled somewhat by the nasty tragedies that doted our human existence recently.  And so I stumbled on this quote from Kurt Vonnegut.

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.

If you know Vonnegut, you know that he was the king of “Gallows humor” (humor in the face of or about very unpleasant, serious,or painful circumstances.) Gallows humor has been described as a witticism in the face of – and in response to – a  hopeless situation. It arises from stressful, traumatic, or life-threatening situations.

If you read Slaughter House Five, you’ll know that Kurt Vonnegut was aware of pain.  He was not naïve to bitterness.  And so it’s easier to trust him when he says, "you still believe the world is a beautiful place.”   

The world is a beautiful place.  It’s a fact. The world is a lot of other things too. (Also a fact)  However, the good news is that our belief that the world is beautiful doesn’t make it more or less true.  Similarly, our belief in gravity has no effect on its force.

The only power that our personal beliefs have is that (depending on what they are) they can make existence better.  Believing in something doesn’t make it more or less true, what believing in something does is make it more powerful. 

There are not always answers. Things will not always make sense, but Spring does come.  Every year Spring reminds us that there is beauty to be seen, and sometimes the appearance of the witch hazel and the cherry blossoms have to be enough to sustain us until we can once again believe that the world is a beautiful place.

After Winter, must come Spring...-Lauryn Hill

All photos copyright@Becominagardener

Monday, January 28, 2013

Like Diamonds in the sky

In grade school we learned about 'infinity.' In even toned voices, the teachers impressed upon us the concept that some objects are uncountable, some depths unfathomable, and some distances immeasurable.   Allowing a room full of 10 year olds to ruminate on this concept could throw a class into chaos, so we never spent much time on it.  They told us not to think about infinity in literal terms, encouraging us to just accept it and move on.

Fast forward--I have lived in a city most of my life. As far as I know there are only three constellations in the sky:  the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and the few stars of Orion. It seems that there are hardly any individual snowflakes anymore.  The beach is eroding back into the ocean, so how could the grains of sand really be infinite? I've become a cynic and it seems infinity has become an unlikely, old fashioned concept.

But then, one dark evening, I'm quietly floating down the Rio Negro in Amazones, Brazil. Trying to spy camens, frogs, and night blooming plants, the sounds of the rain forest and the vibration of the little boat are instead lulling me to sleep. Not wanting to miss one detail of the Amazon exploration, I turn my head upwards to feel the breeze on my face and when I shift my eyes to the sky, I am suddenly awake.  There are millions and trillions of visible stars.  There are more stars than the sky has room for. I can't stop looking.  I am staring into the deepest, most astonishing abyss of sparkling tiny suns. En mass, a mesmerizing, three dimensional symphony.

Since that evening, I can think of nothing else. I find myself entranced by anything that looks remotely like a star filled sky.  Diamonds, fireworks, snowflakes, the misty drops that make a rainbow, even the lights of the cities twinkling--they are a mere reflection of the Amazon sky.  After seeing the stars, everything else in the world looks like an attempt to mimic them. A diamond? Just the earth's rendition of a star.

Does it change your life when you realize that infinity is real? Does it matter? Yes! Because it means that for today and for every day to come, the possibilities are infinite too.