Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Talk Turkey to Me

First there are a few

Then there are several

In no time there are many

Then they flee

Over the past few years I have been seeing turkeys roam through the woods and marsh (in winter). Its amazing to see the turkeys fly up 60 feet to the tree tops to roost. If caught unaware, turkeys flapping their wings can give you quite a startle.

Winter Path

Amidst our winter visit , our first woodland walk. Starting at the trail head, we take a little jaunt on the southerly wetland edge trail.

Bundles of fallen twigs accumulate along the trail.

One of the several foot bridges spanning wet ravines. This one crosses a temporary brook that issues from a tree's roots a few feet from the bridge. The brook drains a wet basin that is just a few feet higher in elevation. Notice the larger twig pile in the background.

One of many animal trails in the snow. This is a good place to learn winter animal tracks.

Leaves of some understory trees hang on, golden, warming the view.

The long bridge comes into sight, crossing one point of drainage into the big yellow-grass marsh (that's what I call it, as I tend to see the marsh in winter, full of ochre grass.) This location has less grass than the rest of the marsh, can hold water in wet times, dry out in drought, and is shady-what a gardener's complication!

Crossing the long bridge. Its made with tree log cuts for legs and pallet-like dock laid over it. Remarkably hardy, the docking sheds water easily -resisting decay.

Resting on a boulder under matchbook tree, on the hillside trail facing east.

Off in the Big Woods

Come on a trip with me to the wintry Minnesota landscape.

Sumacs on the edge of the yellow-grass marsh

Friday, December 19, 2008

That Snow Rose

We are having our second snow of the season today, and what appears to be over the next several days by the weather reports I've been viewing. But its lovely on the New Dawn rose.

But how bout this. Is this not the most Santa Clausian freeze-dried Knockout rose with snow on it you ever did see? He's got little stunted legs, a mop of white hair and beard, one red arm close to his chest with a little white cuff and another arm and white cuff raised in the air. Sware it, I didn't notice it until I downloaded my photos. This may be my most Christmas-y garden photo ever; red, white, and green and Santa too!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

How Doth Your Broccoli Grow?

It groweth well, if ever so slow.

The broccoli that survived the pre-Thanksgiving freeze, unprotected, is now under tent.
And groweth ever so sloweth, yet groweth it doth.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tree Fairy

I woke up today, looked outside the window, and there they were. New trees. I didn't hear the jackhammer, I didn't hear the concrete saw, I didn't hear the trucks, I didn't even hear a shovel hit the dirt. So must've been the Tree Fairy in the middle of the night. Two trees right across the street. Another down our short block, and then there's another on the corner. Wait, around the corner there's another six trees! That's 10 trees dropped in the middle of the night, while our neighborhood slept. Maybe there's more on our little four block quadrant.

Thanks Tree Fairy, though not that we're not deserving. After all, the Tree Vortex stole many of our older trees two summers ago. That nasty Vortex.

Tree cut in two on Church Avenue by the Brooklyn Tornado of 2007

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

First Snow and the Camera Returns

Its not unusual, but always noted, and inspired me to pick up a Christmas tree on my way home from work. We don't always do it, and we're leaving in a few days for Minnesota, but how could I resist with the snow on the branches.

The garden is taking it well and so is my Canon A80 -back from the rehabilitation center. I'll remember this customer service, Canon, when it is time to invest in a new and better camera.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

If You're This Kind of Gardener (I am)

Now, and really for the whole month of November into December, is an excellent time to get deals on bulbs at retail nurseries. I went to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden the other day to check out what they had. Less than last year, but I still picked up some Allium Sphaerocephalon bulbs at 50% off. There are always bulbs left over from the selling season. Intrepid garden shoppers can get out and help clear those bulbs from the shelf for a discount. Yeah, its cold for planting -but not too cold to plant those bulbs.

Sale rack at the BBG

Often available are the stalwarts of the everyday garden -tulips, daffodils, hyacinths overstocked by the retailer. But the BBG had some different Alliums and a species tulip or two. So, if this is your kind of gig, stop by your local nursery and help them unload some of those bulbs. But don't do it unless its at a discount. Planting in the cold is only worth it when its backed up by a solid bargain. The nursery should be eager to let those bulbs go. And as long as your soil isn't frozen, and here in NYC it is not, you can get those bulbs in the ground.

Allium Sphaerocephalon

Friday, December 5, 2008

For Sale: This Plastic Christmas Tree

This tree is actually for sale. I found it online when looking up live trees! Some people! They just have to be different.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Long Live the Christmas Tree

When I worked for a NYC garden designer, it was a matter of business to be putting up Christmas trees and holiday decorations after the last frozen impatien was pulled out of the soil. I hadn't understood that holiday decorations were a gardener's business until then, or that it was in Manhattan, on certain streets. I thought, until those under-lit December days, that a family would be spirited into selecting their own tree, hanging their personal decorations with the kids, and generally enjoying the spirit of the moment. But for some, selecting and mounting a live-cut tree is a gardener's business and happy is the gardener to take in some extra cash before the long dry spell of winter.

J&L Landscaping, my local nursery, has brought in the post-Thanksgiving selection of cut Christmas trees. I like to smell them as I pass to and from the subway. It tells me what time of year it is, should I forget for not hearing 24 hour Christmas tunes on the radio. There were quite a few years where I felt I was a live, uncut Christmas tree kind of guy. Despite my feeling for this, it was largely a theoretical notion as I have never actually done this. Nor is it practical in the city or anywhere, really, as the tree will suffer going from a cold exterior environment to the warm, dry of the house and then back out again into the freezing landscape. I think I could keep it alive, but not without complete devotion.

Recently I heard an npr radio announcement for an ad man who wants to modernize the image of Christmas, noting with particular difficulty the modernizing of the "overly 19th century Santa Claus." I think the plastic tree, for a while anyway, lent the flavor of modern to home adornment during Christmas. Yet, I think the reason Christmas lands so squarely in the nineteenth century (or earlier) is, of course, the sentimental nature of the holiday. But isn't it also because the 19th century is a time far enough away for it to have the tone of simpler times -but close enough for us to be able to relate? Somehow, too, images and thoughts amount to 19th century life as closer to nature despite industrial realities and major resource depletion of, say -trees. Our live Christmas tree brings us closer to an image of us in spirit with the natural world, connected. Even if collecting our Christmas tree is a bit of ritual theater, the symbolism is overwhelming and might even be superstitious if it weren't so abstract, so truly distant from our lives.

My wife and I go to Minnesota to her father's place every Christmas. He goes out to a tree farm and cuts a grand tree every year. Its always set up by the time we arrive. We do not always get our own tree because we are never in our house for the holiday. But some years, we do head around the corner to J&L and pick out a short balsam or noble fir for our apartment.

My family has teetered between plastic and live-cut trees and have now comfortably settled into the "don't have to go shopping for a tree and don't have to vacuum needles" option that is the plastic tree. I don't complain.

I recently came across the National Christmas Tree Association Tree Types web page. Who knew there was an association for the Christmas Tree? And why not? I guess it would be more responsible, but less spirited, to have called the group the National Christmas Tree Growers Association. Anyhow, on their page they list the 10 Myths of the live cut Christmas tree- according to them.

Most of what they state seems reasonable enough, but in our urban world distaste for pesticides, fungicides, and the like is pretty strong. So the only myth they might not have succeeded in debunking is that one, in my opinion. Problem is that no-one wants bugs or unhealthy trees in their home, but don't want the residues of treatment either.

What of the environmental debate: which is better, the fake or the live?

The Council on the Environment of NYC has a local grower's list for pickup at NYC farmer's markets.
The Brooklyn Botanical Garden Christmas tree identifier.

My apologies for the Internet of Dead Links

Some different types of Christmas trees available locally:

Some images courtesy of the NCTA
Noble Fir

Fraser Fir

Balsam Fir

Colorado Blue Spruce

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Year Without Acorns or "Squirrel Nuts!"

Recently there has been a million posts here and there about the missing oak acorns. I can say with some certainty that most of these posts and threads grew out of this Washington Post story. It spread like post-Thanksgiving wildfire, popping up on every other person's blog. Like its some kind of signal of the Armageddon.

But I hadn't noticed a decline in acorns. I hadn't noticed them at all. Probably because oaks are not widely planted on my neighborhood's streets and because I haven't been in Prospect Park lately. And the squirrels, are they thin and attacking everything? No, they have plenty of goods to eat in our fair city. This is the city where squirrels will come up to you for a snack. Garbage is not off limits either, and neither is your garden. So the squirrels seem to be hanging in there- at least here in NYC.

As a child I grew up with acorns; all our trees were oaks. I cannot remember when they would begin to fall, but I especially prized the longer ones that held onto their caps. We would have so many that I would collect them in pails; have pails full. I had some idea that this was a good practice, saving the acorns. It was the only thing I had a lot of anyway and I like collecting them. Maybe I intended to be squirrel-like, though I don't remember my reasoning, pure speculation.

But I think I know where all those acorns went this year. All the banks are now on the acorn standard. Yep. The acorn standard. Now all your deposits are backed by the full faith of the oak forest. Yep. Sorry squirrels. Acorns now as good as gold. Maybe you should have saved more, maybe you should have been prepared, maybe a little less shady dealing Mr. Squirrel.

A vault at JP MORGAN, filled with the acorns. CITIBANK, tower of acorns. WELLS FARGO, Conestoga wagons cartin' those acorns west. Worth more than the dollar. I should have saved all those acorns from my childhood; just that I liked them green so much more than brown.

bronze cast acorn caps

Hardiness Explained

Straight from the New England Wild Flower Society website, Bill Cullina explains how perennials survive the winter. Its fascinating. Part II coming in January.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Casual Camera Casualty

What's casual in a casualty -I suppose that its a matter of chance. My casual camera, the Canon Powershot A80, was suffering psychedelic visuals. By casual chance I noticed that the company was offering rehab for cameras that were suffering symptoms just like my camera's. My camera being a casualty of not so good engineering over at Canon, I sent it off this week for rehab. They say they can help.

By chance I located, hidden in a drawer, a really cheap digital video camera that also takes stills. A brand name I certainly do not recognize. Its images are quirky at best. Poor contrast control and blurred edges. Difficulty focusing. Not very dynamic. You'll see this in all my recent photos.

My Canon will be missed. Please return safely, and soon.

Sometimes a camera works so poorly that it does magical things. I have a compact 35 mm film camera, a Ricoh AF40 with 38mm lens, that's like this. Actually, the Ricoh is a decent camera giving excellent results in certain situations. This digicam, however, is just bad, yet it still took these photos that I find to be fantastic. In the spirit of all cameras' quirks, I offer these dreamy photos taken by my nameless digicam.

These shots make sense now, a dreamy warmth out of step with that bluster outside.

My Brain is Frozen

Well, it must be because I was outside today wrapping up my broccoli starts as if they were going to make it. I mean I know I am too busy when I am wrapping for the freeze 5 days after it struck. They may have made it if I got to them by Wednesday. But now?!

It looks spooky, like some kind of phantom cradle. Its an apparition. So's my broccoli.

Lone tea barely freezing, hanging on, still scented

Salvia elegans succumbs to nasty black death, but that lone, wallside branch not giving in.

The asters hanging on, their oily leaves more resistant to the cold.

Crazy Hard Early Freeze

I haven't seen it this cold this soon since 2002. I didn't have a garden that year, but I remember the cold on Thanksgiving morning as I went off to the parade with my then girlfriend and now wife. It was cold then, but this cold comes with a stinging wind. Brrr.

As we walked through Prospect Park this morning to pick up our Thanksgiving turkey from the farmer market, I couldn't help but to notice all the south facing slopes that had full grown canopy and understory trees with totally green leaves on them. Now, I don't mean the evergreens, but maples and the like, deciduous trees that seemed to not even have the chance to change color before the freeze. Those leaves look flash-frozen, perfectly green.

So it was disjunctive to feel the brisk wind on my face and see masses of perfectly green leaves attached to groupings of trees. Its particularly noticeable on the west side, near the cemetery as you descend the moraine's slope and also between the massive, green brick Parks' garage and the drive. Unusual, or at least I cannot recollect this scene from past years.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bye Bye Vegetables

Sad, those tomatoes.

But the parsley is hanging in there, and a lone Sheffield Chrysanthemum

Such dark pictures, these were taken mid-day.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Real Freeze Coming this Week

Button up your tender plants, this seems to be the real deal. I got some broccoli trying so hard to grow in its three hours of dim sunlight each day that I think will make it through. I intended the make a plastic cover for it, but no time, or no plastic, or both. 

Meanwhile the sunflowers, salvia elegans, asters, goldenrod, roses, and chrysanthemums that still bloom daily will take a good hit. My guess is they won't all succumb, but the pineapple sage may.

The bright side: the end of those pesky tiger mosquitoes. Must still be a problem for some, because I get a steady stream of hits regarding those. So good riddance. 

I guess I am ready for the end, though it comes a little earlier this year than recent past. I need to clean out the garden and remove the too many plants I do have. Although this may have to wait for spring as it seems a bit late for a giveaway.

The San Marzano and German Stripe tomatoes are still putting out flowers despite the two hours of sun a day they get. I am tempted to clip a few branches to over winter, but alas I think it will be a failure knowing full well my lack of attention to indoor plants. They are still so brilliant green out there, so it will be a shame to see them succumb to the freeze.

My spinach was a failure. Two leaves on most, some bolted prematurely. Miserable level of achievement there. Say goodbye to the basil, oh you'll be missed. Hang on parsley, Thanksgiving is coming and I need you still. 

My camera has died and this has left me without photographic motivation. By some good fortune I happened upon the Canon website and noticed my camera was covered by some defect policy. Hooray now that I am getting it fixed for free even though it is over four years old. But without the pictures, posts are harder, wordy even, and further in between.

Well, it was a good growing year. Next will be different; better? How, I do not know yet, but I'll let winter sow its yearnings. This is also the end of my first full blogging/growing season. An anniversary of sorts. More to come I hope. Happy freezing!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Community Garden Parks

I think this recent post by the Flatbush Gardener is a valuable read. In it he defines 3 types of garden spaces: park, community garden, and urban farm. He discusses the cooptation of certain community gardens by corporate, wealthy enterprises such as the New York Restoration Project and Target Corporation.

From the NYRP website:
Garden Restoration and Management
Community garden restoration is one of the most creative and effective things we do to revitalize under served communities. NYRP secures funding from corporate and private donors to restore and endow our community gardens, and then engages leading architectural and landscape designers to transform them into community treasures (click here for NYRP garden designers). With participation, guidance, and input from community gardeners, schools, and organizations, our designers develop appropriate, innovative, and environmentally friendly designs to meet the community's immediate and future needs. Once a garden restoration is completed, NYRP commits resources for its permanent stewardship, providing ongoing support to community gardeners, including design consultation, technical assistance, garden materials, volunteers, community outreach, and educational and cultural programming. We also provide a dedicated horticulture team, carpentry, and crews that help with garden maintenance and local residents serve their community as garden managers.

I am most interested in the community garden plots listed that do not have designers. In other words, plots that have been designed by the people who use them. These plots have gone under the least drastic changes under the NYRP. Most often I cannot see much difference between the before and after. Sometimes I like the look of the before more than the after. Many of the designer gardens were drastically altered to offer some grand spaces. But these changes do not always say "community garden" to me. Check out these Brooklyn alterations.

In my opinion:

The wealthy class sees landscape as a stage for genteel activity. Unkempt land is targeted for "improvement." This has long been the rule for land use. Community gardens, in my experience, spring from a set of conditions that set them at odds with these ideals. While community gardeners do aim to improve the land, the form with which this takes place is different-the gardeners' perspective is different.
What inspires a community garden? Certainly a set of conditions must exist.
  • land disuse
  • free time
  • need for fresh vegetables
  • desire to interact with natural processes
  • desire to come together with a community
  • desire to improve community

Maybe there are more conditions, but this list touches on it. When I look at community gardens I see a wild growth, disarray even, bounded often by timber, stone, or brick frameworks. There are grass, dirt, brick, or chip paths. Often found items are incorporated into the landscape. People are actively involved in the landscape, working or hanging out.

It seems to me that these community-come-designer gardens confer upon these landscape spaces the dictum of an aesthetic formality, a genteel order and other issues. The design defines the work so that the worker is more often catering to its aesthetics than tending to vegetables. Design often cares little for people or rather, it asks us to bend to it. Is there space for drinking beer? Can large groups congregate. Where can we BBQ? I found this object, where can I put it? My vegetables sprawl, is there room for this? Where can we compost? These are the questions of a community gardener.

A new thought. People are more and more interested in actively participating in natural processes, involved in "nature." I wonder aloud then about the idea that parks, defined by the Flatbush Gardener as "green spaces open to the public, but not cared for by them," could be expanded to include green spaces open to the public and cared for by them. Would it not be better to incorporate into governmental agency the notion that green spaces are important, that activity connecting us with natural processes is a valuable component of civic life? This idea over the incorporation of our community landscape spaces into private, wealthy institutions? When these institutions become parent to these spaces, it will be difficult to extricate their expectations from community needs.

What we need is to express the enormous value of being human in a landscape that allows us involvement with natural processes. What community gardens seem least interested in are the formal rules designed for wealthy institutions. If a neighborhood has so changed, that the garden space has simply become an expression of its wealth, then so be it. But I would like to foster the idea that people have a need to interact with these natural processes. That involvement with the work of a garden is a good thing. That work is not a negative. That we should be proud of our work. And why cannot a park be a place that we come together to do this work? When I hear the word "recreation" there is no other thing that comes to mind than garden work. Re-creation. Doesn't sound like jet-skiing to me. Aren't parks for recreation?

So I imagine that future parks could be designed to include human participation. An abstraction, yes, from our original habitat, but important -even in its abstraction. As we design more parks around our new reality- ecological niches, but with less money for park development, could we not include adults or groups of school children to do a lot of the hand-work? The benefits of this are huge. Would it not be something to say this is our garden?

Friday, November 7, 2008

If You Can Avoid it, Do Not Ever Rent From UHAUL Again


Today was the first day of a small landscape job I am doing on the side. Concrete pad, soil amendments and so on. I rented a UHAUL van from 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. I've used them before because they are convenient to my subway. Each time though, there is always something. I mean ALWAYS. It starts with their frustrating policy of having to call a second landline at 8 in the morning. First, I do not have a landline. Second, at 8 am, everyone I know is either traveling to work, at work, or sleeping. But they won't rent without that phone call. Of course, all the numbers I am giving him are not being answered or messages. He's looking at me like I am doing something wrong now. He tells me I SHOULD have family with land lines. Now the UHAUL jerk is telling me how my family should live?! Finally I give him my brother's number. My brother answers and is like, who the fuck is this. I have to yell to the speaker phone that it is his brother, Osama Bin Laden, trying to rent a van to blow something up!  By this point the UHAUL jerk decides this is satisfactory. Yippee, now I am on my way.

Now I need the van to haul concrete bags, soil bags. On my way out the truck checker tells me to make sure it is clean on its return. I see now that they are doing things a little differently at this branch of UHELL, and make note to clean van.  Of course some bags leak soil onto the ribbed rubber matting in the van. So when we were all done with our four trips, we take the rubber mat out and hose it down. We hold it up to drain the water and put it back in the van. All better now. We drove to my house, my helper had a beer and we ate some sopressata, talked for about an hour. 

Then I went to return the van. I dropped it off, gas topped off, clean.
The checker opens the back doors and says-is this wet?

I said, well we hosed off the mat so that it would be clean as UHAUL requests. I look at the back and I see that the rear 18 inches of the mat are damp, no standing water here, damp!

I look at my receipt and I see he has checked the DIRTY box which entails paying 25 extra dollars. Fuck no, I am pissed off now.

So I go inside and the lady at the counter says that this is dirty and I must pay. I said it is clean, not dirty. She says it is wet and we cannot rent a wet van. I say it is 6 pm and who you going to rent to now before you close? Many people she says, so pay the fee. I say no, I will go outside and dry it off with my shirt  before I pay this bullshit extortion. 

Now I know, its only 25 dollars, but if there is one thing I hate, its money scams.

So I go outside and I see there is a man cleaning the van. I say, hey-your cleaning the van with liquid and making it wet. He says this is not water, but a CLEANING SOLUTION. I say the little bit of dampness is going to dry pretty soon, so how bout checking the not dirty box on my slip. At my prodding he admits that it is probably a way UHELL makes extra money. He then leaves me a rag so I can scrub the rubber matting to soak up the dampness. This takes 10 minutes. 
He changes me receipt to say clean.

My question is this: Why did it have to go this way? Why couldn't they be reasonable? To scam extra money off their rentals. Thats what they do. They are one of the worst companies out there. I see they are trying to make the 4th Avenue branch better, they have some new employees, they are visibly cleaning vans. But this kind of customer treatment makes them one of the worst companies. You can smile and wave all you want, but it isn't courteous to be ridiculous about cleaning standards. Its simply absurd. Go to Budget or elsewhere even if you have to pay more because its always something at the UHELL. Read these stories.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sowing our Seeds

I do try to stay on topic, and so it is with this post that I offer this analogy. Tomorrow, November 4th, 2008, we in the United States of America will sow our seeds. There is so much hope and determination in the act of sowing seeds. Much expectation as well. There will be failure, there will be loss, but there will also be growth and moments of sheer beauty. There will be lots to do, and much to ponder-but gardeners don't mind the work. I can't say gardening in November has been this exciting in a long while. See you sowing your seeds!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day and a Half Hike

Last weekend my wife and I went to the New Paltz area for a couple of days of hiking. The weather couldn't have been more perfect. The Shawangunk (pronounced Shon-gum) mountain chain, located between the Catskills and the Highlands, may be the most interesting and diverse ecological niche in the northeast and only 2 hours from NYC.
Many hikes travel along or have views of rockface.

Moss, lichens, ferns, shrubs, and trees grow on the ledges.

Rivers of brilliant red blueberry bushes lined the top of the mountains and the distant valley appears like the sea. All this near Sam's Point.

Along the path, red blueberry bushes mingled with this white-seeded plant which I think is Pearly Everlasting, or Anaphalis margaritacea.

Dwarf Pitch Pine Plains around Lake Maratanza, near Sam's Point. Trees are around 5 feet tall.

Looking west from Sam's Point at sunset