Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Feral Coleus

So many thanks to the talented Lauren Lopez for designing the Rooted Blog when I miserably failed at the same task.  As she & I met to consider the look for the blog I thought of a photo Kevin & I took in Ecuador.

Here's the set-up: we had hired a guide to take us hiking through the Amazon.  As we were walking through the farms bounding the jungle we came across this coleus:

Beautiful, right?!  Last year we had a surplus of coleus and lined our own front beds with the plant.  It did OK, but not great.  I really wanted to see what was working so well here.  Obviously, someone planted the coleus.  It's hard to see, but there's barb wire fence above probably to keep in some livestock.  This is how someone began to edge out their property.  However, the coleus looks like it's taken on a life of its own.

Obviously, it gets heavy rains, which taught me that maybe coleus wants better irrigation than I had previously provided.  I also love the density of the coleus.  Some plants respond really well to more of their own kind or companion plants.  For years, I kept aloe in my home & rarely found much growth.  A few years ago I changed some key practices.  I re-potted the aloe less frequently.  I'd heard that they like somewhat tight root balls.  I also made sure I had two aloe plants from the same cutting growing near each other.  I have no idea if this is the key factor or if it's due to less frequent re-potting, but those aloe are growing like gang busters.  One last change?  I rarely water.  When it rains and the temperature is above 50 degrees I put the plants outside to soak.  If it rains a ton, I only do this once in a month's span.
Kevin took this photo when I cut my hair.  Ignore the hairs & focus on the aloe twins.  Despite our house being fairly dim, they're happy & thriving.

Plants are migrating with people.  Plants that are considered native to the Delaware Valley region can be traced back to many different parts of the world.  I'm not saying this to criticize or laud the practice-- it just is.  What's interesting to me is paying attention when we find a plant really happy.

I'm so glad that Lauren took me up on creating a coleus border for our blog.  Every time I see it, I think of that border between a human hand and a plant's own determination in finding water, light, and health.  I think of functional farms with the jungle just beyond.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What We Need Is Here

Today, as I was working in our yard it began to snow. It started very slowly, a thin, ghost like flurry that I'd catch out of the corner of my eye. It continued at this pace for nearly two hours. I probably wouldn't have even noticed if I'd been inside. And then, all of a sudden it started to really snow. Large soap sud-like flakes fluttered down at increasing speeds. This made me indescribably happy. This is why I need to work outside. 

Looking out a window I never would have noticed the start, the change in air pressure, the smell. I wouldn't have felt the snow landing on my skin, or seen how beautiful the fresh flakes looked as they landed on the rich, black pile of compost I was moving. This experience reminded me of the beauty of the world beyond the doors that we often take for granted. It also reminded me of this work by one of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry.

What We Need Is Here
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds

them to their way, clear

in the ancient faith: what we need

is here. And we pray, not

for new earth or heaven, but to be

quiet in heart, and in eye,

clear. What we need is here. 

(This post was written on 3/16 for later publication.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

In Praise of Witch-Hazel

Driving home from the library yesterday, I nearly swerved when I saw this beautiful witch-hazel. I crept past the house and stared at the tree. After passing, I continued towards home but was compelled to turn the corner, round the block and park. If the homeowners were looking out their windows I'm sure they were a bit concerned about the odd man walking around their tree and feeling its blossoms. I was too enamored with it's beauty to notice.

In late Spring I would likely have driven by without acknowledging it. That is the beauty of the witch-hazel. At a time when everything else is barren, when hydrangeas and crape myrtles are barely shuddering out of their winter slumber, witch-hazel is shining.

This ornamental witch-hazel, Hamamelis mollis, flowers in late Winter or early Spring, often the first blossom of the New Year. It's similar looking relative, Hamamelis virginiana, is native to the Eastern U.S. and flowers in the late Fall or early winter.

This past December I was hiking in the Shenandoah Valley and happened across a patch of native witch-hazel. Among a forest barren of leaves their fading golden blossoms were eerie and sad. Now, with the days growing longer and brighter those same blossoms look hopeful and rich, and make me grateful that Spring is nearly here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spring Explosion

After such a sweet, winter sleep, spring feels like a bonanza.  Everything starts growing-- with gusto!  Early on in Spring, Rooted Landscaping usually feels fairly sleepy too.  A few of our customers call to schedule clean-ups and make deposits.

And then it hits.  We get spring rains followed by lots of sun.  All the plants wake up and grow with a vengeance.  Our phone rings perpetually and the email inbox is full.

A spring clean-up is important.  As you prune trees and shrubs, weed, and put down compost you are creating the circumstances to maintain optimal health for the land and plants surrounding your home.  When we feel overwhelmed by our yards we tend to run and hide from them.  The land around your home can be such a source of pleasure and peace.

Set yourself up to fully enjoy it.  Think now about any important events coming up this spring.  Is anyone in your family graduating?  Will you have guests over for Seder or Easter?  Do you plan a gathering for Mother's or Father's Day?  If you answered yes to any of these questions you should schedule your clean-up for a few days before your event.  Schedule it now!  Before the madness strikes.

What's that phrase about spring?  March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb?  Here comes the lion!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fruit Tree Pruning: Opening up to Light

Orange tree we enjoyed in Otavalo, Ecuador, February 2013
Last Saturday my friend, Sonora, & I took an all-day fruit tree pruning workshop at Bartram's Garden co-sponsored by the Philadelphia Orchard Project.  The day began with a lecture.  I began to understand fruit tree pruning as sculpture.  Swoon.  I love it when our relationships with land and plants become artful & passionate.  Pruning fruit trees is largely to redirect energy towards fruit production, creating fleshier, juicier fruit, but also ensuring long-term tree health.

We moved outside to two apple trees.  During this past summer, Kevin & I had relaxed under the shade of the trees eating Little Baby's ice cream cones at the annual Bee Festival.  It was nice to revisit the same trees during their dormancy.  A Bartram's staff member shared that the trees hadn't received much pruning in recent years.  Our instructor began offering us ways to look at the tree as it was and the tree as it could be.  He invited us to imagine how the sun would reach the tree and what branches might be shade-bound.  We began to consider how the tree would hold the fruit, bear weight, and weather storms.  We envisioned squirrel paths as a means to consider wise pruning.  Finally, our instructor reminded us that we could create a truly climb-able tree for children.  Yay!  I love creating space for people to fall in love with trees, plants, and earth.  I think we're all more apt to be more careful stewards if we have memories and love for living things.

During the course of the day we learned how to separate soft branches of young trees to create L-shaped angles that are stronger than V-shaped "crotch" junctures.  Our eyes became accustomed to seeing the tree as it was, bare under the winter sun, and as it would be throughout spring, summer, and fall.  Ultimately, we created an Old Tree Paste to provide a sunblock against sun-scald.  It was such a funny practice.  First, we exfoliated the bark.  Then, we used paint rollers on long poles to paint the tree, trunk to top branches.  As the tree took on a muted, clay cover we stepped away to admire our work.  The paste also works to deter rodents and deer, smother pest organisms, and reduce disease fungal organisms.

We're at the ideal annual moment to prune fruit-bearing trees.  Rooted Landscaping is available to offer healthy pruning for your trees or to train you to care for your trees yourself.  These actions have practical worth, but it's also so lovely to feed the creative inclination as we allow the healthiest tree to emerge.