Lately, a few more Tamukeyama Japanese Maples have been planted on the hillside (as our aching arms can attest). More dirt is always an urgent need so husband Bob dispatched himself to the local sand and gravel yard for topsoil of some mysterious origin. It was so mysterious that even the owner knew nothing of its origin or previous treatment. So I suppose it came from heaven – pure, pristine, and of perfect organic composition. My approach was that if it smelled earthy and not netherworldly, I would use it on the maples. I used to have a garden that was treated with chemicals for many years and I will never forget the woe begone aroma. This soil prospect smelled quite natural , so heaven it is…
Our outdoor stairway is planted along the edges with various annuals and perennials in a trial and error fashion. For some reason, the bottom half is mostly error. But in the top half resides one of my favorite plants. It has happily bloomed every spring for at least the last six years and is called Daphne cneorum. It has proven amazingly hardy in our zone 5a and is rated for zones 4-9. Its tight dark pink blossoms have a heavenly fragrance which is something I was aiming for along the stairway. Lately it seems to be trying to escape its one step boundary by layering itself on the step above. It seems one branch has rooted so I may push this tendency by holding down a few other low lying branches using soil and fine mulch. The hope is to have a few more plants for the Japanese maple hillside.
Since this hillside is still in the fluid state of dreams, the daphne may have possibilities under the Tamukeyama maples as an understory plant. Possibilities abound at this stage before roots are attached and at home. This is when the gardener chess player sits staring and pondering the next move. The visual drama may be in the cascading and weeping maples on the hillside, but the hand to hand combat will be on the ground – hence the battle plans. The enemy is weeds, which sometimes used to be known as precious plants. Some are native and some are naturalized imports but they all seem to know the territory well. Quack grass – probably the Michigan State Weed – already resides on the hillside en masse. Creeping Charlie (alias ground ivy) is somewhat contained, and creeping cinquefoil is about to take a nearby hill. These are listed in increasing order of dread. Cinquefoil not only creeps but sends down an anchoring taproot which can regenerate if broken – as in trying to pull it out. It is truly beyond creepy suitable only for a gardeners’ Halloween House of Horrors.
While pondering, I suddenly remembered a statement made by Vern Stephens from Designs by Nature during his lecture at the Native Plant Sale: that any plant, if left alone, without competition, will take over any area. This was his stark assertion to illustrate the checks and balances that native plants provide. To provide that checkmate, at least the perimeter of the hillside will need stalwart pawns to guard the Japanese nobility. Then, perhaps in future more peaceful years, my favorite Irish mosses and Elfin thyme can exist unmolested.
Yesterday I read more about the aggressive yet still admirable qualities of moneywort. Judging from its kindly yet strong qualities, it may be on the verge of conscription. I already use it under the Oshio Beni Japanese Maple and it has kept all intruders out – so far not even a vole has ventured into its domain. It has also danced around the walkway edges of the greenhouse for years and pulls out easily (by me) when it oversteps.
The stairway Daphne cneorum, with its low evergreen habit and love of well drained sites, seems like it could also stand up to the wild, lurking aggression (or is it simply love of life?) of nearby weeds. So it is on the list. Enlisting native grasses may require something low and a bit Japanese looking, perhaps Prairie dropseed. But will it become a weed?? The chess board gets more complex….
Because I love the bermed architecture of the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute and because I can’t resist a plant sale, we dropped urgent gardening tasks and drove out to investigate. I had diminished expectations of any lecture on native plants. Hoopla abounds in the breeding of more and more dazzling and talented plants, so it seemed that native plants would only be poor, deprived, pitiful cousins in need of some type of genetic infusion. However, I had gone so far as to become enchanted by bumblebees in the dead of winter and had a list of nine wild plants which are loved by them. The website Xerces.com sells a kit of the plants, but tracking them down seemed more interesting.
Upon arriving, one from my list (which of course I forgot), jumped out – Wild Bergamot. Another one just looked powerful: Great Blue Lobelia. Lobelia was the herb raved about by the herbalist Jethro Kloss in his book Back To Eden, the first herbal I ever read. Everyone but Mr. Kloss had a deep fear and dread of lobelia instilled by powerful war volleys put forth by the makers of the War On Nature. But Mr. Kloss could cure just about anything with this potent herb (including suspended animation). So I bought that one too. What bee wouldn’t want to revel in this herb?
We sat in the back at the lecture in case a quick exit was necessitated out of boredom. But I was shocked to have been immediately gripped by a new fever for the pristine, the unadorned, and the utterly natural world of native plants. The earnest and learned lecturer, Vern Stephens from Designs by Nature, began by explaining the advantageous nutritional value of native seeds and berries for the birds. Similar plants hybridized for other characteristics such as color or hardiness don’t have the high quality amino acids and proteins possessed by native plants. Birds who eat them often cannot fly fast enough to escape predators or lay fewer eggs. Some birds will not even eat non-native seeds and fruits. Native plants have a crucial position in the woven tapestry of interdependence between plants, insects, and birds.
Seeing myself as at least somewhat bird-like, I couldn’t help but think about my human diet as well – that perhaps I am lacking in wild native foods too. Aside from Chaga mushrooms, I am not eating that many wild foods. I think I am surviving – but surviving may be more than walking and talking. Perhaps unbeknownst to us, we are all still in a game of survival. We have crude “foodstuffs” but do we have foods that can help us to survive on a higher human level……was the question. We perceive that we are safe, but what about higher human functions – the idea that never emerged, the mental retreat, the smile that never found its way from our brain to our face?
Since humans ideally bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual, I suddenly found myself engrossed in the idea of spiritual ecology. Could there be foods that can help us break barriers between physical and spiritual realms, that can help us fly away to a safer place? The idea that our gardens and yards can help us survive on a higher level seemed worth exploring. Gardening always leads me to see relationships I never knew existed, and this lecture sparked new avenues and threads I’ll fly off to……if I can find the right amino acids.
This is the beginning of the Japanese Maple viewing hillside I wrote about last June.It all starts with dirt – in this case, anything I can get my hands on from other places in the yard to fill in the steep, concave hillside. Dirt from dug out pathways, small rises, and a hastily conceived excavated carnivorous plant garden, has all been heaved down the hill. I even bought a few bags of organic topsoil, but it was a laughable drop in the bucket. It is always a cause for celebration when something else produces excess dirt for the collection. In taking what I can get, some of this soil is clay subsoil, which Japanese Maples absolutely hate. (I’ve seen this soil kill them in pots.) This will be the acid test for the microbes in the compost tea I make with supplies from Tandjenterprises.com. In my phone conversations with the owner last year, he regaled me with microbe tales of converting humusless (and humorless) soils to thriving cities of soil biota ready to support life in the upper atmosphere. I’ll put it to the test if I can survive climbing our small mountain elixir in hand.
Part two of the recipe is adding a few nuts and bolts to the soil such as fine expanded shale (sometimes called Haydite) and sphagnum peat. I would have added some compost save reading the cautionary cultural information on the very imformative website Essenceofthetree.com. Instead, a bark based soil is recommended. Never having been able to find this, I will be pressing my luck by mulching with fine pine bark instead.
Here in mid Michigan, we’ve had a cooler than normal April so these lettuces in our unheated greenhouse haven’t been growing very fast. The left 2 are named Emerald Oak – a very sweet lettuce, and the 4 on the right are Red Deer Tongue – an heirloom that is heat resistant. Both are sold at Seeds of Change among others. I’m still in surreal mode, so they may have fallen down from the sky. We are due for some warmer temperatures, and none too soon, since the store bought lettuce is starting to have that 6th taste I call cardboard – in line after the newest 5th taste named umami.
I took some time out from covering our baby schizandra buds due to a frost warning tonight to try my hand at more flying orchids – with my husband’s help. We used 4 photos we took, one sky photo and 3 orchid photos from the Michigan State University Orchid Show this March.
The orchids were selected from their backgrounds using Photoshop, and then layered on the sky using Corel Painter. After the orchids were applied using a tablet and pen, the image was flattened into one layer and made ready for the web using Photoshop.
I have always loved fabric and find it fascinating to relate gardening and photography to other areas of design, especially fabric. I once took weaving classes, but my instructor was discouraging about ever earning a penny from it – and I did need to earn a few pennies. I should have been listening to Tom Petty when he sang ,”I don’t care what you have to say” in the song Melinda. I like the certainty of purpose which comes through in so many of his songs. But weaving ideas together is another form of weaving ever intriguing – and the ideas of gardening, photography, and fabric is a mix with many layers and intricacies to explore.