Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lunchtime with Gardeners

For many years I worked in IT, mostly as a Unix System Administrator. Lunch time spent with peers and co-workers usually saw the conversation slip to the tech-topic of the day, fishing, hunting, family, and things that use gasoline. Now that I’m working at the RCGC, the lunch time conversations are of quite different themes. Sometimes it is about new plants we have in the garden or how our tomatoes are growing. Sometimes it is about nurseries we’ve visited or where to buy “turkey grit” so it can be used as a soil amendment . Yesterday it was about how some people (nurseries included) plant/pot trees too deeply and if you use the rule of thumb (as I have) to plant as deeply as it was in the pot, you could end up loosing trees. They don’t die right away. They could linger on for a few years and then wham! Dead tree. (If you are curious as to what is the proper way to plant a tree try one of these two sites: the first has more visually-oriented instructions while the second is more verbal.) I have learned much in these lunchtime conversations with my co-workers and fellow gardeners.

Native trees: sassafras and eastern white pine

My lunchtime education reminds me much of all I have gleaned from the questions asked by other students in the classes I have taken through the RCGC. The instructors and their course content for these classes are truly exemplary. The classes showcase both the breadth and the depth of the instructor’s skill and knowledge. And as a testament to each instructor’s expertise and acumen is how they answer the students’ questions. Students often bring their garden and landscaping queries with them to ask the instructor who not only answers the questions, they often use them to illustrate the different objectives of the class. This makes each class a unique opportunity for learning.

So if you haven’t taken an RCGC class yet, give it a try. There is so much to learn for so little. Each quarter there are also classes and "brown-bag lunches" that are free to RCGC members. (See the course catalog for more details about these offerings.) Or if you have already taken a class from us, how about another class on a different topic? They are always changing. Or perhaps you could take a favorite one again. Some of the classes, such as the hands-on Pruning classes with Mike Tanzini, can be taken over and over again with each one being a very unique and learning experience. I’m sure you’ll go away with some new learnings...kind of like me at lunchtime.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Attention Greedy Gardeners

Maybe you're like me-I always want more plants than I can fit into my garden, so shrubs that can be cut back are big on my list . I wasn't aware of many of the varieties available (like Fuschia Magelinica) until I started talking with Jerry Kral about some of the shrubs he has experimented with. Did you know that many "tender" shrubs can be over-wintered and treated like hardy perennials? Jerry really knows his plants, and his garden never fail to inspire me. It's a treat to go there. Don't miss Tender Shrubs and Botanical Treasures on Wednesday July 16, 7-8:30pm.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

"Is This a Plant or a Weed?"

Being a plant person yourself, perhaps the title amuses you as much as it does me. A weed is a plant but some act as though it is something alien and very unplant like. There has been more than one post to GardenWeb's Name That Plant! Forum that has had a subject line similar to the title of this post. I giggle each time I see one of those subject lines. Humor for plant nerds, I guess!

Perhaps you're of a different mind, but I think a weed is merely a plant in the wrong place. A weed is neither good nor bad. It just is, albeit in the wrong place. This reminds me of a recent conversation about weeds with a 7-year old who was saying "Weeds are bad!" I went on to tell him about some of the "weeds" that I use for "plant medicine," i.e. herbalism. Plantain (Plantago major) was there and handy at the time so I told him about "nature's band-aid" and how mushed-up plantain leaves can help take the sting and itch out a bug bite. I've used it and it works. Besides being useful, weeds can have the most interesting nick-names, history, and traditions associated with them as well. Plantain, for example, is euphemistically called "White Man's Foot" because it seemed to follow in the white man's footsteps in the New World. A Mohawk herbalist I saw speak about medicinal plants said to use only the round, fat, "female" plantain leaves, never the thin, pointy, "male" leaves. The female were medicine while the male ones were poison. I know I prefer the round, fleshy ones myself.


One of my all time favorite weeds is the infamous dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). The word "dandelion" comes from the French dent de lion or "lion tooth" and it aptly describes the jagged, toothed leaves. Out of all the herbs I harvest for medicinal use, dandelion root and leaf top the list. I end up with pounds of dried root and leaf each year. One of the medicinal uses for dandelion is evidenced in some of its most colorful nick-names which concern themselves with "urinating in the bed." It is used as a diuretic. Besides its medicinal values, dandelion is a well-known and nutritional green that is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. It is no wonder that our ancestors sought this food plant for their spring tonics and dinner plates! And let's not forget dandelion wine made from those pretty yellow early spring blooms. Mmmm...good stuff.


There are so many more wonderful weeds to learn more about. If this interests you at all, please consider joining us at RCGC's Your Backyard Herbal Medicine Chest class on August 9th. Arleen Oliver, program director at the historic Buckland House, will lead the class on a tour of the medicinal uses of your garden weeds. Please see our education page for more details and registration information. I hope to see you there!