Creating harmony, simplicity and peace in the landscape......

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

Gardening is an instrument of grace. " - May Sarton


Friday, February 5, 2016

Secrets to a Successful CHILD'S VEGETABLE GARDEN

 I reprint this post every year with new suggestions...time to plan

 3 secrets to a successful 
  1. They should not be too demanding, 
  2. They should offer fairly quick results
  3.  The must not  require too much maintenance.

But how to achieve this in a garden in the short few months before school is over in June?

 Go to and then, prepare, prepare, prepare.

1First, your veggie garden site has to have full sun for over 6 hours a day. This is a must! And morning sun is preferable over 6 hours of late in the day sun.

2. It must be relatively level and have soil deep enough to sustain plant roots and facilitate adequate drainage (about 16 inches deep at least). No 6" to bedrock or placed atop asphalt.

The soil has to be prepared beforehand - not by the kids, but by adults. 

The quality of the soil decides the success of the garden. Little kids cannot be expected to amend and prepare the soil in the correct manner...

The soil preparation stage is where most kids' gardens go astray.

The grown-ups must work the soil to get the ground ready for the enthusiasm of children with trowels and a bunch of seeds.  This is no easy task -  the soil has to be friable ( I love that word) and fertile. 

Woodland soil is not suitable nor is sandy amendments will be needed (worm composting, anybody?)

3. Third, the arrangements for watering and weeding have to be addressed beforehand. Kids will lose interest after a while (summer sports are calling) and someone has to do it consistently...

If those three considerations are fulfilled then the kids' garden will be a great success! If not, it may become a short lived exercise....

What to plant?
Veggies for a kids' garden should be hardy, fun to look at and mature quickly before school is out in what can we plant?

One idea is to choose varieties in unusual colors, shapes and sizes:

Aurora Mixed Orach   Greens in a mix of radiant colors, well suited to edible landscapes. Who says greens have to be green? Has a spinach flavor. Go here: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed. A great company.

"Easter egg" radish 
Ovals in shades of purple, lavender, pink, rose, scarlet, white. 25 days. Fast and easy to grow, radishes are best in cool weather.

Carrot Thumbelina
Round, golfball  gourmet carrots can be harvested after 60 days!

Ideal for containers or gardens with poor soils. Sweet taste and small cores make thumbelina great for salads, stews, snacks or hors d'oeuvres.

 Red Saladbowl - Oakleaf Lettuce 

Radiant burgundy, deeply lobed, delicate oak-like leaves form a rosette. Red Saladbowl matures early, holds its mild, nonbitter salad quality for a long time, and is slow to bolt.  seed with organic pelleting for fast and easy germination.

Potato - All Blue
Skin is purple and the flesh is blue.  A wonderfully flavorful potato with meaty flesh.  It is not a quick grower but the fun is in harvesting it in late summer...

one great way to grow potatoes - fill a tire with soil and plant the seed potato within this tire...add another one atop it as potato seedlngs emerge and grow about 8  inches and cover them with soil it again with a third tire as they grow toward the light...

Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' Mix

A must for a kid's garden!This chard seed mix has stems in yellow, gold, pink and crimson.  They're best harvested young for salads. Ready to harvest in 60 days. Go here: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

And what about flowers?
Plant spring pansies for color and this:

Nasturtium Alaska Mix

These colorful and edible flowers tolerate poor soils and heat or cold. They grow on compact plants with attractive variegated foliage. Flowers and tender young leaves add color and a peppery zip to salads.  Big seeds are ideal for kids' gardens.

I hope this gets everyone starting to think about planting out those veggies...I got most of these photos from Burpee's Seeds. This well known company is a great on-line seed source as is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

click here: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King, Jr. Quote

photo - Jan Johnsen   

"All of life is interrelated. 

We are all caught 

in an inescapable network of mutuality,

tied to a single garment of destiny. 

Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." 

- Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Song Of The Flower by Khalil Gibran

'Milkshake' Coneflower

Song Of The Flower XXIII  by Khalil Gibran

I am a kind word uttered and repeated 
By the voice of Nature; 
I am a star fallen from the 
Blue tent upon the green carpet. 
I am the daughter of the elements 
With whom Winter conceived; 
To whom Spring gave birth; I was 
Reared in the lap of Summer and I 
Slept in the bed of Autumn. 

allium by Jan Johnsen

At dawn I unite with the breeze 
To announce the coming of light; 
At eventide I join the birds 
In bidding the light farewell. 

The plains are decorated with 
My beautiful colors, and the air 
Is scented with my fragrance. 

NY Botanical Garden - Jan Johnsen

As I embrace Slumber the eyes of 
Night watch over me, and as I 
Awaken I stare at the sun, which is 
The only eye of the day. 

Profusion zinnias - Jan Johnsen

I drink dew for wine, and hearken to 

The voices of the birds, and dance 
To the rhythmic swaying of the grass. 

I am the lover's gift; I am the wedding wreath; 
I am the memory of a moment of happiness; 
I am the last gift of the living to the dead; 
I am a part of joy and a part of sorrow. 

spring planter - Jan Johnsen 

But I look up high to see only the light, 
And never look down to see my shadow. 
This is wisdom which man must learn.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Our Favorite Archetypal Landscape - Denis Dutton, TED

 Denis Dutton  is a philosopher... He is the head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Dutton is from Los Angeles, California and was educated at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He taught at several US universities before emigrating to New Zealand (like my dear friend, Louisa, did...)

 In his book The Art Instinct, Dutton suggests that humans are hard-wired to seek beauty.  He gave a talk at TED on THE DARWINIAN THEORY OF BEAUTY and referred to the Atavistic Archetypes of Beauty....Here is an excerpt from his talk where Dutton describes the archetypal landscape that we all seem to prefer over any other:

“Consider briefly... the magnetic pull of beautiful landscapes.

People in very different cultures all over the world tend to like a particular kind of landscape, a landscape that just happens to be similar to the Pleistocene savannas where we evolved.

Savanna, Uganda - Ruwenzori Mountains
This landscape shows up today on calendars, on postcards, in the design of golf courses and public parks and in gold-framed pictures that hang in living rooms from New York to New Zealand.

It's a kind of Hudson River school landscape (I love this - I live in the Hudson River Valley)  featuring open spaces of low grasses interspersed with copses of trees.

Oak Savanna

The trees, by the way, are often preferred if they fork near the ground, that is to say, if they're trees you could scramble up if you were in a tight fix.

The landscape shows the presence of water directly in view, or evidence of water in a bluish distance, indications of animal or bird life as well as diverse greenery

forest near Killarney, Ireland

and finally -- get this -- a path or a road, perhaps a riverbank or a shoreline, that extends into the distance, almost inviting you to follow it.

Kenyan Highlands - North of Nanyuki

This landscape type is regarded as beautiful, even by people in countries that don't have it.

San Francisco Park

The ideal savanna landscape is one of the clearest examples where human beings everywhere find beauty in similar visual experience.”

Rift Valley, Kenya near Kaptagat

Here is a wonderful animated version of his talk. Its a little long...but a lot of fun with the animated graphics:

Monday, January 4, 2016

Conferences Under Trees....

"...Years ago I heard somebody say that all our political and diplomatic conferences ought to be moved out of smoke-filled rooms and held underneath trees... 

I wonder if under those circumstances the conclusions reached might not be quite different from what they are at present..."

( page 159 of “The Lost Myth,” by Clyde S. Kilby. Arts in Society, Vol. 6, 1969.)  For a brief biography of Clyde S. Kilby, click here.  This information is from a wonderful blog, the Saunterer.

from justfocus in New Zealand

Imagine if the United Nations met under trees? 

Trees are a wonderful mediating influence in our lives and are there to help.

I believe the UN discussions might be a little more fruitful if held under the canopy of a stately sugar maple.

This goes for children too: 

If a child misbehaves, instead of sending them into a corner, have them go outside and sit at the base of a tree...or better yet - up in its limbs!  Tell him or her to talk to the tree and listen to its guidance.

source: Telegraph UK, a great article

The children would know exactly what you mean (up until about age 9). No tree out there? Ah! now is to the time to plant one!

In my book, 'Heaven is a Garden' I have a chapter named, 'Calling on the Trees'. I write about the power a tree can have on our wellbeing. 

 We should honor trees for their quiet but powerful influence in our lives.  Here are few below that are noteworthy.

Great Elm of Pennsylvania (actually, Great Elm Tree of Shackamaxon)

In 1682, along the banks of the Delaware River, under the shade of a great elm tree, William Penn made a Treaty of Friendship with the Native Americans which led to the founding of Pennsylvania.

William Penn's Treaty with the Indians became a universal symbol of religious and civil liberties. 

Voltaire made reference to the event in 1764 and artists throughout Europe recreated the scene. Edward Hicks (artist of the famed Peaceable Kingdom) painted numerous depictions of the treaty meeting to promote social change.

The "Great Elm", as it was known, remained a living reminder of this event until it fell during a violent storm in 1810. You can still visit Penn Treaty Park

Great-Grandson of the Great Elm Tree at Haverford College

A descendant tree of the Great Elm, above, is in Haverford, Pa. at Haverford College. More interesting info and pictures can be seen here: Treaty Elm Tree.  

Maybe the UN should go meet there. 

The Treaty Oak (Quercus virginiana)

Treaty Oak in 1970's from Mr G's photos in Picasa

Native Americans of the Austin, Texas region preferred to make important decisions under a grove of live oak trees - the so-called Council Oaks

Tejas, Apache and Comanche tribes revered these trees. It was here that Stephen F. Austin closed the first boundary line pact with the Indians.

The Austin "treaty oak" is the last survivor of these council oaks and is almost 600 years old.

In 1927 the American Forestry Association proclaimed the Treaty Oak to be "The most perfect specimen of a North American tree" but today it is a shadow of its former self. 

 In 1989 a vandal poured a large amount of herbicide on the ancient oak. The tree went into shock and three and a half feet of contaminated topsoil around the tree were removed and replaced.  Tall shading screens were erected and spring water was misted onto the leaves every half hour. The Treaty Oak survived but lost many limbs.

Many products from the fallen branches of the treaty oak have been made - the most popular item for sale seems to be the 'treaty oak gavel' - for use by the judiciary - how fitting! 

 Check it out here: Treaty Oak products

The East African Mpingo Tree 

In the name of peace and trees and music there is no better project right now than the

The African Blackwood Conservation Project was established in 1996 by James Harris, a woodworker from Texas, USA, and Sebastian Chuwa, a botanist from Tanzania. The aim of this group is to help replenish this valuable tree in Tanzania.

 Most people have not seen blackwood but almost everyone has heard it, for it is the premier wood of choice for fine concert-quality woodwind instruments such as clarinets, oboes and flutes, as well as being used in the manufacture of bagpipes.

Serengeti Plains in Tanzania

Blackwood is also the finest material available today for producing ornamental turning. In its African homeland, it is used to make intricate and highly detailed carvings (makonde) and plays a vital role in the ecology of the East African savannah.

Planting a mpingo seedling ( takes 60 years!)

The African blackwood or mpingo tree (botanical name: Dalbergia melanoxylon) is being depleted at an unsustainable rate. It is extinct in Kenya already.

Mpingo Alley in nursery

I love Tanzania and the Tanzanian people. I lived in an 'Ujamaa Village' 60 miles outside of Tanga as a college student and know how joyous and hard working the people are.  This is the best tree project for peace I can think of...

Save the indigenous forests of East Africa and make more oboes and clarinets!

Bahati Mzuri -  Good Luck!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Worms save the world....

In the mid 1970's I moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for a group called 'Institute for Local Self-Reliance'.

I was the horticultural staff and tended to roof top greenhouses, worm composting and assisted in writing policy papers related to urban agriculture. I felt like a voice in the wilderness, especially in the Washington, DC of the 70's...

But my time there revealed to me the answer to our society's ills: Worm composting!  

..Known also as vermiculture, it is the proverbial win-win solution for our environment.

You can conveniently dispose of kitchen waste, build up your soil and  best of all, you don't need a large area for compost - worms work within a bin and, because they eat the bacteria, there is no odor!

If you want to see the magic of worms - look at this short video ....

Worm Castings contain a highly active biological mixture of bacteria, enzymes, remnants of plant matter and animal manure. The castings are rich in water-soluble plant nutrients, and contain  50% more humus than what is normally found in topsoil. 

Worms castings are so high in nutrients that it is known as "black gold."  It is a pure organic fertilizer yet it is neutral in acidity which means it does not 'burn' plants the way fertilizer does..

Worm castings added to soil or potting mix can turn it into rich humus. Think of worm castings as 'vitamins' for the soil...


Benefits of Worm Castings
  1. The humus in the worm castings extracts toxins and harmful fungi and bacteria from the soil. Worm Castings therefore have the ability to fight off plant diseases.
  2. The worm castings have the ability to fix heavy metals in organic waste. This prevents plants from absorbing more of these chemical compounds than they need. 
  3. Worm Castings act as a barrier to help plants grow in soil where the pH levels are too high or too low. They prevent extreme pH levels from making it impossible for plants to absorb nutrients from the soil.
  4. The humic acid in Worm Castings stimulate plant growth, even in very low concentrations. Humic acid also stimulates the development of micro flora populations in the soil.
  5. Worm Castings increase the ability of soil to retain water. The worm castings form aggregates, which are mineral clusters that withstand water erosion and compaction and also increase water retention.
  6. Worm Castings reduce the acid-forming carbon in the soil, and increase the nitrogen levels in a state that the plant can easily use. 

So  my way to save the world: the answer is 'worms'.

My 2016 Resolution

Resolved to see beyond the appearance in 2016.....

Friday, December 18, 2015

Listening for a Deeper State of Calm

Roger Ulrich (of Texas A & M University) found that viewing natural scenes in a hospital aided in recovery by evoking positive feelings and reducing stressful thoughts.

Now, Matilda Annerstedt of the Swedish University of Agricultural Science discovered that we recover faster from stress and our body returns to a normal, harmonious state after exposure to nature and nature sounds as compared to an ordinary indoor setting.

It seems the nature sounds triggered a significantly higher activity in the parasympathetic nerve system which, in turn, calms us. 
The active effect of natural sounds on our wellbeing indicates that we need to add sounds to a hospital setting, right?
Little research has been done in the field of sounds but I think birdsong will do a lot in helping our bio-physiological recovery from the stress of urban life.