Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Mother of All Days: Pleasing the Woman Who Runs Your Garden

I have to give my kid brother credit. He’s a good boy. Makes his mother proud. And it grassed me no end that he already had her yard raked, plucked, and staked out for planting before the snow was even thinking of leaving my gardens. Of course, mom lives in the banana belt in Anchorage and her garden thinks it’s in Vancouver. But, being shown up by a novice and your kid brother at that? Well. Really. On the upside, the ‘kid’s’ loathe to admit he’s gaining on fifty and pretty soon his rake arm will be handing out twenties to a neighborhood kid to do the annual cleanup. ‘Kid brother’, indeed. Yeah, well, I have to keep him in line somehow.

She doesn't look 86 does she?
I, on the other hand, have the goods. I’ve got Mother’s Day covered in spades this year. Tall cosmos, sunflowers, bachelor buttons, calendulas, dahlias, and lilies are all ready to go in mom’s containers and garden. The ‘kid’ gets to plant them for me. And mom. Sibling rivalry. It’s a good thing.

Looking at the brown mess in the garden I can’t help but wish someone had my Mother’s Day covered. There are still my garden beds to clean up. If I’d done it in the fall I’d be home free, but, the pre-snow winds would have redistributed my soil to the inlet and beyond. At least, that’s my excuse. Usually, there’s just me to do the cleanup of three gardens, pot up stuff in the greenhouse, dig out the over wintered pots from the cold frames, turn the compost, get the greenhouse ready for opening, do the artwork, water, stay sane, water some more, plant some more, rake, stake, and drop. Argh.

Ah, real food ! Thanks, mom.

But, hey, voila! An email from my own ‘good boy’. He’s clearing his calendar, packing his bag, coming home for a week and he’s ready to dig lilacs, divide perennials, and help his mom . . . for Mother’s Day? Right. No, the way you finagle a deal like this is you loan your young adults money. There’s nothing like owing mom and dad to keep your priorities straight when it comes to developing a love of gardening. And you don’t have to buy mom anything for Mother’s Day. You don’t have the money, anyway.

So, what are you doing for Mother’s Day this year? You’ve got all week to think about it. Actually, you’ve only got a week left to get the woman who runs your garden something to keep you out of the dog house. Here are a few tips to stay out of the penalty box:

-Dad, buy her a new rake. But, get one with an attached yard slave. Tie a nice bow around your ten year old and fix his hair.

-Kids, recycle mom’s old hand tools and spray paint the handles day-glo pink. She won’t lose them in the garden anymore. Don’t worry. If she’s not amused you can always blame it on dad.

-Want to get mom out of the house? Why not get her a garden club membership? The Valley Garden Club meets on the first Tuesday of each month (except July) at 10:30 am. Membership costs $20/calendar year. For more information call Jill Parson, 892-0993 or Florene Carney, 376-5390. For those of you in the northern end of the valley there’s North Root Big Lake Gardeners. They’ve got a full calendar of events happening on different days, so for more information call Linda Lockhart at 892-8112. Memberships are $10 per person, $15 per couple or $25 for a family.

-Does your wife throw up her hands in despair at the lumpy lawn and that dead tree you bought her at the hardware store last year? Get her a garden design consultation with a skilled professional from one of the local nurseries. Your garden will thank you and your neighbors will, too.

-Darling. Take your woman out for breakfast and a long leisurely drive, checkbook firmly tucked in your back pocket, and a little mood music on the radio. Then hit the local nurseries that are brimming with colorful plants and toys for your garden. Put a little romance in those flower beds. Think of gardening as a couple’s thing that you do so the woman who runs your weekends will let you watch the playoffs. A little champagne and showing off your skills with a wheelbarrow will do wonders for your relationship.

Remember. Mother’s Day isn’t just a day for mothers. Women think of it as a whole different anniversary than the one you usually forget. You get to shop for the whole Rose bush this time. And don’t forget the chocolates!

Stop in and visit Brooke this month at WoolWood Studio & Gardens up on Lazy Mountain in Palmer., 746-3606.

Smart Gardeners Celebrate Earth Day with a Local View

On the drive into town, I’d been thinking about my column for Earth Day. Slowing down to enjoy the morning sunshine I tuned in to the discussion on National Public Radio’s Science Friday (KSKA fm 91.1, April 13) about global warming. Authors Bill McKibben, Deep Economy, and Chris Goodall, How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, had the idea that there was something we as individuals can do to effect positive change that doesn’t rely on waiting for those dinosaurs - politicians and the corporations – to do it for us; unless, like my husband, you’re anticipating beach front property on Lazy Mountain in 2020.

The late E.F. Schumacher, economist and author of Small is Beautiful, would’ve been tickled to hear that we need to start thinking small if we want to change the big picture. Of course, people don’t like change very much; they like to preserve things, to keep things as they remember them. Yet, change is such an elemental part of the universe. A small change can be quite devastating or it can make a whole new world depending on your perspective. Of course, it’s the big changes that get all the media attention and the red carpet into our anxieties about the future and our place in the order of things. The big changes are surprisingly reliant on the incremental effects of small changes, however.

Global warming. Climate change. Call it what you will, it is happening. Even the Governor says so. ‘Isn’t it a natural cycle?’ you say. Yes, some of it is. Maybe a lot of it is. But, it’s the little things that add up that can push nature over the edge. We’re the little things, and we’re pushing as hard as we can. We’re a very successful little critter in the grand scheme of things. We have natural cycles, too. Our civilizations start as tiny villages, grow up to be cities, outgrow the available resources, and then - they crash. Archaeologists and historians have been making a good living off these successful extinctions for years. While change is necessary to growth and success, we are rapidly becoming too successful for our own good.

What’s this got to do with gardening? Both McKibben and Goodall suggest that we need to change to thinking in ‘local’ terms about our economies and daily activities. Goodall points out that a major source of the world’s carbon emissions, the stuff that’s helping climate change along, is produced by the world’s food industry. It takes tremendous amounts of fossil fuels to power farms and make fertilizer to grow our food, to process food, transport and store food, and to transport folks like us driving off to the store to buy all this stuff. Add in the steel and iron used, methane from the dairy industry, carbon dioxide from intensive farming techniques, and you leave a large carbon footprint on the earth.

Interestingly, Goodall notes that you produce less carbon if you drive your car to the market to buy a bag of locally grown organic carrots than you would if you walked to the same store to buy a granola bar bought from a California-based company.

What can you do? Buy local whenever possible, which means supporting our local farmers and nurseries. Are your local nurseries growing their own plants from seeds, cuttings and divisions, or tiny plugs; the smallest units they can ship in? Big box stores ship in weighty pots of ‘retail ready’ plants that are part of the larger carbon emissions problem. And, while these plants are cheaper than those from smaller nurseries, they are often poorly cared for with poor survival rates. Local organic farmers use no fossil fuel-based fertilizers that could otherwise taint our streams, lakes, and coastal waters through rainfall runoff; a major cause of algae which feeds the coastal red tides making local clams and shellfish toxic.

So, grow your own food, go fishing, mow the lawn less, use a rake instead of a blower, or ask your local power company to look into green options for electrical generation, these are little changes we can make. Check out for some good information on reasonable changes you can make to mitigate global warming. I’m sending KSKA a check so I can keep listening to Science Friday. Maybe send a ‘thank you’ note to Governor Palin, for her new sub cabinet to study the effects of global warming in Alaska. Be a smart gardener and get active for your community when you’re not down on your knees pulling weeds!