The goal of of Garden Conversations is to ask questions such as,
“How did you start gardening?”
“What does ‘gardening’ mean to you?”
“Do gardens matter?”
We hope to ignite soulful conversations that take us beyond plants, because gardens are more than that, and sometimes we just need a place to talk.
Would you like to share your garden conversation with us?
Please do reach out
When we first saw the yard of the house we bought in New York’s lower Hudson Valley, it was covered in snow. We only saw the expansive size of it. With the house in the corner of the half-acre rectangle, it looked even larger, and was more gardening space than either of us had ever had. The size of the yard was, honestly, more important than the size and features of the house. No dishwasher? An oven from 1958? No matter – it had a shed!
I thank Elena often. She’s the woman who lived here before we did. She and her husband had separated, and she moved away. The garden that she had obviously put so much thought and work into had become overgrown. The lawn was (and still is) a mass of plantain and hawkweed, cinquefoil and clover. Brush along the back fence was a tangle of buckthorn, honeysuckle and multiflora rose – all certified invasives by the New York State Department of Agriculture.
Still, we were excited by what we hoped were microclimates in several quadrants of the yard. A creek bordered the south side of the property. We assumed, wrongly, that the shady area closest to it would be damp shade. What we didn’t count on was the tall, well-established trees that lined the creek taking all that moisture for themselves. The creekside quadrant was really very dry, hard to dig (because of roots) and hospitable only to a thick layer of moss that periodically turned brown and sad-looking.
It wasn’t until much later that we discovered the thoughtfully planted peonies, black-eyed Susans, daylilies, dogwoods, and the masses of bulbs that emerged in the middle of the front lawn. Elena’s husband had mowed them over, maybe trying to erase her memory. Three seasons later though, we saw them. The red peony fingers popped up here and there around the yard. The patches of rudbeckia leaves became drifts and the side of what we thought was a rhododendron bed turned out to be hobblebushes. Elena knew where to plant them.
We started our plant nursery the following spring, leaning strongly toward natives, and gradually sectioned off more of the lawn to use for grow beds. We planted native elderberry, chokecherry, serviceberry, beautyberry, buttonbush and hazelnut. We built on Elena’s flower bed, adding Joe Pye weed, ironweed, coneflower and bluestar. Now, when a customer is interested in one of the plants on our benches, we can almost always say “Would you like to see how it grows in the landscape? Come see the mother plant….”
It can be overwhelming to start a garden from scratch, but a landscape is rarely a clean slate. Only patience and observation reveal its challenges – and its gifts. Thank you, Elena.
Every year, in late February or March, I get an itch to grow something. It seems to creep up out of nowhere and then suddenly, I have to plant something. I start searching for leftover seed packs around my apartment, digging into my closet to find my gardening bag and gloves, sifting through kitchen drawers for any seeds left from the year before. What do I have around that I can drop into some soil? With a hint of green and the thought of warmer, sunnier days, suddenly, I gotta see something grow.
Do I have any potting soil? What pots do I have to use?... Sometimes, I’ll bundle up and take a walk to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, to see what seeds they’re starting to display in their shop. Sometimes I pickup already started herbs, from the farmer’s market too. I look for herbs and small veggies I’ll enjoy and that will fit on my narrow window sill. In my small city apartment, my windowsills are essentially, my garden beds.
Once I’ve got soil, pots and some seeds, I get to work. I clear off my kitchen counter and turn it into my “potting bench”. I cover it with newspapers, spread out and start potting- tucking in new seeds, patting down the soil on top and watering in to give them a good start. Then I have fun, trying to find a perfectly pleasing arrangement of the pots on my windowsill.
A week or two later, when little green sprouts start to pop up through the soil, I smile. I made something grow. It’s a primal feeling. It’s deeply satisfying to grow things- to bring forth life. Plus, the turn-around time for herbs and vegetables is surprisingly fast. This springtime ritual leaves me with a warm, glowing feeling. When I look at my windowsill, I feel grounded and more connected to nature. It reminds me that even in the city, greener, leafier days are ahead.