The Worst Gardening Advice I Have Ever Received

“Jesus asked, ‘How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story shall I use to illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed! Though it is one of the smallest of seeds, yet it grows to become one of the largest of plants, with long branches where birds can build their nests and be sheltered’,” (Mark 4:30-32)

My family lived in apartments throughout all of my childhood and teen years. For much of those teen years, we lived in the inner-city where we didn’t even have a balcony to place a few potted tomatoes. How I got to be an herbalist and a garden lead at a local museum–and even how the gardening bug bit me in the first place–is beyond me. But bit me it has.

And it has been a long road.

So, what’s the worst piece of gardening advice I’ve ever received?

“Just get out there and get your hands dirty!”

Yup. You read that right. I can’t imagine anything more condescending from an experienced gardener to the uncertain novice thirsting for any knowledge they can absorb on the subject. Sadly, it was one of my instructors with the Master Gardener program who imparted this bit of wisdom. (Insert sneer here) as my inner gremlin asks, “How badly did you get your rocks off with that holier-than-thou bit of ‘wisdom’?” I mean, really, would you tell a would-be brain surgeon to go out there and just “get their hands dirty”??? Yes, I do have to get my hands dirty to really learn how to garden. But, please, a little quantifying might help (more on that later).

Confidence is a beautiful thing. I didn’t have confidence as a gardener when I first enrolled in the Master Gardener program. I enrolled in it in error, not understanding exactly what the Master Gardener program was/is. Years’ before, when learning about herbs and their medicine, the mother of one of my herbal instructors gave a lecture and demonstration about starting seeds. She had just completed her Master Gardening training so the light bulb went off in my head. I could learn how to do this sort of thing if I signed up for the Master Gardener program at my local extension center. It wasn’t enough that I learned what to do with the herbs once they were grown; I wanted to learn how to grow them so I could be sure they were organic and, especially, safe to use.

Four years’ later, I signed up for the Master Gardener program (yes, I am a bit of a procrastinator but it also required a bit of saving to afford the cost of the program…)

Now, before I go any further, I am not dissing the Master Gardener program. Experienced or not, knowing what pests and diseases may be infecting your plants is valuable knowledge to have and I have used it quite a lot over the last 9 months in my tenure as a gardening lead. But becoming a Master Gardener didn’t teach me the basics. The novice gardener has questions:

How deep should I sow these seeds?
How big should the plants be before I transplant them to the garden?
How much compost should I spread on each bed?
How frequently should I water them?
Are those little leaves popping up from the directly sown seeds I planted or are they weeds threatening to take over?
How early should I plant this plant?

The list can go on. Forget about the trade jargon of “potting out”, “hardening off” and “pricking out”. It’s all Greek to me. Oh, and I can grow these vertically? Why didn’t someone tell me? Dividing plants? Pruning??? (Gasp…)

It truly is quite daunting for the newbie gardener. These are living organisms. And, no, the vegetarian isn’t going to stop eating entirely out of respect for the plants. Many of these plants grow specifically for giving us food, others medicine. And, oftentimes, they don’t die immediately after delivering. I can harvest lettuce leaves over a number of weeks before the plant is spent; I know that now.

My first mother-in-law was/is an avid gardener. She grew mostly for beauty; her flower beds were/are gorgeous with beautiful water features–complete with koi fish, bird baths and feeders for the birds, and even perches for the squirrels to eat from. They are full of life. I learned some from her as I started landscaping the tiny stretch of front lawn I had while married to her son; it whetted the appetite to know more. Especially when I decided I wanted to grow as much of my own food as I possibly could on the current front and side lawns. Over the years, I’ve had some fairly successful vegetable patches from “just getting my hands dirty” but I knew there was more that could be done. And I knew these were basic gardening skills that the majority of my fellow Master Gardeners already had.

“Just getting my hands dirty” wasn’t enough. And it certainly isn’t advice that is going to instill some would-be confidence that you can do more, be more, as a gardener. I’ve heard this advice many times since the Master Gardener program. It’s cruel. And, always, the inner voice screamed, “But how???”

So, to add some of that quantifying advice, get out there and get your hands dirty by joining a local gardeners’ club. By volunteering at a local public garden. By asking a gardening friend, neighbor or relative if you can perhaps help them in their garden…or maybe they’ll be willing just to answer your specific questions when they crop up (no pun intended). Today we have a wonderful resource in YouTube, as well as other online gardening sites. I only half-jokingly admit that I learned everything I wanted to know about gardening from Monty Don, Charles Dowding and Jon Kohler. And they would be my personal recommendations if you want to learn. Both Charles Dowding and Jon Kohler have their own YouTube channels: No-Dig Gardening and Growing Your Greens, respectively. Monty Don is the host of both the BBC2’s Gardener’s World and Big Dreams, Small Spaces. The former is probably one of the most excellent gardening shows I have ever encountered. The camera crew gets in nice and close so you can see exactly what Monty is doing and explaining. And more, Monty always ends the program with some tasks you can do that particular weekend. It’s great step-by-step advice for both the newbie and the experienced gardener. Would that the U.S. had such a fine program; I might even reconsider TV (i.e. cable) for it. But, as always, we lag behind on such important matters. But that’s a post for another day…

In the meantime, yes, do get your hands dirty but, for that boost of confidence, find a gardening community to grow with. In the few short months that I have been a gardening lead, I have learned so much from my fellow gardeners–both paid staff and volunteers. You never really know everything there is to know about gardening, no matter how seasoned. Learning and sharing is part of the cycle of growth…whether you’re a plant, or a person.

May God bless you & keep you!

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No School Fosta-Glosta!

“Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become as white as snow; Though they be crimson red , they may become white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18)

In light of the massive curtain of blowing snow outside my window, this old world–at least the northeastern part of the United States–ought to be washed clean in no time flat. It is a total white-out again; the second time since mid- to late-December. And it’s only January 4th…

My heart just gave a pause as I typed the date. My maternal grandmother went home to be with our Lord, Jesus Christ on January 4, 1990; can’t believe it has been so long. This has absolutely nothing to do with the original intent of this post. But I hope everyone reading will forgive the pause; such blizzard-like conditions, when the world around me is rapidly being blanketed with fluffy, white cold, always makes me a little nostalgic, providing a much-needed rest to think and reflect.

And plan.

In the midst of a snowstorm, I’m thinking about springtime and gardening, planning each bed, what plants to grow, etc. I’m contemplating some time today watching more of BBC’s Gardener’s World with Monty Don (although that is often because of Monty, himself; sorry, Sarah, but that husband of yours is certainly pleasing to the eye); No-Dig Gardening with Charles Dowding and Growing your Greens with Jon Kohler. I confess, I watch gardening shows as religiously as I lamented Mom’s obsession with HGTV. No cable TV anymore but we do have Roku; that’s actually better. We can watch what we want, when we want. We spend most of our down time on YouTube watching these shows, or else music videos. Amazingly, I’ve gotten Mom into Blackmore’s Night, Casting Crowns and Kate Bush. I’m not making as much headway with Within Temptation but she’s also got me listening to Brothers Osborne and Carrie Underwood. Go figure!

There’s another side of me today feeling like a little kid. My supervisor called me last night, telling me the museum was shutting down completely for the storm (other than the farmers who must still tend to the livestock there; pray they, and the stock, and the feral cat colony, all make it through safely). I am thankful not to be driving in this; I probably wouldn’t have anyway. My menagerie of pets need extra care, too, in this storm. However, for just a moment, when I got the call, I could almost hear the echo of Salty Brine’s familiar voice singing out: “No school Fosta-Glosta!” For those of you who grew up in Rhode Island, you will totally “get” that remark. Every Rhode Island school kid wanted to live in either Foster or Gloucester! For everyone outside of Rhode Island, “Salty Brine”, born Walter Leslie Brian in 1918, was a disc jockey, newsman and talk show host for WPRO for 51 years (Flynn, 1999; NEHS, 2018). He is a legend in these parts.

And, I guess, this snowstorm is making me more nostalgic than I thought; it is certainly taking me back. Although, as I am no longer an elementary school student, I am grateful that this storm will NOT be cutting into my summer vacation with “make-up snow days” in June. I’ll likely be puttering around the herb gardens (mine or the museum’s), planting, planning and pruning away by then. But it is nice to go back and remember snow days at Grandma’s house, when Mom would leave me there before going to work, and my youngest aunts and uncle and I would sit and listen…and pray Salty would sing out, “No school Warwick!” too. Today’s date has a relevancy after all.

May God bless you & keep you!

REFERENCES

Flynn, R. (1999). “Walter “Salty” Brine Papers.” Rhode Island Historical Society. Retrieved January 4, 2018 from: http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/Mss1029.htm

New England Historical Society (n.d.). “Salty Brine for 51 Years Announces News, Weather and No School Fosta Glosta”. Retrieved January 4, 2018 from: http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/19838-2/

My Apologies for the Delay…

Good morning (or whatever time of day it is in your part of the world…)

In the middle of some major “renovations” here on this blog. As soon as they are completed, I will certainly include more information about them. For the time being, I thank everyone for their patience. New content will be added soon.

In the meantime, keep working towards that faith-filled, sustainable and compassionate future. We CAN be the change we wish to see in the world.

May God bless you & keep you!

Little by Little

“Then God looked over all that He had made, and it was excellent in every way. This ended the sixth day. Now at last the heavens and the earth were successfully completed, with all that they contained. So, on the seventh day, having finished His task, God ceased from this work He had been doing, and God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he ceased this work of creation.” (Genesis, 1:31, 2:1-3)

I’m starting to notice a difference. I tackled a too-big landscaping project last summer; it has carried into this summer. And I’m still not finished, still not caught up. But I’m learning not to cringe at the over-grown state of affairs, and to notice the subtle changes along the way. As time and resources allow, I build another raised bed, add more compost, cover more walkways with pseudo-garden cloth (recycled/re-purposed feed bags). In the meantime, I’ve been harvesting blackberries in season, clipping back invasive bittersweet as it threatens to choke out everything else under the sun, and weeding the one little 4′ x 8′ garden bed presently under cultivation. The green beans are thriving. The cheap Walmart squash seeds are dead in the water, so to speak, so that half of the bed will soon be planted in beetroot and leafy greens. I also have some heirloom beans that will have enough time to grow before winter’s freeze, maybe some broccoli and cauliflower as we head into August.

Something unusual is happening here. I’m not worried about being Super Girl anymore. I’m learning to let go of what other people might think. Who cares? I think it has finally sunken in that I’m not Samantha Stevens; twitching my nose won’t make everything perfect…I can’t even twitch my nose like that. And this acceptance is sweet. I have 1/4 of an acre in the middle of a Do It Yourself construction zone. I also work off-site and am in the middle of a degree program. The 2-3 hours I give to this DIY project each morning from dawn until feeding time may not seem like much to some but, for me, while I still cringe from time to time, those 2-3 hours help to break it all down into manageable bites. And, little by little, I’m seeing results. It is taking shape. And I’m even resting on that seventh day.

That’s the truly unusual thing. I usually push myself until “burn-out” sets in and then I waste more time trying to recuperate. Instead, though I don’t consider myself a couch potato type, I’ve been spending part of my days off from the dealership in front of the boob-tube watching You Tube videos about gardening and landscaping…and learning a lot, getting ideas and, yes, on Monday morning when I’m back in the garden at dawn, implementing some of them. Now that I’m not stressing and worrying so much about making everything perfect, I can actually enjoy the journey better. And I actually get more done. Who knew?

And that’s a lesson worth learning.

May God bless you & keep you!

A Pipe Dream

“For I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me strength and power.” (Philippians 4:13)

This morning I arose early, unable to get back into a deep sleep again after Paz’s not-so-rude awakening. I mean, how can you resist when your butterball of a tuxedo cat wants cuddles? At 17 years old, Paz is my geriatric buddy so, while he’s hale and hearty, and I’m definitely not writing him off, everyday we have together is precious. Though “Mommy” laments a bit of lost sleep, I was happy to scratch him under the chin and cuddle him close. When he’d had enough, he took my hand between his paws–much like a child would a stuffed toy–and went to sleep…typical Pazzy-style. I dozed but it wasn’t long before the knees started aching and I noticed a faint line of pink gracing the horizon. As soon as the first birds started twittering, Paz leaped down in search of some dry kibble.

It was a productive morning. Yesterday Mom and I were graced with a visit from an old friend from my corporate days. She had seen my plea for more cardboard on Facebook and, also being a resident of northeastern Connecticut, she offered to bring some by. Christmas came early in the form of an SUV loaded to the gills with huge cardboard boxes. I am so grateful! I managed to build the largest of the beds I will use to plant my herbs into just as the sun was coming up. Now I just need to make some more compost to fill it. Again, I am grateful.

And still on a quest for more so I can landscape the rest of the garden…(hint, hint) (chuckle).

All of this was before 7:15 a.m. I did some yoga and then headed back downstairs to start feeding time here on the farm. And, for the more traditional farmers reading this, yes, 8 a.m. is a little later than most for feeding time but, as I work until 7:30 p.m. off site, it’s a good 12 hour balance between feedings this way. Anyway, I fed and watered ducks, chickens, goats and cats; dosed the goats with some B-12 as some anemia had set in with the recent worm issues. The worms have been eradicated but, Domino, in particular, took it hard; I am happy to say that he seems well on the mend, with his appetite returned (thank God!). I spent the rest of the morning in the rabbit room, giving them some playtime outside of their cages, feeding and grooming them. Of course, I also spent some of the time in prayer (rabbits are restful creatures) and reading one of the chapters due for this week’s homework assignment.

Now it is 1:30 p.m. and I’ve already spent some time writing my book, now this blog and will soon begin the trek to the dealership.

I love what I do at the dealership. More importantly, I love the people I work with; it’s like a great big extended family. But, as much as it’s needed, there’s a part of me lamenting that, once the midday heat passes over, how much I would love to be back out in the garden, working this farm, working to make it into a working herbal, apian and fiber farm.

That is my dream.

Other people do it. But I am definitely not in a place financially where this is even remotely viable. So, for now, this is my little pipe dream: to earn a living, both as a writer and a homesteader, and not have to rely on the insecurity of working elsewhere.

And, yes, everyone read that correctly: insecurity. There is no such thing as job “security” anymore. In fact, there never really has been. The economy, sales–or lack thereof–affect every single industry in some capacity or another…at some time or another. That’s why achieving a measure of self-sufficiency is so appealing. No, not self-sufficiency away from God; He’s at the heart of every endeavor, whether it’s planting some seeds and watching them grow, trimming a goat hoof, or greeting someone on the phone at a local car dealership, I can do nothing without Him. This is the self-sufficiency that doesn’t rely on the traditional 9-to-5 (or, in my present part-time scenario, 3:30 – 7:30), or the energy grid, or the fossil fuel industry but a self-sufficiency that relies on faith in God, and on the wit and capable hands He blessed me with. To know where my food comes from, to make it all from scratch, to spin my own yarn, weave my own cloth and sew my own fashions…that is the dream.

And, as I bask in this feeling of satisfaction from such a productive morning and early afternoon, I hold onto this feeling, memorize it and allow it to motivate me into making it more than just a pipe dream. A reality, where all of the goodness of the Earth gets purposed to God and abundance is shared with a smile.

May God bless you & keep you!

Dates with Monty Don and Charles Dowding

“Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t be envious of evil men who prosper.” Psalm 37:7

Forgive the redundancy but I really am a bad patient. As this leg continues to throb and ripple with muscle spasms, and my toes turn all tingly through the lack of circulation and swell and give me all manner of discomfort, I have been forced to spend most of my time on my duff, feet propped up to take the pressure off the leg. I could’ve taken out stock in the amount of Ben Gay I’ve slathered on knees, shins, ankles, feet and toes. Ditto for the aspirin. I look at the fine weather we’ve had the last couple of days and I growl at this forced convalescence, thinking of all the gardening I could be doing and various other farm chores. Since Thursday, it has been the bare essentials only.

And, yes, I know…Ben Gay? Aspirin? I am an herbalist, after all. But, while I almost always choose herbs over what’s become conventional medicine, as deeply as I believe that herbs are a better, healthier choice, sometimes they don’t work as fast. I needed more immediate relief just to walk up that hill Thursday night after work. Last night it was a warm bath to ease sore muscles (still no clue exactly what I did to the leg…); tonight there’s a jar of oil in which Plantain, Comfrey, St. John’s wort, Calendula and Cayenne Pepper have been slowly brewed. The first four ingredients are good for the skin. When combined like this you have the perfect combination of emollient, drawing power, anti-scarring agent, natural sunblock, and rash relief. I don’t have any of these but, whenever I make something to put on my skin, I add these four. Our skin is the largest organ of our body; we often neglect it. The cayenne is for improved circulation and for relieving sore muscles.

In the meantime, I’ve actually become a bit of a couch potato–well, armchair is more like it. I’ve been relaxing (there’s a novel concept), feet up, in front of the TV and trying, albeit a little in vain, not to feel guilty for it…even as my leg throbs with a life of its own after another round of feeding and watering the farm. No, we don’t have cable/digital/satellite (i.e. so no reception) but Mom received Roku for Mother’s Day from my brother. Roku allows you to access shows via the Internet and broadcast them onto the TV screen. While there are some stations that charge a small fee, many of them are free. One of those is, of course, You Tube. To be honest, I haven’t really paid much attention to the Roku since helping Mom set it up when it first came here. She’s been enjoying episodes of her favorite HGTV shows and country music videos. Over the weekend, she handed me the remote to the Roku unit after watching me trying to watch music videos on my cellphone via the You Tube app I downloaded. (Eh, it was keeping me off my feet…)

First of all, Mom got a little bit of culture shock as my answer to not being able to walk to church yesterday saw me tuning in to Christian music videos by today’s contemporary artists as a way to still connect and worship Him. I listen to a lot of these artists on Pandora during the week and it always soothes me…despite the hard-rocking sound many of them produce: Casting Crowns, Lauren Daigle, Francesca Battistelli, Barlow Girl (which was much heavier than she expected), Meredith Andrews, Big Daddy Weave and Kari Jobe. I even got a little rap in there with Brandon Heath. After a while though, I got tired of constantly surfing You Tube for the next video and decided something a little lengthier would be better.

I have a thing for British television. If I lived in the UK, I would likely be a couch potato a little more often simply because I love their sense of humor and style…and, especially, their gardens. Charles Dowding caught my eye first. I believe it was an article in Treehugger, advocating the No Dig Gardening method, that turned me on to his You Tube channel; I’ve been a subscriber ever since. This was not my first initiation into the No Dig method, but I love the practical advice Mr. Dowding offers just for gardening overall but, more specifically, for the No Dig method. He gets beautiful fruits, vegetables and herbs. His gardens are so lush that I am frequently jealous at the yields. He makes a lot of compost and that’s helping me in that area of homesteading. And, I’ll admit it, for an older gentleman, he looks pretty darn good in a pair of jeans. He reminds me greatly of Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon. I had Kevin Cronin wallpaper as a girl, both in my bedroom and in my locker in school. Enough said (chuckle).

Anyway, it was through Mr. Dowding’s You Tube channel that I learned of the BBC’s “Gardener’s World” program, which is in its 50th year of airing (pretty remarkable, actually). Mr. Dowding’s homestead was featured on “Gardener’s World” one Friday evening and I fell instantly in love with the show. Now I watch an episode each week on You Tube. Host Monty Don, like Charles Dowding, is a wealth of information about gardening. Being forced to stay off my feet these last few days, I have been doing a marathon of back episodes I missed earlier in the year…and introducing Mom to the show, too. She’s been enjoying it. And we’re both learning a lot of cool gardening tips. I’m especially enchanted with Nigel and Nell, the two golden retrievers who follow Monty around his, roughly, two-acres of gardens…usually with a tennis ball, or one his trowels in mouth. It’s a bittersweet enchantment as I miss the big dogs that blessed my life over the years and hope, God willing, that things will get back on a more even keel in my life–soon–so that I might provide a forever home for another pair of dogs. All in all, despite this enforced convalescence, I don’t feel that the time has been completely wasted. Again, I’m watching, learning, and gaining more confidence through the pseudo-mentoring of these two gentlemen (we switched off at one point to watch some of Charles’ videos, too).

And, believe it or not, yesterday’s rock and roll religion did feed my soul, touch my heart. I’ve actually felt myself drawing closer to Him, taking deep breaths…because letting go and letting God is the hardest lesson of all for me, to give up any kind of control…and just surrendering my will to Him. I may not like the enforced convalescence but He is using it to mold and change me, to grow my faith in Him…something I’ve been yearning for. And praying for.

It was an interview I read with Lauren Daigle in “Young Salvationist” where she talks about how she surrendered her dream of music to Him that really touched my heart. When she finally surrendered her will to Him, doors started opening for her. Maybe I’m feeling “stuck” in my life because I haven’t truly surrendered my will to Him. That’s what I felt when I read this article over the weekend, that He was trying to tell me to just let go; He’s got my back. And it was the lyrics to Kari Jobe’s “Steady my Heart” that, well, steadied my heart:

Even when it hurts
Even when it’s hard
Even when it all just falls apart
I will run to You
‘Cause I know that You are
Lover of my soul, Healer of my scars,
You steady my heart, You steady my heart

That’s worth a few muscle spasms and tingly toes.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Jobe, K. (2012). “Steady My Heart.” worshiptogether.com Songs, Ariose Music.

Maynor, C. P. (2015). “Interview: Lauren Daigle.” Young Salvationist. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from:
http://www.youngsalvationist.org/2015/02/04/interview-lauren-daigle/

Naming Trees and a Quest for Cardboard

And so the gypsy moths have completely denuded one of the big Norway maples in my front yard. Not Helen, mind you. Helen is the grandmother of all the Norway maples here. And, yes, the Master Gardener here knows Norway maples are invasive and not native to Connecticut. I didn’t plant them; they were here when I purchased said property back in 2001. Invasive or not, they provide much-appreciated shade in the summertime, and a nice bit of windbreak in the winter. So nobody touches Helen & Co.

Except the gypsy moths.

And there’s not much I can do about that. They’ve completely denuded Ollie already. Ollie is a slightly younger Norway maple, if one judges by the size of circumference (don’t trees grow a new ring every year??). And quite lovely…despite his invasive nature. The Japanese dogwood…or maybe it’s a flowering cherry tree…is also completely denuded. I’m not sure of the species because it is one of about a dozen saplings I received as a “Thanks!” for donating several years’ ago to the Arbor Day Foundation. Only three of them survived. They’re all part of the under story near Ollie. I’m almost positive the one closest to the house is a Japanese dogwood…and, so far, the gypsy moths have left it alone. It’s the other two–one denuded, the other on its way to becoming–that worry me. And Ollie. Can they all recover from this? Or will I have a rotting Norway maple stump next spring? Horrified at this finding this morning, I tried hand-picking some of them off of the smaller trees. But it was a futile endeavor; just too many of them. I may have to invest in some bird netting and then try to pluck em all off before I cover them. It’s heart-breaking as they are all part of the latest landscaping endeavor, an effort to beautify the area closest to the interstate with ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers. Eh, if it’s visible from the road, it has to be pretty…not that the current state of Tobacco Road could be called attractive, but I digress yet again…

And, yes, I’ve named some of the trees in my yard. Here’s how it started.

I won’t get into all of the spiritual changes within that brought this about–that could take a whole week’s worth of posts–but, several years’ ago I studied Wicca. For those of you who only know Wicca through TV and other pop culture mediums, Wicca is NOT any sort of devil worshipping. I am, and always have been, a Christian, accepting Christ as my Savior back in 1995, shortly after my first divorce. But, for some reason, the tree-hugging nature lover in me has always been drawn to Wicca. And I can only conclude because Wicca is a nature-based religion.

Anyway, to keep a long story short, I took a course at the local community college entitled, “Introduction to Wicca” after a long theological discussion with the then-deacon of my church, Brother Bob. I was expecting sermons as regarding fire and brimstone raining down upon my head for even considering such a course but Brother Bob encouraged me to take it instead. The reason? Because it is the fear of what we don’t know, or understand, that breeds distrust, hatred and violence. It is fear that the enemy of my soul uses to bring chaos into my life…and into the world. So, for four weeks, I drove to Mansfield, CT and attended class. And I loved it! I learned so much, so much that I can accept and appreciate…even to how the good Lord used this experience to help me re-connect with members of my own family (I have an aunt and a couple of cousins who are practicing Wiccans). I’m not afraid anymore; there’s no reason to be.

“His disciple John came to Him and said, ‘Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons. And we told him not to. After all, he isn’t in our group.’ But Jesus said, ‘You should not have done that! For anyone who is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)

Getting back to the naming of trees, this class sparked an interest so deep that I started reading every book that I could find on the subject. Some, I will admit, were a bit “darker” than others. Not necessarily sinister, or diabolical, but more like a sort of prejudiced attitude towards any religion other than Wicca (and haven’t we all experienced a similar attitude in other religions–including Christianity!). There was one though, written by a fellow Master Gardener, that talked about naming trees and how trees actually have spirits. Most Native American tribes believe trees, rocks, etc. have spirits and, as I’m part-Mohawk, part-Narragansett, it resonated within. More, I had been finding myself drawn to “Helen” and this book made me stop and think. Maybe Helen was giving me little mental nudges. Anyway, she was christened “Helen” shortly thereafter.

Now, before anyone thinks I’ve completely gone off the deep-end, and maybe I have, if you head over to http://www.treehugger.com and type in “trees” + “Melissa”, you’ll find a host of articles featuring the research of various scientists about trees. And how they share resources, protect one another, and even communicate with each other. There’s quite a number of them; they’re interesting reads…whether you believe in such or not.

So, now that Ollie is suffering from an attack of gypsy moths, and I prepare to possibly mourn the loss of him in the not-so-distant future, I can’t help worrying if Helen will eventually fall prey, too. She’s the grandmother here because she’s so enormous. I would be willing to bet she’s stood in this yard over 100 years or more, such is the size of her trunk. To lose either shade tree is a heart-wrenching thought. Invasive or not, trees don’t grow overnight. It’s one of the reasons we treehuggers object to things like over-harvesting from forests and the current annihilation of the rain forests in South America due to our hunger and greed for more wood; such important eco-systems can never hope to recover at the rate of said destruction.

But before this becomes one of my environmental rants (I’ll save that for another post…chuckle), I’m switching a few gears here. Helen, Ollie & Friends are a part of this very local landscape. As I’ve moved rock walls and started building raised beds, I’ve designed everything here to work with the current landscape, rather than any clear-cutting. I’ve been using something called the the No-Dig Gardening method, developed and promoted by Mr. Charles Dowding of England. Mr. Dowding is not the originator of this method but he has developed it to a level that has proven effective and efficient for any home gardener. Another name for it is lasagna gardening. Mr. Dowding has a wonderful You Tube channel that takes you from soup to nuts on how to landscape and grow fruits, vegetables and herbs without digging…or rototilling, which is very bad for the soil and will encourage the growth of weeds and invasive species.

Like Helen.

No-Dig, or lasagna, gardening requires the laying down of flattened cardboard boxes, which slowly decompose but act as a weed barrier while in that decomposition, directly atop the compacted soil, or grass, or weeds–wherever you decide to create this raised bed. Like any good lasagna, the next step is to layer everything: leaves, kitchen scraps, compost, etc. If you wish to go the more traditional route of bags of peat moss, potting soil, etc, that’s okay, too…even if it isn’t quite as sustainable. Once you’ve created a good six inches of layers, you simply plant your seeds directly into this mix or, if you’ve started seeds indoors, or purchased plants from the local nursery, you may simply part some of the layers and set the plugs into them. They will grow.

This initial landscaping project encompasses about 1/4 acre of my property; I have another 1/2 acre planned but in much smaller stages. This 1/4 acre is probably a bigger undertaking than Mr. Dowding would have recommended in the beginning but I’m committed to it. I spent most of last winter squirreling away every empty box that walked through the dealership where I work afternoons and early-evenings. I would pack the trunk of the car, the backseat, and throw them into what was once a garage, now storage room. One would think, with so much pack-ratting activity, that I would have more than enough to finish said project but, alas, I am on a perpetual quest to find more. Though empty boxes still travel through the dealership, walking everywhere now, I’ve been searching a little closer to home; flat-packed boxes are a prime example of dead weight. So, every now and then, I’m petitioning nearer neighbors and, hopefully, saving them a bit of the expense to have their cardboard waste hauled away…and keeping much of it out of the local landfills. It’s a design I can be proud of.

Even Helen agrees…

May God bless you & keep you!