The Spring Continuum

Posted in Spring on March 24, 2011 by distantgardens

“Continuum theories or models explain variation as involving a gradual quantitative transition without abrupt changes or discontinuities. It can be contrasted with ‘categorical’ models which propose qualitatively different states.”

While in our minds Spring may feel like an event, it is, in fact, part of the continuum of the Earth’s response to its proximity to the Sun. Subtle changes occurring at the cellular level as the minutes of daylight increase.

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Wonder

Posted in Spring on March 21, 2011 by distantgardens

After a long, snowy, icy, snowy, cold, snowy Winter (did I say snowy?) it’s finally and officially Spring. A new season, new beginnings and a time to begin gardening and blogging again.

If I had to choose one word for this season it would be “wonder.” Wonder at the resilient little green shoots popping up from the frozen ground, wonder at the diversity and symmetrical perfection of each new blossom, wonder at their array of colors.

And so, to begin this season of wonder, a fabulous pink and white tulip from the just ended Spring Bulb Show at the Lyman Conservatory at Smith College. And, beneath that, a piece by Rachel Carson from her book The Sense of Wonder.

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A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the source of our strength.

Rachel Carson
The Sense of Wonder

Setting A Pace

Posted in The Garden on November 12, 2009 by distantgardens

As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, our “harried days” are no different now than they were for our great-great-grandparents 100 years ago. While the details of daily life might have changed, it’s still, just as it was 100 years ago, our own perspectives that makes our lives seem harried or exciting, mind-numbing or thoughtful.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Fuller's Teasel - Treble Clef

Fuller's Teasel - Frosty Treble Clef

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So, just for a moment, I remember to step back into the garden. There’s not much there right now for those of us in the North, but there’s enough to remind us of another pace.

 

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Sunday: Everything is Energy

Posted in The Garden on November 9, 2009 by distantgardens

“We are the same as plants, as trees, as other people, as the rain that falls. We consist of that which is around us, we are the same as everything.”

Buddha

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Fall Chrysthanthemum, Fall light

Everything is Energy

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So if everything is everything, and everything is energy, where do, say, the petals of a flower end and where does light begin?

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Life After: Learning to See

Posted in The Garden on November 8, 2009 by distantgardens

During the Spring and Summer months it’s easy to see beauty: trees are covered with newly sprouted leaves in an endless spectrum of greens; grasses, crops and garden plants are popping up at such a fast pace –  we could probably see them grow if we would just stand still long enough; flowers are blossoming on trees and plants, both in our gardens and in the wild, in a vibrant array of colors.

But in the Fall, once the flowers have faded, and the almost all plants have withered from the cold temperatures and lack of light, and when the leaves have fallen from the trees, it seems more difficult to see beauty around us (…at least until the first snowfall!). Unless, of course, we re-think what beauty is and learn to see the world we thought we knew in different ways.

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DaVinci Vatruvian Man

Davinci's Vatruvian Man (source: Wikipedia)

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Consider first, as DaVinci and others have suggested, that one of the foundations of beauty is symmetry: “the imprecise sense of harmonious or aesthetically pleasing proportionality and balance such that it reflects beauty or perfection.” (Wikipedia) If that definition holds then, relying primarily on symmetry, and not flowers or vibrant colors, here are a couple of images of Fuller’s Teasel in the Fall – you can decide if they’re beautiful of not.

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Fuller's Teasel, Fall light

Fuller's Teasel in the Fall

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Fullers Teasel leaf, garden

Fuller's Teasel Leaf

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If they are, then maybe there’s life in our gardens (and along roadsidesand streams, and in fields…) after the first frost, and after the days are much shorter than the nights and after most everything has died back into dormancy for the Winter. Maybe there’s a different kind of beauty there just waiting for us to see it.

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Fall Fruits: Crabapples

Posted in The Garden on November 8, 2009 by distantgardens

Crabapples are one of the 30-55 or so small deciduous tree members of the genus Malus (apples) in the Rosaceae family. The Malus genus includes all the varieties of domesticated, or cultivated, apples as well as crabapples or “wild apples” which refers to a group that produces smaller fruit which is generally too sour to be eaten raw. Crabapples can be made into a spicy, red-colored jelly, however, and they are a good source of pectin.

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Fall Crabapples

Fall Crabapples

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Domestically, crabapple trees are most often selected for their ornamental value to a garden or landscape where their small stature, dramatically shaped boughs, beautiful Spring blossoms and prolific Fall fruit production make them an eye-catching center piece.

Commercially, crabapples are often grown in orchards in combination with cultivated apple varieties to aid in the pollination process. Cultivated apple trees are generally unable to produce flowers that have pollen, or are in fact sterile , and therefore are not great attractors of bees and other pollinating insects. Crabapples on the other hand produce prodigious amounts of pollen-heavy blossoms and so are planted in close proximity to their cultivated cousins where they serve as “pollenizers” – attracting the pollinating insects that are necessary for all apple trees to produce fruit.

Historically, crabapples, known as Wergulu, were one of the nine plants invoked in the Pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm which was used to treat poisoning and infection. The ingredients (Mugwort, Cockspur Grass or Betony, Lamb’s Cress, Plantain, Chamomile, Nettle, Crabapple,  Thyme, and Fennel) were mixed with soap, apple juice and ashes and made into a paste. The paste was applied as a salve and the person administering the treatment also sang the words to the charm “three times over each of the herbs as well as the apple before they were prepared, into the mouth of the wounded, both of their ears, and over the wound itself prior to the application of the salve.”

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Fall Flowers: Hydrangea

Posted in The Garden on November 4, 2009 by distantgardens

Almost everyone loves hydrangeas. They add a beautiful presence to our gardens, are stunning as cut flowers in bouquets and are relatively easy to grow and maintain. Hydrangeas also have one of the longest growth cycles of almost anything in the flower garden,  blooming from early Spring through late Fall depending on where you live.

The name hydrangea comes from the Greek “hydro,” for water and “angelon,” which means cask or jug. Combined, the names refer to the shape and size of the hydrangea’s large, oval flower head. One of a genus of 75-ish flowering plants, hydrangea are native to eastern and southern parts of Asia as well as both North and South America.

They come in a variety of colors, ranging from white to shades of pink, lavender, blue, red and purple. The flowers on an individual plant can be made to change colors by adjusting the pH of the soil. (Acidic soil usually produces blue colored flowers, neutral soil produces soft whites and cream colors, and alkaline soils produce pinks and purples.) And the flowers on most hydrangea varieties will actually move through an abbreviated range of those colors depending on the season.

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Hydrangea, mophead, flowers, garden

Summer Mophead Hydrangea

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Hydrangea flower heads are made up of a grouping of smaller flowers (a characteristic called “inflorescence”) and come in two shapes – the sort of full, balloon shape of large showy blossoms, like the photograph above, (called “mopheads”) and a flattened dinner plate shape (called “lacecaps”) which have large blossoms encircling a core of smaller blossoms.

The hydrangea plants themselves can be of a smaller shrub (3-6 feet in height) varieties referred to as mountain and big leaf hydrangea, or a a taller small tree-like version (10-15 feet in height) called panicle hydrangea, or of a potentially much taller variety  (over 75 feet) of climbing hydrangea.

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Fall Hydrangea, mophead, gardens

Fall Hydrangea Blossoms

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As temperatures get colder in the Fall many hydrangea varieties will continue to blossom right up until the ground freezes and they move into dormancy. The older flowers will remain on the plant throughout the season, slowly losing color and fading to a soft golden tan, until they are worn away by Winter’s snow and wind or until they are pruned.

Although there’s noting quite so lush and beautiful as a freshly opened stem of mophead hydrangeas, there is something equally lovely about those same blossoms as they begin to fade in the Fall. The flowers become more and more translucent and take on a sort of ethereal quality. Sunlight passes through the heads and seems to wrap them in a soft glow.

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Hydrangea foliage

Fall Hydrangea Foliage

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The leaves and stems of several varieties of hydrangea also take on Fall colors – turning shades of gold and dark magenta – which adds to the beautiful and dramatic presence hydrangea create in the garden.

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