March 29, 2018

A Late March Surprise

Yesterday, this area was
covered with snow.  Today
it bloomed with crocuses.

It hasn't snowed in ten days here in Medfield and the temperatures finally crept up above 50 yesterday and today. As a result, we're getting serious melting and we're seeing bare ground in many places. This afternoon. though, we got a surprise: the snow melted back from an area where we planted a large patch of crocuses two years ago. Less than a day after being snow-covered, the crocuses were in bloom.

Bees! At the end of March!
But the biggest surprise was still ahead. I went to photograph them and discovered the crocuses were covered with bees. This winter and last, Betty and I took steps to create habitats for native bees to overwinter.  It wasn’t all that hard:  instead of cutting our long perennial border to the ground, we left up a foot of stalk to provide a winter home for native bees.  Instead of taking every fallen branch to our town’s transfer station, we created protected nest areas with layers of branches. The only thing we did that was an out-of-pocket expense was to buy a bundle of bamboo tubes, which creates a kind of ‘bee hotel’.  Why do all that?  Because native bees don't live in hives; they're solitary critters.

A 'hotel' for native bees
This was likely the first nectar these bees have likely seen this year (witch hazel blooms in January and February, but is not usually planted by homeowners).  The ‘big’ flowers – azalea and rhododendron – are still months away.  Our choice of trees and shrubs is designed to ensure there’s always something in bloom.

When the amalanchier blooms
there will be lots of pollen to go
around for everyone
We also have good news for the bees that were around today: as soon as the snow recedes another foot, there's an even larger patch of purple crocuses waiting to burst into bloom.  And, with nearly 4000 bulbs on the property, there’s lots more pollen to come.  The next big slug will be when our amelanchier (shadbush) blooms in a week or so.  Its flowers last approximately two weeks and the shrub will be covered with

Take a look at the second photo, which is as great a magnification as I could get with a 6 megapixel point and shoot camera. The inset shows ones of the bees at work.

March 16, 2018

What Happened When I Didn’t Sleep In This Morning

This has been a crazy week for me.  The third nor’easter in as many weeks dropped two feet of snow and more or less cancelled Tuesday except for shoveling the white stuff.  But, before that, I had spent an afternoon at the ‘build’ for the Boston Flower & Garden Show where, playing to my strengths, I served as a typist for horticultural entries.  Thursday evening, Betty and I appeared before our town’s Conservation Commission to give our annual report on the state of the Community Garden – something that required considerable preparation to ensure a 30-minute preparation went smoothly.  All the while, I was also juggling the filling of the remaining spaces in that same Community Garden.

Typing entries for AmHort is
part of my skill set
Betty’s week was no less hectic than my own, but she also had two other things on her mind: she was speaking to a private group at the Flower Show with a ‘tailored’ presentation on one of her favorite topics; and she was scheduled to enter the Standard Flower Show this morning.  I was pressed into woodworking service (definitely not my strong suit) to create a suitable base for her entry. 

For the uninitiated, a ‘standard flower show’ proceeds according to a set of rules set down by National Garden Clubs, Inc.  There are four entries per ‘class’, and there may be multiple entry days.  The number of classes is limited by the imagination of the person writing the show’s schedule.  For this year’s show, there are twelve classes and two entry days. (There is also a concurrent ‘Open Class’, but that’s another story.)

The kind of design you
see at a Standard
Flower Show
Chairing the event, formally, ‘Celebrate the Season’, an NGC Design Specialty Flower Show as part of MassHort at the 2018 Boston Flower and Garden Show, is a remarkable woman named Lisa Pattinson.  Lisa is a banking executive by training.  A few years ago, during the interminable consolidation of banks in New England, Lisa found herself between jobs and decided to attend Flower Show School.  The next thing she knew, she stepped forward to run the Federation’s premier annual flower show event.  She had done so with a grit, determination, and resourcefulness that I find remarkable.

The realities of the Boston Flower and Garden Show’s 10 a.m. opening dictate that floral designers did their work between 5:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. this morning.  Judging starts at 8:30. At 10 a.m., the public pours in. 

Just a few years ago, the Seaport
District was a sea of parking lots.
The show is held the World Trade Center in Boston’s Seaport District.  Seaport is 18 miles as the crow flies from Medfield; 26 miles via the Southeast Expressway or the Massachusetts Turnpike, neither of which go anywhere near Medfield.  Betty’s plan was to arise at 4:20 a.m., be in her car at 4:50, and in Boston at 5:45 or so.  She would snag an on-street space and be designing before 6 a.m.  I would sleep in.

Now, it is office buildings, and
parking is, ummm, problematic
I had a slightly different idea.  I awakened her at 4:20 a.m. and we were both out the door at 4:50, sparing her the need to pound on the steering wheel in frustration at the idiots who drive the pre-dawn roads of New England; or marvel that there could be stop-and-go traffic on the Southeast Expressway at 5:15 a.m.  I let her off at Seaport at 5:45 and went in search for that elusive on-street space.  Not too many years ago, the area east of Boston’s Financial District (inexplicably called ‘South Boston’) was a sea of $5-a-day parking lots.  It is now a sea of office buildings and holes where office buildings are under construction.  Surface parking lots are a memory.  On-street spaces are illusory.  Parking is subterranean at daily rates only slightly less than first-class air fares to Europe.

So, I parked, and went in to see how Betty was faring.  Betty immediately told me to go away and that I was disturbing her concentration.  I walked over to Lisa Pattinson to say ‘hello’ and ask if there was any way I could be helpful.  My idea of being helpful is to move tables or help designers get flowers and tools out of their cars.

Lisa had slightly different idea.  Several paragraphs above, I explained there are four entries per floral design class.  Question: What happens if there are only two or three entries?  Answer: The class is not eligible for judging.  Question:  What happens if a designer calls and says her car is hanging off an overpass and the tow truck won’t be there until an hour from now?  Official answer: Tough luck.  The class is not eligible for judging.  Unofficial answer:  The Committee (meaning the people who run the flower show) will beg and borrow flowers and a container and create that fourth entry so that the class can be judged.

Floral design judges have no idea
who created the entry they're
Judges don’t know who designed what; they have only the object in front of them which the Committee has passed.  It is not unknown for a Committee-created design get the ‘blue’ for a class.

This morning, I co-created a design for a class.  Lisa grabbed me and a highly regarded designer who had completed her work.  Lisa showed us the materials we had available.  Together, we created an entry that adequately conformed to the schedule, allowing it and the other three entries to be judged.

If I am cagy about the nature of the entry, it is because it is generally considered unbecoming to claim any credit when the finished product is attributed to someone else (or, in this case, credited to the garden club of which my co-creator is a member).

But I’ve had my moment of glory.  For the first and last time in my life, I have worked with the same pressures as the floral designers whom I so much admire.  When it was finished, I stepped back and looked at what I had helped create.  And I thought, ‘not half bad’.

March 10, 2018

The Return of the Ogre

This month, for the ninth year in a row, I will go into a cave and come out wearing my Garden Ogre suit.  For the next seven months, I will prowl the Medfield Community Garden with one task: to tell 75 gardeners to weed their plots, tighten their fences, and be nice to one another.  I know with complete certainty that, by the end of October, half a dozen gardeners will hate me.  The rest will find me merely annoying.

Nine-and-a-half years ago, Betty and I cornered one of our town’s selectmen and complained that our town’s small Community Garden was a wreck.  Plots grew up in weeds and no one cared.  Two families took a quarter of the garden for themselves.  Water spigots leaked or didn’t work.  We demanded action.

Abandoned garden plots used to grow
up in weeds, like 'Mom's Garden'
What we got was a call from the Town Clerk, telling us we were to be sworn in as members of the Garden Committee.  After we took our oath, we asked who were the other members.  The answer was: “Just you; everyone else resigned.”

We generate publicity
seeking new gardeners
Betty and I took our newfound responsibility seriously.  A four-page list of Draconian ‘Rules’ became a single page of ‘guidelines’.  Articles appeared in the local papers seeking gardeners and new recruits showed up in droves.  Six thousand square feet of gardens were added, and then another 3,000 square feet, bringing the garden to a full acre in size.  New gardeners were encouraged to start with a 300-square-foot ‘half-plot’ space, and an early-Spring class on vegetable gardening became a staple at the town library.

It all sounds idyllic, except even ‘guidelines’ need to be enforced.  The secret to having 75 people gardening together is to ensure that everyone plays nice.  That’s where the Ogre comes in. 

Weeds along the fence
My number one responsibility is to ensure everyone keeps the paths around their garden weed-free.  It’s a simple request: every week, spend five minutes pulling any grass or weeds that are in the three-foot-wide aisles and, especially, along your fence line.  If you have a front-row garden, there are fifteen gardeners behind you who depend on being able to walk by your plot unmolested. 

Yet, every year, gardeners decide it’s not their job.  It begins with weeds growing in their fence and, left unchecked, escalates until there’s a carpet of crabgrass that will spew billions of seeds into every plot.  I start with kind notes: “Hey, the next time you’re at the garden, could you take a few minutes and weed the aisles?”  Some people comply, others don’t.  The next note is just a little testy: “Hey, I’m getting complaints about the weeds in your aisles.  Please take care of them.”  This send-and-ignore pas-de-deux continues until I send out one that says, “Weed your fence line and aisles or else I’ll do it.  And if I do it, you lose your garden.”  That’s the note the recipient posts to social media to show how a simple, friendly community endeavor has devolved into a dystopian nightmare.

Common sense says not
to shade your neighbors
As the season progresses, the problems escalate to include ten-foot-high sunflowers and eight-foot-high stalks of corn.  With just three feet between gardens, common sense says not to grow stuff that casts a shadow over your neighbors’ plot.  Yet, some gardeners insist it their Flora-the-Goddess-of-Gardening-given-right to not only grow this stuff at the back of their plot (where it shades the front of the adjacent garden), but to use it as a border around their garden, thereby shading everyone in sight.
Out go the memos, with predictable results.

I take photos of
rogue squash vines
Come August, two things happen.  First, everyone goes away for two weeks.  And, second, everyone’s squash vines run amok.  The vines push out fences, turning three-foot passageways into Amazonian-caliber jungle pathways where machetes are required for navigation.  I plead via email for cooperation and receive replies from Patagonia where, I’m informed, the skiing is wonderful but they’ll take care of the vines just as soon as their holiday is over and they’ve ‘decompressed’.  Some express amazement that ‘Madison’, who had faithfully pledged to tend their garden in their absence, hasn’t stopped by.

Then comes the end of the season.  Most gardeners clear their plots during September, even though they have until the end of October.  The days are shorter and few things are ripening.   A few gardeners, though, just stop gardening; leaving everything in place with predictable results.  Three gardeners did this in the autumn of 2017.  Oh, they finally took down their fence and cleared the plot, but not before the weeds were two feet high.  They were livid when I told them their plots were being given away.

Now, it’s March, and the process has started all over again.  Between people ‘aging out’ and moving away, I have nine plots to fill with up to 18 gardeners.  The newspaper articles began appearing last week and the response has been enthusiastic.  Everyone who inquires gets a copy of those Gardening Guidelines with a plea to read them before they send a check.  Everyone says they have so.  In theory, this year should be one of bonhomie and bountiful harvests of well-contained squash. 

But I’m not counting on it.