Spring Garden Update

The first day of summer is nearly here (also known as Midsummer, Summer Solstice, or St. John’s Day, alternatively), so I thought it would be a good time to do a garden check-in. Planting a spring garden (aka planting cool-tolerant crops that will be ready before the main summer veggies) wasn’t in the cards for me this year, but those that did should be reaping the reward of lettuces, carrots, radishes, cabbages & more.

A little background – my garden is an allotment in a community garden. It’s my first year at this community garden, so my garden plot was randomly picked, sight unseen, and I had no idea what condition or set-up I would be inheriting. This was the first time I got to check it out, back in February:

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February 2017 – ‘Yikes’ moment

I did have a ‘Yikes’ moment, but it didn’t turn out to be so bad…

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Field Guide: Wildflowers of Oregon

I recently went on my first trip to the Pacific Northwest – to the super green state of Oregon! I’m a wildflower addict, so it was amazing to see the different species out there – in meadows, roadsides, and forests. I couldn’t help but photograph as many as I could to make my own little ‘field guide’. I’ve tried to identify them as best I could with my own knowledge, some helpful placards, and an actual (and awesome) field guide by the National Wildlife Federation. Without further ado –

Lupines!

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Large-Leaf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) – along the Columbia River Gorge.

I knew lupines were a common wildflower out west, but they seemed about as common as dandelions are in my neighborhood in the North East. They come in all sorts of colors, but I thought this bluish purple was very striking against the green.

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Community Gardens: From Thrift to War to Urban Activism

My first exposure to community gardens was as someone growing up in a city, and later as a suburban apartment-dweller that refused to accept I wouldn’t be able to garden. You might think of community gardens as a recent invention brought about by more people living in cities, but the concept of community gardening dates way farther back! From local cities battling the effects of economic depression, to the government encouraging gardening as a patriotic act during wartime, to modern urban activism, community gardening has brought people together for the good of the community and farther afield.

Way Back When:

The first community gardens began in the 1890s, in Detroit. ‘The Panic of 1893’ brought about an economic depression that lasted about 4 years, and inspired the mayor of Detroit to turn vacant lots into gardens where unemployed workers could grow and sell food.

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Smithsonian Gardens – ‘Community of Gardens’ exhibit

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, an even more widespread program of community gardening took shape across the country. The initial gardens started out small, supported by local groups, but were eventually transformed by state and federal programs. They provided food and employment, and produced millions of dollars’ worth of produce.

Food Fighting for Freedom

Most of us have heard of the Victory Gardens of WW2, but there was also a considerable war-gardening effort during WWI. There was a severe food-shortage in Europe during the war, and the U.S. government put in a massive effort on the homefront to grow food to ship overseas to troops and our allies. The Federal Bureau of Education developed a national gardening curriculum and millions of schoolchildren ‘enlisted’ in the United States School Garden Army. (Wouldn’t it be great if gardening and growing food were still part of school curriculum today!)

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State Historical Society of North Dakota

During WW2, food was in short supply in the U.S. for a variety of reasons – canned goods were being shipped to troops overseas, the food transportation system took a backseat to shipping troops and supplies, and there were restrictions on imports. The government instituted rationing on goods like gas, clothing, and of course food. Ration books were given to each family – they specified how much of each item you were allowed, and you would bring your book to the store to get stamped, indicating the quantity and time of items purchased, based on a points system. None of this guaranteed that the shop would have what you needed, however, and certain items like meats, sugar, and butter, were often not in supply.

During this time of intense rationing on the homefront, the government encouraged ‘Victory Gardens’ to fill the gap in food shortages. Individual families grew food at home, but neighborhoods also pulled together to form cooperatives for growing. Victory Gardening also produced some truly awesome ‘propaganda’ posters as well. The government wanted you to feel that growing food was truly a patriotic act.

Back to Nature

The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) was founded in the late 1970s in Chicago, as a way to connect and share information across the hundreds of local garden programs across the country. In the face of cuts from federal programs that were supporting many of the gardens, leaders in the ACGA learned to work within the political system to support the national community garden system.

Today there are an estimated 18,000 community gardens in the U.S.! If you’re feeling inspired to get your hands in the dirt and get involved in your community you can start by searching here. You can also check with your local parks, churches, libraries and environmental centers. There may be a garden right around the corner from you!

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Here’s some great resources if you’re interested in learning more about the history of community gardens:

A Brief History of Urban Garden Programs in the United States
Community Gardening Toolkit
Grown from the Past: A Short History of Community Gardening in the United States

Minimalism: It’s Not About Owning the Least Stuff

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How much I’ve packed so far for a house move in 1 week..there will be lots more

There is nothing that makes you take stock of everything you own so much as moving house. I have been moving every couple of years, and it does help immensely reduce the amount of clutter I own. I remember during my last move, I made the rookie mistake of leaving the kitchen for absolute last. I figure it would only take a few trips up and down the 3.5 flights of stairs to get everything out. WRONG. Already exhausted by moving everything else, I just didn’t have it in me to make that many trips. A fair amount of baking tins, dishes and more were left behind, and I wonder if they are still in use today by the proceeding tenants..

There are minimalist social media ‘celebrities’ out there, because of course there are. There is a trend among them of doing a show-and-tell style video showcasing the absurdly few amount of possessions they have (“Everything I Own – 30 Things”). As someone who considers herself a minimalist, I find this ridiculous on several levels.

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The Three Sisters & Some Exciting News!

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Source: Almanac.com

I’d like to preface this post by mentioning that Plant Lady is moving on up! (…in planting terms). For the past 4 years I’ve lived in a little townhouse that has the most frustratingly shady patio as the only outside space. The first spring I was there, I had super high hopes about what I would be able to grow, but I was quickly disappointed by the (maybe) 3 or 4 hours of late afternoon sun that I would get on that patio. It did teach me to adapt – I learned about shade tolerant plants & flowers, grew lettuces that I could pick as baby leaves, and it’s even what got me into community gardening.

But this spring, however, I’ll be moving into a new condo with a super sizeable & sunny south-facing patio! Barring a major deer problem (it is New Jersey so you never know), I should be able to grow all kinds of interesting things out back. I will still be participating in a local community garden, to plant larger crops & also to get involved in the wonderful foundation that runs the garden. So I will have lots of exciting things to share! I plan to get a small grow light system to start seeds indoors, and I’ll be trying out lots of different heirloom varieties of plants. I’m also taking a horticulture class at a local college, so I’ll even be getting some formal education in plant propagation.

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Field Trip: Exposition Park in Los Angeles

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Juicer’s Garden at the museum’s Edible Garden. I spot beets, kale, parsley, carrots & more.

Exposition Park is a huge cultural center, with museums and acres of gardens, right in the middle of urban Los Angeles. One of the most stunning features is the Rose Garden, featuring thousands of rose plants of hundreds of different varieties. At one point there were plans to tear down the garden and replace it with a parking garage, but luckily it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in time!

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Totally Worth It: Replace your Store-Bought Herbs with Homegrown

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Rosemary

It all started with an oregano plant.

Just a simple oregano plant in a small container on my patio. After it grew to a decent size, I figured I should actually do something with it aside from watering and staring at it. I knew that to dry herbs you typically leave them out for weeks on end, and I didn’t really have the time or space for that. I found some information on a quick oven-drying technique, and I was off to the races.

Then I actually used some of the dried oregano in cooking – holy smokes is this what oregano is actually supposed to taste like?? Like most people I just used the McCormick stuff I got at the supermarket in recipes. After using the homegrown, I could never go back…

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Now for Something Different: Minimalism

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Still sneaking a plant in here

I’ve always been someone that loves throwing things out.

It just always seemed that the more things I owned, the less meaning each individual thing had. When that whole KonMari decluttering method blew up a couple years ago, I was pretty peeved someone was making millions off an idea that seemed intrinsic to me. I know some people buy things to meet an emotional need, but I think I’m more likely to get rid of things if I’m trying to de-stress or work through something.

So how do I end up with so many things I’m willing to part with? Er, poor money management & too many cute ‘trendy’ things for sale are the biggest reasons that spring to mind. Also, there totally is some Pavlovian response to getting free crap – ‘Congratulations you get a free tote bag with your purchase!’ ‘Woohoo I’m totally getting one over on these suckers cos its freeee.’

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Community Gardens – Urban Agriculture in Suburbia

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Community Garden in Warren, New Jersey

What exactly is a community garden? If you’re reading a site called Plant Lady you probably already know, but in short it’s an area of land made available to the public to grow food for home use (i.e. not commercial production). Different rules and policies vary among them, but typically they require a nominal fee to join and a certain amount of volunteer hours towards the upkeep of the property. Some have sections devoted to growing food for local food banks – which is an awesome way to donate food that isn’t the reject canned goods from your cupboards!

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Field Trip: Desert Garden at The Huntington

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A variety of Aloe plants

On a trip to California I got to visit of the best botanical gardens I’ve been to – The Huntington, in Pasadena. The Huntington itself is a massive cultural, art museum & education center, but clearly I only cared about the gardens. They have over a dozen different ‘themed’ gardens, but this Northeastern-er was most blown away by the Desert Garden. Its one of the largest succulent and desert plant gardens in the world. Beautiful but also look like underwater sea monsters at the same time, no?

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