Archive for the 'Other People’s Gardens' Category



A gardening season potentially washed away

One of the things that has been most strange to me about the Flood of 2008 coverage is that I actually recognize the landmarks. In the past, most of my flood experience has been virtual – I’ve watched the news and sympathized, even sent money for relief, but never actually recognized the locations involved. It’s a completely different experience, the recognition something akin to seeing an ex-boyfriend on the street with a new girl. It’s the same sickening drop in the stomach, no matter how glad you may have been to leave him behind.

Now the floodwaters are being to recede, but that means the recovery is just beginning. And what a recovery it’s going to be. After all, floodwater is dirty-nasty-foul stuff. Oh, toxic sediment, thanks for stopping by (not that you were actually invited to the garden party).

Yeah, speaking of that garden party, I had never given a second of thought to what happens when your home garden floods until I read the Johnson County Extension’s list of warnings and admonitions. The basics? If you had raw sewage in your garden, don’t eat the food. In fact, quit growing any more food, because now you have contaminated dirt. For 90 days.

There are some other suggestions from the Extension: Get rid of leafy greens. Don’t eat your strawberries. Discard anything that was covered with water, even if it was a root vegetable like potatoes, carrots or garlic.

I realize I’m not there to work in my old garden, but when I read that advice (wise as it is), I felt that corresponding sickening drop in the stomach. As if the flooding wasn’t bad enough already, the thought of missing the entire growing season (because a 90-day growing ban would, for all intents and purposes, cause just that) is pretty horrifying.

How you can help Midwestern farmers

Back in the 1980s, when the farm crisis was breaking America’s heartland, my Uncle Charlie got involved. He was an economics professor at Iowa State University, and he focused on Extension and public policy issues. He, along with my Dad and their four other siblings, grew up on a small dairy farm in Upstate New York, and they knew what it meant to be farmers and to be poor.

In 1988, my Uncle Charlie sat down with the good people of Ottumwa, Iowa, and started a strategic planning process to help them recover from the devastation the crisis had wreaked on the community. He stepped up. He used everything in his toolkit to do what he could for the state he had adopted as his own.

My Uncle Charlie died in December 2006, so he’s missing the mess left behind by the Flood of 2008. I’m sorry he’s gone, but I’m glad he’s not seeing the water pull back slowly—the effects of the flood are just beginning. From the towns that were underwater to formerly-submerged farmland, word from there is that now the problem is clean-up and recovery.

As I said earlier this week, the team at Edible Iowa River Valley and other organizations like Local Foods Connection are doing everything they can to help out the farmers affected by this flood. On Wednesday, they worked with Farm Aid to get a donation program off the ground. Farm Aid has done so much, starting with that farm crisis of the 1980s, to help American family farmers get on—and stay on—their feet, so it makes perfect sense that they’re involved again this time.

Farm Aid seeded the pot with $10,000, and they’ve got the venerable Willie Nelson putting his weight behind the effort. He’s playing in Tama, Iowa, on Saturday night, kicking off a several-night stretch where he performs in Iowa and Wisconsin, raising awareness as he goes.

The money will go to help the farmers who aren’t involved in ginormous agribusiness operations—although those folks are no less affected by this natural disaster. The difference? The farmers this fundraiser will help are the small and mid-size farmers who run community-supported agriculture operations and help supply the local farmers’ markets with fresh food and generally make Iowa a better, healthier place to be. But these are the farmers who don’t have flood insurance. Or crop insurance. These are the farmers who have to have their wife or husband work an office or factory job so they can get health insurance.

These are the people working on sliver-thin margins, and those margins just drowned.

If you think you can help, please visit the flood relief donation site and give what you can. I admit I’m feeling pretty helpless from here, but in the spirit of my Uncle Charlie, I’m using what I have in my toolkit. I have some money, and I have a blog. I can use those tools to help rebuild the state that let me make it home for nearly three years.

I ask for your help and your support. If you can’t give money, help raise awareness. Pass the word about this fundraiser to your friends, neighbors, and fellow bloggers. Food bloggers, I’d love it if you’d post something in support of this.

But most of all, if you’re at a farmers’ market this weekend, stop and take a look around. Be grateful for what’s there. Imagine if it was all gone. Then decide what it’s worth to you and help out these farmers. You never know when the good people of the Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri might just need to return the favor.

The secret garden, part 2

Cloisters gardensNote: Part 1 of this story appeared on Monday.

The heavy wooden door opened onto a series of squared-off brick passageways, open to the elements, yet almost private, with their series of variegated columns and keyhole windows. We stepped into a series of garden rooms, high above the rest of the city.

According to the signs, the gardens feature a café in warmer weather, but I was glad it was too cold for icy glasses of Coke and petit fours. The gardens belonged to me and Alex, and we roamed through it, peering through windows and looking at the wildness that had been brought on by the waning Fall.

“I bet this is beautiful when it’s all blooming,” I said.

We stopped to look at birds playing in a dry fountain, admired the stone work, peered through an opening in the wall toward the George Washington Bridge in the distance.

Then I caught site of the tree I had seen from below the Cloisters.

“I don’t think that’s an apple tree at all,” I said. “It’s a quince!”

And sure enough, it was. Smack in the middle of the more open of the gardens, there were four quince trees still laden with overripe fruit.

The last time I had seen a quince tree was by the pool that our townhouse community in Madrid shared when I lived there growing up. All it took was the smell of the slightly decaying fruit to take me back there.

The rest of the garden showed what an amazing place it must be at the peak of its season, too. Ivy clambered the walls in thick swaths; three kinds of sage, each one bushier than the next, stood together; a huge ornamental cabbage would have lumbered about if it could have picked up its roots.

I spotted Lamb’s Ear and made Alex touch it—it is, after all, the softest plant in the world. And we took photos of each other in a variety of archways—if you can’t be photogenic at the Cloisters, you might not be photogenic anywhere, really…

In 20 minutes, we were thoroughly chilled by the November air and ready to return to the medieval art. We ducked back in the heavy door, and a few folks in the museum itself looked at us with surprise. Who would be outside on such a day? What could there possibly be to see?

All I can say is this: sometimes the best things in the world are behind the doors we aren’t sure about opening. The Cloisters gardens? They rank right up there.

The secret garden, part 1

Cloisters from belowAs we approached the Cloisters from further down the hill, I pointed up to a tree peeking over the top of a walled garden. “Look, an apple tree!” I said to my friend Alex. “I wonder if we can get in there?”

Inside the museum, we wandered amidst Madonnas and child, friezes and tapestries, but seemed as if we were up far too high to access the garden where we would find that tree.

A guard stood to one side of a gallery, his eyelids drooping a bit. We sidled up to him.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“A little tired,” he said.

We talked about the weather, and why he was tired, and George Bush before I finally felt like we’d had enough small talk to broach the issue at hand. “From outside,” I said, “we could see an apple tree. Can we get to it?”

A slow grin spread across his face. “Down these stairs and to the left, and you will see a door right in front of you. Go outside it, and there it will be.”

Alex and I scurried down the steps until we came upon a heavy wooden door. It had no sign on it, and for a moment, I feared we were about to set off an alarm.

“Do you think it’s OK?” I asked, my hand poised to push.

“Sure,” she said. “Go ahead.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story, which will appear on Wednesday…

Southern drought: no end in sight

The South is running out of water.

I discovered this after I asked some fellow members of the 9rules community about how they had celebrated Blog Action Day, and one linked to their post on the mess that is the Georgia water table.

I’m clearly losing my edge out here in the Midwest. Ordinarily, the fact that there wasn’t going to be enough water to cool the power plants that run Christmas lights from North Carolina to Florida would not escape my notice. But somehow, I’d heard nothing.

Rob and Heather’s RoseThe last Friday in October, I boarded a plane bound for Raleigh, North Carolina, heading to visit good friends and show my support for the NC State Wolfpack. I’d gotten the weather forecast from my friend and commenter NC Heather – rain all week, but dry for the game. Besides, my friends are not ones to have any kind of shortage of NC State clothing, and that includes a prodigious amount of rain gear. If the rain didn’t stop, I’d be covered.

As the plane ascended, the pilot said something about downpours that were expected to have passed over by the time we landed, and, in fact, North Carolina was soaking wet when I arrived. Out in Rob and Heather’s back yard, all the plants looked luscious and thrilled with the water infusion.

But the newspaper the next morning reminded everyone that water restrictions were still in effect-even with five inches of rainfall in a week, drought conditions still held steady.

This week, the news has continued to be dire. The governor of Georgia has apparently been holding prayer services with the specific request for rain, and he’s going to have a little sit-down with the governors of Florida and Alabama to try to address the problem.

I’m not really sure how you address the problem when you aren’t the sky, but whatever. I wish them luck. In the meantime, according to reports I’ve been reading, there’s a town in Tennessee where the mayor turns on the water for three hours each night, then turns it off.

I know there are gardeners out there who consider it anathema to actually water their plants, preferring instead to let their flowers and vegetables and herbs just roll with whatever weather happens to be in play, whether that be drought or wet conditions. I like to think I wouldn’t be the neighbor sneaking out to water my tomatoes in the dark, but they would be my tomatoes… I just might crack under the pressure.


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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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