Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Headwaters

Driven to rise early by force of street sweeping law, I headed south to my old place on Friel to see how things have held up. Little has changed in our old building. Still the disrepair and blandness, but now less a garden. 

In autumn of two thousand two this was the sunniest, most pleasant of all the apartment wrecks I had seen in several Brooklyn neighborhoods. I had never considered living in, where? -Kensington? Behind a chain link fence, under the blazing hot sun, there were telephone poles stacked in what would later become the garden.

With the arrival of three Russian Zelkova, sun had been replaced by shade -the light loving garden I had planted then stretched beyond its limit. Change was a force, plants groped for light or gave up, and when we chose to move, some of these plants were boxed for transport on a plane and a few others went to friends. I assume that the rest met a dark end by glyphosate.

The corner piece of a neighborhood has returned fully to the weeds, excepting a few daylily and phlox -stalwarts of the brown brick wall. Gardening is presence. We assert ourselves with the language of plants. For my old neighbors my presence is still felt, now in absence of flowers and a plethora of ailanthus, smartweed, and poke.


Having made a quick peace with the old place, I moved on down Coney Island Avenue, Avenue J, Bedford Avenue, and the Belt, over the Gil Hodges to Fort Tilden, the beach.

To my eye, beach farm neighbor, Jimmy, has taken over the old plot. This pleases me. Jimmy's a good gardener, fun, conversational, and present.

 It is reassuring that the neighboring plot, adjacent to the west, is still as weedy as always.

And that Wolf has continued on with his tomatoes.

I was charmed by the sight of my old garlic signs used as stakes to support new beds.


At the moment I have the sensation that this is all I miss of New York City -the ocean, its sandy buffer, the dunes and the salt-enduring flora.

I stood, I sat, for about an hour, alone, but for the gulls.


I was reminded at Tilden that I wanted to bring Seaside Goldenrod back to Minnesota, yet I didn't want to risk taking a plant from the sandy roadside of Rockaway Point Blvd -outside the park (but why chance it). I headed to Red Hook, where the cracked asphalt streets and sidewalks can yield many clumps of S. sempervirens.

I found this cluster on a trashy, industrial block, growing below a security cam and above the asphalt. I grabbed my shovel and scraped its roots from the pavement.

I've grown one Seaside Goldenrod, pulled from a Red Hook pier, in my Friel Place garden. It did okay, suffering from an orange rust each year until, finally, it did not return under the shade of the new street trees. Of course, I like it for its air of the beach, its flowers well-loved by bees, and especially because I thought it may do well in a garden covered by sidewalk-salt laden snow.

I do not know how tolerant of cold it will be, after all it is a seaside plant, but indications are that it is growing along the Great Lakes. I am saddened to see it is listed as a non-regulated invasive species in states like Wisconsin and Indiana. Apparently it is making inroads along our salt-encrusted highways. Could it be that a coastal native is problematic, as much so as a day lily, queen anne's lace, and all the others along highways that are among the most highly "disturbed" sites we have? Am I at the forefront of an invasive wave of Solidago sempervirens? Will it be my fault?

In a case like this, I choose a source that supports my endeavor. From the USDA:
"Nevertheless, because seaside goldenrod has a moderate growth rate, a shorter life span than other Solidago spp., a limited ability to spread through seed, and produces seedlings with low vigor, it is not considered an invasive plant."

"It increases the value of wildlife habitat by providing food and shelter for butterflies, birds, and small mammals. The migrating monarch butterfly uses seaside goldenrod as one of its primary food sources in the fall."

This adaptive plant has the potential to spread itself along the corridors of our own ruination. It also provides an excellent bit of habitat in the difficult, salty locations we've demanded. I have attempted to walk the garden plant/native plant tightrope over the years and it appears that Seaside Goldenrod in a Minnesota garden is the net I fall into. A condition of native is always where one chooses to draw the line. At one end is purity (and Michael Pollan's take on nativism's racial and nationalist ideology) and the other end chaos (and the destruction of the beauty we perceive within ecosystems).

Solidago sempervirens, bagged and ready.

No comments:

Post a Comment