Saturday, August 29, 2015

Monarch and the Lilac

Choosing to take out a shrub, like this lilac, isn't easily made. 

 It's all the harder when it is graced by a Monarch butterfly.

But then, it also alights on my cutting tools. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Lilac

We have an aging lilac, probably twenty years old, in the path of some house repair. My hard edged assessment is removal. After all, it's running along the foundation, suckering as it goes. At some point it is a weed that is very hard, nearly impossible really, to yank. For what? Two or three weeks of lightly scented flowers? 

I am not a fan of shrubs up against a wooden house, if for nothing other than the inconvenience to repair and the humid environment they create near all that wood. So what is slowing me down? Shouldn't have this old, rangy lilac been cut down months ago? 

What would you do?

More information: the tree has a pretty sizable knot of 4" stems at its base. On the left is the septic electrical and the right the gas line. The septic electric wire definitely crosses the lilac without proper protection as I found when digging for the landing piers just a few feet away. Digging will be treacherous. Hmmm. I may transplant one of the many suckers and take it out without removing the roots. Too bad this has to play itself out with nearly all of the foundation plantings. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Notions

This is what a beginning garden looks like. A few old farm implements, an older garden overcome by the shade of growing trees, a tub of transplants waiting for human inspiration, a lawn overrun by creeping charlie, and a trio of notions about how things will come together in the future. The notions: grandma's tea, seaside goldenrod, and Heuchera of Brooklyn.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Premonitions Of Winter

We well survived the first autumn storm of summer, two days in the low 60s, wind, and copious rain; a low pressure of October proportions. We braised meat and roasted root vegetables. I think the garden may take the hint and begin its decline, but today at least, they are no worse for the wear. 

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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Tomorrow I leave Brooklyn for Minnesota, early as my body allows and after a day's respite. These will travel with me: Grandma's tea, Rosa 'New Dawn,' a handful of Huechera, and some Red Hook sidewalk Seaside Goldenrod. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Gardner

My friend, Steve, took me to The Gardner -a Boston mansion of yore festooned with incredible artifacts, whose rooms invite photography yet rules regard it with suspicion due to an embarrassing theft of grand proportions 25 years ago. 

One may use a camera on the first floor, from which these images are taken. The court yard is truly divine. Those tall purple and white flowers belong to the plant Campanula pyramidalis

Monday, August 10, 2015

All That Gutters Is Gold

A friend of mine in Boston is in the market for a house. He invited me to see one that he is considering; to give it my critical "fixer's eye." I'll spare you my assessment, but I did name all the plants in the yard -garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed, and day lily. 

His broker invited us to the open house of a 1.3 million dollar home on the other side of Dedham. The home had a waterfall that could be turned on or off, rockface inside the house, and so many levels and quarters I hardly knew where I was. But it also had purple loosestrife blooming in the gutters. That, my friends, is a serious plant. And if you're serious about selling your home, I highly recommend weeding the gutters. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Landscape Into Art

I'll be teaching my summer intensive course Landscape Into Art this week in the perfectly pastoral hills of Bennington College between the Green and Taconic Mountains. As I arrived the breezes whipped up, the temperature about 78 degrees, the skies blue. Tomorrow, eleven students arrive ready to have fun, work hard, and be challenged. It's an intense week. We make art, we read, we challenge each other to try new ideas, to push beyond our limits, and then we eat together.