"Buffalo Horticulture Riffs On The Classics: On The Greatest Gardening Tips of All Time." Number Two.
On The Conservation of Water.
This is post two of a series that takes its lead from a piece in Martha Stewart Living (May 2018) that offers "10 smart ways to help your plants thrive [while you] go truly, vibrantly green." I see them as classic "all-time" garden tips and rewrite them to situate their relevance in a Buffalo, NY context.
In "the garden literature" there is a lot written on how to use less water for your garden - a conservation that's practices' range from capturing rain water to planting plants that don't need water. To keep this contained I will have to offer my essay as a series of bullet points.
"Buffalo Horticulture Riffs On The Classics: On The Greatest Gardening Tips of All Time." Number One.
I am never able to finish a writing project. I start a new one every three to four days but inevitably drift off into a new problem. So, when I came across this short list in "Martha Stewart Living" I thought it would be a helpful exercise to offer a local expansion and commentary on the list of "10 ways to help your plants thrive and [for you] to go truly and vibrantly green' offered in the May 2018 issue. A quick and easy piece that allows me to retell 'the classics' - like doing a cover of the greatest and most common gardening tips of all time. "Buff Hort riff's on the classics."
"Keep it Quenched."
"Water deeply yet infrequently" is no new rule. It comes from two principles - (1) if you run a sprinkler for 20 or 30 minutes you may get the top 1/2 inch of soil wet. This will contain the roots of your plants to this same 1/2 inch horizon. Of course the sun and wind dry this top layer almost instantly necessitating another irrigating. This is when our second issue arrises. The frequent watering makes for constantly wet foliage and as anyone with a bathtub and a shower understands, these are ideal conditions for fungal growth and plant diseases can thrive. So the idea to "water deeply, infrequently." Instead of watering X amount of time everyday, water 7X the quantity of water weekly. The allows water to percolate and be drawn deeper into the soil, expanding the zone roots will grow in and find what the need, while keeping everything dry - thus limiting favorable fungal conditions - for long as possible.
As to whether you should water early in the morning or in the evening - I say, first and foremost, if the plants need water, water; just get the job done as soon as possible. But, if you and your plants have the privilege of being theorists the watering in the morning will allow the sun to dry the foliage quickly after irrigating. Manual watering is ALWAYS best; automated sprinkler systems are the decline of so many landscapes and gardens. They don't have to be, but the hope to automate the most delicate and sensitive of all horticultural operations never goes well.
We could write about and comment on techniques, tactics, and strategies of watering for a very long time. There are many specificities and exceptions - but, like gardening, it is an art; see this as a guide only and follow no hard rules. Let experience and your personal relationship to your plants and garden be your most referenced and used tools.
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1. To do a book review is a bit luxurious. But does all my work need to be toil? No. I like to read and write, document, and photograph and so I have incorporated it into the work of Buffalo Horticulture. The time spent I justify as Buffalo Horticulture offering me a productive space where elements of my 'scholarly work' can be seen as creating value. It is part of the practice - practice as opposed to theory; practice as repetition towards proficiency; practice as an exercise of my profession; “Buffalo Horticulture” as a practice and/or the practice of Buffalo Horticulture.
2. Intent. Martha Stewart's new book, called “A Practical Guide to Growing, Gathering, and Enjoying” a casual reader may take it as a “How To,” a manual, instructional. But it never really takes up an authoritative voice or position. Generally it just describes how the gardens came to be. Not “this is how to do it” but “here is the path we took - you can follow.”
4. Process. But to speak of it as suspiciously formulaic or corporate is a bit negative - it is to see it as a manual, a “How To.” I never really read it this way. I identified with the process or the work and experimentation being described. The motivation behind the work was to grow some cool flowers (although, the scale of production seems to be unnecessarily monumental. I’m not quite sure what she did with an acre of peonies.), arrange them, stage them, live with them, photograph them. My imagination of the texts production is not of “Martha” sitting at a table with pen and paper but her walking around the garden and pouring over the photographs others took of others arrangements and orally giving a quick story of each and then having “the writer” generate the text. Credits for work are scattered around but the overall project is put together with a list of photographers, collectors, arrangers, stagers, etc. And this is not to take anything away, its just that method of production for the representation made, the aimed for form of a book.
5. Way of being. I direct this attention to the process because I think it important to distinguish what it is. The book doesn’t sponsor a field of commodities and provide detailed cultivar lists that every garden should have, it suggests a creative process one may live by, of research, design, imagination, planting, harvesting, bringing the garden into the home. Interacting with the garden, as opposed to passive landscapes, and bringing flowers into the home creates a certain quality of life and living. Its not rich. Most minimally can find a bare soil patch they can guerrilla plant with a 79 cent seed pack. Its about imagination and contact with the the forces that make life emerge from seeds and the soil. Its about the seasons, the weather, patterns, death.
6. A garden is for leisure. Just as one may make discoveries strolling about unknown places in a city so to do we discover with direct relationships to the soil and the outdoors. A garden requires work but it is not necessarily toil. We may also see it as tending and giving care. Landscapes are different. They are more about economic values and property; work on a landscape is toil. Landscapes are measured by the maintenance required of them - everyone wants “low maintenance.” This is fine. It is a skill I have worked towards mastering. But, to draw parallel to the structure of a house, when we wish to have low maintenance, we get plastic windows and vinyl siding. So let us be cautious and careful. They may intentionally create worlds that do not require any attendance or caring. So let us actively consider the low maintenance landscape so that when we build it it embodies some kind of care.
I spend much of my time working and thinking with value - trying to create simple and manageable landscape and garden solutions for home and business owners. But in my own work close to home (what I call "The Community Gardens" - See blog posts from July 2016) I've been working on hybrid gardens - manageable, designed spaces - that include and think about cutting materials. As I have come to enjoy having flowers and foliage to arrange and photograph the softening of my living space, I have found this to be a medium to experiment, learn, and develop positions of critique from. It expands my chops so-to-speak.
Often, when I speak of the simplicity of creating manageable outdoor living spaces, I point to the idea that often "landscapes" make fault in being put together as plant "collections" not designed and articulated spaces where the plants and materials create mass, line, form, and place. A place or landscape is experienced at a certain scale, at the level of what Juhani Pallasmaa calls "peripheral unfocused vision," (see his 2005 book "The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses"). I believe the typical residential landscape is put together at the scale of, or with the unit of understanding being, the individual nursery plant. Each object is placed as if in a museum, highlighting isolated units without being assembled into a larger imagined whole "thing." The object is the unit not the assembled.
When I say scale it may be easiest to think simply "what is the camera capturing in its frame." The scale of "the landscape" is wide and captures everything. The frame of a camera capturing a collection focuses on the single plant. But the cutting garden works different. It works at the smallest of scales, smaller than the plant itself, and the camera zooms close to capture individual flowers, branches, leaves, buds, fruit, etc. For instance, no landscaper ever plants a Qunice. When I was young I remember my father joking about how they were disliked because they were so difficult to remove. But to the florist, the Quince branch in the late winter is the most precious and delicate of all materials.
The cutting garden involves a more intimate lived relationship to the garden. If one is actively cutting and bringing that material into their home it makes the garden an active, productive, collaborative space that expands how someone is being aware and conscious of the world around them. I would like to help more people develop this relationship between their imagination, garden, and home. It is fulfills you more than a garden that is just passively engaged with. It makes meaning.
Landscape and Gardens Buffalo, NY: On "Design," Plant Collections, and Explorations of Family Asteraceae.
The Asteraceae family. Often I get caught up for short bits of time in wikipedia chasing around all the connections and links between ideas. Last week at a conference I watched a speaker on landscape design point out how they really liked to use "Echinacea tennesseensis" (Tennessee Coneflower). The assumption the listener is to make is that the Tennessee Coneflower is better to use and more exciting than just plain old Purple Coneflower.
In my exploration I learned that Echinacea has ten species and is one of 1,911 genus in the family Asteraceae. Other related genus include Calendula, Chrysanthemum, Dahlias, Zinnia, Heleniums, and Yarrow. The entire taxonomical family is composed of a total of 32,913 plant species. Beyond ornamental flowers, many lettuces we eat are in the family, as is chicory, artichokes, and Chamomile.
But, while I am on the margins of the plant geek world and like to experiment with different cut flowers in my house, as a landscape designer representing property owners, when should these minute difference in species come into play?
To a gardener, part of the enjoyed experience is learning new species, varieties, watching the market for new cultivars, and finding rare exotic plants that develop and present one's sophistication as a gardener. But I find it to be an infrequent occurrence that someone comes to me looking to make them into a plant collector. Most often people that hire a landscape designer or architect are looking for spaces to play in, backyards to enjoy and relax in, and also to maximize the value of their property and investments. Almost without exception people open their list of wants with "Low Maintenance" (and year round interest). People that are gardeners garden. But a very small percentage of property owners are looking to be gardeners.
Landscape Design isn't about making plant collections. Design is about the organization of material and space to evoke poetically a sensibility with its participant. How good can a poem be if the reader doesn't know the words? In most instances, one Echinacea species or another doesn't change the landscape's sense. It is outside the dialogue one has with their client. And so, when I hear a speaker on landscape design - and nearly all of them speak this way - talk about less common niche plant species (commodities) they use as if to demonstrate some higher level of skill and authority, well...
I start asking questions to myself about what it is exactly that they are organizing - clients backyards or themselves? Part of designing for a client is being able to get a handle on what their wants are, to communicate. Everybody loves Purple Coneflower.
Landscape designer and Proprietor of Buffalo Horticulture