Saturday, October 31, 2009
Reductionism, Science, and the Art of Gardening
11:57 am est
Science often uses the methodology of reductionism to gain an understanding of complex systems. Reductionism itself refers
to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts or refers to a
philosophy that a complex systems are only the sum of their parts. Gardening however is both a science and an art, but reductionism
can still help us gain a better understanding of how our gardens function on different levels.
Those of us living in colder temperate zones may have to endure months of cold weather (here in my zone 4 garden that
can translate to 6 months in any given year), but I feel we have one distinct advantage over those gardening in warmer areas
of the world: We are given a season where the garden is laid bare (the popular phrase being to see the bones of the
garden). This allows us an extended period of introspection where we can truly assess the failure or success of our
garden planning and design. It also allows us to view a whole different cast of characters in the garden: plants that
function year round and denizens of the garden we may not notice when the finery of flowers and foliage commands our attention.
My own garden like many others is a culmination of both science and art. My science background and my passion for native
plants motivates me to try to create gardens based on natural plant communities, while my artistic side loves blending
color , shape and texture. Even though designing gardens is my profession, I too need introspection to reflect on my
successes and failures. My own garden is my little laboratory to learn about what works and what doesn't, which I feel
is a lifelong process. The area in the picture below is a small section of garden adjacent to our woods. An old unnamed variety
of crabapple predates our 15 year tenancy. To link it to the garden I plant Shining sumac (Rhus copallina)
Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera
) and Molinia
"Skyracer". In the summer the Mayan deity
Chacmool is hidden, but in the Autumn he loses his invisibility and once more rules that section of the garden. The Molinia
very soon disintegrate and then Chacmool will disappear again under a deep blanket of snow and only the crabapple will
hold sway. Realizing that this area needed more winter interest I added Cornus sericea
to liven things up and next year I will add Winterberry (Ilex verticillata
) to add even more color.
Reductionism is definitely my friend and partner in the garden and it makes me a better gardener. The gravel terrace
garden below is a private place to sit in the growing season, completely invisible from the road below and my neighbors
across the road. It is filled with tropicals and annuals in pots and the waterlily tub is a popular watering hole for
the local bird and chipmunk populations. This time of year I can sit there and see other parts of the garden that
through natural reductionism I need to change or revise. It is through science and contemplation and failure and success
that we grow as gardeners both figuratively and literally.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The Frost is on the Pumpkin
4:59 pm est
I haven't posted in a while because my work teaching and consulting has been keeping me very busy. Last Wednesday
I worked at the Botanical Gardens at Hovey Pond as I do each Wednesday from April to November. The garden was beautiful when
I first arrived with mist and early morning tones of light.
There are a few things still to cut down in the gardens, mostly those plants that disintegrate with the frost
and plants like the Japanese Spireas, that we cut back throughout the season to check their invasive tendencies. Most of the
grasses and composite flowers are left for the birds and for winter interest as people use the park year round to walk and
snowshoe. A few things are still blooming mostly asters and some very hardy mums. I thought the Aster
skies" and the newly added Callicarpa
"Early amethyst" looked very pretty together this year.
Grasses also add to the Beauty of the Autumn garden and though I think Miscanthus
to be a rampant grower
it is nonetheless beautiful in the fall
Tomorrow will probably be one of the last volunteer days of the season unless we get an Indian summer. Then it
will be time to plan for next season. Toward that end those of us that volunteer there will be planning new projects
such as birdhouses, sculpture, more planters and decorative fencing for next year.
I love Autumn but Winter will soon be here. Two weeks ago I was in Raquette Lake for an Environmental Studies
Residency with my students and as we do every year we had Adirondack Storyteller Bill Smith come to entertain us one of the
evenings. Bill who is now 72 recited from memory the James Whitcomb Riley
poem he had learned as a child.
He did a fantastic job as usual and this is one of those poems that I hear each year that makes Autumn complete for me. Enjoy:WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck
and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then
the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes
out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's
over and the coolin' fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's
so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock—
When the frost is on the
punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
The stubble in
the furries—kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in
theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin'
of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in
red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
I don't know how to tell it—but
ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost
is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Fall marches on
9:40 am est
I went out to mow the leaves yesterday as well as the lawn. All the rain has made the grass grow and brought down
leaves. I still see many Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica)
in the garden. I love frogs of all types, but the wood frog is one of my favorites. They are typically too fast for
me to snap a photo and stay active almost all fall. Because they have their own antifreeze they hibernate by freezing
solid and then thawing in the spring. As long as there is food to hunt they continue to frequent the woods and the garden
long after other frogs have begun hibernating.
Still a few things blooming: Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) and New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae). Pineapple Sage has an intense
red coloring and is a mood lifter in the garden this time of year. The Aster in the background is a descendant of Aster Purple
Dome and has reverted back to type. Asters in my dry garden typically pick their own spots to thrive and will often die if
I plant or move them. I allow them to spring up wherever they choose because they are such an integral part of the Autumn
The other Aster in bloom is one I got many years ago from Bluestone perennials and while I am not sure which cultivar
it is, I think it may be an Aster X frikartti hybrid. These few flowers lift the spirits on grey fall
days. There were still plenty of bumblebees out feeding and I saw a bee fly feeding that I was able to snap a picture of.
Soon there will be only seedheads in the garden. I don't cut anything down in the fall, instead leaving
the plants so that my garden will be visible in the snow. As I often tell clients you can look at a snowbank anywhere,
but the stalks and seedheads add lots of winter interest. They also provide a place for predatory insects to overwinter
and seed for the birds to eat. It won't be long before snow covers the garden and I begin thinking about spring.