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October 20, 2014

THE MANY PRICELESS GIFTS WITH GARDENING, AND A FIRST FROST

WITH OUR FIRST HARD FROST EXPECTED TO HIT , SUCCULENTS ARE REMOVED FROM ALL OUTDOOR CONTAINERS AND BROUGHT INTO THE GREENHOUSE. NO WORRIES ABOUT POTTING THEM RIGHT NOW, THAT WILL NEED TO WAIT UNTIL NEXT WEEKEND.


Last night we had our first killing frost. Well, we were supposed to. Close enough though, as the temps dipped to 32º F. We gardeners know the routine - rushing home barely enough time to haul in everything that is frost tender, throwing sheets over dahlias (for some reason - as if we need any more in the house this time of year!), or packing in pots of begonias, citrus and succulents - dragging tubs of plants onto the porches which are packed so densely that one can't even get to the dog food or to the recycling bins. For us, it means sore backs and muscles from dragging heavy tubs of tender trees and shrubs back to the protection of the greenhouse too - these are the bigger 40 inch pots. Each year we say "We really need to start this earlier" but for whatever reason, we seem to rationalize leaving plants out for all sorts of reasons "Oh, they really should get a few more days of sunshine." or, "Hey, remember that year when we didn't get a killing hard frost until nearly Thanksgiving?" or, "This year, let's just leave everything outside and save some money by not heating the greenhouse.".

Click below for more:



THIS GIFT FROM THE STAFF AT BLYTHWOLD MANSION IN RHODE ISLAND IS A BARELY HARDY EUPHORBIA, OFTEN GROWN IN ZONE 7 GARDENS, IT REALLY THRIVES IN A CONTAINER IN THE COOL GREENHOUSE, WHERE IT WAS RETURNED LAST NIGHT BEFORE THE FROST HIT.


There are practical reasons too - greenhouse glass needs to be repaired (which is our main excuse this year), or the greenhouse insulation needs to be installed ( OK - it's another excuse from this year), but when cold weather threatens, it still always seems to come as a bit of a surprise. I love it though - always reminding me of when I was a kid, and mom picking marigolds and cosmos so that they would not get killed by the cold freeze. I am so nostalgic that I plant some marigolds each year just to re-experience that scent. There are buckets of cut dahlias and annuals, the last of the green tomatoes, and then the rush to pick all of the last squash. Bed sheets and linens are tossed onto the perennials and some choice plants if they cannot be moved yet, and then we wait - - will it really freeze tonight?  That anticipation of a potentially frosty morning - peaking out at dawns first light to see if every leaf is wilted and covered in hoar frost, or, as it did this morning, just a coating of chilly dew.


RIGHT NOW, THE GREENHOUSE SMELLS LIKE ALMONDS - NOT FROM THIS HIGO CAMELLIA WHICH IS PLANTED INTO THE GROUND, BUT FROM IT'S NEIGHBOR - A TALL OSMANTHUS FRAGRANS. IT'S SCENT REMINDS ME OF AUTUMNAL GREENHOUSES.

Seasonal Rituals and Martha


Look, I know I work as a designer, but because of that reality, which can be perceived as both a gift and as a burden - being called elitist  or enlightened - either way, we are never popular - I feel that I can both celebrate and snub my nose at some design trends that we see this time of year. All of the orange and black beauty and ugliness. Big business has always liked holidays, and Halloween has  only grown in popularity as a marketable, licence-rich holiday at least in North America since the 1920's. I try to reisit 'snak sized' candy until a couple of days before Halloween, knowing that marketers know full well that it's parents who buy it to snack on ( I know, M&M/Mars was once a client of mine).

Halloween is looking a bit nicer though,  thanks to the the folks as Martha Stewart Living ( Eric Pike and Martha herself, in particular) for helping save what could have been a disastrous trend of plastic orange pumpkins and lawn bags filled with leaves. Think what you will about this empire of MSLO ( which many of us celebrated this week as Meredeth corporation's acquired the rights to the website and magazines). The Martha brand certainly helped change how we celebrate seasons, raising the bar, setting a new standard and inspiring the competition to jump on the hay wagon. Regardless of what other bloggers are saying, I am excited and feel hopeful about the magazine now that Meredeth has taken over, I was beginning to wondering about what was going to happen as it seemed to be in a holding pattern for a year or so.

Martha Stewart - we owe so much to you for bringing what many of us experienced only with out ethic families or farm-raised brothers and sisters to the masses. I suppose that I will never understand why so many people interpreted what you brought us into some sort of sick 'perfection'? I suppose it's those people who's moms did not iron their own linens or whose fathers never picked mushrooms, or whose families never kneaded Easter bread together (as Martha's parents did, and so did mine - I think in many ways, we were cut from the same cloth - she just made a different outfit out of hers!). Still, I consider myself fortunate to be raised by parents who although worked full-time menial jobs, also found that making ones own wreaths by scratch - from woodland and garden clippings was a noble craft to do as a family.

I'm not fooling myself that they also did it to save money, but also, I know that they enjoyed it too. My mom and dad raised heirloom squashes before they were known as 'heirlooms', (really - that term never existed back in the 1960's) and I clearly knew about pie - always believing that a home made pie only meant that you not only made the pastry from scratch, but that you also raised the blue hubbard squash yourself, cut it up and trimmed it with dad on the back porch before he left for work, then mom and I would grind it by hand after steaming it,  sieving it into a smooth, puree.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that so many peoples idea of a home made from scratch pumpkin pie simply meant that one buys a can of pumpkin, a refrigerated box of pastry, and then they still complain about all of the work! - but our labor intensive way was how they wanted to do it, partly from nostalgia, but mostly because mom insisted that this was the 'right' way. No food processor in this house until the 1980's, (then again, we didn't have clothes drier until then either!) The understanding was that hard work made the pie better. Quality over convenience. My friends all loved to come over on the night before Thanksgiving to see how to make real pies from scratch, and some of us still do it today in the same kitchen. I will say that my older brother and sister preferred to go out partying though so not all of us appreciated "old timey' things. But it was the late 60's! And I was the youngest - clearly not only a mama's boy, but one who kind of liked making pies. Safe to admit here that I was hardly 'normal' or average with my interests anyway. I wanted to make pie with my mother who was more the age of my friends' grandparents. I wanted to raise lots of squash varieties. Exhibit them at the horticultural society. I didn't want to play baseball.

OK, SURE, THE COLOR OF OUR PORCH MIGHT BE MARTHA STEWART WORTHY, BUT THE MESS ISN'T! BUT I'M CERTAIN THAT SHE WOULD UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE AND URGENCY OF HAULING IN EVERY BEGONIA AND ORCHID BEFORE A HARD FROST. JUST FINDING FREE SPACE WAS HARD!


I REMEMBER THIS DRUMSTICK PRIMROSE FEATURED IN OLD WHITE FLOWER FARM CATALOGS BACK IN THE 1980's. NOW I AM CAPABLE ENOUGH OF A GARDENER TO RAISE MY OWN FROM SEED. MUST REMIND MYSELF TO ORDER SOME SOON FOR NOVEMBER SOWING UNDER GLASS.

Nostalgia, and our experience culture


I am grateful though, that I was able to have an upbringing that allowed for such creativity and appreciation. There is this intimate connection between such things as seasonal shifts and nostalgia too - something gardeners know full well. The odd yet amazing color combinations of grey autumnal squashes with salmon and orange curcurbits. Some of us cannot imagine fall without vintage vases of Chinese Lanterns on our old porches, while others may think that fall is more about commercialism - "Nightmare before Christmas, a visit to the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, plastic face masks from the 1960's with licensed characters like Caspar the ghost, or orange wax whistles, edible wax fingernails and candy apples.  I am reminded of this everytime I have to travel to Disney for work - those long lines waiting to just go into the Haunted Mansion. Amazing, but clearly it appeals to most people. Others may think of annual trips to the apple orchard, fresh cider, hot donuts, or even just the scent of cinnamon drenched pine cones as you enter the supermarket (when the hell did that one begin? but it does smell good).

Most of my seasonal rituals are probably similar to yours - fall cleaning, washing windows, raking leaves, and everything has a scent. the scent of damp leaves and woodsy mosses combined with hay. I fear that our new generation misses out on so much - that most will associate the scent of 'pumpkin' coffee from their Duncan Donuts' cup more than the sweet almond fragrance from an Osmanthus fragrans which consumes the entire atmosphere in the greenhouse each autumn. Such are the priceless gifts the knowledgeable gardener appreciates. Things that one can hardly put a price on.

Then, there are the more nuanced appreciations - the sort seen in Japan, something the Japanese have mastered in fact and one that the rest of the world rarely can appreciate - like the heritage of ancient chrysanthemum culture, the autumnal displays of wheat and nature in Japan, there is even a Chinese Lantern festival for the British fascinations with the genus Galanthus ( snowdrops) or with the culture and history of Mistletoe.

There is so much more left to discover and appreciate: The seasonal display of the tiny autumnal Narcissus serotinus in Crete, which lines the hiking paths and roads in October ( I have a single plant in my greenhouse, but have seen photos of thousands) or Narcissus cantabricus in the Atlas mountains in Morocco - and how tribal celebrations use them culturally - we just never hear about these, but one can at least expereince their scent if one chooses to raise a few of these tiny fall blooming bulbs - but few people care.  Then there is the Parma violet culture in Toulouse, France, how it influenced an entire generation in the late 19th century with fragrance and purfumery - and discovering the story behind those Spruce cone tassels on alpine chalet's in the Alps. I so want to know more about those.  Plants in the fall offer so much for the curious to want to learn more. It all makes regular hybrid yellow daffodils plain boring, or at least - meaningless and as sterile as a plastic pumpkin.

YESTERDAY I TAUGHT A CLASS AT THE TOWER HILL BOTANIC GARDEN in BOYLSTON, MA. IT REMINDED ME THAT I NEEDED TO ORDER MORE LACHENALIA - THE CLASS WAS SO EXCITED WHEN I HELD OUT ON ANNOUNCING THAT I HAD SOME BULBS OF THIS EASY TO GROW COOL WINDOWSILL BULB FOR THEM.

Creating New-stalgia


So, back to those teens waiting for the bus this morning -- shivering in their thin hoodies in the 28º weather. I would bet anything that they were clueless to the pending threat of frost last night they must have been, as were their parents as they sat in their Escalades waiting for the busses. Like most people, they were probably more concerned about what was on ABC this Sunday night - what was Anna's issue with the curvy knife? Anyway, I doubt that most kids or adults for that matter care about having to pick the winter squash before the frost last night -- if you are not a gardener, why would you care? Culturally we are just more removed from appreciating things like seasonal changes anymore, while in Japan generations still are intimately connected to the seasons - especially in the city ( it's not just an agrarian thing there). I think that the reason might be that most people just haven't had the opportunity to experience of such things, and sadly, they probably never will - there are no cultural reasons to bother or care.

But each of us can start new traditions, even if we don't have any of our own in this country. Take you kids to see chestnut trees at a farm or park, picking apples, visiting a conservatory or raising ones own heirloom squashes and pumpkins.

THIS CHINESE CHESTNUT TREE SAT OUTSIDE OF MY CABIN LAST WEEK AT A CORPORATE OFF-SITE I ATTENDED AT SNOWFARM in STOCKBRIDGE, MA. THE GROUND WAS LITTERED WITH HUNDREDS OF CHESTNUTS, THE SQUIRRELS MUST HAVE HAD A BALL ALL WEEKEND.

It's been my personal experience with my own family that if shared in the right way, (I proved this with my niece and nephew years ago in this way "I know that you don't eat weird veggies, but can you help me trim and clean these baby artichoke hearts?" Today - they both love to cook, and often mention that they never thought that they would like something until they understood how to cook it. Amazingly simple.) Maybe it's as simple as a memory of an experience becomes be ignited in their minds.  I mean, how else could one get a child to appreciate something that they never have apreciated? So even though these teens were not hauling in tubs of Osmanthus last night and have no chance ever, to form those mental associations between Osmanthus fragrans, cups of warm Chai and the frosty weather -- I just want to believe that if they were invited to participate, their lives would be a little bit richer. New memories could be made, some curiosity sparked.  I really should do that sometime if it didn't freak people out.


SALPIGLOSSIS IS AN OLD FASHIONED ANNUAL WHICH IS PRACTICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO GROW OUTDOORS IN NEW ENGLAND BECAUSE OF THE HEAT AND HUMIDITY, BUT IN A WINTER CONSERVATORY OR GREENHOUSE? IT THRIVES. I LOVE SELF SEEDED PLANTS WHICH APPEAR IN MY CITRUS TREES.

So what are your priceless gifts? 


I would imagine that we all have some of these priceless gifts. Nostalgic recipes, favorite plants or flowers. Things we did with our parents. Share them with me in the comments section below. for surely, they are different, as they should be - as personal and as individual as each of us - But don't be afraid to add new ones to ones to your repertoire especially if you have children.

This year, I am adding a few - forcing a few pots of snowdrops after seeing a pot forced last January at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden - Should be easy enough to reproduce, as snowdrop bulbs are still on sale at most nurseries. Pot a few up, and set the pots in a protected spot in the garden, dig a hole and bury then in some leaves that you have raked and ready and boom. Brought indoors on New Years day, and gently coaxed it into bloom?  My winter is looking priceless already. I can't wait until it snows!

7 comments :

  1. From anonymous, I accidentally deleted this comment - so reposting it.

    Matt, you've always seemed fairly bright and, especially over the last year or so, increasingly conscious of your "personal brand," so I'd hazard to guess you're aware of how elitist and, frankly, detached this post must read to an average person. That should trouble you.

    Speaking as someone who grew up foraging for their own food because in lean times to do otherwise would mean starvation, I don't recognize myself in your cheery and comfortable New-stalgia -- all faerie lights and fruit cider and big, roaring fireplaces -- and that's okay, of course. Not everyone would find the prospect of harvesting their own food an ambition to be realized; that may be because, like so many people, they are only a generation or two, if that, removed from agricultural labor themselves, the realities were not nearly so romantic.

    But I know you are positioning yourself as an educator, and the contempt you express, not just for your bogstandard Martha Stewart fan (middle class white Americans with a good amount of time on their hands to engage in meaningless craft projects), but for genuinely working class people, and their children, is surprising and offputting in the extreme. Your yearning for an authenticity Stewart cannot bring to her own brand is palpable, but the idealization of "authentic" experiences is, in itself, a privileged position, one that be adopted only because your own basic needs are already met.

    Please understand that your mother cleaning her "own linens," while a minor task that might seem noble in the extreme to you, is a prospect most people cannot fathom; owning linens (a greenhouse, property enough for cutting beds and staging shows) implies fortune enough for a cupboard to put them in. I suppose in mentioning it, you are trying to communicate that your family didn't bring "help" in to do their daily tasks. Well, bully for you, Matt.

    The fellow educator in me is disturbed by how casually you heap stereotypes and classist tropes onto your neighbor's children, with their "hoodies" and video games. Your distaste for popular culture -- distinct, mind you, from knowledge of it, which in your case seems vast -- and your willingness to describe perfect strangers as "ignorant" (seasons pass them by, yet they shiver at the bus stop) because your toys and hobbies are not their own does not endear one to your cause. I wouldn't allow someone with this attitude come within several miles of my students, however earnest they were about imposing "new experiences" on them. You are a (sometimes quite infectious) enthusiast, but that does not mean your fancies and your pet interests are inarguably compulsory, lest one be readily dismissed to merely plebeian status.

    Unlike many of your contemporaries, the politics of ethical gardening, ethical eating, of environmentally conscious behavior (except where it appeals to you aesthetically), have largely passed you by, it seems. Adopting an apolitical guise does not make you neutral, Matt. You seem more like a reactionary here. It's sad to learn that a fellow plantsman takes such a dim view of the rest of humanity because they didn't inherit a plot of land. Recognizing heirloom varieties does not lighten one's soul. It is, in itself, not a worthy cause. No one is "missing out" because they don't care about daffodils.

    Frosts kill more than flowers.

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    Replies
    1. Joseph Philip10:43 AM

      First, posting a rude attack anonymously is the devil's hand at work. Yes, frost does kill more then flowers, but your type of sour attitude also kill good intentions in the hearts of people. Matt tries very hard to keep everyone happy and is in constant conflict with how he should word articles. People like you make me wonder what happened to this world. If all you have to do is attack people un-needlessly, simply because you are jealous of his life. Perhaps you need to re-educate your own dreary life and leave him alone. Matt's Mom and her ironing of linens, was that she wanted things to look nice. My mom, handed me the iron and made me learn to do it at a very young age. She always said it was incase I should wish to take pride in my home. All I have to say to you, is I am his only domesticated helper and have been for 30 years or more. My biggest job around here is counting my pennies to pay for everything I do, because he spends all his money finding ways to keep all his readers educated and informed. So please think next time before judging.

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  2. I appreciate you comments and thoughts, anonymous ( I wish you were more confident about sharing your name). I will reply once I gather some thoughts. I think you have some things right here, and other things wrong. Still - well said. There is a lot for me to respond to, but I think a comment section is an inappropriate plant to do so. That said - "I hope that I don't take a dim view of humanity" nor have I "applied classist tropes onto my neighbors children" Hoodies is as actual fashion term used freely today. My mom may have 'owned linens' but both my parents were middle class, working parents - and by 'linens" I should have clarified that they were mostly sheets, table cloths and towel - ok, a few real linens - but my mom was a payroll clerk at the school department - hardly a salary which would allow anyone to 'bring in help". I saved ten years to build my greenhouse, and I used, perhaps unwisely some retirement money I was saving. I actually did not 'inherit' my house, rather I bought it outright from my brothers and sisters, so they got their share. As for not addressing the 'politics of ethical gardening like my contemporaries" That is not a focus for this blog. I consider my blog more of a lifestyle escapist blog - certainly more concerned with what you label as ''fancies" and "pet interests". I think most people like this aspect - and as for being "out-of-touch" or 'detached' from the average person - well, I hope so. I consider myself anything but average.

    Our 'cutting garden' was built by my mother in 1942 so that the church (our Lithuanian church) would have flowers. Peonies last a long time - and although it may bother you that we have one, destroying it in the name of ethical gardening doesn't really make sense either.

    And me being apolitical? You really don't want me sharing my thoughts on GMO's and Monsanto! As for 'reactionary' or 'neutral' of course I try not to show what I really feel, but -sorry, I have trouble hiding it all sometimes. You are right though, my 'aesthetic' approach can be viewed as elitest - then again, I am a designer and as creative, it's hard to not sound elitest to some people. In reality, we creative types edit, curate and make opinionated decisions which generally are not popular with the masses. No one has to listen or agree with me. Believe me, there are enough blogs out there who deal with humanity, the politics of gardening, or the ethics of veggies and food.

    As for kids, I admit, using the word 'ignorant' felt rough - but isn't it right? Even when I was in school, most kids didn't care about the same things I did - winter squashes, rare irruptions of winter finches or the first frost - they then, in 1977 were more concerned with smoking pot, rock music and fashion statements. Hey - if they LOVE what they are doing, great. But so few students today are able to discover what they might love, because they are not discovering nor exposed to science, or art, or developing passions of the mind and heart through music theory. As a teacher and an educator - I would love to hear your thoughts about that. Most gardeners can trace their passion back to a single incident - a plant which they grew, a grandparents garden, an aquarium they had as a child. How are students today discovering such passions? I wonder if you write such comments on sports blogs? What are your thoughts about the NFL and football, for example?

    And you know what? I really think that some people really ARE missing out because they don't care about daffodils - (or Osmanthus fragrans for that matter.). Especially our young students.



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  3. Anonymous5:05 PM

    Thank you for a lovely post, a glimpse of a life that seems lived, in part, outside of the perpetual RUSH that so many of us seem stuck in these days. I do think that the act of ironing a tablecloth, or making a pie from a real squash causes one to move at a different pace, causes the nervous system to feel less like a hectic mess.
    As a treat, in order to slow my mind at the end of the day, I watch Martha cook on TV. Even if she's sometimes a bit sloppy when she measures flour, I feel that she is impeccable. I think it is when we really pay attention in the moment that we can discover our talents, find those things that we LOVE to do.

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  4. Anonymous8:37 PM

    Hi, Matt (and Joe),

    I am reading and writing for the first time. My friend Jan reads you frequently. She is my garden mentor and I am her garden muscle.

    I once thought about enclosing my south-facing front porch to make it a greenhouse. I have enough projects; it's good to have minimal plants in the winter so I can get some others done!

    Martha has been a force for good, most of the time, but I liked her books and magazine better years ago. The day she was on the magazine cover wearing an $800 sweater, I decided to subscribe to something more practical. Still, her chocolate mousse recipe is the best!

    In the interests of lowering my carb's I make my "pies" without crusts these days, except for special occasions. Apple and squash are the usuals. I can't bring myself to BUY pie crust, but I have never been very good at making it - too like cardboard.

    Adeu from Connecticut,
    Ellen

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  5. Anonymous7:09 AM

    My grandmother's Harlequin Pear Jam recipe hand written on a sheet of paper with her helpful hint on the back, probably my most treasured gift.
    M. Chapman

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  6. I love your blog, and am rereading this to help me cope with the impending "first frost"! Autumn rituals that I remember from my childhood are: picking bittersweet vines, drinking hot cider made on the woodstove, and raking up a pile of leaves big enough to jump into from the roof of the neighbor's garage. Now my rituals are more of the "wash and try to cram all of the planters into the tiny potting shed" and "cover the succulents with a blanket to try to eke out one more week in the garden"

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