Leonard Moorehead, the Urban Gardener: Cool Down, Garden Style

Saturday, July 15, 2017
Leonard Moorehead, GoLocalProv Gardening Expert

PHOTO: Leonard Moorehead
Our work places are down-right cold, one complains their space is too hot, others wear jackets, and everyone wilts on sidewalks. Resilience counts in this game, sunny gardens thrive, patches of shade are suddenly more attractive. Breath deep and slow down, put on a wide brim hat, my favorite is made of woven straw. Soak any hat with cold hose water, shed formal attire. The hat will shrink into a perfect fit as it dries over shaded heads. Enter the peaceful garden. 

Avoid mid- day sun. Rather; early mornings, late afternoons and evenings are more comfortable. Harvest summer’s bounty later in the day and relish unsurpassed flavors, nutrients, colors, scents and beautiful forms. Go into the garden and escape regimentation. Become one at ease with friends and loved ones, or most importantly, yourself. Gardens are healthy respites anytime. Picking is good, full baskets nourish body and soul. Like all else, there are techniques. 

Water, don’t drown, container grown plants. Watering the garden is the penultimate relaxation. My gratitude list includes abundant fresh water, purchase a hose just long enough to reach the furthest garden corner. Collect old watering buckets and paint them in favorite signature colors. Keep them full for an easy start when leaves have wilted in smaller pots. Rescue is imminent. Mulch containers, pebbles and broken seashells are virtually free, restrain evaporation and best of all, mulch barriers soften soil erosion during thunderstorms and hoses. Splatter children or feet, not soil. Venture within the sprinkler’s arc. Smile, get wet, ceremony dissolves.  

Observe municipal watering bans. Be frugal in any case with fresh water. Well- tended garden plots trap rainfall for future use. Urban gardens are important micro-filters, each tended space is the best place for rainfall, each exempt from drains, sewers and petroleum pavements. Birds gather in our green spaces, nothing attracts birds as well as a birdbath. Diversify sunflowers around the patch. Gold finches relish sunflowers, their bright plumage and cheerful song make any sunny day brighter, easier. Include bright colors, such as beebalm, lilies, gladiolas, and listen. 

Hummingbirds much prefer nectars over corn fructose or sugar syrup filled feeders. They are astute summer visitors. Their territorial disputes are irresistible. Combative hummingbirds spiral and swirl upwards out of sight, the victor returns and darts from bloom to bloom. Move slowly in the garden. Hummingbirds ignore quiet gardeners and will approach within hearing. Whirling wings please the ear, their marvelous antics intrigue the most cosmopolitan. Each is testimony of survival over chemical applications, safely dispose of poisonous herbicides and insecticides. Other birds and predatory insects vanquish most infestations. 

Our culture prefers ignorance and harbors enmity towards insects. Allow bird baths to dry out or if too deep to dry, brush out algae, debris and mosquito eggs, re-fill. Sprinkle table salt upon slugs lured into moistened paper towel cardboard cores. Sauces of beer attract tem, seek their daytime shelters under boards, pots, and rocks. 

Most insects are harmless creatures, each has a vital role in the garden. A quick squish between fingers works, vegetable oils and minced garlic clog wings, legs, and inhibit diseases. A few insects are bet avoided. Learn local stinging insects, especially Yellow Jackets, and wasps. Their venom is dangerous to those sensitive to allergies. 

Yellow jackets build unground nests, perhaps as in my garden, under wood chip mulches. Gardeners on kneel pads disturb them, hand cultivators positively enrage their formidable defenses. Individual Yellow Jackets fearlessly defend their virtually invisible nests. Drip everything and move away fast. Our bodies reaction to bee sting varies between individuals, seek immediate help whenever a sting swells, remains painful or hives appear. Mud works as a cure for many bites, however, allergic gardeners are wise to keep Epi-Pens as prescribed. No one enjoys Yellow Jacket or wasp stings, some shrug them off, others discover ER treatments are as arduous as being stung. 

Epinephrine is a strong stimulant and anti-histamine. This is a cure as fierce as the malady. There is nothing casual about the need to use an Epi-Pen. There is some comfort, however thin, to know nocturnal skunks forage upon Yellow Jackets, perhaps an ideal match. Be observant, avoid hazardous nests, and don’t provoke buzzing wasp nests. Call a pro, all “bees” are diurnal, or remain within their hives at night to emerge active at day. Not all bees are hazardous. 

Honeybees are under assault. Not native to N. America, the earliest colonists brought their nearly domesticated and virtually only sweet honey producing “skeps” along with mainly European plants. Honeybees are fascinating creatures and vital for nourishing honey and especially for crop pollination. Although defensive, they are not aggressive. Each evening, as the night blooming Datura unfurls its ivory white lily like bloom, honeybees assist the bloom and open the petals for the nectar, available for only a few minutes before the honeybees fly home. Datura blooms are lanterns in the night garden, sunlight spells their Cinderella doom. 

Garden in harmony with honeybees, call local beekeepers if a now rare swarm colonizes the shed or garage, perhaps into house rafters. Respect and encourage honeybees. Many garden supply houses offer “houses” for Mason bees or build your own. Knowledge conquers fear for a genera far too often maligned. Most are good neighbors. 

Plant beebalm for honeybees. Beebalm has deep ties with gardeners. A member of the mint family, beebalm is easy to propagate through “lifting and dividing”, each July its scarlet, mauve and shades in between blooms claim everyone’s attention. It’s sweetly scented foliage and blooms steep into a delightful, restorative herbal tea. American revolutionaries drank beebalm tea after the Boston Tea Party kept expensive Chinese teas from upscale tables. Harvest at the peak of bloom, latter in the summer beebalm is prone to disfiguring fungal infections. Beebalm prefers, like all menthe family members, full sunshine. 

Shady arbors are a tradition in my region, many old houses have pipe arbors for grapes, especially favored by people who arrived with a wine making tradition. Iron pipe arbors often cover driveways, or rather, as automobiles became common after WWI, parking replaced the family picnic table. Grape arbors offer cool, dark, shelter from summer sun. Build your own and enjoy the sunny garden from a peaceful perspective. Festivities under the grape arbor are the stuff of legend, gatherings around the picnic table the glue between family and friends. 

July’s hot days are all too fleeting. Go outside and enjoy the heat. Cover the head, learn the habit and identity of stinging bees, take the proper pre cautions. Listen within, the hum that plucks the heart strings and swells the heart is a step away, look in the garden. Raise a glass, beebalm tea is best among friends, enjoy, we’re never quite alone. Not among sunflowers, gladiolas, bountiful crops. Dosing a little? No worries, geraniums prefer dryness between watering. Nap in the hammock, snooze. Gardeners are resilient. 

Leonard Moorehead is a life-long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit trees.


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