We are shutting down this Typepad blog and unveiling a new Wordpress website—probably by Monday a.m. You won’t see new content here Friday-Sunday, because our IT guy, Steve Ansell, will be completing the switch over the weekend.
The new site will feature daily feeds from other gardening-related sites, as well as our own posts. There are new headings and all the usual bells and whistles Wordpress can provide, especially when you customize it.
We’ve been wanting to update Garden Rant for a while. Basically, we’re still working with what we started with in 2006. Remember those days?
I thought it would be fun to reprise our first post—by Amy, as far as I can tell, unless there are hidden archives—as we move into a new era.
Nothing irritates me more than these stories about how gardening as a leisure activity is on its way out. In this week's San Francisco Chronicle, John Hershey writes:
"Are you aware of the impending demographic crisis facing our country? ...In a recent poll, the number of Americans who list gardening as one of their favorite leisure activities plunged from 15 percent in 1995 to 6 percent. "
This leads to all sorts of hand-wringing over the cause of this terrible decline and what on earth we might do about it. Hershey's not the only one talking about this; the gardening industry overall is quite worked up about it, with frequent articles in trade magazines agonizing over the problem. (Meanwhile, the American Nursery and Landscape Association reports on USDA statistics that show that sales of plants have grown steadily over the last two decades and are increasing by $500 million per year.)
But first, let's look at the poll numbers. Although Hershey does not cite the poll, I assume he is talking about the Harris Poll, which surveys Americans about their leisure activities once a year or so. The most recent data available comes from 2004, and it does point out that only 6% of Americans rank gardening as one of their top two or three pasttimes.
But this is not a frightening plunge from 15% ten years ago, as Hershey reports. In fact, in 1995 only 9% of Americans ranked gardening in their top two or three activities, and then that number rose to 15% in 1999 before beginning to drop. Hershey suggests several reasons for this decline, and a careful look at the numbers disproves all of them.
1. "People have less free time." Nope. According to the poll, Americans worked 51 hours a week in 1996, and 50 hours a week now.
2. "Fresh vegetables are now widely available in supermarkets." Huh? So in 1999, when 15% of Americans chose gardening as one of their favorite activities, they did so because they couldn't get fresh vegetables at the supermarket? Ah yes, the poor dirt farmers of 1999, having to grub for cabbages and carrots in their backyards.
3. And here he warms up to his real point: "The aging of the gardening population. As inconceivable as it sounds, it is possible some young people may actually think gardening is not cool." Again--the gardening population aged so much in five years that they are dropping like flies and no one is replacing them? Really? Let's remember that the oldest Baby Boomers are just turning 60 this year. I don't know about y'all, but my over-sixty mom is doing more gardening than I am right now. If anything, I'd expect to see an increase in gardening as Baby Boomers slip the bonds of their cubicles.
So what really explains the decrease in the percentage of Americans who list gardening as one of their favorite activites? (and remember, this does not mean that there is less gardening going on. It just means that, when asked, and without being provided a stock list of answers to choose from, only six percent thought to mention gardening.)
Well, there are three activities on the list that have jumped several percentage points since the poll began in 1995. Reading is up 7 percentage points. Spending time with family and kids is up 8 percentge points. And computer activities are up 5 points.
More to the point, however, is the fact that many activities are less popular than gardening, including: Travel--4% Golf--4% Cooking--2% (Eating out also scores 2%) Animals/pets/dogs--1% But somehow, you don't see the travel, golf, cooking, or pet industries wringing their hands over the paltry two or four percent of Americans who would choose these activities over all others. In fact, I see vibrant, exciting, well-written and enthusiastically read sections in every major American newspaper devoted to travel and cooking. Marley & Me, a book about a man and his dog, remains, inexplicably, at the top of bestseller lists nationwide, and don't get me started on the number of magazines devoted to dogs (there are at least two devoted just to Manhattan dogs) and the number of elegant little pet stores and doggy bakeries springing up around the country.
As for golf? Well, those people seem to be doing just fine. (Oh, and sex didn't even make the list, but the pornography industry seems to be getting by somehow. Perhaps those numbers are included in the "spending time with family" or "computer activities" categories. Drinking also didn't make the list, although I'd take a dry martini over "TV Watching" any day. In spite of the apparent lack of interest in drinking as a leisure activity, bars all over the country are not, in fact, dropping like flies.)
I didn't even get around to my main gripe about this story, which is the silly notion that "we" (whoever "we" are) need to Take Action to Get Our Youth Intersted in Gardening. More on that later. Meanwhile, my top few leisure activies, in no particular order:
Gardening (which includes spending time with chickens)
Too close to call: Sex; drinking very cold cocktails with interesting people in dimly-lit bars; spending time in bookstores; art (viewing, buying, making); being very angry at the Bush administration; and the requisite books and films, of course.
Here's an interesting thing about this exhibit: it's built in such a way that it basically packs itself. No shipping cartons are necessary: the walls, the furniture, the props--all of it fits precisely into a truck, with one room basically serving as a crate for all of the smaller bits, all of which only need to be wrapped in furniture blankets the way you'd move your own stuff. Much of it is super-lightweight, too, which makes it less expensive and fuel-intensive to move. This is the sort of thing that you'd never know about the exhibit walking through it--but it is very cleverly put together.
The walls are hung with portraits of the weird dead ancestors. The unfortunate victims of wicked plants, most of them. Although some were practioners of the dark art of poison.
There are specially-made books sitting around the house--all of them made by a local book bindery. In fact, almost 200 local artists and craftspeople and tradespersons were hired to help build the exhibit--it was its own little economic stimulus program.
There are dead bodies slumped over tables. Imagine my excitement.
and, in the dining room, a liquor cabinet with bottles of mysterious wicked potions. Each label is a fascinating little read all by itself.
Even the bathroom is creepy and weird.
It's the kind of exhibit that requires you to figure stuff out on your own--you actually walk around opening drawers, taking things off shelves, examining the evidence.
I've been working with the Arboretum for the last couple of years on this exhibit, but honestly, I had no idea what to expect when I went to see it last month. So I get no credit for this--this is really all their doing. Amazing.
It'll be in Asheville through early September, then it starts to tour--to find out more about all of that, go here. And if you're in the area, or if you have friends in North Carolina, I hope you'll encourage them to go check it out in person and let me know what you think.
Recently I've noticed a bumper crop of talks promoting something I'd never heard of before - forest gardening and the "food forests" or "edible forest gardens" that result from it. Turns out my initial assumption - that a forest garden is a shady woodland garden of ornamental plants - is totally wrong; this is all about producing food.
We can consciously apply the principles of ecology to the design of home scale gardens that mimic forest ecosystem structure and function, but grow food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, "farmaceuticals," and fun.
And they explain that this isn't about gardening IN forests at all:
Edible forest gardening is not necessarily gardening in the forest, it is gardening like the forest.
Anyone with a patch of land can grow a forest garden. They've been created in small urban yards and large parks, on suburban lots, and in small plots of rural farms.
I attended a talk by Lincoln Smith, a teacher of forest gardening, (photo above) and learned a bit more - that unlike most edible plants, the ones in forest gardens last at least two seasons and usually many more. Plants are in layers – at varying heights, like fruit trees underplanted with herbs. But importantly, the plant mix is diverse, nothing like the monocultures of conventional agriculture. And if you mix the plants correctly, as a group they feed themselves and share space efficiently – both underground and aboveground. That’s a lot to ask but it’s how it happens in nature, so it can be done.
Plants that need lots of nitrogen, like apples, can get what they need from “Nitrogen-fixing” plants growing near them. Prime Nitrogen-fixers (plants that turn nitrogen in the air into nitrogen in the soil that plants can use) are clover, sweet fern, groundnut, false indigo, New Jersey tea, American wisteria, and vetch…. Larger plants that produce their own Nitrogen include black locust, alder and bayberry.
Lincoln showed data from a California researcher showing that as much flour can be made from acorns as from the same space devoted to wheat. Here’s the link (it’s a Word document) or you can Google: “Bainbridge Use of Acorns for Food in California.” Wow. Makes you totally rethink our assumptions about food production and understand a bit how people sustained themselves centuries ago in forested regions like ours. Sure enough, check out this website about cooking with acorns, and this nursery in Michigan is growing oaks for food production.
But Here's my Question: Really?
I don't know why, but this all brings out the doubter in me. I've asked around and found other doubters among experienced gardeners, which makes me feel a bit better. Maybe I just need to see some results.
So readers, what's YOUR reaction to this radical notion? Has anyone tried this? Please help! I want to support forest gardening but like the permaculture movement that spawned it, my honest reaction to it is: Huh?
This might be at the other end of the spectrum from funky bottle trees and found object enclosures. Acres and acres of lawn. Although Asheville’s Biltmore estate is set inside a magnificent wooded landscape, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the formal gardens surrounding the house (also by FLO) have retained less of their appeal. Appeal for me, that is. I’ve toured lots of estate gardens, mainly in England, and—although with these large properties there was also plenty of lawn (you can’t do without it)—the borders, water features, touches of whimsy, topiary and other, more intimate elements rose to a level I didn’t see at Biltmore. The Biltmore gardens are magnificent in some ways, but disappointingly lacking in personality in many others.
This article talks about the lawn care and other horticultural requirements. It takes a lot of horsepower to manage 8,000 acres!
I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. The drive to the estate was a wonder to behold, with its luminous plantings of bamboo and, of course, rhododendrons. The views from the terrace are breathtaking and I am always a sucker for a nice statue or three, especially when they are lightly clothed in moss. But the formal gardens overall? Too broad stroke.
If you'd like to see more, here is my facebook album from 3+ days of Asheville gardens.