Archive for the organic gardening Category

Havahart® This Holiday Season

Posted in How to, organic gardening, product review, sustainable living with tags , , , , , on December 21, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

The woodchuck we caught was a lot cuter than I expected.  He looked and acted like he was trying out for a part in Wind in the Willows.

Last spring Havahart®, the manufacturer of live animal traps, contacted me regarding a potential product review.  Their representative expressed an interest in having a review appear on my blog because I advocate gardening  organically.  He thought my customers would be interested in their humane traps and other products.  Havahart® would send me any of their products for free, and I could try it out and say anything I wanted about it.


Never one to go half way, my husband baited the trap with a whole cabbage.

We had previously used small Havahart® traps to catch and release chipmunks, which were tearing down our 10 foot stone walls with their tunnels.  We were very pleased with the results, but our current cat has the chipmunk problem well under control.  Now we were being plagued by a woodchuck (AKA groundhog)—the most persistent animal pest I know.  For the review, we chose the Havahart® One-Door Groundhog & Raccoon Trap.

The trap is set with the door open and the cabbage behind the trigger pad.

Our current woodchuck was living under our deck so we placed the trap near his entrance and exit hole.  The trap door is held open by a trigger rod attached to a trigger pad and snaps shut when the woodchuck presses the tilted trigger pad on his way to the bait.  We didn’t have to wait long—two days later a sad little face greeted me when I checked the trap.  I expected a vicious varmint, and what I got was Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.  You will notice that he ate the whole cabbage.

Success occurred immediately.

I felt so sorry for the little guy that we decided an immediate transport and release was necessary.  It was easy to carry the cage to our van and place it on a tarp in the back.  The woodchuck remained passive during this ordeal.

As recommended by Havahart®, we drove to “an isolated location five to ten miles away,” insuring that the woodchuck would not return to our property.  We stopped the car, unloaded the trap, and prepared to release our little friend—that was when the fun began.  The fat little woodchuck sat firmly on the trigger pad preventing the door from being released into the open position.  Even when my husband manually opened the door and held it open, the woodchuck would not leave the trap.

While my husband holds the trap open, the woodchuck resolutely faces the back of the cage refusing to vacate his new found home.  Thanks to my customer, Ben Hayward, for pointing out that my husband should not have had his fingers near the cage opening without wearing protective gloves.  See my reply to Ben’s comment about why the gloves didn’t make the trip.

I wish I had a video of what happened next because it would be hysterical.  Without warning me, my husband picked up the whole trap, tipped it perpendicular to the ground, and shook the woodchuck out right at my feet.  If only I could say that I stood my ground like a brave photographer, risking an angry woodchuck to get THE photo.  But instead I turned and ran for the car as fast as I could, convinced that the woodchuck would climb the nearest upright object, which was me.  I regained my senses just in time to get this photo of the little woodchuck fleeing for the hinterlands.

Overall I think Havahart® traps are very useful for humanely removing unwanted animals from your property.  And upon reading the manual to write this article, it does recommend inserting a stick through the cage to prop the door open.  That would have solved the problem with our unusually passive and docile woodchuck who seemed happy to live in the trap indefinitely as long as we fed him cabbage.  However, I do not think I would want to get my hands that close to the cage (see photos above) with a more aggressive animal inside it.

Happy Holidays,  Carolyn


Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.


Nursery Happenings: The nursery is closed for the year.  Look for the snowdrop catalogue (snowdrops are available mail order) in January 2012 and an exciting new hellebore offering in February 2012.  If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

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Supporting Sustainable Living: Part Two

Posted in green gardening, organic gardening, sustainable living with tags , , , , on June 21, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

My efforts to establish native Indian pink, Spigelia marilandica, have really paid off.  Nevertheless, I covet this six-year-old stand at Chanticleer.

In my articles My Thanksgiving Oak Forest and Supporting Sustainable Living: Part One, I explained that sustainable living is very important to me, and I have supported it through planting and promoting native plants like the Indian pink pictured above, gardening organically, not watering, replenishing the soil, composting, eliminating lawn, and initiating and running an invasive plant removal program, among other activities.  I also explained that I am uniquely placed to have a wider impact through my interactions with gardeners at my nursery.

The check in table at the Conservancy event.  These young women came specifically to talk with the Lyme disease expert.

In my article Powered By Compost, I described a composting event to be held at my nursery sponsored by the Radnor Conservancy (dedicated to the preservation of open space) to raise township residents’ awareness of the magical powers of compost.  Reader response to this article was very high so I thought everyone might like to find out how the event went.  I also wanted to highlight my latest venture into sustainability–honeybees.

In Radnor Township where I live, we are blessed with the best free municipal compost in the whole area, if not the whole state of Pennsylvania.  The first station at the Conservancy event showed how to transport township compost to your home without renting a truck or messing up your car.  I thought their solution was very clever:

Event organizers demonstrate loading compost into a minivan.

The vehicle is protected from the compost by a blue tarp (how could we function without those?) attached to the side of the van with large orange wood clamps.

There was a lot of interest in the Conservancy’s method of transporting compost.

Two Master Gardeners from the Penn State Cooperative Extension Service were busy all day explaining composting using an outdoor bin and indoor composting with red worms.  They brought sample bins for attendees to explore:

Penn State Master Gardeners under the carport of our carriage house explaining bin composting.

My husband Michael was stationed in the manure pit profiled in Powered By CompostHe explained our laissez faire method of producing compost by piling up kitchen waste, leaves, and garden refuse in the pit and turning it about three times a year.  Participants were very interested:

Michael explains that composting does not have to be complicated to another set of interested attendees.

Michael has had Lyme disease seven times with serious long term implications for his health so the prevention information provided by Doug Fearn, president of the Lyme Disease Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, was especially near and dear to my heart.  This is an unpublicized epidemic in the U.S. and should be taken very seriously:

Doug Fearn explaining various Lyme disease prevention techniques.

As promised, delicious refreshments of homemade brownies and chocolate chip cookies accompanied by mint iced tea were provided on my deck:

A fun and informative afternoon was had by all!

Trey Flemming from Two Gander Farm and the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market places the first hive at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

The other “sustainable” event at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens lately was the arrival of the first hive of honeybees.  I have been trying unsuccessfully for quite a while to convince Michael that beekeeping was in his future.  Knowing when to pick up my marbles and go home, I switched my efforts to finding a local beekeeper who might want to place hives at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.  This spring I sold plants at my town’s growers’ farmer’s market, the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market, and met Trey Flemming, a beekeeper and farmer from Two Gander Farm in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania.

Trey demonstrates the docility of his bees.

I purchased some delicious honey that Trey produces from an invasive nonnative plant that I constantly battle, Japanese knotweed.  Having a quarter acre of this noxious invader, I thought Trey might be interested in placing some hives here, and he was.  This week the first of three hives arrived.  Trey will market this honey at the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market as local Bryn Mawr honey, and I will receive five pounds of honey and the gratification of supporting a local farmer: a win, win situation if there ever was one!

The bees crawl in and out of the hive and over Trey’s hand with their future nectar source, Japanese knotweed, in the foreground.

I am so thrilled to be given the opportunity to support the Radnor Conservancy, composting, and a local farmer.  It just takes the accumulation of small efforts by each of us to contribute to sustainable living in a big way.

Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my website’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: The nursery is closed until it cools off in the fall around the middle of September.  If you are on my customer email list, look for an email.  If not, sign up by sending an email to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net with your name and phone number.

Powered by Compost

Posted in green gardening, How to, organic gardening, Shade Gardening with tags , on June 5, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Some of my gardens powered by compost.

Compost is king in my garden.  It is the only thing I use: no other soil amendments and no fertilizers.  All the beautiful plants and lush growth are powered by compost.  I am frequently asked where I get my compost and how I use it.  This post will answer those questions and highlight an exciting compost-centered event taking place in my gardens this Sunday.

The soil at the top is from my back slope ruined by erosion caused by misguided lawn attempts and chemicals.  The soil at the bottom is from the undisturbed woods less than 10′ away.

The pre-existing soil at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is (was) terrible (see top photo above).  I am on the side of a hill where the previous owners had tried to grow grass for years.  The soil was hard and depleted by the use of lawn chemicals and by erosion.  Terraces were constructed down one side of the house and filled with rocky infertile soil.  Construction rubble from additions to the house in the 1950s and 1960s was dumped in what is now my woodland garden.  The soil in the beds on the back side of the house was compacted by their former use as a carriage path.  Finally, the whole property was used as a dump (pre-trash collection) by the estate of which it was formerly a part so the beds are full of glass, old slate from roof replacements, refuse from coal burning furnaces, and miscellaneous trash.  Digging can be quite an adventure!

This is a photo from 1995 showing the debris that came out of one relatively small planting hole at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

Given the deplorable condition of the existing soil, compost is essential.  It reaches my plants in four different ways.  First, whenever I create a new bed in my gardens, I spread 4 to 6 inches of compost on top of the soil and dig it into the bed, removing all the rocks and debris.  I use the rocks to line the paths in my woodland garden.  One visitor asked me where I got my rocks, and, finding out they came from the beds, told me how lucky I was.  I feel about as lucky as the early farmers in New England must have felt when they built all those rock walls around their fields.

The rocks lining the paths in the woodland garden.

Second, even though the beds are prepared with compost, I add compost to the hole every time I plant a plant.  I mix the existing soil half and half with compost.  Third, as explained in Fall Clean-up, I grind all the leaves in the fall and use them to mulch my beds.  This mulch breaks down over the course of the year to make a thick compost layer on top of the existing soil.  Leaves that fall on the lawn are ground up in place and left there to fertilize the grass as described in Leaves on the Lawn. Finally, I don’t clean the leaves out of most of my beds: they are left there to act as mulch and form more compost.

The current state of the depleted back slope.

I use a lot of compost because I also need it to pot all the plants that I grow to sell at my nursery.  Where does it all come from?  We produce a lot of it ourselves in a simple, easy, and nontechnical way.  I get frustrated with the articles written about composting because they make it sound like you need to follow complex procedures and buy expensive equipment to produce compost.  All those procedures and equipment merely speed the process up (and possibly make it neater), but all you need to produce compost is a pile.  It helps if you turn it occasionally, but even that is not necessary if you are willing to wait for it to break down naturally.

The path to our compost pit.

Our “garage” is really the carriage house and the stable for the estate that used to be here.   There is even a metal grain bin on the second floor with chutes and levers to bring the grain to the first floor.  The horses that pulled the carriages produced manure (no surprise there), which was deposited in a manure pit behind the stable.  Back then, they built everything to last so the manure pit is a 12 foot square enclosure surrounded on four sides by 7 foot tall stone walls.

The left side of the compost pit where we are currently throwing kitchen and garden refuse.

We throw all our garden and kitchen refuse into this pit, including leaves, sod, noninvasive weeds, ashes, small sticks, etc.  There is no organized layering process–whenever there’s something to go in, it’s thrown on top of the pile, hopefully, but not always, on the side of the pile currently being built up.  The other side contains the compost being used.  My husband turns the pile thoroughly about three times a year, and that’s it: no complicated procedures or equipment required!

Top view of the manure pit we use for producing compost.  It is “decorated” with self-sown fern-leafed and yellow corydalis and a large climbing hydrangea.

However, despite the size of this operation, it does not produce nearly enough compost for Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.  We are very fortunate that our township produces excellent compost from the leaves that residents put by the side of the road in the fall to be removed.  Personally, I think removing the leaves from your property is crazy, but for selfish reasons I am glad people do it.  We get truckloads of the township’s beautiful compost to supplement our own.

One of the newest beds powered by compost.

As I explained in Supporting Sustainable Living, I am uniquely placed to encourage sustainable gardening practices as I promote and sell native plants at my nursery,  answer my customers’ requests for advice, and give tours of my gardens to horticultural groups.  Sustainable living is very important to me as I described in My Thanksgiving Oak Forest.  So when the Radnor Conservancy, dedicated to promoting open space in my township,  asked me to speak, I thought why not go farther and offer my gardens as a venue for a fund raising and educational event.

Rose and peony beds

The creative people at the Conservancy came up with the theme “Dirt … lots of it!”, an afternoon devoted to educating people about compost on Sunday, June 12, from 3 to 5 pm at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.  Here is the flyer:

If you come, and I hope you will, you will find various “stations” throughout my gardens staffed by knowledgeable Master Gardeners able to answer any question you have about composting.  They will demonstrate outdoor composting, indoor composting with worms, composting equipment and tools, grinding leaves for mulch, and how to transport township compost easily and cleanly to your home.  You will be able to order discount compost bins, and information on lyme disease and its prevention will be provided.

Main perennial border

As you find out everything you ever wanted to know about composting, you can stroll through my beautiful gardens and shop for plants in my nursery area.  And best of all, delicious refreshments will be provided.  As directed in the flyer above,  if possible, please register  in advance for the event with the Conservancy by calling them at 610-688-8202 or emailing them at radnor.conservancy@comcast.net.  You can also show up without registering.  The event is open to everyone, not just Radnor Township residents.  I hope to see you there.

Carolyn

Just a note to say thanks to John at Macgardens and his wife Beth who visited Carolyn’s Shade Gardens during my open house on Saturday.  Meeting fellow garden bloggers is so fun because they immediately feel like old friends.  If any other garden bloggers are in the area, please stop by.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: I will have my traditional closing weekend open hours this Saturday, June 11, from 9 am to 3 pm and Sunday, June 12, from 10 am to noon.  You don’t need to make an appointment, and you can park in the driveway.  You can also shop for plants during the Radnor Conservancy  event on Sunday, June 12, from 3 to 5 pm.  But remember you can make an appointment to shop 24/7 by sending me an email at carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.  There is  still a great selection of hostas, ferns, astilbes, hardy geraniums, and summer and fall blooming shade plants available.

Letting Go Part 1: The Lawn

Posted in garden essay, green gardening, landscape design, organic gardening with tags on May 2, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

This photo and the next four all show beds created from former lawn at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

WARNING:  This post could be hazardous to your lawn or at least your relationship with your spouse.  It contains lawn profanity as well as intense language and strong opinions and recommends graphic violence to your lawn.  Drug use is discussed, and nudity is recommended.  Read at your own risk.

Depending on how you look at it, I was always ahead of the curve on the lawn issue.  When we bought our property in 1983, I already had it in for the lawn, which encompassed most of our 2 acres.  At the time I didn’t know that “advanced” gardeners were supposed to get rid of their lawn.  I just thought it was a ridiculous waste of garden space and resources like water and very high maintenance: it had to go.  Plus there was never any question of using chemicals to keep it green and weed free as we have been organic from day one.

In 2001, I read this tongue-in-cheek discussion between God and St. Francis and renewed my efforts to eliminate our lawn (click to enlarge):

This clever but provocative piece was printed in the Spring 2001 newsletter of The Friends of Casco Bay, Maine.  It also supports my practice of leaving leaves in my garden beds, see my post Fall Clean-Up.

To me, as pointed out by this article, the whole concept of lawn is inherently ridiculous even before you get to the environmental issues.

Then the scientific evidence kicked in.  Chemically treated lawns are a scientifically documented toxic hazard to your pets.  There is lots of information out there about the cancer causing hazards of commonly used lawn chemicals, for example, see The Truth About Cats, Dogs, and Lawn Chemicals.  After reading this would you let any family member, especially your children, walk on a chemically treated lawn?  

This whole hillside was an eroded, chemically dependent lawn when we moved in.

Lawn chemicals are a major contaminant of the Chesapeake Bay, which is the largest and most biologically diverse estuary in the U.S.  For more information, read this article by the Chesapeake Bay Program by clicking here.  A White Paper produced by a diverse group of scientists and policy experts for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Project outlines the damage being done and recommends encouraging “consumers to question aesthetics-based behaviors (i.e., desire for visually attractive lawns or produce) in lieu of decision-making based on human health and ecological concerns.”  Phrased that way, it is amazing there is any question what the right path is.

The death warrant for my lawn as most Americans know it was sealed in stone in 2007 when I read an article by Doug Tallamy in which he pointed out the dangers of this non-native monoculture to our native flora and fauna.  It is sobering to consider that we have planted 40 million acres of lawn in the U.S. and that every weekend we mow an area eight times the size of New Jersey.  According to the U.S. EPA, “Operating a typical gasoline-powered lawn mower for one hour produces the same amount of smog-forming hydrocarbons as driving an average car almost 200 miles under typical driving conditions.”  Mowing accounts for 5% of air pollution in the U.S (click here for more details).  In Bringing Nature Home, Tallamy explains quite eloquently how our home gardens are the last bastion of space where we can promote biodiversity through planting native plants.  My lawn just did not fit into this scheme.

Lawn veronica, Veronica filiformis, grows throughout my lawn.  It is so beautiful that I wish it would completely replace the lawn.

But now that I had eliminated all the lawn I could, what to do about the lawn that remains?  I still have a large grassy area  where my children play, which though not chemically treated is still a monoculture.  This is where the real horror starts: I let it go wild.  I let every “weed” that you are probably trying to remove from your lawn grow there.  And you know what?  It’s beautiful.  All spring, until we mow, it is filled with pretty “wildflowers” covered with bees, butterflies, and beetles, and visited by birds among other local fauna.  Then, when it’s mowed, it is a green expanse like a lawn “should be”.

The photos above and below show some of the “wildflowers” that grow in my lawn:

Common blue violets, Viola papilionacea (sororia)


Japanese painted fern, Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’


Wild strawberries, Fragaria species


Common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis


Native PA white violets, Viola striata


Winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis


Ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea: I consider this a noxious weed when it appears in my beds, but it is very pretty in the lawn.


Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale


Most of the plants in my lawn are not native.  I consider half of them weeds if they appear in garden beds.  But in the lawn they are beautiful.  You probably don’t see them this way–most people don’t.  I have retrained my eye.  When I see an expanse of weed-free bright green grass, I don’t think what a beautiful law, I think toxic wasteland.

Here is what my lawn looks like in early spring:

This next photo is not for the faint-of-heart:

Creating more “wildflowers” in my lawn.


And here is what the same area looks like once it is mowed:

This is all the lawn I need.  Though it is a large area, I think I would do the same thing if my lawn was smaller.

Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: Look for Carolyn’s Shade Gardens at the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market on Saturday, May 7, from 9 am to 1 pm .  My next open house sale, featuring hostas, ferns, and hardy gernaiums is Saturday, May 14, from 10 am to 3 pm.

Supporting Sustainable Living: Part One

Posted in garden essay, green gardening, native plants, organic gardening with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

PA native bloody butcher (attractive common name!), Trillium recurvatum, is just forming its buds now and will produce its beautiful flower shortly (photo on right Arrowhead Alpines).

All photos in this article are of plants native to Pennsylvania (PA) available at “Bulb and Native Wildflower Day” on April 9 at my nursery.  Single photos and the left photo in collages show the plants in my garden today.

Jan who writes the garden blog Thanks for Today is doing something wonderful, and  I want all my readers, subscribers, and customers to participate in Jan’s project.  Jan has started the Gardeners’ Sustainable Living Project, which celebrates Earth Day  by encouraging gardeners to get together and share the big and small things that they are doing anywhere in their lives to support sustainable living.  If you read my blog, you know that this is an important topic for me.

PA native rue-anemone, Anemonella thalictroides, is a dainty woodlander in full bloom right now.

To participate in the project, all you have to do is click on the Gardeners’ Sustainable Living Project link below and leave a comment describing a few of your own sustainable living practices.  If you are a garden blogger, you can write a post about your efforts, but Jan only requires a comment.  If you participate by April 15, you become eligible to receive all kinds of fun prizes.  I got so excited about the project, I decided to contribute a prize of my own: a snowdrop collection.  For prize details, click here.

The buds of PA native Celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, are just starting to show color, and the flowers will cover the plant for at least six weeks (photo on right Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder).

While you are leaving your comment, you can read all the posts written by garden bloggers telling you what they are doing to promote sustainability.  Donna at Gardens Eye View in her article  on “Trust” points out that we have been entrusted with the earth and we should leave it the way we found it.  She tells us about her efforts to do that.  Jean at Jean’s Garden explains how she has “come to understand how my plant choices can affect ecological systems and environmental balance.”

PA native twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla, is just pushing out of the ground in my garden (photo on right Missouri Botanical Gardens PlantFinder).

Pam at Pam’s English Cottage Garden was inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life to “be more mindful of my carbon footprint by eating locally grown foods that are in season, and by supporting local farmers.”  Allan at allanbecker.gardenguru describes a wide range of “respectful grass roots initiatives that influence both consumer behavior and the agendas of local officials” while  promoting sustainability.  You can get a lot of great ideas by reading these thoughtful articles and all the others linked there.

I love the early spring colors of emerging PA native coral-bell leaves.  Clockwise from upper left: Heuchera villosa ‘Caramel’, ‘Frosted Violet’, ‘Autumn Bride’, ‘Blackout’.

So what am I doing to promote sustainability?  For my whole gardening life, I have been organic, not using any herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers.  I don’t water except to establish new plants and, by following gardening practices like grinding my leaves (seeFall Clean-up and Leaves on the Lawn) and composting, I have restored the soil to its former pristine state.  I have gotten rid of almost an acre of lawn and replaced it with large areas of plants native to Pennsylvania.  In Maine, I founded and continue to run a community based invasive plant removal program whose goal is to eliminate all invasive plants from the small island where we vacation.

PA native Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, is just about to come into full bloom in my garden.

Several years ago, though, I realized that I am uniquely placed to have an even larger impact in this area through my nursery.  As my customers ask me for advice and as I talk to the horticultural groups touring my display gardens, I emphasize sustainable practices and demonstrate how they work in my own gardens.  Instead of being lectured to in a darkened room, these gardeners are seeing  living proof that the sustainable methods I advocate have worked to create beautiful gardens.

PA native bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is in full bloom right now.  The rare double form ‘Multiplex’, pictured on the right, is much longer blooming.

Reading Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants was a turning point for me.  I finally understood why planting native plants is not just a “good thing”, but absolutely crucial to our survival.  I wrote about this in My Thanksgiving Oak Forest,  and I hope you will read my article.  Now I give out a synopsis of the book to the hundreds of customers who attend events at my nursery each year in hopes that they too will be inspired.

My new yellow signs boldly demonstrate which plants are native in my woodland garden.

As a result of my new understanding, I increased my emphasis on native plants at the nursery.  Native plants appear in green print in my catalogue.  I purchased new signage for the garden and the nursery so natives could have their own special yellow signs (see photo above) while non-natives have white.  I am about to have my sixth annual native wildflower day on April 9 during which customers can shop for a wide assortment of almost 40 native perennials, not including the native ferns that will be offered at my fern sale.

The foliage of PA native dwarf Jacob’s ladder, Polemonium reptans ‘Blue Pearl’, is evergreen, and the plants are covered with buds right now.

My two acres of display gardens demonstrate how desirable non-native plants can be incorporated into the sweeps of native plants that dominate my landscape.  And I have used my blog with its 450 customer-subscribers and 26,000 views since November to promote the planting of natives (see, for example, My Thanksgiving Oak Forest, New Native Shade Perennials for 2011, and Woody Plants for Shade).

The early leaves of PA native wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, are a beautiful deep blue-green and are followed by lovely flowers in April and May.

So now, what do I want you to do?  Please go to http://thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/2011/03/gardeners-sustainable-living-2011-win.html and leave a comment describing a few of your own sustainable practices.  I know many of my customers are reading my blog because almost everyone who has visited this year has said “I love your blog”.  Now you can thank me by supporting Jan’s project and mentioning in your comment that you came from Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), click here.

Nursery Happenings: My next nursery event is Bulb and Native Wildflower Day on Saturday, April 9, from 9 am to 3 pm.  My next open house sale features early spring-blooming shade plants and is Saturday, April 16, from 10 am to 3 pm.  For details and directions, click here.

Shade Gardening in Fall: Leaves on the Lawn

Posted in Fall, How to, organic gardening with tags , , on November 18, 2010 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

leaves after storm at Carolyn's Shade Gardens

The wind blew so hard here the other night that I felt like Dorothy whirling towards Oz.  All the remaining leaves came down and covered the gardens in a blanket of fall colors. The lawn is especially thick with leaves because it surrounds a huge red oak, which always holds its foliage to the end. In my recent article on fall clean-up, my fourth clean-up priority was grinding the leaves on the lawn with the mower and leaving them in place.  I want to elaborate on that in response to readers’ questions.

I subscribe to a blog by TheGardenLady, where I often find practical advice I can apply in my own gardens.  According to a video by Scotts Lawn Care  posted on TheGardenLady blog, a recent Michigan State University study has shown that grinding up to 18″ of leaves on your lawn and leaving them there is beneficial to your lawn.  I have been doing this for years, but now this practice has an official stamp of approval and scientific research behind it.  However, I garden completely organically and do not put chemicals on my lawn.  The compost produced by the leaves as they break down is enough, no further fertilizer is required.

I hope you will try this new method of fall leaf clean up this weekend when you are dealing with the results of our storm.

Carolyn

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