If you plant it,
back in 2010,
I loved straight lines &
beds high enough to deter
our new puppy. All I wanted was to
grow lots of food as efficiently
the compost had
moved out; Three layers
were too hot & dry; And a new
just felt better.
time, the ideas in Toby
Hemenway's book Gaia's Garden,
transformed my thinking, inviting experimentation
with fewer paths, more curves & the
integration of pollinator-
thinks it's crazy to
redesign the garden every
few years as each one seems pretty
cool, like this rounded mounded central axis
filled with a mix of annual vegetables and perennials.
But for me, these changes reveal how this garden was becoming
more than just a space to grow vegetables. It was
a safe place for me to connect with and
explore the power of the
earth herself, this
from beneath pole beans, borage
invited pollinators, and there was hardly a
need to water, as the composted and well-shaded
soil sustained itself throughout the summer. I had finally
created my own 'Gaia's Garden' paradise.
So it seems strange that I would
take it apart & essentially
what I did, creating
a circular space aligned with
the quadrants of a compass and based
on historic herb garden designs.
I didn't know what this
new space would
I planted the
echinacea and finally
understood that gardening is not
about how many peas I harvest. For me, it's
about how I can heal myself so that
together my garden and I
can help heal the
In addition to re-reading Gaia's Garden, these others books have also captivated and inspired me this summer. It feels as if the earth is in all of our hands right now. Digging deeper is the only way to go.
Drew, Sarah Gaia Codex
Hemenway, Toby Gaia's Garden
Jewell, Jennifer The Earth in Her Hands
Kincaid, Jamaica My Garden (Book):
Penniman, Leah Farming While Black
When I walk into
our 'new' front yard, it's
like magic. The granite pavers
guide me past the front
door and around
to the back,
SummerSweet and cheerful
purple Coneflower (echinacea) beckon.
"Come," they say. "You are
And I am.
Bees frolick and
I feel a warm embrace
not just from the plants, but
from all the people who guided
me to this time and this place. It seems
hard to believe that in the midst
of a global crisis, I have
found such joy in
ago, Calvin and I sat
in our front 'yard.' Still early
in the COVID crisis, we were eager
to be outside. For me, though, this space
between our house & the road
was not a calming
it was unsettling.
Perhaps it was the abrupt
contrast between the lawn & the
trees or maybe it was the way the lawn
just headed off into our neighbor's
property, carrying my
energy with it --
But with my
son ready to help,
we gave new form to this
part of our yard. By mid June
there was a layer of
healthy soil &
By mid July,
I had planted the
hillside with a cool mix of
native plants, including Gro-low
Sumac and Joe Pye Weed. In the process,
I co-opted some more of the lawn,
which really is just a nasty
water hog that has
I walked among this
increasing variety of plants,
the more grounded I felt in every way,
not just because a formally neglected place was
getting attention, but because it was
coming to life - the winged
this beauty, there
was something missing.
The more time I spent in this
place, the more I realized that it had
something to do with the
flow of energy.
experiments, I realized
that it was all about edging and
the clear definition of boundaries. The
bricks that had been in the front of the original
bed for decades were not strong enough
to contain the power of what
this part of our land
it was with
great enthusiasm that
during the last week in July, I
carried one hundred pavers from a pallet
at Gardener's Supply in Lebanon, NH
into and out of the car, slowly
laying them into the soil,
and in the process,
did not include edging
material nor did it include this
connection between the front and back
yards. But this mix of stone and
diverse plantings created
when there are natural
connections among people, plants
& place. Earlier today, I could almost hear
the conversation between the two varieties of
SummerSweet, one in the front and
the other along the north
side of the house.
as if Karen
who introduced me
to "Ruby Spice" in 2016
was actually talking with Kelsey,
who, working off what we already had,
integrated "Hummingbird" into the
front design in 2018. Together,
in 2020 they provide a
how these various
groundcovers, shrubs and trees
embody the positive spirits of the many
plants people throughout the Upper Valley who
nurtured them so that someone like
me could come along and
use them to create
and inspires because of
how a few small stones in various
shapes and sizes can contain a mix of plants
while also enabling life-giving
energy to flow.
At one time or another, Kelsey & Karen worked at Henderson's Garden Center in White River Junction, VT. The Garden Center is run by Sylvia Provost, who always has amazing ideas and plants for any project.
Permaculture Solutions, LLC Karen Ganey shares her creative gifts through consultations, design and installation.
Gardener's Supply, Lebanon, NH A friendly place to find native trees, shrubs, perennials and vegetable starts.
E.C.Brown's Nursery, Thetford, VT A welcoming place to find native trees, shrubs and perennials.
Ongoing inspiration from friends at the Hanover Garden Club and colleagues on the Sustaining Landscapes Committee in Hanover.
things can change.
One day there's this sign
silhouetted against dark clouds
and a few days later,
the sign is
announced that it was
permanently closing its golf
course. It's a common destination
for walking and since COVID
it's been a go-to spot
took me by surprise,
though. The benches & the
platforms on which they rested
were gone just a few days after the
announcement. It seemed
so sudden & sad.
a golfer and I
hate the toxins that are
used to kill weeds, but endings
are hard, especially for those whose
livelihoods depend on
the past few days,
Calvin and I have visited the
course frequently, noticing changes
more subtle than a missing
bench or sign.
grows on the
paths & in the sand
traps, slowly reclaiming
march into the lawn
and stake their claim. Soon
wildflowers will do
losses for some are
benefits for others. Trade-
offs abound right
now and I am
I am curious
about how quickly
the college was able to
dismantle the structures on the
course. Is that kind of rapid adaptation
something we are all capable of
if given clear direction
I am curious
about the process
of land reclaiming itself.
How long will it take and what
will it feel like? It is strange to know
that this grass will never be so
short again & that the
green layers will
will it be like
when the only mowed
path follows this dotted white
line & is surrounded by tall
work to do
at home and all
around, so we've been
working - digging & mulching,
pruning & planting. It
feels good to
these phlox are out
of control and need attention,
I'm OK with their extravagant abundance
because five years ago, there was
nothing in that particular place
but a neglected corner
of the terrace.
lupin blew over
from a neighbor's field,
but the comfrey by its side and
those chives behind were intentionally
planted to increase soil fertility on what was once
a rocky dry hillside. These woodland phlox, so different
from those flowers surrounding the bird,
thrive in a space that was once
a pile of sticks.
this myrtle (or
Vinca Minor) have
finally merged on the
hillside by our driveway.
5 years in the making,
this space is, at
to my garden
for reminding me
that neglected places
can be transformed. There
just needs to be a plan, focused
attention, and patience to
let what will emerge,
to share the stage with
other colors, like these white
flowers on a lone Hawthorn tree that
is abuzz. It was for these pollinators that we
created this garden in the first place, so hearing them
in action gives me hope and purpose as I
go outside to get back
Who knew trees could be so tricky? When looking for shade in a parking lot, I head for the trees. When seeking a place to hang a hammock, I look for trees. When wandering in the woods, I revel in the play of light through the leaves and branches. Trees, and the forests they inhabit, truly are the lungs of the earth. They absorb our poisons and release the oxygen we need to breath. Why then, given this reverence, would I advocate cutting them down in order to install solar panels?
To be clear, I love trees. I also love moving toward a 100% renewable future. If cutting trees allows me to reduce my personal and our collective dependence on toxic fuels, then it's something I am willing to consider, just as I am willing to consider altering mountain or ocean views in order to promote wind power (that's a different conversation). The fact is, I knew nothing about carbon sequestration when we cut dozens of trees to clear a view and to make room for more sun in 2004. It never occurred to me to do a cost-benefit analysis because I didn't know there was a choice. I loved trees from a distance, but hadn't really paid close attention to them.
Our goals were to create a soccer field for the kids, a vegetable garden, and a beautiful near and distant view. It's been almost 15 years and a lot has changed. We've planted a River Birch 'glen,' a bird-friendly hillside and a rain garden. We've installed solar panels and have a great lawn for all manner of sports. Each year, however, I become more and more curious about the trade-offs we made in order to create our own private Eden.
So here's what I've learned. On the most basic level, it's easy to plant new trees that serve multiple purposes but that won't block the sun. Fruit and nut trees, for example, absorb carbon and produce food. Flowering trees of all kinds provide nectar for pollinators and berries for birds. By cutting down all those evergreens all those years ago, we made room for a significantly more diverse landscape the provides food for us and a host of flying creatures.
When I did some research, I learned the following about the tree-solar trade-off. It takes 1.106 lbs of Co2 to produce 1 kwh of electricity so if you install a 5,000 kwh system, that would avoid 5,530 lbs of Co2 emissions each year.
No two trees are the same: A 30 year old white oak absorbs 60 lbs of carbon a year; A white pine absorbs 193 lbs of carbon a year; A fast growing red oak can absorb 240 lbs of carbon a year. In Hanover and much of New England, we have a lot of white pines. 5,530 lbs/193 lbs = 28.65 trees. If you cut less than 28 trees to maximize your solar options, don’t feel guilty in terms of carbon absorption and avoidance - - If you are cutting white pines.
I'm a photographer who loves trees and light. I'm also a gardener who loves backyard biodiversity and a world free from fossil fuel dependence. In my quest for a sustainable future for my family, I am constantly making trade-offs. We needed shade for our terrace and planted a tree whose maximum height is 30 feet, just below our rooftop panels. I had wanted an elegant oak, but needed to compromise as oaks get too large and would shade our rooftop panels. Who knew we would now have more than 15 varieties of trees on our property where before we just had white pines and a few oaks?
In July, we considered electric lawn care and the many alternatives to gas-powered machines, including reducing the actual size of your lawn. This month, we continue the lawn care theme, but address it from the point of view of the trees and solar power. Both absorb the light. Both generate energy from that light. At the moment, however, we need to maximize the rate at which we transition to renewables. If that transition necessitates cutting some trees, I am willing to do so, especially if that creates more light for more diverse plantings and clean energy.
Evelyn R. Swett
reframing the narrative in community and with myself, finding transformation and joy in the mess of it all
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