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The New Gardener Ethic

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Sunday, April 6th, 2014

This post is a step by step guide to enabling stewardship for the residential homeowner. We will explore what to look for in the garden, why its important, what to do about it and why we should tell people about it.

Top Four Reasons For A new Gardener Ethic

1)      A knowledge based approach to residential gardening anticipates the public asking questions about where things come from and how they are made.

2)      Seeing, appreciating and caring about land are three prerequisites to stewardship

3)      Sharing observations and recommendations about land enables residential landowners to be stewards

4)      Residential urban green space is the connective tissue to parks and ravines, together forming green corridors that are habitat for plants and wildlife.

A knowledge based approach

Last month I wrote about what it means to be a gardener in 2014.

A practical approach to increased consumer awareness is to provide good observations, reporting and recommendations specific to the garden.

In our line of work we mostly charge for doing things such as raking and pruning or building patios and walls.

Providing homeowners the information they need to make informed decisions that enables them to care for their land is the core of a knowledge based approach.

This is something that most gardeners do already but not always in a structured or formal way. Ideally gardening would occur after thoughtful consideration.

Today I want to break this process down to its component parts and provide a step by step guide to enabling stewardship in a residential setting.

What are you looking at?

“Plants will tell you everything you need to know about them–all you need to do is look.” Case Vanderkruk Connon NVK

Observation and monitoring are essential to understanding what is happening in a garden and plants in particular.

The first step is to make very general observations regarding:

  1. The position of the garden in relation to the sun
  2. Existence of a canopy tree(s).

This is important to know the quantity and quality of light falling on the garden.

Typically different areas of the garden receive different light regimes. Light levels are determined by location of neighboring trees, branching structure of canopy trees and proximity to houses.

Knowing the quantity and quality of light falling on the garden can tell you what plants should be doing well, which ones would be ideal and plants that are poorly located.

Walking through the garden we take note of garden style, topography, drainage and soil. From time to time we may see something that doesn’t make sense and will ask for past history. All of these elements combine to help determine the state of the garden in general.

From general impressions we begin to look at details such as indicator plants, lawn condition and infestations of disease or pests. In some cases these details can tell a lot about past history.

Large dead trees growing in chain link indicate lack of monitoring over time

Large dead trees growing in chain link indicate lack of monitoring over time.

Quite often what you see will be entirely different depending on the time of year.

Seeing these Ailanthus samaras on top of the snow this spring are a reminder to sweep them up before they sprout and grow into a huge tree

Seeing these Ailanthus seeds on top of the snow this spring are a reminder to sweep them up before they sprout and grow.

Ailanthus altissima seeds are have a winged samara where the seed placement is in the middle (as opposed to maples).  The seeds are held on the tree well into winter and can be dropped as late as early spring. This accounts for the seeds appearing on top of the snow in spring.

So far so good but why am I showing you pictures of seeds in the first place?

Context is key

In context we can see how important those seeds become. As the snow melts, the Ailanthus seeds will move by wind and rain until they get trapped against a fence, at the base of the house or any vertical obstruction. This is why I would recommend paying careful attention to garden edges when doing your spring cleanup.

Here is an example of what can happen if you skip this step. Please note this Ailanthus is not growing in a nice garden bed but rather has established itself in between concrete, asphalt and brick!

Here is an example of what can happen if you skip this step. Please note this Ailanthus is not growing in a nice garden bed but rather has established itself between concrete, asphalt and brick!

In addition, Ailanthus is dioecious meaning it has female and male flowers on separate plants. Therefore we can conclude:

We have both female and male specimens present in the neighborhood. The female is being successfully pollinated and will likely produce seeds for many years.

Ailanthus altissima has an interesting history which I hope to explore in a future post. What is important to know is Ailanthus is an urban warrior and has thrived in the urban environment right across the eastern United States and Canada.

What are you going to do about it?

Having made observations and put them in context, it is time to actually DO something!

1) Seasonal monitoring of the property paying special attention to property edges such as the base of the house, fencelines and other vertical obstructions.

2) Sweep up, remove and dispose of Ailanthus seeds in spring before they sprout.

3) Continue to monitor and remove small seedlings as they emerge.

4) Explore options to remove existing female Ailanthus on the property.

Bonus:

Ailanthus seedlings have an elbow. Just below the surface of the soil the root will turn and run parallel to the ground. The elbow is weak and will break easily. If you remove only the vertical portion of the root the lateral will produce suckers and grow a new tree very quickly.

Enabling Stewards

Based on the above examples we can report our findings and recommend the plan for maintenance and monitoring that will reduce the spread of Ailanthus from seed.

Recommendations should account for the clients needs and wants, be horticulturally sound and consider ecology.

Seeing, appreciating and caring about land are three prerequisites to stewardship and together form the basis for the new gardener ethic.

It is from this point of view that I developed a desire to share stories, observations and features of nature in the city. It is from this perspective that I developed the garden inspection service. Finally it is the reason why I always ask what the his“story” is when I come to your garden for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 comments on “The New Gardener Ethic”

  • When I see chainlink cutting into trees – or wires – or support posts that were never monitored – makes me sad! : (

    time to bring out the snips!

    I’ll have to add some posts of my garden on my blog as I transform it – we bought the house three years ago and I’m just at that point where I’ll have some time to tackle (but slowly!). Great info here!

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