Good Planets Are Hard To Find

by Elsa Johnson

the bumper sticker said            and here we are                                   stranded

in this black vacuum of space filled            beyond full          with cold pinpricks

of far    and farther     distant stars            We are no longer ignorant creatures

cowering     beating our ape chests in fear    in domination           We know we

are not the center of      the ever-expanding universe            We know the sun

does not revolve around us                                           but we are still the center

of   our  universe             in this sense the worlds still spin around      not our

planet              but            we who ride her              A fine point     but telling  :           

Good planets are hard to find

Where is the awe      commensurate to truth?     Out there amid the glittering

of infinitude          the ice-hot brilliant stars    in the blank of space            there

are surely other planets         blue         fragile        like ours                       Do we

imagine        we will find one          once we’ve fouled this one ?              Escape

to a place that               once we found a way to get there                    would

no longer   be   there                      Would be going               faster               faster                      

Perhaps ridden by its own                       brand                                            of doom                 

What Shall We Do Next?

Announcement of Upcoming Events and Purposeful Actions

Home Permaculture Design Short Course

March 2nd to April 20th

Thursdays – 7:30 to 9 PM

First Unitarian Church of Cleveland

Shaker Boulevard, Shaker Heights

Given by:  Green Paradigm Partners: Tom Gibson and Elsa Johnson (216) 932 – 8733

Eight week short course introduces students to permaculture concepts including soil building and soil conservation,on site water retention – rain barrels and cisterns, swales, raingardens, & more, pollinator attracting plants, attracting and keeping beneficial insects, plant polycultures, incorporating native plants in the garden, plants you didn’t know were edible, plant layering and edges as design principles, hands-on practice of landscape design.        

Native Plants for the Home Landscape

February 16 at 6:30 with Garrett Ormiston  

at Cleveland Museum of Natural History-Tickets

Participants will learn about the threats that invasive plants pose to our natural areas and gardens, and the many advantages to using native plants as an alternative. Discussions will include how to make responsible plant choices in your home landscaping, planting native plants in a deer-dominated landscape, using native plants to attract native pollinators, and detailed information about the many different native plants that you can consider for your home gardening projects. Information learned in this presentation will lead up to our March workshop, “Designing Landscapes using Native Plants”.


Patrick Blanc (Paris, France), World’s leading expert on Vertical Gardens

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 10:00am to noon

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Email Carol Provan regarding tickets:

Vertical gardening has become trendy in recent years, a movement led by Patrick Blanc. Special patented techniques enable him to explore new territory and create artistic, soil-less gardens on the exteriors and interiors of museums, hotels, corporations and homes of the ultra-wealthy. He is in demand among an international cadre of architects, developers, and environmental groups, but is just as pleased to be invited to Cleveland by the Shaker Lakes Garden Club.

March for the Climate

Washington DC on April 29

There is no denying it: Donald Trump’s election is a threat to the future of our planet, the safety of our communities, and the health of our families.

This new administration is attacking the hard-won protections of our climate, health, and communities, and the rights of people of color, workers, indigenous people, immigrants, women, LGBTQIA, young people, and more.

If the policies he proposed on the campaign trail are implemented, they will destroy our climate, decimate our jobs and livelihoods, and undermine the civil rights and liberties won in many hard fought battles.

Join Catherine Feldman and Elsa Johnson in forming a Gardenopolis Cleveland contingent!


NOW is the time for us to contribute to saving the environment. We hope the following list will facilitate your donations.

Our next few posts will list some city and state organizations.

National Environmental Organizations  

(thank you EarthEasy for these recommendations)

1. Union of Concerned Scientists

UCS maintains a national network of nearly 17000 scientists who believe “rigorous analysis is the best way to understand the world’s pressing problems and develop effective solutions to them.” UCS’s findings and statements are frequently quoted by major news sources; they have become a recognized and respected voice of environmental advocacy. Their work focuses on clean energy solutions, global warming, and the puzzles of large-scale food production. UCS’s testimony has been instrumental in several pieces of important green legislation.

2. Natural Resources Defense Council

Called “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups” by the New York Times, NRDC combines “the grassroots power of 1.4 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals”. This time of year, NRDC offers holiday-ready “green gifts”: your donation results in a gift card describing the action it supports, such as “adopt a wolf in Yellowstone” or “save an acre of whale nursery” to add a tangible meaning to a personalized gift.

3. Environmental Working Group

Known for their annual “Dirty Dozen” list revealing the highest (and lowest) pesticide concentrations in conventionally-grown produce, EWG is known for researching and spreading awareness regarding toxic chemicals, sustainable versus exploitative agricultural practices, consumer product safety, and corporate accountability. Right now, EWG promises that monetary gifts will be doubled through a matching campaign. This is a good pick for those with a passion for clean food.

4. Greenpeace Fund

GreenpeaceMade famous in the 1970’s and 80’s for its seafaring bands of activists peacefully accosting whaling ships and exposing covert nuclear testing, today’s Greenpeace describes climate change as “the number one threat facing our planet”. Greenpeace has not lost its passionate idealism, maintains its corporate integrity, and still inspires many to urgent, hopeful direct action. Courageous efforts by small groups of concerned individuals have influenced governments in the past, as with Greenpeace’s inaugural efforts to stop nuclear testing at Amchitka Alaska.

5. Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth describes itself as a “bold and fearless voice for justice and the planet”. Recent campaigns have targeted bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, “dirty” tar sands oil extraction, and the environmental devastation of palm oil production. Those who oppose widespread adoption of nanotechnology, genetically engineered foods, and human gene patenting will appreciate FOE’s clear stance and advocacy.

6. Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance has gained public recognition with their independent certification of common rainforest products, such as chocolate, coffee, bananas, and tea. Producers must meet strict sustainability standards to gain certification. The Alliance also works with foresters and the tourism industry in ecologically vulnerable areas. Their website offers consumer and traveler information, helping us work together to steward some of the most biodiverse, threatened, and globally critical habitats.

7. Earthjustice

Earthjustice is clear about its reason for being: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer”. Beginning as a Sierra Club team mounting a lawsuit to preserve an isolated California valley from development as a Disney ski resort, Earthjustice has become an independent crusade focusing on high-impact, precedent-setting battles. These are dedicated, experienced lawyers taking on the David-and-Goliath fights many of us feel powerless to influence. Donating here is one approach to evening the scales between the “big bucks” of large corporate interests and the often woefully underfunded voice of our struggling ecosystem.

8. Ocean Conservancy

Ocean“Ocean Conservancy works to keep the ocean healthy, to keep us healthy.” Current areas of focus include addressing ocean acidification, restoration and oil-spill recovery in the Gulf of Mexico, and protecting the Arctic ecosystem from damage by increased shipping and oil and gas exploration. In the words of Jacques Cousteau, “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”

9. Earth Island Institute

One Earth Island proponent describes the group as “a community of creative activists with a great track record and cutting edge worldview.” E.I.I. nourishes ambitious fledgling projects, giving them fuel to thrive and potentially become independent nonprofits, such as Rainforest Action Network and Salmon Protection and Watershed Network. The California-based organization has several locally-focused initiatives under its wing, as well as international projects like the Center for Safe Energy and the Plastic Pollution Coalition, among many others. Supporters can pick and choose which project they’d like to fund. It’s a big strong umbrella under which you can still aim your support at a highly specific goal.

10. The Sierra Club Foundation

Another household name, the Sierra Club has a popular reputation as less radical than Greenpeace, less likely to cause arguments at the family dinner table. Political lobbying and legislative advocacy have always been central to Sierra Club’s mission. Today the Club focuses on moving beyond fossil fuel dependency and preserving wild spaces from harmful development, as well as offering their signature wilderness trek experiences to individuals across the country.

Some of our other favorites:

Environmental Defense Fund

“Environmental Defense Fund’s mission is to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends.

Guided by science and economics, we find practical and lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems.”

Nature Conservancy

“The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

Our vision is a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives.”


“The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. We take our name from the now extinct Xerces Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), the first butterfly known to go extinct in North America as a result of human activities.”

Yale 360

“Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting, and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news.”

 Mother Jones 

“Mother Jones is a reader-supported nonprofit news organization. We do independent and investigative reporting on everything from politics and climate change to education and food (plus cat blogging). Some 9 million people come to this site each month. We also publish an award-winning, 200,000-circulation magazine, we just launched a new podcast, and you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.”

Earth First 

No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth

“The very future of life on Earth is in danger. Human activities—from hunting to habitat destruction—have already driven countless species to extinction, and the process is only accelerating. The destruction of the Earth and its sustainable indigenous cultures has led to tragedy in every corner of the globe.”

National Wildlife Federation

“National Wildlife Federation is a voice for wildlife, dedicated to protecting wildlife and habitat and inspiring the future generation of conservationists.”


Orchids Aloft!

Ann McCulloh, contributing editor

The orchids have landed! Or rather, they are hovering, given the theme of this season’s Orchidmania at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. “Hanging Gardens” are beautifully realized in a number of inventive assemblages that feature this stunningly colorful and varied family of flowers. The current exhibit reveals a sophisticated design sense in nearly every detail. And lovely details abound!


I visited this year’s version of the Garden’s annual orchid extravaganza on a recent sunny weekday afternoon. This year the show runs from January 29th through March 5. The best times for leisurely, less-crowded visiting are weekdays after the school buses depart, around 1pm. Greeted in the lobby by a remarkably realistic oversized sculpture of the familiar Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis species), I walked under a dense arch of yellow Cymbidiums into the darkened Atrium. There, vertical towers of Moth Orchids, ferns and Spanish moss rise from fountains pouring into a dramatically purple-lit pool.

 Colorful lighting is another feature of the show.

Orchids “float” throughout the show, suspended in open grapevine spheres, on bamboo towers and levitating in baskets at nose and eye level.


Artful displays in the dark, somewhat dry interior spaces of the building rely on the familiar, incredibly durable Moth Orchid.

(Moth basket)

I have real affection for this type of orchid, which can actually thrive and rebloom in challenging living spaces, where most orchids wither, yellow and decline.

A delicious diversity of orchid color, texture and form awaits visitors in the glasshouses, where abundant light, warmth and humidity help the flowers flourish. Orchids, ferns and bromeliads (aka “air plants”) play off each other in impressive set pieces.


The key to success with orchids (well, plants of any type) is in reproducing the conditions of their original environment. Many orchids, like this blue Vanda, require very bright, but indirect light, temperatures that range above human comfort, and humidity that would cause the sofa to grow mold.


For anyone who wants to succeed with orchids at home, the American Orchid Society provides a wealth of information tailored to specific types of orchids on their website in the “All About Orchids” section The Garden will host an orchid sale with multiple vendors on the weekend of February 18th and 19th.

I fall under the spell of orchids every year in the dreary depths of February. More than any other family of flowers they invite fantastic comparisons. The odd ruses they employ to trick insects into pollinating them, the fleshy substance of their petals, and even the characteristic “nose” in the center of each blossom give them a sort of animal presence. I mean, don’t these Pansy Orchids (Miltonia sp.)

( Miltonia) make you think of the Seven Dwarves? And this Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum)

(Villain) seems positively villainous, while these two are frankly sensual?


This natural extravagance of shape, color and pattern brings out an answering creative impulse in artists of all sorts. Orchids are like candy to photographers, of course, and photo contest entries are on display, but that is just the beginning.


(Candy) There’s more orchid themed art in the Café, with tasty paintings on silk by Gunther Schwegler,



and even a pretty table setting with a lush petal-covered table cloth. A silk painting workshop is offered in March, too, more info on the Garden’s web site. A very fun feature of Orchidmania is the dozen or so orchid-inspired dresses by students in the fashion design program of Kent state University, on display in Clarke Hall.


If this season has you feeling uninspired or pessimistic, the orchid show may provide much-needed uplift! Bring your camera, and give yourself time to saunter slowly and stop often. Get lost in some fabulous detailed flower.


Seek out the sweet fragrances of the Chocolate Orchid (Oncidium ‘Sweet Sharrie Baby’)
(SharrieBaby) and the Foxtail Orchid (Rhynchostylis)


(Foxtail) It’s an invitation to take some deep, slow breaths and feel yourself float a little.


Are Trees Sentient Beings?

by Elsa Johnson

In an interview for Yale Environment 360, German forester Peter Wohlleben answers “Certainly”. And no, he doesn’t look like an Ent. Wohlleben argues that trees are wonderful beings with innate adaptability, intelligence, and the capacity to communicate with, and heal, other trees. How did he come to this Enti-ish belief?

As a forester, he says, he was trained to look at trees as economic commodities (I cannot resist an aside here: to wit — our culture does not value things unless they are commodities), but after joining an agency for a community beech forest in Hummel, Germany, he became disillusioned. He began to see the use of traditional commodity forestry – clear cutting, and chemical use, for example – as putting short term profits ahead of sustainability. Now he manages the forest completely differently. Distressed by these traditional forest management practices, he re-thought his position because he was someone who wanted to protect nature, and he was being asked to destroy it.

Gradually he learned that the individuals of a species actually work together and cooperate with one another. In his book The Secret Life of Trees, Wohlleben writes about how trees are sophisticated organisms that live in families. He uses the term “mother tree” to describe a tree that is at the center of an interconnected web of roots, that can distinguish whether the root it encounters is its own root, the root of another species, or the roots of its own species (this is crudely verified on our local level by our experience with the same species trees in Forest Hill Park succumbing to disease while different species trees close by survive it ). Wohlleben describes how trees pass electrical signals through the bark and into the roots, and from there into the fungi networks in the soil, and thus alert nearby trees to dangers such as insects, or disease. Trees can also learn he says, citing the example of trees that in the year after a drought took up less water in the spring so that more remained available in the soil later in the season.

Sometimes accused of anthropomorphizing trees, Wohlleben says “We humans are emotional animals. We feel things. We don’t just know the world intellectually. So I use words of emotion to connect with people’s experience.” And: “We have been viewing nature like a machine. This is a pity because trees are badly misunderstood.” And: “Nobody thinks about the inner life of trees, the feelings of these wonderful living beings.” And: “Plants process information just as animals do, but for the most part they do this much more slowly. Is life in the slow lane worth less than life on the fast track?”

Wohlleben offers the evidence that trees growing in undisturbed natural forest can beneficially affect climate change by reducing temperatures and helping the soil retain moisture under their vast canopy. Conversely, climate change adversely affects trees less densely planted, as in common practice in tree plantations. The extra CO2 in the air today is making young trees grow about 30%  faster than they did decades ago. The faster growth exhausts trees and makes them less healthy. Trees growing in undisturbed natural forest fare better, says Peter Wohlleben. They grow more closely together, causing humidity to rise, cooling the forest and helping soil retain moisture.

Ah, he loves his trees so much — maybe he is an Ent after all.

If you would like to read more of the interview with Peter Wohlleben, go to YALE ENVIRONMENT 360. The issue is 16 November, 2016. Yale 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting, and debate on global environmental issues, written by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, and policy makers (etc.). It is published by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The view and opinions expressed are those of the authors and not the school. 



Dreaming of Spring? The Peripatetic Gardener Reports on Her Travels

by Lois Rose

Cornell is located at the bottom of Lake Cayuga-far above the waters, right? It is approximately five and a half hours from Cleveland, a lovely drive if you take the cut off of 90 through the Southern Tier—mountains, valleys, rivers and streams—well worth it.

The campus contains a large number of gardens but my favorite is the Botanic Garden which includes ornamental and useful herbs, interesting vegetables, perennials, grasses, an amazing bioswale garden, containers and other displays of shrubs, trees, groundcovers.

Many of the herbs are displayed in raised beds, or elevated on the sides of the main garden.


Around every turn is something of interest, like the tree which has a hole cut in its middle, still living and producing huge leaves.(Catalpa I think). 

The drought over the months before we visited had taken a toll but there was still much to see.  Mediterranean plants, those that love the heat, were as happy as a clam in high water. 

Others had ostensibly succumbed and been replaced.  It takes several hours to really see everything in this space, including the containers crammed with diverse and unusual plants on display near the visitor’s center which incidentally has top notch merchandise much of it devoted to gardening.

Cornell is feverish on Saturday morning, and visiting the Farmer’s Market is a treat if you can find a place to park.

Of Plants, Trees, and Soil: for Gardeners

by Elsa Johnson

What is soil  (dirt!)  (earth!) – you know, that stuff plants (most of them) grow in — and how important is it, anyway?  

I’ll answer the second question first. Very important. At its simplest, soil is the stuff that feeds the green plants that create the atmosphere of our blue-green planet.  Soil is a creation, a product, the end result of a process.

We humans have a ‘thing’ for order and neatness. It is one of the ways we distinguish between the tended (hence, civilized; hence, reassuring) and the untamed (hence, wild; hence, threatening). It is the drive that compels us to pull up every unwanted plant, to prefer bare soil to – god forbid — a ‘mess’, to throw every bit of organic debris into a recycling bag for the city to come and fetch and take away.

Plants pull nutrients from the soil – and plants also create nutrients through their growth process. This is what we see above the soil – the growing plant and the soil around it. When the organic plant dies and decays in place, those nutrients go back to the soil, both above and below ground. With the help of insects and worms that take from the plant what they need for their own survival as they break down the plant’s fiber, this natural process builds a loose layer of topsoil. Soil is creation. We can help or hinder that. We all know that. But in the garden we have a hard time resisting our human need for order, for that look-of-civilization –and so, far too often, we take away all that good organic stuff that, if left, would enrich and rebuild our soils (for free) without doing any harm.  

In the forest the process works slightly differently. Tree leaves are fibrous and tough (if they weren’t we would be eating them). They don’t break down as easily or as quickly as soft-fiber garden debris. They decompose slowly, over a long time, resulting in a deeply layered forest floor of leaves in varying stages of decay, resulting in a deep, loose, dark duff under a natural leaf mulch that holds moisture and insulates the forest floor.

And this is just above ground.

Below ground soil is truly amazing, for in both the garden and the forest within that uninteresting looking ubiquitous soil exists a universe of diverse microorganisms, fungus, and bacteria with important jobs to do bringing nutrients, minerals, oxygen, and water to the roots of plants and trees. And a world of necessary microscopic predation goes on there too (for this is always the price life pays for life). That is healthy soil, sustained by and supporting the intricate, exquisite interrelationships of this complex, rich system. Intact, undamaged, these systems are self-sustaining. However, many of our common practices damage the soil.

All plants sequester carbon, as does oil, but exposing bare soil to air allows the soil to lose carbon into the atmosphere. Soil should be either planted or mulched.

Heavy equipment regularly and repeatedly rolling over the ground compresses soil, reducing its ability to absorb and hold oxygen and water, and also kills microscopic organisms that plants and trees need for health. Try to keep the use of heavy equipment to a minimum.  

Breaking up the soil by plowing or spading also loses carbon from the soil, and perhaps more importantly, breaks up soil structure, disrupting mycorrhizal structures and microscopic animals, and severing root connections and root interrelationships necessary for plant health.

Last — chemical fertilizers kill beneficial organisms, thus destroying soil health, and making plants dependent on repeat applications. Build soil health through composting and returning organic material to the garden.             


Overcoming Mushroom Timidity

by Tom Gibson

Regular readers of this blog will have gathered that our personal Cleveland Heights home landscape can be fairly characterized as “bold:” Native plants with no grass in front and permaculture Food Forest plantings in back.  Some of the latter are pretty exotic—skirret , goji berries, even the oft- discussed native pawpaws .  But in one respect, we have kept the homestead “timid:” no mushroom cultivation.

We’ve just read too many stories of mushroom “experts” making fatal or near fatal (requiring kidney or liver transplants) mistakes. So we have carefully avoided either sampling the mushrooms that regularly emerge from our heavily shaded, oak-hickory landscape and have even remained reluctant to spread the spawn of mushrooms deemed safe.

That’s changed. It all began slowly.  A Food Forest seminar several years ago at Holden Arboretum left us with one sample inoculated shitake log.

(When the shitakes finally emerged, we ate them and survived!)  Then last fall I inoculated a patch of King Stropharia spawn underneath a stand of elderberries. This fall the distinctive wine-colored mushrooms popped up.   

We ate them and survived again!

Now, though, we’re moving much faster. The proximate cause: A course I took this fall at Ohio State University (“Mycelial Lectures”) that provided a broad overview of fungi and their natural role.  As part of that course, I combed both scientific and permaculture literature to write a research paper on “Maximizing Positive Fungal Power in the Food Forest.”

Here’s what we now plan:

  • Expansion of King Stropharia plantings to front and back yards and as companion plantings to vegetables in our community garden plot.
  • Inoculation of nameko mushroom spawn to as many fresh cherry logs as possible (a dozen?) to key companion planting locations in our Food Forest.
  • Inoculation of at least a dozen logs with shitake spawn.

We also plan to harvest maitake or “hen-in-the-woods” mushrooms which have been growing wild under our very noses for years without our knowing what they were.  

At this point the mushroom-savvy reader will no doubt want to place a hand on her forehead and shake her head in dismay.   What to us looked like ugly gray-brown eruptions on oak stumps are, in fact, widely sought-after delicacies!

Here’s what I learned from the course and elsewhere that has transformed my thinking:

  1. Of the 17 mushroom poisoning deaths reported annually on average in the U.S., 16 are due to the Angel of Death (amanita bisporigera) mushroom, which in its earliest stage looks like the edible porcini.   While other poisonous species can cause considerable damage, they tend to look quite different than the ones I plan to eat.  (Even the nameko,  which the very unwary might confuse with galerina marginata, is distinguished by clear identification points.  Or at least that’s what the literature says. Hmmmm… After looking at these pictures, I’m going to have study this further!)
  2. Fungal variety contributes to plant variety and productivity. (The reverse probably works, too, with plant variety contributing to fungal variety. But that point is, surprisingly, subject to hot scientific debate.) Most garden fungi are invisible to the naked eye, but are essential to the survival of most plants. They have co-evolved over millions of years to provide auxiliary root systems with special capabilities for scavenging hard-to-access elements such as phosphorous. This much I already knew. 

But what I learned in the course was how multiple combinations of fungal strains can lead to greater plant productivity.  Six fungal strains may contribute more together to a given plant than any one strain alone.  Moreover, plants select which fungi do the best job of providing them nutrients and reward them accordingly with more sugars.  (Lots of chemical intelligence in the soil that we’re just beginning to understand!)

  1. Study of fungal/plant interactions still leaves enormous gaps.  There is a tremendous amount no one knows for sure.  But intriguing companion planting anecdotes abound.  David and Kristin Sewak, the market gardeners who wrote the mushroom neophyte’s book Mycelial Mayhem, say, for example, that King Stropharia mushrooms thrive in the shade of tomato plants and stop late season tomato blight. I plan to copy their method in my community garden plot.  And the mushroom blog Radical Mycology reports that nameko mushrooms have a near miraculous effect on both growth and fruiting of neighboring woody perennials .  Thus my interest in namekos for my own Food Forest.
  1. The number one predictor of fungal species variety worldwide is precipitation. The lesson for the gardener is to never ever, ever let your landscape dry out: swales, mulch, watering—whatever it takes.   You experienced gardeners know that already, of course, but understanding one of the key “whys” reinforces motivation.
  1. The best way to ensure the productivity of most edible mushrooms—i.e., in the phylum known as basidiomycota, including the mushrooms you see pictured in this article and the puffballs below—is to have an adequate supply of calcium in the soil.   (I’m not sure yet what “adequate” entails, but I’ve been adding gypsum or calcium sulfate to support fruit set in my mini-orchard anyway, so I’m reassured.)

Longer term:

If fungal variety is so great for gardens, why not find a way to introduce more? Here systemic knowledge is also lacking.  Once established, many fungi are powerfully resistant to colonization by competitors. Yet some fungi valuable to humans and gardens alike, like King Stropharia, are known to spread aggressively.  Wouldn’t it be great to have the tools to perform a nuanced analysis of existing fungal populations and an equally nuanced set of guidelines for introducing sustainable populations of beneficial fungi to the soil? Maybe in 10-20 years….

And what about endophytic fungi?  This is a class of fungi about which I previously knew nothing. These are microscopic fungi that live within plant tissues, sometimes mutualistically, not as parasites.  Scientists have known about these fungi for over a century, but new tools for computerized genetic analysis have revealed their overwhelming numbers and variety. Many actually help their plant hosts either grow or ward off disease. Most plants acquire these fungi “horizontally,” the same way we catch flu. Studies have shown that suburban trees harbor fewer of these potentially valuable endophytes than the same tree species growing in native forests.  Could we make up that deficit in our gardens with foliar sprays of beneficial fungi?  Once again, maybe in 10 to 20 years.

Assuming that I continue to avoid eating toxic mushrooms, I’ll let you know then!

Reprise – Citizen Science in Forest Hill Park

by Elsa Johnson

Last summer Gardenopolis Cleveland wrote about a project in Forest Hill Park undertaken by the Great Meadow Task Force for the East Cleveland Parks Association. The task force inventoried all the old growth trees (about 70 trees) in the park’s most iconic space, the Great Meadow, and with the help of Dr. David Roberts, a tree pathologist from Michigan University, arrived at the conclusion that the trees in the meadow are largely healthy and in good shape. However, as the summer wore on, it became clear that a group of 5 chestnut oaks about midway along the south perimeter access trail were showing signs of distress, with one clearly past saving.

How quickly this happened! It was shocking. The task force decided to invite Dr. Roberts back for a look at these trees, and at the trees in the area called the Meadow Vista, north across Forest Hill Boulevard. 


Chestnut oak is an oak in the white oak group, native to the eastern United States, and an important ridgetop tree of the Appalachian mountain range chain, with a sparser outlier population in our northeastern Ohio foothills. Since most of us have never seen a chestnut leaf it will help to tell you that a single individual leaf somewhat resembles a beech leaf, but with small lobes, rather than fine dentations, and these gather together in a cluster.

Peeling back the bark on the dead chestnut oak tree revealed the grubs of two-lined chestnut-borers at about chest height.


The borer starts its damage to the tree’s vascular system at the top of the tree, and works its way down. If only a few branches are affected presumably the tree could be saved, but when one finds the grubs at the base, the tree is definitely not salvageable. It is dead and should be removed and chipped (which kills the larvae). This borer is a serious insect pest of chestnut, white, black, red, scarlet, and bur oaks. Preventative treatment is possible, but treatment after a tree shows clear signs of decline is unlikely to save it.

Alas, this does not bode well for the park’s mostly oak forest. To prevent spread of this opportunistic insect in the Great Meadow (were there the funds to do so) these trees need to be gotten out of there.


Then we all regrouped in the Meadow Vista, which has been suffering tree loss for a longer period of time than the Great Meadow; here many trees are diseased and dying. Examination of more recently dead trees here revealed chestnut borers in every affected tree. However, what Dr. Roberts was looking for was evidence of fungal pressure pads under the bark of dead and dying trees. He strongly suspected oak wilt here, based on the infection pattern he was seeing, with dead and diseased trees spreading in an ever widening ring from a center. And although we never did find pressure pads, but found lots of two-lined chestnut borer larvae, he remained concerned that oak wilt was also an issue here.

Oak wilt is an equally (or more) devastating diagnosis for our trees in the Meadow Vista. Where it might be manageable in the Great Meadow (were there the funds for treatment) in the more closely knit environment of the Meadow Vista and surrounding woods, management quickly becomes impossible as individual trees give way to densely packed forest… for oak wilt travels through the soil via the interconnected roots of same-species trees (i.e., red oak to red oak), and kills the vascular systems of trees through the soil, from the soil up. In an oak opening or savannah with some considerable distance between trees, one can cut trenches, severing the root systems, thus preventing spread. But where trees grow close together and the disease is manifesting in several locations, severing interconnected root systems is almost impossible.

The only good thing about oak wilt, and this is a very, very small thing, is that the white oak group succumb less often and less quickly than red oaks – and, indeed in Meadow Vista, all the affected trees are red oaks. Again, infected trees should be removed, chipped, and then covered for the year it takes to make sure the fungus is no longer viable.

What is the cause of so much disease? As I meet and talk with people in Cleveland Heights I discover other areas where oak trees have been lost to disease, or where there is failure to thrive. Is it stressed biological environments? How does a summer like the one we had in 2016 contribute to diseases like these? How do we plan a forest for the future? Another article will look at these questions.    


by Elsa Johnson



Thou —

                               are the granite                                               and         the cloud —

                               the eagle       and         the fly hatching in the flesh of the kill —


                               the lily                                  and the dung in which it sprouted —


                               the ache in the crotch of the tree where the bough ripped off


                               and                                               the hot rushed flower of spring


                               You are the sun scion                    blinding the day-dark stars —


                               both war-call and whisper

When the sky is turned on itself        When one lies over a barreled bench        like a sacrifice

on the face of the curved earth         with the sky found          in the bottom          of the bowl

under the grassed dome of heaven             You are the world made right         then wrong

then right again :   Life                       and the life it feeds                     and the life that feeds it


germ at the seed’s core                  the last shock of birth                      fresh love’s first stroke

the wound’s whimper                                                                                        a great glad belling        




There is a bench in Forest Hill Park that is shaped like a barrel. If you sit on it and then lie back so that you are draped over it on your back, looking up at the sky with your head in an up-side-down position, looking down the length of the Great Meadow, a curious phenomena occurs: The world becomes a bowl. It is like being inside a snow globe, with the grass that was at your feet now overhead, and the trees reaching into the sky, but the sky now the bottom of a large bowl. The way the ground has directional slope disappears, homogenized by the strength of this bowl perception. I’ve asked various eye doctors why this perception of space as bowl – no one can give me an answer. It any of you, dear readers, have a clue why this might be, please tell us. 

At any rate I’ve tried to write poetry about this phenomena in the past, without success, but recently while writing a poem, I found the barrel bench and its effect creeping in. One of my poet friends calls it a psalm.



Indications of Advent on LaDue Reservoir

by David Adams

My kayak glides into December

like a bright red blade in a landscape

faded grey and brown and green beneath

a sky that hovers like a single cloud

as edged and delicate as mica.


Yesterday I watched my mother slap

her palm against her heart and fix her eyes

hard into her mother’s century—

shawls billowing chenille and silk,

a row of glads lake acolytes

leaning from a breeze that cannot end.


Hoe strangely might the World insist…

There was a chord with someone’s name.

There was a vase that spilled its prayers;

they rolled like candles. They were stars.


A string of gleaming decoys spin and bob

unnaturally in the freshening wind.

All brands of hope float here in ways

so small you’d think that living any life

at all was just a matter of addition.

But the mergansers are not fooled

and cluster near the dam far out of range.

I can hear the whispered curses in the reeds,

and I remember that the reedy hours that wave

and ring us all our lives hold every

whisper ever heard or lost or dreamed….

In the middle of this water I just stop


and feel the drift to stillness nearly perfect

but for me, balanced on an edge so fragile

between acceptance and tomorrow

as the wind and waves ripple into agitation.

It can be too late for wonder.

Still, to feel blessed just now…who knows?


The paddle dips and pulls,

a breath of water tracing the parabola

towards the longer lights of winter,

towards home, wherever that is.