Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Peripatetic Gardener: Native Plants in the New York Botanical Garden

0823151558GARDENOPOLIS Cleveland visits the Native Plants Garden in the N.Y. Botanical Garden

The newest of the New York Botanical Garden’s specialized collections, the native plant garden, designed to be aesthetically pleasing in a kind of wild and messy way, is so much more than just a collection of some 100,000 native plants representative of the indigenous flora of the northeastern and northern Continental United States.

The garden is made of several diverse ecosystems, including wetlands, a lake, meadows, and hillside forests. I saw nothing that is not also indigenous to northeast Ohio.

native heuchera

In late summer it is the billowing prairie flowers and grasses that speak most strongly: goldenrod, ironweed, silvery native mints, rattlesnake master, liatrus, Joe-Pye weed (all with their accompanying pollinators – our native bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies)….

joe-pye weed

and– in wetter places — both blue and red lobelia (with accompanying hummingbirds) and the showy hibiscus moscheutos.

lobelia cardinalis

Both dry and damp hillsides grow many varieties of ferns and carex,

0823151550d false Solomon’s seal, native ginger,



and so much more …and of course a multitude of native shrubs and trees. To peruse a list of plants used in this native plant garden go to

A garden of native plants can be perfect for practicing sloth in, as many of these plants look their best when not expected to be too neat and tidy. Thoughtful design can supply the look of intentional order so many people in urban residential settings desire.

Permaculture Success: Walking Onion

Why Does An Onion Cross the Path?

walking onion:driveway

Obviously, to plant itself on the other side.  That’s what Egyptian Walking Onions do, which makes them such a great permaculture plant. The 15-inch or so stalk leans over and lays its multi-lobed bulbhead gently on the ground. There the bulbs set root and grow fresh plants.

What it means is a steady supply of scallions that one never has to plant. The supply begins almost as soon as the snow melts. I try to keep a steady supply of three or four in the refrigerator hydrator for off-the-shelf use.  The mature bulbs get a little wooden by July, but, after a fresh August self-planting (see photo below), harvest picks up again in September until well into November.

walking onion:anenome

 Walking onion posing with the Canadian anemone.

Permaculture Success: Skirret

The Sweet Taste of Skirret

skirret-2.1 (1)

If there were ever a contest for best permaculture plant ever, I’d nominate skirret. So would our permaculture classes, where, as part of the food sampling Elsa and I offer, students chase after the last bits. Skirret is strange-looking white root best harvested during in February or March thaws and then roasted in olive oil.

The plant is native to China. However, via the Silk Road, it made its way early on to the West, most notably to the table of Emperor Tiberius, for whom skirret was a particular favorite.  It later became a standard root vegetable throughout Europe, but was (surprisingly) displaced by the New World’s potato and is (also surprisingly, given its great, distinctive flavor) little known today.

It actually tastes more like a parsnip with a sweetness that caused the Germans to call it Zuckerwurzel or “sugar root.”

Why is it such a great permaculture plant?

It renews itself: after cutting off the Medusa-like rootlets; after eating the latter you can replant the base and wait for future harvests.  Moreover, the base multiplies itself, much like an unfolding paper doll, into several separate roots that can easily be replanted, so you can gradually spread plantings and increase quantities throughout your garden.

Its umbel of small white summer flowers (resembling Queen Ann’s lace) attracts parasitic wasps and other beneficial insects.

skirret in flower

It has no pest enemies and requires no more care than harvesting and replanting.

What more could a permaculturist ask for?

Permaculture in Leipzig 2

Permaculture in Leipzig 2

Leipzig, Germany, is the site of many more than just one thriving permaculturist. (see Part 1  In fact, the city is abuzz with cutting edge permaculture and sustainability projects that should make Cleveland’s green advocates, well, green with envy.  Some context:

The city (population 556,000, or a little bigger than Cleveland) has a number of things going for it. First of all, it experienced relatively modest destruction from World War II bombing and then in the early 1990s, when many old buildings were close to collapse, German reunification funded major restoration. So the city has preserved much of its past.



Second, it has a tradition of resisting authority—- from Johann Sebastian Bach, who (unlike his contemporary, Georg Friedrich Handel) battled secular rulers and addressed his music to commoners, to the Monday night marchers in 1989 who led the peaceful revolution against communist rule.

Third, it has enjoyed an explosion of young people, who, when they aren’t riding bikes, are generally creating a vibrant local scene.  Here’s a song from the Sachsenbrϋcke, a bridge that has become a young people’s hangout:

Finally—and this is a blog about gardens!—Leipzig is the origin point in 1864 of Schrebergärten—the hugely successful community garden movement in Germany.  Leipzig still devotes enormous space to such gardens:

Schreber gardens

Taken together, it’s no surprise that Leipzig has become a post-fossil-fuel Transition Town ( and made substantial progress toward sustainability across the board.

The Leipzig Transition Town organization has even put together a map describing (in German and English) 58 separate sustainable efforts.  Here, picked at random, are four:

KunZstoffe. Recycling and upcycling centre. A stock of materials based on leftovers, waste and discarded products is provided for creating new added value.

Lost Food is a self-governed cooperative to distribute organic, healthy and local food for an affordable and fair price.

Dölitzer Wassermühle is a project rebuilding a historic watermill for electricity production. Also environmental education is provided for kindergarten children.

Lastenrad Leipzig und Radküche:  Selling, refurbishing and renting of used Dutch cargo bikes and a vegan, fossil-energy-free kitchen on a cargo bike. (Cargo bikes are bikes specifically designed to carry large loads.)

Here’s the full map list:

See any ideas for Cleveland?

Summer Sloth Series…. The Turn

After my work-crew teens went home I stayed at

the bridge indulging my perfectionist tendencies 

scraping the last of the moss and woody weeds

from the stone’s joints  … and so discovered tucked

within a crack a tiny ring-necked snake   pencil slim   

perfect in its neat grey skin    Minutes later riled

yellow-jackets swarmed from a hole   stinging through

my gloves   my clothes  …and chased me from the bridge   

They could not be allowed to live where people pass so

close each day  …but later I thought…  is the wasp less

perfect then the snake …are not all nature’s children

innocents   living obedient to their calling… ?  Each day

begins without fanfare    is engaged unsuspecting    not

knowing when the turn will come  …if there will be one

Catalogue of Sins Summer Sloth Series

Sloth Wears Pajamas

With regard to gardeners’ sins, I would like to put in a good word for Sloth.  In particular, I think that there is something to say for Pajama Gardening. Does everyone do it, or just the members of my extended family? I know that in England there is a Nude Gardening Day, but that is only one day per year. One can garden in some variation of pajamas almost any time of year,  especially in the summer, when morning and birdsong begin early. What could be more pleasurable than wearing one’s nightie, carrying a cup of coffee and plucking the spent daylily flowers?

coffee cup:column


Watch for future posts…we have a lot to say about Sloth.

Summer Sloth Series Upside of a Messy Park

Sloth: The Upside of a Messy Park 

Sometimes what looks like sloth is not. How a park should look is really about what a park should be and who it is for. Banish the uptight model of golf-course neatness and nature-friendly things begin to happen. This summer several deliberately ‘messy’ areas in Forest Hill Park have been filled with bees, butterflies, birds — and teenage kids.

The bees, butterflies and birds are there because both Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland have adopted a few pollinator-friendly maintenance strategies (based basically on sloth) in a few specific areas that have been set aside for pollinators.

Continue reading Summer Sloth Series Upside of a Messy Park

Aphid Festival

Now that the aphids have been fruitful and multiplied all over my butterfly garden (they seem to be feasting on the diet of soap and alcohol that I have been blasting them with,) I think I’m going to have to fork out for the Green Lace Wings. The price isn’t much, but the shipping is, so I decided  to try first the soap and alcohol recipe that I found on the internet. It definitively did not work. Who else eats aphids? Ladybugs? Is anyone else having this problem? Any good, garden-healthy hacks? Please send them to our Comments section. 
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green-lacewing-adult_0 The Green Hope




Thrummmm     !

announces he’s calling

He’s hovering thin air

in front of me     wings



                        my red shirt

for possibility as some

outrageous flower

thrummmm     !

he’s coming

             he’s going     

      pulled here

                          pulled there    

wings a-blurr    drawn

to beyond

violet     the to-me-merely

red trumpets of



His own trumpet


magnet  to  magnet

Thrummmm     !

Catalogue of a Gardener’s Sins: Plant Gluttony


You know that feelingdeep in your belly, when you walk into a plant nursery?

It tingles and it commands action…quick and a lot of it. Right? 

Well, I’ve got it bad.

I have to have that little red Echinacea…it’s calling to me…really, three (3) or five (5) would be better….isn’t that the rule: odd numbers?…well, maybe seven (7.)

salsa redIf there really is no reason for another Echinacea, how about that Cimicifuga? Five (5) of those would fit. 


And that adorable Sedum, just one of those. But, I’ll need  a small pot for it.

sedum plant gluttony

Luckily, I have found that there is a limit to my gluttony—that’s when my car is topped up with plants. The scent of the  flowers, leaves and bark, the moisture in the air, and the oxygen filling my lungs. That’s satisfaction…I hope you have it, too.

Plant Gluttony photo

–The Plant Glutton Has Spoken

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