Category Archives: BEAUTY

Happy Thanksgiving from Gardenopolis!

This Thanksgiving, we thought we’d share some of the garden plants we’re most thankful for. 

Ann McCulloh:

Seems like I’ll be planting bulbs until the ground freezes solid, and some of my very favorite bulbs are the Alliums. There are many varieties of this charismatic onion relative, which bloom at various times in spring, summer or fall. All the tiny florets provide wonderful nectar for bees and butterflies. Best of all, the deer don’t like ’em!

The appeal of Eastern Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica) for me is the wonderful fragrance of the leaves and berries. Since this salt tolerant, semi-evergreen shrub makes a beautiful hedge when pruned regularly, there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scent when trimming it. Lots of birds eat the berries, too!

I welcome frost this time of year, once the houseplants are safe inside – it means a break from laboring in the garden! Another benefit is the softening, sweetening effect it has on the fruits of the native persimmon, Diospyros americana. The variety ‘Meader’ is hardy, self-pollinating and can be easily kept at 12′ tall. Beautiful orange fall color, too.

Catherine Feldman:

Pyncnantheum… native mint. Grows in part shade. Fresh pepperminty smell. Extremely attractive to pollinators midsummer through fall. Spreads by runners. Lovely blue grey foliage — color seems to deepen as the season passes.

Elsa Johnson:

A pleasing combination in fall is Amsonia hubrichtii, Sedum spectablis, and carex.

Amsonia hubrichtii… the amsonias are big clump forming perennials, though not at first, so patience is needed for the first couple years, especially in semi shade. All amsonias have pale, pale blue flowers in spring. Hubrichtii has fine thread-like leaves that turn a deep gold in the fall and is an aesthetic wonder, adding both color and billowing soft texture.

Sedum spectablis…a common garden perennial that is also a great pollinator attractor. The blossoms darken to shades of rosy russet in the fall and really stand out against a background of amsonia hubrichtii.

Carex… this is a cultivar I found ….it reminds me of hair. I find that if carex looks too much like ordinary grass my non-gardener clients think they are grass and weed them out. A non grass color like variegation seems to help.

Nyssa sylvatica… one of my favorite trees. Common name Black Gum . This is an easy to grow tree that is adaptable to many environmental conditions once established, and resistant to many diseases and pests. Has shiny dark green leaves that turn to crimson in the early fall. Deer like to browse the young leaves, so protection is needed while the tree is young.

Sassafras… Tends to grow in a thicket. In a good year the leaves turn marvelous mixed shades of yellow and gold flushed with coral.

Tom Gibson:

My favorite pollinator attractor?  Without question it’s boneset, eupatorium perfoliatum, which not only attracts the usual cast of honey bees and bumblebees, but all kinds of wasps, beetles and flies that often rely on pollen for just part of their diet.  I’ve already written about boneset, but the annual early August show continues to pull me in.  I will stand for 15 minutes at a time just to watch the ecstatic, oblivious activity of the dozens of insect visitors.  Here’s an ailanthus web worm with a mason bee:

Another favorite is the hardy ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum).  It’s not mentioned nearly as much as milkweed as a food source for monarchs, but the butterflies always make a stop on these light blue flowers on their way south during the fall.

Finally, there’s Jacob’s ladder.  It’s one of the first plants to bloom in the spring and is a great source of early nourishment for queen bumblebees, whose self-heated “blood” enables them to begin establishing nests in cool weather.

Jacob’s ladder grows prolifically in my shade garden.  It happens to bloom at the same time as my red and black currant bushes, so Jacob’s ladders provide a nice assist in getting fruit started.

The Peripatetic Gardener Visits Hocking Hills

Hello dear Gardenopolis readers –

Our prolonged, unplanned vacation is over. Our Gardenopolis party (3rd one, celebrating two years of Gardenopolis Cleveland) was a success, with 50 people attending, enjoying good food in beautiful surroundings, and the rain politely held off until closing hour.  And now – drumroll here, please – co-editor Catherine is now the delighted new grandparent of a lovely little girl, Mira; co-editor Tom’s visiting grandchildren have returned to Chicago; and co-editor Anne has settled into a new living arrangement. Time for all of us to get back to work. I had hoped to have my interview with Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Jim Bissell done by now, but I’m still working on transcribing it, so, not this time; instead I will share my mini-vacation visit to Ohio’s spectacular Hocking Hills.

I can’t believe I waited so long to visit this place (actually a series of places). I remember once as a teen going to a state forest down there to attend a forestry conservation camp. Alas, I was 15 and more impressed with the boys than with the scenery. LOL, as we say today. Then when I was studying landscape architecture at OSU, and the Hocking Hills were close, I was too busy. So the Hocking Hills have been on my bucket list for kind of a long time.

An explanation of the topography; It is all hills and valleys, ups and downs, with no seeming rhythm or natural order and no straight line roads. If you’re not used to the windy roads you might not want to drive after dark with the rising and falling multiple ssss curves, especially with some hot rod local in a semi’s-cab riding your car’s back end. Just off Rt.466 is the winner of the most-lethal-looking-driveway-entrance-to-a-school award, ever. Period. Why? Why? Why put an entrance to a school there?

Anyway, among those roads and tucked into those gnarly hills are wondrous places, cliffs and caves, and waterfalls, and grottos.  Some of these spaces fight the camera — the cliffs, for example, and the caves. Without a human or human structure in the picture to give a sense of scale, they are just jumbles of rocks and trees, lacking depth perception.

     

We started, as I suspect most people do, with Old Man’s Cave, which, along with Cedar Falls, and the Ash Cave are probably the most popular and most visited of the natural attractions in the Hocking Hills (there are unnatural attractions, but we won’t go into them here). All this chaotic multitude of big and little hills drain water into twisty-rocky-cliffy little streams that drain into twisty-rocky-cliffy bigger streams, and eventually become twisty rivers — which drain, finally, into the twisty Ohio River). One of these little streams carved Old Man’s Cave, which is a huge recess cave, created by the wearing away of a softer layer of rock from between harder layers of rock – here sandstone. There is an upper falls, a trail downstream to lower falls into Old Man’s Cave, and then the trail follows the stream that meanders between the walls of a gorge for roughly a mile. You eventually get to Cedar Falls, misnamed. The first colonists mistook the trees, which are hemlocks, for Cedars. Then from Cedar Falls you can pick up another trail to the Ash Cave, the area’s largest recess cave, or across a fun small suspension bridge to Whispering Cave, almost as large, I’m told, as Ash Cave.

What was interesting, to me, was observing that the infrastructure of stairs and bridges and trails that encourages and supports intense public use of this place/space — most of it created by the CCC in the depression years of the early 30’s (and they did a spectacular job), though it is showing signs of wear and much use over some 80 plus years, has largely endured.

Old Structures

New Structures

One enjoys a mix of ‘artifacts’ – Mother Nature’s, on one hand, and man’s, on the other — and both are beautiful. The CCC artifacts sometimes incorporate the former and often feel organic, and stand in contrast to the more contemporary man made structures. On the negative side, this place shows the effects of so much love, of so much use. The paths, and beyond the paths, are worn, the soil is bare. There is little vegetation along the main pathways, other than the trees, and these often have their roots fully exposed. This is the inevitable erosion and compaction of the access path too much traveled, and that tempting short-cut too often taken. Everywhere there are the signs of our human insatiable curiosity (what’s up that ledge? What’s in that cave? Gotta see!). Interesting, too, to me, that not until four years ago was there a precipitation event that damaged this otherwise so durable man-made infrastructure.

We also went to a place called Rock House, a collapsed recess cave — impossible to photograph with one’s android phone) a little more off the beaten track. Much the same story of wear and tear there.

Contrast these with Conkle’s Hollow, within a similar gorge, but somewhat – considerably? — less visited, and considerably less worn down, located in a state nature preserve rather than a state park or state forest. Does this explain the difference? I can’t answer that question. We hiked both the loop rim trail (two miles, not counting the ups and downs) and the inside-the-gorge trail. The rim trail takes you close along the edge of 200 foot high cliffs, and even if you do not get vertigo and thus are brave enough to go right to the edges and look down, all you can see are the tops of the trees below. The footing is uneven, challenging. The east rim, which gets the western sun, seems drier. There is mountain laurel and briar edging the path among the hemlock trees. The west rim, which gets the eastern sun, seems wetter, shadier. It is more open and ferny. 

The gorge itself is a religious experience! The path in and out is flat concrete that is handicapped accessible, and — thanks be to God, the ODNR, and the well placed fence — people largely stay on it. It helps that there are frequent signs asking one to stay on the trail to help preserve the vegetative ecosystem — ferns, ferns, ferns and more ferns, densely carpeting the steep slopes under the tall straight trees, clinging to the rock walls, growing on large stones, with lots of stinging nettle (don’t touch!) and little bit of a native broadleaved carex for contrast.

The air is moist, cool. There is a natural hush here, similar to what one felt during the recent eclipse. Perfect.    

                                 

Weather

by Lois Rose
 
Watching the seasons unfold this year after the unusual spring weather has been exciting and puzzling. 
 
Going back four winters, I am reminded that 2013-14 and 2014-15 were very difficult in terms of extreme and sustained cold.  Many plants that had survived in my garden for decades were damaged severely by the first of these winters.  The second dealt a glancing blow but it did not do as much damage. 
As an example my fig trees which had been in the ground for twenty years and had produced five hundred figs in the summer of 2013, were knocked to the ground. They produced new branches but no figs in 2014.  Last year, 2016, I had a few dozen figs and this year my considerably larger trees are covered with baby figs, much earlier than usual, on their way to ripening in the fall.  Everything in the yard seems to have come in two to three weeks early.

My hardy orange trees, Poncirus trifoliata have a lot of fruit now…small so far, fuzzy green oranges, the first since 2013.  There were flowers last year but no fruit. Again, they flowered a few weeks earlier than usual.

Looking at my other fruit crops, black and red currants started ripening in mid June,weeks ahead. Raspberries were similarly ahead.

I have been doing some research online and asking friends from OSU to find some explanations for the patterns which reflect the weather conditions in this part of Ohio this spring. The mild winter, second in a row, is the foundation of the story..very warm temperatures in January and again in February started the ball rolling.  Plants that had completed their chill hours…needed to set them up for their normal spring routines…were thrust into advancing buds which formed last summer and fall early. Maple trees started to open their signature red flowers a month earlier than usual.  Soil temperatures rose early (get a soil thermometer if you want to be on top of this) and crab grass was ready to germinate in early to mid March (time for pre germination treatment)  earlier than usual. Growing degree days (http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/gdd/ moved ahead quickly by March. Then some cool and cold weather slowed things down. May have produced some very cold weather (not unusual) which damaged various plants, especially those that had started to open buds or were in flower. The damaging cold was defined by temperatures at or below freezing for many hours.  Michigan as well as Ohio received a cold spell on May 8 and 9.  But depending on the specific place, its altitude, proximity to water, etc.,the results were varied.

Depending on your garden niche, proximity to the cold lake, how far to the east or west and how high above the lake, snow  cover…all of these things contributed  to the damage or lack thereof to our plant material.
Friends have observed a good crop on their berries, and also on hibiscus, roses,  and many other flowers and shrubs and trees.
I am speculating that the two mild winters, generous amount of rain this spring compared with the three month drought last year…plus the recovery of many plants after two damaging winters..has resulted in this year’s bounty.

In my yard, I  see very little damage after the cold spells in March and May which included freezing  and snow after many plants had been exposed to the warm air and warm ground earlier than usual.  Magnolia stellata had buds covered in frost. Daylilies were bent to the ground as were hellebores
and many other perennials. Yet my magnolia blossomed well, and the hellebores were very floriferous.
On the whole it seems that the outcome has been favorable despite the gyrations and surprises of the spring. Cannot wait to see what is going to happen next year!

A Feast for the Eyes: GardenWalk Cleveland 2017

by Elsa Johnson, Ann McCulloh and Catherine Feldman

This edition of Gardenopolis Cleveland marks our third summer on the beat. One of our first stories was about GardenWalk Cleveland …and here we are again! Last year there was no garden walk, but they were back up last weekend and even added an additional territory, North Collinwood. Your intrepid editors Catherine Feldman, and moi, Elsa Johnson, drove up to what felt to us like another country. …. perhaps somewhere on the Baltic? We got out of our car on a road where the houses all look out over a private park over looking our inland sea…breezes we’re blowing. It was a small place of summer heaven. A treasure! Why don’t more people know this is here? !  Enjoy,…

 

 
 Our co-editor, Ann McCulloh also went on Garden Walk Cleveland, to West Park on Cleveland’s west side. But she also manned a table in North Collinwood, and had the chance to take in a few gardens…by luck, she saw the one we missed. 
We’re sorry we didn’t see more of Garden Walk Cleveland…. it’s just so big and sprawly that — even though it is open over two days, the idea of seeing the whole thing is daunting. We wonder what it would be like to break them into groupings and spread them out over the course of the summer…? 

13th Annual Shaker Heights Gracious Garden Tour

13th Annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights Weekend!

Presented by The Shaker Historical Society

The Shaker Historical Society is hosting its 13th Annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights weekend June 16-18, 2017. This highly popular Father’s Day weekend event attracts more than 1,000 people from across the region. 

The Friday evening Cocktails in the Garden Party is held at a private home with superb historic architecture and gardens. This garden has twice been a highlight of the Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights tour and was featured in Fine Garden Gardening magazine for its “Curve Appeal.”

On Sunday, visit eight beautiful gardens that are sure to inspire you to create your own outdoor oasis like the designs you’ll see within the city of Shaker Heights. 

As part of the Gracious Gardens Sunday tour, there will be an admission-free open house with lawn games on the grounds of the museum at 16740 South Park Boulevard, where people wishing to go on the Garden Tour can purchase their tickets, visit the museum and art gallery, and enjoy light refreshments.

The Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights weekend is a major fundraiser that supports the Shaker Historical Society’s commitment to historic preservation, education, and community engagement. This event is also produced in partnership with Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and the Ohio History Connection. 

Ticket and event information:

Cocktails in the Garden Party

Friday, June 16, 2017

6pm – 9pm

Tickets: $75.00 each

Private historic home in Shaker Heights

Sponsorships are available.

Includes cocktails, hors d’oeuvres,

and live music

Gracious Garden Tour and Museum

Open House

Sunday, June 18, 2017

12pm – 5pm. 

Rain or Shine!

Advance tickets for Garden Tour: $20.00 each
Week before tour tickets: $25.00 each

Sunday admission to the Museum will be FREE. Tour the museum and art gallery, purchase your Garden Tour tickets and enjoy light refreshments!

Go to shakerhistoricalsociety.org or call 216-921-1201 for ticket information.

Ticket Sale locations: Bremec on the Heights, Gali’s Florist & Garden Center, J. Pistone Market, Juma Gallery, Shaker Hardware, and the Shaker Historical Society

 

 

 

To Be Called   :   Testimony

by Elsa Johnson

I will speak now in other voices       :        whippoorwill        legend        saver of lost souls

haunting the wood’s edge in springtime                                calling the dusk moths home            

I will speak now in the voice of chipmunk              quicksilver             placer of sunflowers

seed-side-down                    offerings made                           for one more day’s safe grace

I will speak in the hawk’s voice         :        sharp-shinned huntress                          shrieker 

gifter of quick death         she of the ice-cold heart           the silent swift-moving shadow                         

and in the vulture’s voice          :          gleaner                  wing-rider                  wind-soarer                                                               whose presence is                                   the priesthood                                              of death

I will speak now in other voices       :       hummingbird chitter               high in the tops of

linear locust trees          :          small       writhen       ring-necked snakes                alarmed                               

loosened from sheltering stone          :         Yellow-jackets          that sting         and chase        

to sting again            and night-time horses                     bolting                       lightening

flares                         thunder-claps                            and   I will speak for the un-wild deer                 

quiet-eyed                at the yard’s edge                             browsing the bushes without fear                                                             

I would speak for what does not speak     :     the  cruel devouring mantis      the delicate

damselfly she sometimes hunts                     for bumblebees         butterflies          drunk 

in the milkweed         the goldenrod                      all that multitude of            tiny insects        

buzzing flowers         :           in red crocosmia         sprawling                        purple pungent

oregano                           yellow-eyed blue buddleia                          crystal-crusted daylilies             

star-burst filaments of    cimicifuga                                                            and bee-glad phlox                                                   

I   too    will stand to speak for the wood drake            and for the still water on which he             

rests in beauty       For the great heron            the night heron              the ‘fisher’ flashing    

low     over the water                for the geese        drifting      among the reeds       the lily

pads        and for the strong-jawed turtle         waiting                                       lurking below   

                  

I will learn and speak the language of lichen                                         of grey-green filigree

coating stone                hiding time                                      the language of the aging oaks

riddled by borer        riven with wilt                                     I will learn the codes of worms

of microscopic mycorrhizal fungi           leaf mulch             and leaf mold              decay       

the language of           the mysterious complexity of dirt             duff           ruffled rhubarb        

and all that driven             erotic              unfurling of spring                                     new risen                               

out of the driven        luminous         dying         of fall                            I will speak for them

and  this voice too    :    ocean   :     least knowable           greatest of all              her words

of hush and sibilance      of susurration      that mystic speech          that echoes        down

our own chambered seas       words        of the wet world         that tell us                we live     

not          as we think         on our own terms            but helplessly           :          Hear that            

internal roar             Feel the great wave’s pull                the irresistible draw of its wash                     

its tremble        tumble        its untranslatable speech made up of        songs            of all

the large and lesser creatures of Sea             I will speak for them        :          sharp tooth

and finned tail      tentacle and gill          I will speak for what cannot speak            even

for that vastest whale         wrecked        broken       on the broad beach            by plastic

I will speak in other voices                                                                                 to bear witness

  

                       

GardenWalk South Euclid

As part of its summer long Centennial Celebration, the City of South Euclid will host GardenWalk South Euclid on Saturday, July 22nd, and Sunday, July 23rd, from 12 noon to 4:00 pm. It will serve as an annual legacy to the Centennial Celebration. The GardenWalk was co-founded by Northern Ohio Perennial Society members, Donna M. Zachary and Sue Gold, and the planning was started in the fall of 2015. Over 35 private gardens, three pocket parks (a Meditation Garden, a Tranquility garden and a Perennial Reflection Garden), a 21 acre nature preserve (hourly tours), 7 mile wetlands and over nine unique community gardens are on the GardenWalk. One community garden contains a bio-retention water basin and two are located in park settings. All can be explored during this “free, self-guided”, two day event. The city’s theme, “Come Together and Thrive,” can be seen in the many shops and restaurants along the garden route. After July 1st, the maps can be downloaded at www.cityofsoutheuclid.com or www.facebook/southeuclid.com. Maps will also be available at the South Euclid Community Center and the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library after July 1st. During the GardenWalk, on July 22nd and 23rd, the maps, rest rooms, water and parking will be available at the Community Center at 1370 Victory Drive, South Euclid 44121 from 12 noon until 4:00 PM.

Planning Your Garden Visits for This Year? Consider Washington DC.

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by Lois Rose

Notes on the United States Botanic Garden

Thought of by George Washington, the garden was established in 1820 and now is administered through the Architect of the Capitol. Its mission is to promote botanical knowledge through cultivation of a collection of plants, to present displays, exhibits and programs to Congress and the public, and to foster sustainability and plant conservation.


The garden is a short distance from the Capitol building. It is not very large, but contains a wide variety of interesting and unusual specimen plants, especially in alternative colors and shapes and sizes.  In early spring—April—there was just the beginning of the display but phlox for example was in abundance.  People who work in the neighborhood gather there at their lunch time, sit and read.  Water features, clever companion planting, garden rooms—for its size it packs a punch.

The United States National Arboretum

The extensive grounds of the Arboretum deserve at least half a day.  The Azalea Collection was in full bloom in April, with thousands of plants covering the sides of Mount Hamilton with paths going up and around. Many of the shrubs come from the breeding program of former director Benjamin Morrison, hybridizing large flowered tender azaleas in the Indica group with Hardy northern species between 1929 and 1954.  The Glenn Dale Hillside contains thousands of hybrids.  Late blooming azaleas can be seen into May and early June, although April was spectacular and not to be missed, on winding trails, some difficult for strollers and the hike challenged.

National Herb Garden

The garden was in its early stages in April, and is adjacent to several other areas of interest.  It is an extensive and diverse display of herbs from all over the world, for all purposes. Imagine the Cleveland Botanical Garden exploded to the entire Wade Oval and beyond. Roses come on in May—summer and fall must be equally impressive.  The paths in this area are wide and easy to navigate.

The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

These are close to the other gardens, contains one of the largest collections of these trees in North America.   Penjing refers to the Chinese precursor to the Japanese art of bonsai. Three pavilions hold about 150 plants and there is also a section of stones and ikebana, a style of Japanese flower arranging.  The large variety and spectacular execution of this huge collection will require a sufficient time for study and appreciation.

Bonus Garden

Next to the Supreme Court building is a lovely small garden with much to see.  In April there were many early flowering perennials, well arranged, beautifully tended.  Be sure to take the short stroll to enjoy this surprising gem.

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!

(Dendrobium)

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. http://www.cbgarden.org/orchid-mania.aspx. 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.

(Laelia)

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.

 (SetPiece)

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.

(Vanda)

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 http://www.aos.org/orchids.aspx. 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?

(Teasers)

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,

 

(Silkpaintings)

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.

(Dresses).

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.

(Details)

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.

(Float)

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.