Archive for April, 2009

by Janine Butler, garden volunteer

Planting day has been scheduled!  If you’d like to come witness the planting of the Community Kitchen Garden at Lewis Ginter,  mark your calendars for Thursday,  May 14 from 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.  It promises to be a fun event, with local schoolchildren stopping by to help plant as well as staff and volunteers from Lewis Ginter and FeedMore.

I’ve been anxious to start planting —  when I first found out about this project I wanted to get my hands dirty in the soil the very next day!  That probably would have ended up a disaster because as all successful, and not so successful gardeners know, a good garden requires lots of planning and lots of patience.

Tom Brinda, assistant executive director for horticulture and education at Lewis Ginter, wrote a great article that was featured in last Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch where he gives out some really good advice on how to get started with your own vegetable garden. One of the most important pieces of advice is to till and amend the soil, and this was carried out this week here at Lewis Ginter. Pete Rose Inc supplied us with 30 dump truck loads of compost at half price, and delivered it for free.  Good job guys!

One truck load down, 29 more to go!

One truck load down, 29 more to go!

If you are planting your own garden at home, make sure you don’t skip this step – good veggies grow from good soil!

The fifth of an acre that has been prepared will produce the bulk of the 10,000 pounds of vegetables that we are striving for.  However, another aspect of this project is education and so there will be two other smaller beds that will be used for demonstrations and teaching purposes.  These will be staged as residential-sized, intensive gardens that will show how to maximize planting in a smaller space.  The demonstration gardens located near the Conservatory will be a bit more accessible than the main planting area, and visitors to Lewis Ginter will be able to stop by and see what’s growing.  I will make sure to keep you updated on the demonstration garden and related activities and events.

I can’t wait to start planting.  Are you as anxious as I am to see things growing and producing?  I want to start reaping the rewards NOW and get that food into the hands, and mouths, of those that need it most!  But gardening and growing reminds us that usually the best results come from solid planning and preparation.  So if you are planting a garden at home then take the time to pick the right site, dig the beds, add the compost, and select good plants – I am sure that it will pay off in the long run!

Enjoy the rain that is forecasted this week – it’s good for the plants!


Read Full Post »

by Janine Butler,  garden volunteer

I went to a local store at the weekend with my neighbor, Susan, who was buying a few plants for her own home vegetable garden.  She bought a cool looking yellow tomato, a pepper, and a cucumber, and she already has some squash at home that she started from seeds a few weeks ago.  She plants a garden every year, and this small number of plants is enough to enhance their meals throughout summer, yet still be easy enough to maintain.

But how many plants do you think you would need to fill a fifth of an acre, and generate 10,000 pounds of produce?

How about:

  • Broccoli – 800 x 4″ plants
  • Sweet potato – 70 cuttings
  • Summer squash – 800 x 4″ plants or seeds
  • Zucchini – 800 x 4″ plants or seeds
  • Cabbage – 500 x 4″ plants
  • Basil – 300 x seeds or plants
  • Egyptian onions – 300 sets
  • Tomatoes – 400 x 4″ or 6″ plants
  • Sweet peppers, green – 400 x 4″ plants
  • Sunflowers – 200 seeds
  • Buckwheat -10,000 seeds 

Wow! That’s a lot of plants and seeds!

I got this list of plants from Tom Brinda, Assistant Executive Director of Horticulture and Eduction at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, who told me that a number of factors were used to determine what ended up on this list. First, the needs and desires of FeedMore (the recipients of all this produce)  were considered to make sure that we grow food they can actually use.  Rhubarb might make a nice pie, but large quantities could be a challenge for the chefs at the FeedMore Community Kitchen to incorporate into daily menu planning!

Second, Virginia Cooperative Extension   offered advice and suggested preferred plants for the region to ensure better growth success.  Lastly, some plants were picked for more practical purposes – tall sunflowers will complement the work of scarecrows and hopefully shoo away unwanted birds!  Many of these plants have been purchased using monetary donations, and Wetsel, Inc., a wholesale garden supplier, has kindly donated some of the seeds, and we are thankful for everyone’s generosity.

Also this week I was privileged to visit with Kristin VanStory, Director of Communications at FeedMore, the parent organization that covers Central Virginia Foodbank, Community Kitchens and Meals on Wheels.  She led me on a wonderful tour of the Community Kitchens and the distribution center.  I was amazed to see the quantities of food that goes through the Foodbank process, yet saddened that so many people require its services in order to survive and to feed themselves and their families.  The kitchen staff and volunteers do a great job of getting food out to those in need.  I am so glad I got to see the kitchen where they produce all the meals; it really helped me understand just how badly they need food donations and how beneficial the fresh local produce grown at Lewis Ginter will be to the FeedMore programs.

You may not have a fifth of an acre at home in which to grow veggies, but if you do decide to plant a garden this year like my neighbor Susan, think about planting an extra row or two, and donate the extra bounty to a local community kitchen near you. They would be more than grateful!  In fact, come along to the Spring Plant Sale next week, April 30- May 2, for some inspiration and maybe purchase a plant or two to start your own garden!

Have a great week in the garden!

Read Full Post »

By Beth Monroe, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden PR & Marketing Dir.

 I’ve always loved meadows, Maybe it’s from watching too many episodes of Little House on the Prairie when I was a child — you know, that opening scene with Laura and her sisters running through the long grass?

 Turns out unmown grasses aren’t just for the prairie anymore. The look is becoming more acceptable in other areas – even (gasp!) botanical gardens.

Partially unmown hillside at the world-famous Royal Botanical Garden, Kew, in England

Partially unmown hillside at the world-famous Royal Botanical Garden, Kew, England

When Garden executive director Frank Robinson returned from a trip to Europe last year, one of the first things he mentioned was how some gardens there are leaving designated spots unmown. In a staff meeting last week I learned Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has made a commitment to do the same – choosing not to mow some of the perimeter areas. It’s a dramatic shift from the perception many people may have of a formal garden. 

 So why are we doing it? The reasons are compelling – and relevant to homeowners as well. The environmental benefits of having unmown areas include:

Increased wildlife habitat — especially for birds, butterflies and other insects.
Part of an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) strategy — providing habitat for birds and beneficial insects helps to minimize populations of damaging insects to ornamental plants.
Better water management — slows run-off, allowing rainwater to soak into the ground, recharging local water tables and wells and reducing flooding.
Unmown lawns do not require the fertilizers and weed killers applied to most lawns — reducing nutrient and pesticide run-off to our streams and rivers.
Addition of visual interest to the landscape.

But wait, there’s more! As I was doing a little “Earth Day” research, I came across these startling stats:

  •  Traditional gas-powered lawn mowers are responsible for 5 – 10 percent of the nation’s air pollution.
  • A lawn mower running for one hour emits the same amount of pollution as 40 new autos running for one hour.
  •  Over 30 million gallons of fuel is spilled annually when filling up lawn mowers, trimmers and other landscape power tool – that’s more than 2 million more than spilled from the Exxon Valdez.

And if all of this isn’t reason enough, consider this — leaving some areas unmown can save you time and money.

Still, the concept of unmown areas is hard for some people. Our culture (which can be a little obsessive!) prizes the picture-perfect lawn. It’s a good reminder that just because something looks green doesn’t mean it’s best for the environment. As we approach Earth Day on April 22, maybe this is the year to rethink the lawn – or at least parts of it. (Read more “Earth-friendly” tips for your yard and garden.)

Read Full Post »

by Janine Butler, Garden volunteer

You may have already heard some of the buzz about an exciting new project here at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden — the plan is to plant a Community Kitchen Garden and grow 10,000 pounds of fresh produce this growing season, with all the produce from this garden being donated to Central Virginia Foodbank (and its parent organization FeedMore) to help fight the battle against hunger.

As a new volunteer at Lewis Ginter I will get to witness this project from start to finish over the next few months and will be updating this blog with all the news: what’s sprouting, what’s growing, even reporting on things that should have grown but maybe didn’t.   It’s going to be a great learning experience for me, and hopefully for the community following along with this blog.  Although I like to garden at home I have never planted a veggie garden before, except for the one cherry tomato plant I tried to grow several years ago which didn’t turn out too good – I think I got a whopping 3 whole tomatoes!  Luckily for me and the veggies this project will be run by knowledgeable experts, both Lewis Ginter staff and volunteers.

Work has already begun to prepare the site, and last Monday Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Executive Director Frank Robinson and Feedmore President/CEO Fay Lohr were onsite to break ground, along with William Darr, of CT Purcell, Inc.,  who in the true spirit of community involvement kindly volunteered the time and heavy equipment to dig up one fifth of an acre that will be used to grow the veggies.

Feedmore President/CEO Fay Lohr (left) and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Executive Director Frank Robinson help break ground on the Community Kitchen Garden

Feedmore President/CEO Fay Lohr (left) and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Executive Director Frank Robinson help break ground on the Community Kitchen Garden

There’s still more prep work needed to be done though before we can plant. The area being used has not been planted with anything in many years, and so after the ground has been dug up it will require about eighteen inches of organic matter to be tilled in so that the soil will be nice and rich and grow lovely big vegetables. And if anyone is willing to donate enough organic matter to cover a fifth of an acre, then that would be fantastic! After that, the backhoe comes back and levels off the soil in a process called ‘toothing’. This will all be completed in the next few weeks as planting is scheduled for the beginning of May. I am eager to get my hands in the soil and start planting.
Lewis Ginter has pledged 10,000 pounds of food contribution to the foodbank. It’s a worthy goal, and one that I am confident we can reach. I hope you will join me on this adventure and that perhaps it inspires you to plant your own veggie patch or get involved with a community garden in your area. In fact if you are interested in getting involved with this or any other project at Lewis Ginter, they are always looking for volunteers!  I am quickly learning that volunteers are such an integral part of  the Garden; walk around the gardens at any time and you will probably run across a few volunteers, and if not then you will definitely see some of the results of their labor.

I hope to do my part too. I am looking forward to the upcoming months. I would also love to hear your comments about the Community Kitchen Garden. Or tell me about other projects that you know of or are involved with.

Happy Gardening!

Read Full Post »

I just spoke with Tracy Kane, author of the Fairy House Series of books. She’ll be at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, April 29th  for our No Child Left Inside: Restoring Nature to Early Childhood symposium. I was very excited to speak with her because I’ve seen with my own children how comfairyhousepletely enthralled they are with fairy houses and miniature worlds and I thought she might have some insight into what it is about fairy houses that is so special.

I think it is partly because the magic of nature is so easy to believe in. Watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly or a tadpole turn into a frog is a magical experience.

[The fairy houses] can be simple rustic dwellings or be quite elaborate its pretty simple when you get kids back into nature it’s natural — within 10 minutes they’ve got something going. They’re intuitive to nature and you just watch the child come to life.

She mentions some basic rules, for example never use artificial material — but other than that it is free game.  “Children understand the difference between natural and artificial materials,” she says.

Girls building fairy houses in the Children's Garden's Woodland Point.

Girls building fairy houses in the Children's Garden's Woodland Pointe.

I’ve mentioned before the incredible positive impact of how being outside in nature affect my kids.  I became more educated about this topic and I made some changes in how I approach our back yard and how much TV I let my kids watch mostly  because  in preparing for this symposium,  I had a chance to serve on the symposium’s advisory committee and just by talking about the issues the committee members enlightened me to nature’s import role in the lives of children.  Still,  I was looking for some concrete examples of why it is important for children to have an opportunity to explore nature.  What is the logic behind it and why does it work?  I found some  great (but surprising) information on Tracy Kane website that explains it:

Recent news reports have suggested that kids are suffering from “nature-deficit disorder”.  Children are plagued by the estimated 44 hours per week that they spend watching TV and playing computer and video games according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Some might argue that “nature-deficit disorder” is not just a problem for children, but is ever-present with adults, too.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, defines “nature-deficit disorder” as the cumulative effect of withdrawing nature from children’s experiences. Families too can show the symptoms — increased feelings of stress, trouble paying attention, and feelings of not being rooted in the world.
Building fairy houses, the latest outdoor craze, inspires appreciation and awareness of the environment through an activity that encourages year-round outdoor play. The tradition of building these environmentally sensitive, small dwellings to attract fairies and wood nymphs is generations old.

Getting back to the workshop here at Lewis Ginter, Tracy Kane will be part of  an event, Homespun Fun for Families, focused on teaching parents and kids easy fun outdoor activities they can do at home.  She’ll read from her  stories and discuss different types of fairy houses, then the kids will create a fairy house village out of some great natural materials we have been collecting here  at the Garden.

A fairy house, built by my son, in a hollow log with a luffa "flag".

A fairy house, built by my son, in a hollow log with a luffa "flag".

“There is a magical age — somewhere between 5 and 10”  Kane says,  “that they really  show their creative potential.” It’s not just girls either. I mentioned to  Kane, my son’s intense interest in building these houses too.  Boys, she says tend to focus on the  outside of the fairy house more (patios, bridges) girls focus on the inside, including soft stuffing,  putting acorn caps down or seashells as plates for fairy food (seeds, berries).  Very interesting! And she’s right, my son is very focused on the outside of his houses.  Perhaps the fairy house village project will inspire him to create some great infrastructure — a bridge perhaps, or a water tower!  As for me, I just can’t wait to see what these children are create as they play in nature as the sunsets, guided only by their imagination, and inspired by the little treasures that Mother Nature leaves in her wake — pine cones, seashells, walnut shells, luffa, seed pods and hollowed out logs.

Homespun Fun for Families is free to Garden members, symposium attendees and free with Garden Admission.  We just ask that you RSVP via email to registrar [at]lewisginter dot org

Read Full Post »

My 8-year-old daughter came home from school this week incredibly excited about a dirt-baby she created.  After imagining her sneaking off during recess to the mud  pile behind the playground and creating some kind of snowman-like creature out of mud, I realized she was talking about a class project where she got to take old pantyhose, fill them with dirt and grass seed and creates a baby-like form that will spring to life as the sees sprout in a few days.

For her, this is culminating a week of talking about embryos at the breakfast table, dissecting each snow pea pod be fore she eats it at dinner and showing me the cotyledon in her edamame at lunch. And although I’d rather not talk about embryos or watch her dissect her lunch, I am happy for her. I’m happy that her teacher has sparked in her an interest in nature and science and happy that even though her class is not outside, enjoying the nature, her teacher has found a way to bring nature inside to her. Because what better way to learn about nature and seeds and life then to experience the magic of watching it grow right before your eyes? This is a start, and if she can love dissecting a bean in class (and at the dinner table), then when she gets a chance to go to summer camp at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden this summer and spend the entire day outside taking a hands-on approach to nature, then she’ll be in heaven.

Which brings us back to how much children need the outdoors to really value it and learn from it.  And the question:  what is the value of that hands on learning outdoors? Can it be replaced or substituted with more book knowledge? I bet the founders of our public education system never imagined a time when children would be so removed from farming and the process of growing food that children might not realize exactly where food comes from (other than a box.) Part of what kids need to know to be good stewards of the environment  and to know how vital and intertwined our lives are to plants, is how connected all of earth’s ecosystems are.

Yesterday, The Washington Post wrote an article about the No Child Left Inside movement  and how many schools in the Washington, D. C. area are incorporating hands-on gardening into the curriculum.  Students at Hollins Meadows school in Fairfax County get the added benefit of having their teachers incorporate all sorts of lessons into gardening, being outdoors and nature.  If you ask kids, they will tell you — this is the best kind of learning.

Students measure worms in math classes and plant peanuts when learning about Virginia history. Reading time happens in an outdoor courtyard where the walls are painted like library shelves. Cinnamon basil plants are growing hydroponically in the science lab from seeds that astronauts flew into space. The children are growing seedlings to sell on Earth Day, an early lesson in entrepreneurship.

As more children struggle with obesity and awareness grows about global warming, outdoor learning is becoming a popular education concept.

Environmentalists are lobbying Congress to attach a “No Child Left Inside” provision to the No Child Left Behind law when it is reauthorized. The provision would set aside money for opportunities, including gardens, for children to learn about the natural world.

Here at Lewis Ginter, we will continue the conversation with No Child Left Inside: Restoring Nature to Early Childhood (April 28-29).  Movement leaders Jane Kirkland, author of the award-winning children’s nature series, Take a Walk books , Robin Moore, Director of the Natural Learning Initiative and Professor of Landscape Architecture, North Carolina State University, Yusuf Burgess, environmental educator, State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation and board member, Children and Nature Network and Chip & Ashley Donahue, founders of Kids in the Valley, Adventuring (KIVA) will inform and inspire, teachers and and parents alike on the value of children being in nature. I hope you can join us for this conversation.

As for my daughter, she is most excited that Tracy Kane,the author The Fairy Houses Series™ books will be there to inspire her and her friends to build fairy houses at the hands-on family event, Homespun Fun for Families.  I do believe she literally jumped up and down when I told her that Tracy Kane, “the Fairy Lady” was coming to Lewis Ginter. Six months ago, for her 8-year-old birthday, her dad and I took her, her brother and 12 of her friends into the woods to make Fairy houses and it was “her best birthday ever.”  This is a memory that won’t fade for her and her friends. In fact, they speak about it often.

My husband, the preschool teacher, wrote about his experiences guiding the kids (including boys) at the birthday party through this activity. His blog post, The Magic of Childhood & Nature, talks about the experience. This party, incorporating a fairy scavenger hunt, was inspired by Tracy Kane’s work and another book: Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators,  by David Sobel.

Meanwhile, as I’m learning more and more about what kids need, I’m sending the kids out in the back yard more often, and keeping the TV off as much as I can. I’ve seen the difference nature can make. Children are drawn to create miniature worlds, mud pies and dirt babies.  TV just teaches them to turn off their minds.  The amazing thing to me, is that once you get them outside, you don’t have to do much, loving nature comes naturally to them.

Read Full Post »