The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm: A Cultivator’s Guide to Small-Scale Organic Herb Production
By Peg Schafer
The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm is the first cultivation guide of its kind and presents information for growers interested in producing high-quality efficacious herb in all climates, with the historical connectedness of ancient practitioners. It is becoming increasingly important that we transition to local and domestic medicinal cultivation and author Peg Schafer, a longtime grower and teacher has put together this manual of valuable information about the propagation, cultivation and harvesting of 79 Chinese medicinal herbs. Peg Schafer is recognized as one of the pioneers and leaders in the field of the cultivation of Asian herbs. Now eating your medicine is more accessible than ever.
Cultivating “Wild-Quality” Herbs
It’s an intern day at the Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm, and Peg Schafer is sitting down just long enough to share a short lunch with her interns and explain the process of growing herbs. She repeats the terms “cultivating wild quality” and “farming with the wild” like mantras. The terms, she says describe the method of re-creating natural, semiwild conditions for cultivated plants. Primarily, this means growing herbs that are not “pushed,” or grown with a lot of fertilizer. This yields smaller plants but, according to Schafer, higher concentrations and diversity of active medicinal components.
The technique also means not growing herbs too lushly or deflowering plants in order to artificially increase root size. The grower allows natural pressures, even if those pressures mean insect pests and hungry herbivores. “I let deer browse on some herbs, as long as they don’t take all of it!” Schafer laughs. All of this helps create herbs that are closer to what is found in the wild.
Learning how to reliably grow medicinal herbs naturally and organically has been the biggest challenge of Schafer’s endeavor: there are few experts and fewer books, even from sources in China. “I do a lot of thinking outside the box,” she says. “For example, there’s nothing written about harvest methods and processing for many of these herbs. So I experiment, run trials, grow something out, then I talk with my connections, researchers, botanists, herbalists from China. Finally, I look closely at the finished product.” After a decade of farming, experimenting, networking, researching, and educating, Peg says, “I’m still very much a beginner — it is a more-you-know the less-you-know kind of thing.”
Excerpts from the book …
Good quality composting can be achieved in a space as small as four cubic feet. That is the smallest a compost pile should be to allow for enough volume to generate enough heat to pasteurize the compost. On-site nonwoody green waste, kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds are high in nitrogen; these ingredients, along with a larger portion of dry material and frequent turning, will help keep the compost pile at the desired temperature of at least 150 degrees. If the compost pile smells bad it may be either too wet or have too much nitrogenous material. A less active process that still yields quality compost is a cold technique where the aforementioned ingredients are simply layered and not turned; make sure to bury kitchen waste into the pile to avoid attracting rodents. This method takes longer to obtain usable material but will speed up — with added nutrients as well — with the addition of red composting worms. These red wrigglers are often available at home and garden stores, garden centers, or by mail order. I do not recommend putting weeds with maturing seed heads into a cold compost pile as they oftentimes do not rot and may return to the garden along with finished compost. It is helpful to have two bins, both protected from precipitation — one for active composting and the other ready to use. Simple wire hardware mesh with half-inch holes wire in a circle or shipping pallets wired together are, in my opinion, better then the expensive, plastic, hand-turned unites commercially available.
Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm’s Basic Bark-based Media Mix
Some nurseries use separate germinating and transplant medias but we use this recipe for both applications. This time-tested nursery potting media recipe can be mixed in a large wheelbarrow using a shovel, or you can increase the whole recipe and mix the materials in a pit or on a tarp. Some people use an old small cement mixer to mix media.
You’ll find the ingredients available bagged in small amounts in garden centers and farm supply businesses. If you need large quantities, arrange to pick up materials or have them delivered from landscape supply companies.
5 gallons compost (homegrown and screened to a ½ inch)
5 gallons coir, thoroughly leached of salt and fluffed.
5 gallons perlite (premoistened)
5 gallons sifted fir bark (screened to a ¼ or ½ inch)
½ cup granite dust/rock powder
½ cup balanced slow release organic fertilizer
¼ cup oyster shell
¼ cup kelp meal
Dash of mycorrhizal fungal powder
Tips for Seed-Saving Success
• The best quality seed is collected from as large a population of plants as is feasible, contributing a wide spectrum of genetics. I have found that of the crops we grow, 200 plants will produce better quality seed than 20 plants (though sometimes this may be all that one has to work with). Larger plantings bestow the best opportunities not only for healthy vigor but species survival.
• If you notice a drop in vitality in a population of seed that you’ve been saving for a while, especially from a small population, you may need to reinvigorate it with fresh genetics. Intentional crosses, which increase gene flow, keep stock strong. Be certain to keep track of these crosses.
• Grow open pollinated seed, as hybrid offspring will have unknown genetics — not a good idea when growing medicine.
• When growing plants for seed, rogue out any weak-looking, diseased, or pest-affected plants before they have a chance to contribute their genetics during pollination.
Peg Schafer is a longtime grower and teacher. She is recognized as one of the pioneers and leaders in the field of the cultivation of Asian herbs. After more than 15 years of commercial herb cultivation and research at the Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm in Petaluma, California, Peg Schafer has distilled her findings into a guide for growers and practitioners of Chinese medicine.
The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm
By Peg Schafer
Chelsea Green Publishing
Softcover, 336 pages, $34.95
The Launch of a New Garden Hardiness Zone Map
Are more gardeners developing a fixation for hardiness zones and comparing notes across the back garden fence? The recent launch of an updated plant hardiness zone map probably is causing more people to ponder the fine print on the plant label looking for the height, spread and hardiness zone details. Why the fixation with hardiness zones? Plant hardiness zones are valuable pieces of information that can save gardeners from lots of grief.
Not infallible, hardiness zones are far from 100% accurate though. There are restrictions in the types of data that are being used to create hardiness zones and most often these are just average minimum temperature weather records. It should be noted that plant hardiness involves so many more factors. Whether a plant survives the winter may be because it is growing in a microclimate right in your garden.
Microclimates play a big role in modifying the weather patterns of a garden. Temperatures may be colder or warmer because of a proximity to hedges, buildings, water or cities. The closer a garden is to a city or large body of water, the warmer it is. Changes in elevation and the location of a garden in a valley create microclimates that produce different weather patterns. Pockets of protection allow gardeners to grow plants that should not survive in their area. This growing “out of the zone” has tempted many a gardener at the garden center who spots an exciting new plant just off the truck from a balmy southern locale. Gardeners should be encouraged to look for hardiness zone information and then find microclimates to grow plants if they want to push their zone boundaries; the challenge is addictive but beware there’s a gamble in doing so – you will know the answer after the first unseasonably cold night. Always look for the hardiness zone so you can know where best to position your new garden plants. So what is causing this heightened interest in hardiness zones?
The Newest Hardiness Map
Early in 2012 the USDA released a new plant hardiness zone map, exciting news for gardeners and growers. The plant hardiness zone map is particularly helpful in deciding which plants will survive in a particular area. The latest USDA hardiness zone map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature using weather data collected over 30 years from 1976 through 2005. Even though thirty years of data was used to create the new map, it is important to note that the map does not use the lowest temperature for any particular location that has ever occurred. Meaning hardiness zones listed on plant tags or in books should still be used as guidelines.
About using this weather data, the USDA explains, “The longer period (30 years) of data was selected by the group of horticultural, botanical, and climatological experts who led the review of the latest revision as the best balance between smoothing out the fluctuations of year-to-year weather variation and the concept that during their lifetimes, perennial plants mostly experience what is termed ‘weather’ rather than ‘climate.’”
Like the older map, the newest version is divided into color-coded five degree F sections (13 zones in total further subdivided into “a” (colder) and “b” (warmer) regions) that identify annual minimum temperatures from –60 F to 70 F and illustrates this detail down to county-scale.
One new feature of the recently released map is an interactive option to simply type in a zip code and find the corresponding hardiness zone and temperature range. You can also click on your state (or part of your state as is the case with Texas) and a map will appear with more detail about your region. This is a nice quick reference for those that don’t want to browse the full map to find what they need. In addition, state, regional and national versions of the map can be downloaded from the internet. Check them out at http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/Default.aspx
The New USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map now defines 13 zones for gardeners with average annual extreme minimum temperatures from -60 F (-51 C) to 70 F (21 C).
New zones have been added (zones 12 and 13) for warmer regions in Hawaii and Puerto Rico that have extreme minimum temperatures above 50 and 60 F. Even though zone 12 plants will thrive outdoors in only these two locations, this information is important for many gardeners in colder areas to decide when to best bring these same plants indoors from the patio or garden when temperatures start to drop in the fall.
The longer period (30 years) of weather data used in the new hardiness map has resulted in most of the United States generally changing ½ zone (5 F) warmer (although some areas did change to colder zones because of the more accurate elevation depiction). The USDA says that this shift is attributed to more sophisticated mapping methods, and greater numbers of station observations, which has greatly improved accuracy (especially in mountainous regions), than from global warming.
Does this new map mean gardeners and growers will have to rip up their garden and change their plants if their hardiness zone has changed? Of course not. Plants that grew well up to now, will probably keep on growing just fine. What should be done as a precautionary measure is to carefully consider which plants are added to the garden if they are “pushing the hardiness zone boundary” and are not hardy enough for your location. But the hardiness zone map, while it is the most detailed one yet (down to the county level) doesn’t show microclimates that might exist in your garden or property. So look for sheltered spots on the south side of a building or evergreen windbreak if you want to try a few new plants that are not rated for your hardiness zone. Other cold weather strategies include putting on extra mulch, adding cut boughs to collect the snow, planting early so plants are well established and planting deeper. There are many factors that play into the hardiness of plants including light exposure, soil moisture, duration and timing of extreme cold, and humidity or plant moisture conditions.
One big difference shown on this new USDA map is the exclusion of Canada and Mexico which, although not as accurate as the U.S. portion on the old map, were still represented on one big North American map – making it easier to see where specific zones flowed over broader areas. The justification for not reproducing the USDA map like this again, they said, was that Canada has a more detailed map produced by Natural Resources Canada – Canadian Forest Services (see below).
The First Hardiness Maps
The first cold hardiness map was published in 1927 by Alfred Rehder in his classic Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs. He used eight zones which were calculated based on the lowest mean temperature of the coldest month. The zones were marked in increments of 5 degrees F. Even with this information the boundary lines between zones were quite arbitrary. Donald Wyman in 1938 created a more accurate hardiness map. He used 40 years of data and based his map on the average annual minimum temperature. Surprisingly, his zones were created 5, 10 or 15 degrees F. apart. This lack of uniformity caused still another hardiness map to be developed twenty years later. In 1960, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created its first map. The USDA map has since become the standard for the horticultural industry in North America. Most nurseries, reference books and catalogues use this map.
The Sunset Hardiness Map
Western gardeners came to feel that the USDA map was too restrictive with its cold temperature focus and didn’t reflect the true nature of the plant growing environments on the coast. So Sunset magazine created a climate zone map that took into account many more factors such as the length of the growing season, rainfall amounts (and timing), summer high temperatures (and winter lows), wind and humidity. Sunset’s map divides the country into 45 climate zones – most of which are located on the West coast. Going east and north, the zones become much broader. As an example, with the Sunset map, Florida is divided into just three zones; on the new USDA map this state shows seven zones.
The sunset map can be found at http://www.sunset.com/garden/climate-zones/climate-zones-intro-us-map-00400000036421/
A First Time Look at Heat Hardiness
An interesting alternative to the cold hardiness maps that have been developed for over 60 years, and of interest to southern gardeners, is the AHS Heat Zone Map. This map, first published in 1997, was created to indicate the frequency of high temperatures. The map is divided into 12 zones which have been determined from weather records. Researchers used the average number of days per year that the temperature is above 86 F to create their map. The map shows locations that have less than 1 day above this temperature to those locations that have over 210 days. Data for the map came from the daily maximum temperature records of 7,831 weather stations from the years 1974 through 1995.
Unfortunately the heat zone map is just for the US (including Alaska and Hawaii). It was created because cold temperatures are not the only weather factor that affects the survival of plants. In general the nursery industry has placed a greater focus on cold tolerance and breeding cold hardy plants than on heat tolerance. There are many plants that will not tolerate being grown where they do not get adequate cold temperatures in the winter. Eastern Hemlock will not do well south of zone 7, and white spruce will grow poorly if planted in zones higher than 6. It has been found that high temperatures kill plants slower than cold and are more likely to be misdiagnosed. The AHS Heat Zone Map can provide valuable information to prevent this. http://www.ahs.org/publications/heat_zone_map.htm
Take the plant zone information presented on the maps, printed on nursery labels or published in books as a guideline only. It is important to realize that hardiness is based on more than weather records of average minimum or maximum temperatures. Soil types, exposure, rainfall, humidity, proximity to windbreaks, soil moisture, snow cover, winter sunshine, plant types and the age of plants all contribute to survival ability. Also add one more criteria to your choice of hardiness map, which map is most accurate for your location. There are some good choices for gardeners, check them all out. For cold hardiness: USDA, Sunset, or Natural Resources Canada or for heat tolerance, the AHS heat zone ratings.
Canada’s Hardiness Map – Combining Climate Data with Indicator Plants
Canada has a hardiness zone map that was created by Agriculture Canada in 1967. It is reputed to be the most detailed for Canadian latitudes. Some people debate this statement and contend that the USDA map is better. The map was revised by Natural Resources Canada in 2000 using weather data from almost 30 years (1961 to 1990). http://sis.agr.gc.ca/cansis/nsdb/climate/hardiness/intro.html
The map uses 9 zones to mark the hardiness of the most populated areas of Canada with 0 being the coldest and 8 the mildest (warmest). Each zone is divided into “a” (colder) and “b” (warmer) sections. The Canadian zones are not the same as the USDA zones. Canada plant hardiness zone 6 ? USDA zone 6. The Natural Resources Canada map has the added benefit of having indicator plants (trees and shrubs) that are representative of each zone – a helpful feature for gardeners.
Zone 1 Saskatoon Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Zone 2 Siberian Peashrub (Caragana arborescens)
Zone 3 Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
Zone 4 Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Zone 5 Early Forsythia (Forsythia ovata)
Zone 6 Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
Zone 7 Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Zone 8 Japanese aucuba (Aucuba japonica)
The map authors used a formula that takes into consideration several meteorological factors affecting the cold hardiness of a plant. The most important being the minimum temperature during the winter. They also considered the frost-free period, summer rainfall, maximum temperatures, snow cover and winds that would affect a plant’s growth.
Natural Resources Canada has taken on an additional project “Going Beyond the Zones” to expand the indicator plants beyond just trees and shrubs to include perennials as well. They want to develop a climatic profile for each plant using continent-wide mapping. They have asked for help from gardeners across Canada and the United States to identify plants from a comprehensive list that will survive at their location. Once enough data is entered online, a range map will be generated (and updated when additional reports are submitted). http://planthardiness.gc.ca/ph_main.pl?LANG=en
Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration & Insights from the Painter’s Garden
By Elizabeth Murray
Monet designed this gracefully arched wooden bridge—a prominent feature of the water garden—to span a narrow part of his pond. The 18-foot structure was inspired by one of his Japanese woodblock prints.
In 1911, following the devastation of major storms and flooding, he repaired and enlarged his water garden, adding the iron arbor. He planted the white Chinese wisteria on the lower handrails and the long lavender Japanese wisteria on the arbor; when in bloom, they create a canopy of lace. The reflections of the bridge are magnificent in the pond below.
Excerpt from Chapter One
The Garden Monet Created
“This is where Claude Monet lives, in this never-ending feast for the eyes. It is just the environment one would have imagined for this extraordinary poet of tender light and veiled shapes, for this man who has touched the intangible, expressed the inexpressible, and whose spell over our dreams is the dream that nature so mysteriously enfolds, the dream that so mysteriously permeates the divine light.”
— Octave Mirbeau “Claude Monet,” L’art dans les deux mondes, March 7, 1891
Claude Monet created his finest work of art as a living study in light and color, an everchanging canvas that used his most beloved flowers as his paints. Each plant that grew in this magnificent painter’s paradise was thoughtfully placed, just as in an exquisite flower arrangement prepared for a painter’s still life. In turn, the gardens that Monet worked on for over forty years became the inspiration for his paintings for the second half of his life.
The gardens at Giverny consist of the Clos Normand garden, featuring nearly three acres of flowers, with its Grande Allée (the flower tunnel with great arches of rambling roses above the broad walk carpeted with creeping, round-leafed nasturtiums), and the two-acre water lily garden with the arching green bridge woven with wisteria. We know these subjects well from Monet’s paintings — brilliant Impressionist depictions of nature’s moments of full bloom, glorious color, and light preserved on canvas through the hand of the great master.
At the time Monet started painting, most painters began their practice with still lifes in the studio — bowls of fruit or bouquets of flowers—and, when they could afford it, with a model. Landscape painters often sketched various views from nature and then created the finished composition in their studios under controlled conditions.
The plein air Impressionists painted out of doors – directly from nature – and dedicated themselves to capturing the impression of a fleeting moment. They carried their paints (made possible by the recent availability of oil paints in tubes), canvases, and easels through the meadows and orchards and along streams until they came upon an inspirational view. Finding a pleasing composition, perhaps a certain group of trees backlit with the rising sun, they set about painting it as quickly as possible in short, sure strokes of pure color. Monet expanded this concept by composing with nature as he designed, planted, and cultivated his gardens.
Lovers of plants, gardens, design, architecture, fine art, Impressionism and Claude Monet, the master himself will be enthralled by this book written by an artist and gardener who has immersed herself in the glory of Giverny to such an extent that it has almost become a second home.
Almost better than setting foot in Giverny in person, this book, with its lavish photography and interesting layover drawings, shows the garden that inspired the artist during the last forty years of his life.
A professional gardener and artist, Elizabeth Murray helped to restore the Giverny gardens in the 1980s and has since enjoyed privileged access to the site, which she visits annually to capture Monet’s passion at its most radiant and riotous. In this redesigned, updated edition, Murray discusses the development and history of Monet’s Giverny estate and brings new insight to Monet’s approach to gardening and design. Emphasizing his keen understanding of color balance and his genius for maximizing the effects of light, Murray explores the color combinations and techniques with which Monet experimented in both painting and gardening—each pursuit informing the other. Murray’s lush photographs chronicle the present-day gardens, and a section titled “Bringing Giverny Home” provides detailed Giverny-based garden plans that can be executed anywhere. Full-color illustrations of the gardens, a list of the plants originally used by Monet, and a plant cultivation section round out this immensely helpful guide to creating year-round beauty in one’s own backyard.
Elizabeth Murray received her bachelor’s degrees in fine art, environmental education, and botany from Sonoma State University. She is the author of numerous gardening and art books, including Painterly Photography: Awakening the Artist Within and Cultivating Sacred Space: Gardening for the Soul. Her photography is housed in several museum and private collections, including the de Young Museum of San Francisco and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Murray resides in Monterey, California, where she designs gardens as healing spaces and teaches creativity classes using photography, painting, and flowers.
Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration & Insights from the Painter’s Garden
By Elizabeth Murray
Pomegranate Communications Inc
Hardcover, 127 pages, $35.00
The View from Great Dixter; Christopher Lloyd’s Garden Legacy
Fergus Garrett, long faithful Great Dixter gardener, writes in the Preface: This book is centered around one incredible man and his way of life. Christopher Lloyd was born and lived most of his life at Great Dixter. He was an extraordinary character, a kind, generous, intelligent man who loved people but at the same time didn’t suffer fools gladly. His garden has remained a place of pilgrimage for adventurous gardeners throughout the world and his spirit and style lives on here and in his writing. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest garden writers and gardeners of all time and his influence is immense. His words in print remain his legacy and his influence is immense. His words in print remain his legacy and his influence burns bright in all of us he breathed life into. He changed our lives and long may his memory last. Fergus Garrett
Rosemary Alexander writes in the Preface,
It is often said that Christopher Lloyd collected people, and after his death many of us in his ‘collection’ recalled the happy occasions and fruitful friendships we all enjoyed at Great Dixter as a way of coming to terms with our loss. As so many of us had such amazing memories of plant advice, practical jokes, delicious dinners, snatches of conversations including his famous (feared) ‘put downs’ we decided, at one of our regular Dixter Development Committee meetings, to gather then together in a book.
Great Dixter was, and continues to be, rather like some vast extended family, with everyone drawn together by mutual interests and a love for the place. Many of today’s great gardeners who worked or spent time at Dixter describe how the lessons they learned there continue to influence their work today.
Expansive herbaceous borders, orchid-filled meadows enveloped by old stone, precision-carved topiary, and an air of gentle eccentricity make Great Dixter the quintessential English country garden. Yet the impact of Christopher Lloyd’s unique creation extends way beyond the gardening world and affects all who pass through it in a very particular way.
In this intimate collection of written and photographic contributions, Christopher Lloyd’s wide circle of family and friends describe what Great Dixter means to them. Food, poetry, music and plants feature large with one guest recounting the delight of eating an exquisitely cooked turbot and another how a bloom of magnolia was analyzed with botanical precision during the course of dinner. Visitors remember the feel of the centuries-old floorboards underfoot, the thrill of waking early to peer out on topiary enshrouded in fog, and many describe how, in one way or another, Great Dixter changed their lives.
This valuable record encapsulates what makes time spent at Great Dixter in particular, and to some extent time spent in all gardens, so irreplaceable. It adds an important layer to our understanding of Christopher Lloyd’s achievements and spurs us on to new heights in our own gardening endeavors.
“Life at Dixter with Christopher, or as much as I have savoured it from time to time, is like a very long and intricately worded sentence; a synthesis of perpetual entertainment, fine cuisine, opulent plenitudes of Scotch and Champagne and the ratchety barks of ardently pampered dachshunds, al wrapped within an historical house and polymorphic garden. ” Dan Hinkley, author of The Explorer’s Garden
About the authors,
Rosemary Alexander has devoted her life to garden design — running a garden design business as well as the English Gardening School. She believes that as people realize the therapeutic nature of gardening, garden design will become even more popular.
Fergus Garrett joined Great Dixter as Head Gardener in 1992 and worked closely with Christopher Lloyd as gardener and friend during an important time in the garden’s development. Now he combines his full-time, hands-on gardening role at Dixter with lecturing, writing articles, serving on Royal Horticultural Society committees and, as Chief Executive of the Great Dixter Charitable Trust, moving the garden forward in ever more exciting directions.
The View from Great Dixter; Christopher Lloyd’s Garden Legacy
A compilation, edited by Fergus Garrett and Rosemary Alexander
Hardcover, 207 pages, $27.95
The Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture Celebrates 75 Years
Celebrating 75 years in 2011, the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture Lecture Hall and Administration Building
There have been a lot of weeds pulled, roses deadheaded, vegetables harvested and grass mown during seventy-five years of training horticulture students. But every so often, it’s time to take off the secateurs, put on walking shoes, and take a stroll to really delight in the beauty of a very special garden. The garden – the home of the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture.
Hundreds of plants skillfully arranged in containers greet visitors at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and School of Horticulture during the summer to celebrate their 75th anniversary in 2011.
This school, unique in Canada sits on 100-acres (40 hectares) along the Niagara Parkway in Niagara Falls, Ontario and has been the living, teaching campus for more than 600 graduates who now are spread out in parks departments, golf courses, greenhouses and nurseries across Canada and around the globe. In August, the largest ever gathering of graduates returned to Niagara to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the School of Horticulture. A round of golf, school grounds tours, bbq and lots of alumni stories led to many renewed and new acquaintances during the three-day event.
A beautiful waypoint at the Botanical Gardens, the rose garden fountain.
How did the school get started?
July 10, 1935 was a significant day in the birth of what was to become the Niagara Parks Commission Training School for Apprentice Gardeners. This was the day that the Niagara Parks Commission approved engaging Knut Mattias (K.M.) Broman, a Swedish born, trained landscape architect as a landscape gardener for a period of two years.
The Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture student residence as seen in present day, formerly called The Bothy.
It was at that same meeting that it was suggested to make a botanical garden at Queen Victoria Park adjacent to the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls. And in order to have qualified gardeners for this new botanical garden, a school was launched to train young men to become expert gardeners. It was on May 8th, 1936 that the Niagara Parks Commission set up the following guidelines …
It is the opinion of The Niagara Parks Commission that expert gardeners should be trained under the direction of the Commission as there is no proper Training School in the province… It is agreed by the Commission that a number of apprentices (not to exceed eight for the present) be engaged to work in the park under the supervision of Mr. Broman, who is to lay out a course.
The old stone house at the Niagara Glen owned by the Commission (known as the old Murray House) is to be prepared as a bothy for the boys during the summer season. In the winter season it is suggested that the boys be housed in the Help’s Quarters of the Park Restaurant. Until other plans are arranged the boys are to be fed at the Park Restaurant.
School of Horticulture Students are required to tend a vegetable garden plot during their second year. The result is innovation, great horticulture, and lots of creativity!
These are some of the guidelines for the first class of gardeners as they arrived at what is now the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture. And after 600 graduates, 2011 saw an unprecedented gathering of alumni and celebration as the little apprenticeship-style school, along the Niagara Parkway and across from the Niagara Glen, that trained students during a 36 month curriculum turned 75 years old.
The School is run by The Niagara Parks Commission, an Operational Enterprise of the Government of Ontario, that has been charged with managing the land, buildings, and facilities along the Niagara River from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie since 1887 in a completely self-funding manner – without taking any taxpayer dollars.
A living sculpture of a dragon, designed, created and maintained by students at the School of Horticulture greets visitors at the entrance to the rose garden during the summer of 2011.
In the book, Garden School Days, Memoirs from the Early Years (1936-1950) Roland Barnsley and William Snowden, former Superintendents of the School of Horticulture, describe the early thirties in Canada as a time of low morale with a deep economic depression and the somber realization that the great surge of optimism following World War I had shriveled to a very dim and bleak outlook for the country (and world). The need for job creation was a priority. The fortuitous arrival of a chairman (T.B. McQuesten) with enormous vision was a contributing factor to the launching of the School in 1936.
A giant grape vine globe makes a dramatic statement in the entrance garden at the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden and School of Horticulture.
The Early Years
Changing a 100-acre derelict farm into a school of gardening almost overnight was a mighty task that started with K.M. Broman’s trip to Holland in 1936 to order virtually every plant that he could find that might survive in Niagara. His source was the great Dutch nursery, F.J. Grootendorst & Sons in Boskoop. The shipment would turn out to be the largest single shipment of nursery stock ever shipped from Holland up to that date. Most of the plants were dug from the nursery beds in the spring during January to March and then shipped to the east coast of Canada in April of 1937. From there they travelled by train to Niagara Falls in May. Despite a two month journey, most were in good condition and after being inspected were planted in long nursery rows in their new home. Many would stay in this temporary nursery that stretched north and south from the entrance road for the School for another 18 months before permanent locations were provided.
It is the plants in this Grootendorst shipment that still forms the backbone and many of the most cherished plants on the School grounds even after 75 years. It is the spruce vista and hornbeam allée, oriental cedar hedge that surrounds the herb garden, beech hedges opposite the student residence and collection of sycamore maples that feature most prominently from this original 1937 planting.
Surrounded by clipped oriental cedar hedges that were part of the 1937 plant shipment from Holland, the herb garden at the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden and School of Horticulture is full of fascinating plants to discover.
Hugh McCracken, a graduate in the first class in 1939 recalls, “Our first home was a farmhouse, which still stands as the original part of the School. It was called The Bothy, an English term for an apprentice residence. Workmen we were that first summer – carrying out many manual tasks with the aid of pick and shovel, cultivators, Dutch hoes and manure forks. We were even required to break the proverbial rock with sledgehammer in tow. Exercise and fresh air was not in short supply that first year. I am sure any of the students that were at the School in the early days would agree that most of our training was of a practical nature. The spring of 1937 brought with it a tremendous shipment of nursery stock imported from Holland. When this shipment was added to the existing plant material, the Gardening School began to take on the appearance of a place of learning.”
Celebrating the "blue and gold," the colours of the NPC School of Horticulture, the annual flowers in the rose garden really add a festive spirit to the 75th anniversary celebrations themselves.
Over the years, there have been many changes; the former Murray farmhouse is greatly expanded and not the school residence as well as the addition of a new lecture hall, library and administration building built in 1961, women were first admitted into the program in 1973, and in 1996, North America’s largest butterfly conservatory opened on the grounds. The name became the School of Horticulture (dropping the apprentice gardener’s moniker) in 1959 and the school campus officially became the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens in 1990. Many garden changes have occurred on the 100 acres over 75 years with many more planned as well. Exciting new landscapes have been developed, stone walls and paths built, irrigation systems installed, new ponds and plant collections added – all giving valuable, year-round, “real world” experiences to the first, second and third year students as part of their practical horticulture training.
Located at the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden, the Butterfly Conservatory features over 2,000 tropical butterflies flying freely in an enclosed rainforest garden.
The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, Butterfly Conservatory and School of Horticulture are located along the Niagara Parkway, just a 10 minute drive north of the Falls. www.niagaraparks.com/garden-trail/botanical-gardens.html
The Botanical Gardens is free of charge, and open seven days a week from dawn to dusk. There is a charge for parking and the Butterfly Conservatory.
The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and School of Horticulture
P.O. Box 150, Niagara Falls, Ontario L2E 6T2
Succulent Container Gardens
By Debra Lee Baldwin
With their colorful leaves, sculptural shapes, and simple care, succulents are beautiful yet forgiving plants for pots. If grown in containers, these dry-climate jewels — which include but are not limited to cacti — can be brought indoors in winter and so can thrive anywhere in the world.
In this inspiring compendium, the popular author of Designing with Succulents provides everything beginners and experienced gardeners need to know to create stunning container displays of exceptionally waterwise plants. The extensive palette includes delicate sedums, frilly echeverias, cascading senecios, edgy agaves, and fat-trunked beaucarneas, to name just a few. Easy-to-follow, expert tips explain soil mixes, overwintering, propagation, and more.
Define your individual style as you effectively combine patterns, colors, textures, and forms. Discover how top designers interpret the dramatic options, in ideas ranging from exquisite plant-and-pot combinations to extraordinary topiaries and bonsai. Expand your repertoire with plump-leaved plants that resemble pebbles, stars, and undersea creatures. Short on space? Create vertical gardens and hanging baskets, and use daisylike rosettes in wall displays.
Each of the more than 300 photographs offers an inspiring idea. A-to-Z descriptions cover 350 of the best succulents, plus companion plants. Whether your goal is a gorgeous potted garden for a sunny windowsill or outdoor living area — or simply making great gifts — this is a comprehensive primer for creating vibrant, living works of art.
An excerpt from the book,
Potting Mixes: What the Experts Use
It seems every succulent collector or nursery owner has a preferred potting mix. Some examples:
A former CSSA president in New Jersey combines three parts commercial potting mix that is high in bark or horticultural coir with two parts pumice and one part calcined clay.
A specialist in succulent bonsai recommends a mix of one part compost, one part coir, one part loam, and four parts pumice or perlite.
A designer of succulent topiaries and wreaths uses no soil but rather inserts cuttings into tightly packed sphagnum moss.
A kalanchoe collector’s preferred mix is 50 percent pumice, 25 percent loam, and 25 percent decomposed granite sand.
A haworthia grower mixes equal parts grit or plaster sand, pumice, and peat-free commercial potting soil.
A collector who owns a wide range of succulents says it does not matter what base is used, so long as one-third to one-half of the final mix is pumice.
An article in the CSSA newsletter recommends that at least half the mix consist of “an air-trapping substance” such as perlite, pumice, or calcined clay.
A lithops collector’s mix is “more white than brown”: one third commercial potting soil with twigs removed, and two-thirds perlite or pumice. He also may add decomposed granite “to help toughen the plants.”
A nursery owner who sells at shows prefers an easy-to-rewet mix of half-and-half coir and perlite.
A cactus and succulent nursery in New Mexico recommends three parts soilless potting mix, one part coarse sand, and one part volcanic scoria, perlite, crushed gravel, or crushed limestone.
A designer at a Denver nursery mixes half-and-half potting soil and poultry grit (crushed granite).
A cactus and succulent show judge, emphasizing the importance of oxygen for roots, recommends not adding vermiculite, because it compacts.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin is an award-winning writer and editor based in Southern California. She has written hundreds of feature articles and columns about architecture, homes, gardens, landscaping and interior design, and people who have made significant contributions to our culture.
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin wrote Designing with Succulents in addition to Succulent Container Gardens. She is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times and major gardening magazines. Debra’s specialty is showing how top designers use these architectural, waterwise, low-maintenance plants in a wide variety of creative, eye-catching applications.
Debra has presented at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, the Denver Botanic Garden, and major flower shows in Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Francisco, to name a few of many prestigious venues. Her own garden near San Diego has been featured in Sunset, Better Homes & Gardens, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and other publications.
Succulents, which store water in fleshy leaves and stems to survive periods of drought, offer spectacular blooms and foliage of every color — including cherry red, sky blue, and purple-black. In her books and presentations, Debra introduces various types of succulents, discusses their care, describes what makes each interesting and unique, and explains how to create lovely, low-water gardens and containers. With Debra’s expert guidance, you’ll soon discover how to use these easy-care, sculptural plants to beautifully express your personal style.
Succulent Container Gardens
By Debra Lee Baldwin
Hardcover, 248 pages, $29.95
The Conscientious Gardener: Cultivating a Garden Ethic
By Sarah Hayden Reichard
“I believe that a garden ethic reflects the conscientiousness of those who care for land by nurturing gardens,” author Sarah Hayden Reichard writes in the Introduction to this book. She continues, “Gardeners revel in the beauty of a flower, the wonders of pollination turning that flower into a lovely or delicious fruit, the snap of a fresh pea pod picked from the vine and eaten on the spot. They are connected to their plot by a love of the living. But the garden ethic also arises from an increasing awareness that, over time, practices and products have crept into our craft that decrease its long-term sustainability. As we have moved from an agrarian society to one based in urban and suburban landscapes, we have lost contact with habits common to our ancestors—such as using naturally decomposing materials rather than synthetic fertilizers to improve soil fertility or nurturing predatory insects and birds instead of deploying the latest, greatest, also usually synthetic products to control pests. A garden ethic gives us the information and structure to return to those less harmful procedures, helping us to view the garden, like the land, as a fully functioning ecosystem – and to incorporate the awareness that its impacts extend far beyond its footprint. Invasive species that escape into wildlands, the mining and transportation of materials such as peat from regions thousands of miles away, and the use of inefficient engines in garden equipment all contribute to the loss of biological diversity beyond our garden gates.”
This book is divided into eight chapters that explore topics important to both gardens and conservation. Fertile, porous soil (The Skin of the Earth) and clean water, our most precious resource, are critical to our existence, but garden practices affect their health and sustainability; these natural resources are explored in the first two chapters. Chapters 3 and 4 guide plant selection. What are native plants, and should you use them? When are they appropriate, and when is a nonnative a better choice? How can you determine which nonnative species will invade, and why are people so concerned about them in gardens when the problems they cause occur in wildlands? The plants you select, as well as other aspects of your garden, such as its structure and water features, can attract desirable wildlife and repel undesirable animals, topics explored in chapter 5. However, gardens also invite unwanted plant, insect, and other species, and how to safely control and even prevent their presence is the subject of chapter 6. The final two chapters, on global warming and reducing waste, look at the big picture as a spur to change. Gardeners can help prevent climate change through simple measures such as reducing soil tillage, switching to push mowers, growing some of our own food, and planting trees to shade the house in the summer. We can also help shrink landfills by composting, not buying overpackaged goods, and either reusing or freecycling garden items.
The book ends with an appendix summarizing more than twenty years of the author’s research on garden plants that can become invasive, with a table of the species worldwide, their impacts, and where they are known to be problems.
Sarah has set a lighthearted tone throughout and thankfully doesn’t get all preachy, it’s engaging reading and often quite easy to embrace her sustainability messages. She has a nifty list of conscientious choices list in the Epilogue that is a full of excellent suggestions such as, “I encourage garden centers to purchase plants grown in decompostable pots, or I do not trade plants with other gardeners if I know the plants are invasive, or I slow the movement of water so it is absorbed into the soil by using plant layers, bioswales, rain gardens, green roofs, or other methods.
Sarah Hayden Reichard is Professor of Conservation Biology and Adjunct Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington. She is also Curator of the Hyde Herbarium at the University of Washington and heads the Rare Plant Care and Conservation Program, both at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. She is coeditor of Invasive Species in the Pacific Northwest.
The Conscientious Gardener: Cultivating a Garden Ethic
By Sarah Hayden Reichard
University of California Press
Hardcover, 254 pages, $27.50 USD
Texas Peach Handbook
By Jim Kamas and Larry Stein
An up-to-date guide for commercial and residential Texas peach growers . . .
With an estimated one million trees producing almost fifty million pounds of fruit per year, Texas is a leading producer of peaches, and several popular seasonal festivals highlight the widespread enjoyment of and interest in this delicious, versatile fruit. In addition, a recent rise of interest in edible gardens and home fruit production has led more people to think about planting a peach tree in the yard — or paying closer attention to the one they already have.
Jim Kamas and Larry Stein, drawing from their many years of experience and the best current research, provide authoritative advice for those who want to improve peach production, whether in a large commercial orchard or on a single tree in the back yard. With discussions ranging from site selection to marketing ideas, Texas Peach Handbook covers the basics of peach cultivation — planting, pruning, fertilizing, watering, protecting, thinning, harvesting — and gives both instruction on disease and insect control and advice on the financial aspects of the peach business. The authors also direct readers to other, more detailed or technical sources, for those who want to learn more about a given topic.
For its complete and useful information and expert guidance, this how-to handbook will prove indispensable for anyone who grows, or wants to grow, peaches either commercially or in the backyard.
A valuable chapter on cultivar and rootstock recommendations for Texas peach growers is essential reading for anyone growing peaches – once the winter chilling hours have been determined. Lists and descriptions of cling, semi-cling and freestone varieties will help fine tune the selection process.
Jim Kamas, based in Fredericksburg, is assistant professor and extension horticulturist in the department of horticultural sciences, Texas A&M University, and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. He was formerly a research associate in the A&M peach breeding program, has taught undergraduate fruit production classes at Texas A&M University and was a commercial peach grower for ten years in Austin County, Texas.
Larry Stein is professor and extension horticulturist in the department of horticultural sciences, Texas A&M University, and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. He worked at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Stephenville for seven years before moving to Uvalde.
Texas Peach Handbook
By Jim Kamas and Larry Stein
Texas A&M University Press
Flexbound, 147 pages, $24.95 USD
Heirloom Bulbs for Today
By Chris Wiesinger and Cherie Foster Colburn
For those tired of high-maintenance and short-lived plants, Chris Wiesinger, “The Bulb Hunter” shares his knowledge of versatile, sustainable, and low-maintenance bulbs. Heirloom Bulbs for Today introduces the best of the bulb world, addressing common questions and explaining the characteristics, history and ways to use each bulb, whether in the landscape or the home. Chris teams with landscape designer and award winning author Cherie Foster Colburn (Our Shadow Garden) to offer an innovative look at old-fashioned flower bulbs. While most garden guides simply tell the culture of the plant, Heirloom Bulbs for Today also tells the culture of the people who grew the plant, unearthing each bulb’s past and those who loved it.
Gorgeous botanical illustrations and vivid photographs by South African artists Loela Barry and Johan Kritzinger add rich flavor to featured bulbs found flowering with abandon in historic gardens, homes, and cemeteries, transporting readers on their own bulb hunt. With undeniable Southern charm, Wiesinger describes the adventures he encounters while collecting these old favorites, dubbed the “comfort food” of the plant world.
Heirloom Bulbs for Today introduces new gardeners to the best of the bulb world and shares information that will delight even the most seasoned gardeners. Hunting bulbs is hard work, and Chris’ search for these hardy favorites – the comfort food of the plant world – take him into every corner of the world to find these treasures and the stories behind each one.
Detailed botanical portraits and Chris’ intimate secrets of how to know and grow his “ladies” give readers every tool they need to be successful.
Vivid photographs of the bulbs flowering in historic gardens, homes, and cemeteries transport readers on their own bulb hunt throughout the country.
With Cherie’s sample landscape plan using these carefree plants, Loela takes readers through every season of the year to see what the garden will look like in bloom.
Easy to follow instructions on forcing bulbs inside and step-by-step photos to create your own floral art lets everyone become a bulb gardener, even if you don’t have a yard!
An excerpt from the book,
That first rescue hunt took me to a little German community less than an hour away from Texas A&M, where I went to school. I’d heard this used to be the third largest town in Texas, but there wasn’t much there anymore. In the early 1900s the area was littered with cotton plantations. The town’s success rode on the back of the Southern Pacific rail line that hauled cotton to the East coast. It was known for its beautiful Victorian homes built during the cotton era. Each fall, the crimson blooms of the oxblood lily, Rhodophiala bifida, emerged around the oak trees and next to these stately homes. When I began my search of the oxblood lily, also called the schoolhouse lily because of the timing of its bloom at the start of the school year, my mentor and friend, Dr. Bill Welch, who had done extensive research on the heirloom plants found in Texas, shared his knowledge with me. Although many people believe the oxblood lily to be native to Central Texas, it was actually an introduced plant from Argentina brought by colonist and German-born botanist/farmer Peter Heinrich Oberwetter. Upon Oberwetter’s arrival to Texas in the late1840s, he started a collection of native rain lilies and began sending them out to friends all over the world. When the Civil War broke out, he sided with the Union, probably because political upheaval had sent him packing from Germany in the first place. Like many other German colonists, Oberwetter fled to Mexico to escape persecution. Most likely in Mexico he first saw a version of the oxblood lily that became one of his passions. Returning to Texas after the war, he brought with him a number of different bulbs, but the oxblood lily is the plant most commonly associated with his legacy as a plantsman.
Called “The Bulb Hunter” by the New York Times, Chris Wiesinger is known for his relentless pursuit of heirloom bulbs and his desire to understand their history. Chris earned a degree in horticulture education at Texas A&M University and is owner of The Southern Bulb Company.
Cherie Foster Colburn, who also attended Texas A&M and Texas Woman’s University, is an award-winning garden writer and children’s book author (Our Shadow Garden, illustrated by children in treatment at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center). As a professional landscape designer and owner of Nature’s Tapestry, Cherie specializes in low-maintenance residential and commercial plans.
Artists Loela Barry and Johan Kritzinger, South African natives, co-own JoLoe Art. Loela is degreed in landscape architecture and certified in floral design, both from Texas A&M University. Johan is a registered professional chemical engineer and photographer. Both Loela and Johan are artists in several mediums, including their own unique version they call “chemical art.”
Heirloom Bulbs for Today
By Chris Wiesinger and Cherie Foster Colburn
Bright Sky Press
Hardcover, 180 pages, $34.95 USD
Heirloom Gardening in the South: Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens
By William C. Welch & Greg Grant
A new edition of the classic work, The Southern Heirloom Garden adds 300 more pages of valuable information about heirloom plants belong in Southern gardens. Tough and adapted, tried and true, pretty and useful, these living antiques – passed through countless generations – represent the foundation of traditional gardens as we know them today.
Heirloom Gardening in the South is a comprehensive resource that also offers a captivating, personal encounter with two dedicated and passionate gardeners whose love of heritage gardening infuses the work from beginning to end. Anyone who wants to know how to find and grow time-honored and pass-along plants or wants to create and nurture a traditional garden is sure to find this a must-have addition to their home gardening library.
A book excerpt:
A Garden in the Wilderness, German Influence by Greg Grant
With the exception of Missouri, no Southern state received such a massive influx of German immigrants as did Texas. Ship after ship filled with Germans seeking their “new Germany” arrived into the ports of Galveston, Indianola, and New Orleans. In 1846, about eight thousand arrived in Galveston alone. Because the immigrants tended to settle together, the German influence was often far more pronounced, or even overwhelming, locally. According to German Seed in Texas Soil, the populations of Galveston, Houston, and San Antonio during the 1850s were roughly one-third German.
As new arrivals, the Germans gardened to feed themselves. In addition to what they could grow, the immigrants harvested a great many foods from the wild, including wild grapes, plums, blackberries, and anything else deemed edible. As one German settler put it, “We ate what we liked and we ate what we didn’t like.”
Like most early settlers, the Germans grew such edible crops as sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, corn and cabbage. It doesn’t appear that the Germans were responsible for introducing any new types of vegetables into Texas, but they can be credited with new uses for existing crops. It was the German influence that led to an increased consumption of white, or “German” potatoes, and the use of cabbage for kraut, tobacco for cigars, and wheat for “light bread” and flour tortillas.
At least in their own estimation, the German immigrants were generally better gardeners than their Anglo neighbors. In 1845, Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, the first commissioner-general of the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, pointed out, “All of the garden vegetables grow abundantly if one takes the pains to plant them. The American is usually too lazy to prepare a garden. Rather than go to such trouble, he prefers to live on salted meat, bacon, corn, and coffee and to deny himself any greenery either for nourishment or for beautifying the home. However, the German settlements are distinguished by their beautiful gardens, vegetables, and flowers.”
Apparently, Germans were among the first settlers in Texas to adorn their surroundings with flowers and ornamental plantings. Traveling across Texas in 1854, Frederick Law Olmstead described his accommodations for a night he spent in the German community of New Braunfels: “A little room it proved, with blue walls again, and oak furniture … two large windows with curtains, and evergreen roses trained over them on the outside – not a pane of glass missing or broken – the first sleeping room we have had in Texas where this was the case.”
What’s Inside the book:
Essays on naturalizing daffodils, slips and starts, and growing fruit;
An heirloom plant encyclopedia;
Extensive plant lists (bulbs, cemetery plants, etc.)
The latest on the creation of two of the authors’ personal gardens
Building on the popularity of the original edition, this lively, entertaining, and informative new book from two proven experts will be enthusiastically welcomed by gardeners and horticulturists throughout Texas and the South.
Patty Leander, Travis County Master Garden and Texas Gardener contributing writer says about Heirloom Gardening in the South, “Combining world history, abundant horticultural wisdom and two lifetimes of experience, Bill and Greg bring tribute, reverence, and authentic meaning to the term ‘heirloom’. When I read the section on German influences I couldn’t help but think of my own grandfather of German heritage, a farmer who loved coaxing beauty and bounty from his land in Alamance County, North Carolina. In today’s hyper-paced world, we need such gentle reminders of the customs, cultures, and plants that have shaped and contributed to our rich Southern heritage. Thank heaven for Bill Welch and Greg Grant, and for their dedication to Texas and the South.”
William C. Welch is professor and AgriLife Extension landscape horticulturist in the Texas A&M System. He has many years of experience with garden clubs and nursery organizations and is a regular contributor to Southern Living Magazine. On the board of directors of the Southern Garden History Society, he is also an honorary member of the Garden Club of America, which awarded him its distinguished service medal in 2008.
Greg Grant is the Stephen F. Austin Gardens outreach research associate at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. A former AgriLife Extension agent and lecturer in horticulture at SFA, Grant has traveled extensively to gardens in the U.S. and Europe and is a popular speaker on garden topics throughout the South. He is a regular contributor to Neil Sperry’s Gardens and writes the column, “In Greg’s Garden,” for Texas Gardener.
Heirloom Gardening in the South
By William C. Welch & Greg Grant
Texas A&M University Press
Flexbound, 535 pages, $29.95 USD