FCN Blog

20 Tips to Prepare for Gardening Success

by Jesse Eastman

Last year’s canned tomatoes are nearly gone. The “fresh” produce at the grocery store is starting to look a little bit suspect. If you have to spend one more day dreaming about spring instead of actually doing something, you might just freak out. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Statistics show that in the month of March, 4 out of 5 gardeners are climbing up the walls, but only 1 out of 5 gardeners is actually prepared for the rapidly approaching gardening season (statistics may be completely made up).

When spring comes knocking, will you be ready to answer? Here are 20 tips to prepare you for success in your garden this spring:

  1. Choose your seeds – If there are certain seed varieties you just have to have, get them soon. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in our store, just let us know, we’re happy to place special orders and save you the shipping cost charged by seed catalogs.
  2. Start some seeds indoors – Make the most of the growing season by starting certain seeds indoors this winter. Use seed starting trays, seedling heat mats, and plant lights to get your seeds going. Once they have germinated, you can place them near a south-facing window for the most amount of winter sunlight. Keep in mind that even in a bright window, providing additional full-spectrum artificial light will ensure they don’t get too leggy and stretched out. Peppers and tomatoes are two garden staples that can benefit from this indoor head start.
  3. Select a garden site – If you don’t already have a garden area established, tour your property for garden locations that get lots of sun exposure. Most vegetables prefer at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Be sure to pay attention to nearby trees – they may be bare now but will leaf out and create shade later this year. Other important characteristics include good soil drainage and access to water.
  4. Determine the size of your garden and the placement of your plants – Draw a plan. Research how much space each plant will need to ensure adequate space. If you crowd plants too close, they will underperform. Also consider whether taller plants like corn or climbing vines will cast shade. While some plants may suffer in shade, some plants such as lettuce will thrive in a cooler shaded location.
  5. Build raised beds – Don’t have raised beds yet? Now is the time to find out what it’s all about! Raised beds can help improve drainage, can keep your garden tidier, and raise the surface of your garden so you don’t have to bend over as far.
  6. Check your supplies – Take an inventory of your gardening tools and supplies. Make sure your tools are clean, dry, sharpened and in good working order. Repair or replace any equipment that is in poor shape. Proper tool care not only ensures your tools work when you need them, but can save you money and can help prevent the spread of disease in your garden (clean cuts heal better than cuts made with dull blades). Were there tools or supplies you wished you had last year? Stock up now so your projects don’t get stalled because you’re unprepared.
  7. Read a book – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so spend some time researching gardening techniques, new varieties, and other topics related to your gardening goals. It’s always fun to get some new ideas to implement in your garden each year. Some great all-purpose primers include Secrets from my Grandma’s Garden by Don Eversoll, How to Buy the Right Plants, Tools, & Garden Supplies by Jim Fox, and The New Vegetable Grower’s Handbook by Frank Tozer.
  8. Research irrigation options – Research options a more efficient watering program. Replace leaky soaker hoses, convert to drip irrigation, and group plants by their water needs so you’re not wasting water on plants that want less. A well-maintained irrigation system can save you loads of time and can help reduce disease such as botrytis and powdery mildew.
  9. Plan for weed control – Weeds in a garden are a fact of life, but there are steps you can take now to minimize their impact on your garden and your time. Sterile straw mulch is a great weed suppressant and can be easily composted at the end of the year. It has the added benefit of keeping sunlight off the soil, which reduces water loss. Planting your plants close together (but not so close they get crowded) can also reduce sunlight on the soil and helps prevent weeds from getting established.
  10. Eliminate pest hidey holes – Don’t leave debris lying around near the garden such as large boards or stones where garden pests like to hide. Think about barriers you can install, including everything from adding new fencing to planting border plants, such as marigolds and nasturtiums, to keep pests at bay.
  11. Create and maintain a compost area – When done correctly, homemade compost can be quite a benefit in your garden. You can create rich compost from your grass clippings, vegetable waste, egg shells, coffee grounds, and chipped woody pruning while keeping load of materials out of the landfill. To keep the pile aerated, turn it with a garden fork each month. Compost is easy to make, adds important nutrients and microbes to the soil, and helps your soil hold moisture levels.
  12. Prune trees – Late winter or early spring – before buds begin to open — is the best time to prune most deciduous trees and shrubs. Cut out any dead, diseased or damaged branches. Also look for crossing branches where bark can rub together and create a wound. If you are doing significant pruning or removing a tree entirely, consider the shade it used to create and what impact this change will have on your nearby landscape and garden.
  13. Prepare garden beds – Remove any remaining winter mulch or leaves and work fresh amendment or compost into the soil. Get rid of other debris that may have found its way into your beds. If you have raised beds, inspect them for rot and repair as needed.
  14. Fix fences, gates, and trellises – Winter can be rough on wooden garden structures. Take a survey of your garden and landscape to determine whether any repairs or replacements are needed before the growing season hits.
  15. Remove any winter weeds – While many weeds are annuals and die in the winter, some, such as thistle, bindweed, and many grasses are perennial and may pop up with no warning. Take care of any interlopers that have sprung up since your fall clean-up.
  16. Clean your greenhouse – If you have a greenhouse that has been idle all winter, it’s time to get it back into shape. Sweep out debris on the floor and benches and disinfect the inside of the greenhouse, including the walls. Wash out and disinfect pots and seed trays. Ventilate your greenhouse when the weather permits and let everything dry out well.
  17. Get your soil tested – Pick up a free soil sample kit and take it to the CSU Soil Lab to find out if you need to add nutrients and/or adjust the pH level of your soil.
  18. Start (or continue) a journal – A garden journal can be a gardener’s best friend. Keep your plans, drawings, and purchase receipts all in one place. Make notes of what grows well and what struggles. Keep track of what to do when. The best way to learn from your past mistakes and capitalize on your past successes is to make sure you’ve got good records.
  19. Get in shape – There’s no way around it, gardening can be hard work. If you’re like me, you might benefit from a little bit of exercise before you start in on the demanding physicality of garden prep. Start going for longs vigorous walks, or better, yet, a jog or a bike ride. Start doing some stretches so it doesn’t hurt so much when you bend over to plant your garden. Do some core exercises like planks, bicycle crunches, and leg lifts to protect your back from injury.
  20. Enjoy the outdoors – As the days get longer and warmer, take some time to appreciate just being outside with nature. Growing a garden is satisfying work, and each season brings with it exciting new opportunities, challenges, and rewards!

Fort Collins Nursery employees receive awards!

The Colorado Nursery & Greenhouse Association (CNGA) is pleased to announce the 2017 Horizon Award were presented to Shannon Eversley, CCNP & Alex Tisthammer, of Fort Collins Nursery, in February. The Horizon Award is given to individuals who, have been in the industry less than five years, exhibit the qualities and high standards exemplifying CNGA, and during that time have made a significant contribution to a CNGA firm. The CNGA Board of Directors voted to recognize Eversley & Tisthammer for their contributions and success as two members of a three-person outdoor management team. Their creativity and energy are part of what keeps local businesses moving forward. These two are continuously looking to learn and for more responsibility which is imperative to the growth of an organization. They helped to restructure outdoor management team to increase department functionality and they have an outstanding knowledge of plant material. They both have a great attitude and energy and are able and willing to work in many different departments.

Eversley & Tisthammer were presented with the award at the CNGA Industry Celebration
held during the ProGreen Expo trade show in Denver, Colorado.

Winter dreams of springtime bounty

By Jesse Eastman

GardenSketch3_WEBAccording to Greek mythology, Persephone, bride of Hades, returns to the underworld every year for a three month reign as Queen of the Underworld. When she goes, her mother, Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, despairs at her daughter’s absence, plunging us into a cold barren winter when no food can grow. Perhaps it is pompous of me to aim for something greater than god-like behavior, but I say that rather than despair, we should use these short dark days to plan for an ever more bountiful spring.

There is a wealth of knowledge that can be gleaned from a thoughtful and thorough reflection on the previous season’s garden. Better yet, take a careful read through your garden journal (if you keep one – if not, maybe this is the year to start). Take a walk down memory lane and think about what you want to change in the New Year.

Often overlooked is the right balance of which vegetables to grow. I never seem to plant enough carrots, and I can never resist planting more tomatoes and peppers than I know what to do with. Even a small patch of potatoes can have massive yields, especially in well-cultivated soil that allows for good root penetration. Corn, on the other hand, needs ample space and many plants to ensure proper pollination.

Perhaps this year will open your eyes to cut flowers. Gladiolas, cosmos, dahlias, and sunflowers all make great arrangements that can easily brighten any room, and they serve multiple benefits in the garden. Not only do they bring a veritable painter’s palate of color to the garden, but they attract a wide variety of important pollinators whose busy work in the garden is essential for a good harvest. You could even mix in a few well-placed perennials with your vegetables and herbs – coneflower, iris, and salvia all make potent additions to any garden. Maybe daylilies with their subtly sweet edible blossoms could find a place between the tarragon and basil.

Planning next year’s garden doesn’t just need to be a process of fine-tuning. My father loves to tell me “the best gardeners in the world have killed more plants than anyone else.” The only way to improve as a gardener is to take risks. Choose something you have never considered growing before and give it a shot. Okra was my flying leap last year. It is a gorgeous plant – deeply split maple-like leaves and showy cream-colored flowers – and it loves our long hot sunny days. Turns out you have to pick the pods when they are very small, or else they get exceptionally tough and borderline inedible. I’ll try again this year, and I’ll be a little quicker to harvest.

These types of reflections will make us better gardeners, and by reliving our horticultural exploits, we are reminded of the pleasures we derive from our labors. So while Persephone is hanging out with Hades and Demeter’s distress gives us a moment of respite from the toils of the soil, let us pour a cup of hot cocoa, pull out a pen and paper, and indulge in a daydream.

Originally published in January 2014


Native Plants for the Win

By Jesse Eastman

North Fork Valley

Over the holidays my wife and I visited western Colorado to see friends and family, and while there, I was struck by the awe-inspiring and rugged beauty of the native western landscape. Craggy snow-capped peaks loomed in the background, standing watch over the flat-topped mesas speckled with juniper and sage. Rivers in western Colorado are deceptively large, carrying the vast majority of the water that flows through our state, but providing scant drinking water for the native plants that cling to life in the dry hard soil. All in all, it’s a very sparse aesthetic presentation, and it’s one I love dearly.


Getting to see what thrives in those harsh conditions got me thinking about how our own Front Range looked before we diverted water to feed our lawns, added compost and fertilizer to feed our soil, created urban heat sinks by paving vast areas of land, and altered the ecosystem by importing (sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally) a myriad of non-native plants, insects, and animals. Many of these imports are wonderful – a perfectly shaped linden tree, a gaudy peony, the buzz of a honey bee – but they have a tendency to mask the beauty that thrives here naturally.

Many native plants are overlooked in landscape planning. For some people, our natives are too dull a color, not lush enough, not green enough, and evoke a barren and desolate wasteland. To me, that’s like claiming Ansel Adams photographs are dull and boring simply because they are in black and white. Native plants often don’t look all that great when they’re nothing more than young starts in pots at a nursery, looking a little awkward and scraggly until they’ve had several years to establish in a landscape, and in today’s world of instant-everything, that can seem like an eternity. If you have the patience, however, the payoff can be truly stunning.

Desert Holly (Mahonia fremontii)

Two plants that stood out to me in particular were Desert Holly (Mahonia fremontii) and Green Joint-fir (Ephedra viridis). I encountered both when I was driving on a high ridge above the Gunnison River near Delta. This area has coarse yellowish soil, receives almost no moisture, and is a rocky unforgiving place for any plant to live. On the steep slopes that fall off to the sides of the ridge both of these plants could be found growing to sizes I have never seen anywhere.


Desert Holly (Mahonia fremontii)

Desert Holly is an evergreen holly in the same genus as Oregon Grape Holly, and if you look closely, you can see the resemblance. Stiff sharp leaves, a dense compact habit, evergreen leaves that change color in the winter but cling resolutely to the branches. Unique to the Desert Holly is the foliage color and the overall shape of the shrub. A silvery-blue color in the spring and summer, leaves have turned to a purple-bronze color with the dry cold of winter. While they normally bear fruit, all the specimens I found on this trip had been grazed bare by hungry critters (most likely birds). These are one of the few varieties of broadleaf evergreen (meaning non-needle foliage) that will tolerate our bright Colorado sun and not burn to a crisp, and they are happiest in dry nutrient-poor soil. Standing alone amidst the sparse grass and small perennial plants, each bush was a dense and well-formed mass standing nearly five feet tall and eight feet wide.

Green Joint-fir (Ephedra viridis)

Green Joint-fir is a very close relative of the Bluestem Joint-fir we sell at the nursery. Both are members of the Ephedra genus, a group of plants that can be brewed into a very mild stimulant, thus its alternative name: Mormon Tea. It looks a lot like many of the plants known as Brooms, with no visible leaves to speak of, instead showing off with brightly colored stems. Ephedra viridis has green stems (viridis being Latin for green) that stand out sharply against the subtle earth tones of the wintry western Colorado plateau. Tall, narrow, and straight-stemmed, this plant juts up towards the sky, not seeming too concerned about the challenging conditions it inhabits. The Green Joint-fir is the largest native ephedra, growing slightly taller and narrower than smaller Bluestem Joint-fir, whose habit is shorter and more sprawling. A source of year-round color, either can provide a vivid and structural component to any sunny and dry landscape.

As we are entering 2018, the experience of seeing these magnificent plants thriving in such brutal conditions gives me pause to consider the beauty and utility of all our native options. This year, I’m resolved to do better with native plants. As if their unique charms weren’t enough, they are incredibly water efficient, often need minimal (if any) fertilizer, and are generally less prone to forage by animals and pest insects than their non-native counterparts.

Green Joint-fir (Ephedra viridis)

When it comes to trying to force a landscape to fit into an unfamiliar climate, I’m as guilty as anyone of ignoring the hints our regional environment gives us. I love Japanese Maples, even though they are so poorly suited for life in Colorado. I want a patch of green grass to play on with my dogs, even though a patch of slender Blue Grama and coarse Switchgrass would be more appropriate on the Front Range. I understand how much effort it takes to choose to plant a New Mexico Privet instead of a dogwood. But with a little careful planning and some patience, you can create an absolutely stunning landscape with native plants, and you’ll be glad you did. It will need less care and attention so you can devote more time to other pursuits. The Desert Holly can grow to such a magnificent specimen under the relentless western Colorado sun and the Green Joint-fir is happy growing in soil that seems incapable of supporting life, and they’ll gladly do the same in your landscape while you’re busy perfecting your tomato beds!

Holiday memories

by Cortney Moore

Originally published November 2013

HeartPinecone_WEBThe holidays seem to bring out the best in humanity. We see people dropping money in red buckets with the bell ringers or packing food and toys into big boxes wrapped like presents. Families choose tags off trees to buy presents for the less fortunate and more people take the time to volunteer.

Take a few moments and contemplate the best of your holidays. Let everything melt away and recall your best holiday memory. My favorite memories are wrapped up in poinsettias, fresh wreaths, cut trees, shiny keepsake ornaments and the people with whom I’ve shared such precious moments.

At Fort Collins Nursery we focus on the feel good side of the holidays. We offer a space that is friendly and warm for you to get your holiday fix. Our dedicated staff is pride of its long history of creating holiday memories.

When you pull into our parking lot a forest of gorgeous greenery is waiting for you. Step out of the car and the smell of evergreen meets your nose. Our tree lot is manned by hard working folks with a smile who know the importance of picking out the right tree. From cut trees in all sizes and varieties to live Christmas trees (if you are looking for something more permanent), we’ve got them all.

Enter the Garden Shop through our hall of trees showcasing keepsake ornaments. Don’t forget to grab a cup of coffee, tea, hot coco or cider! Our garden shop greeters can help you select the perfect gift or take your order for a handmade wreath that can be shipped anywhere in the United States. They might even offer you a peak through our holiday glasses and all the lights you see turn to candy canes, reindeer or snowmen.

Now that you have something warm to sip on, wander through the gift area and eventually you will discover the Design Center where the magic happens! You’ll find our talented design team busily working on beautiful, handmade, custom and stock wreaths. Once they have wowed you with their skills, you can discuss having them create a special design for you. If you’re pressed for time, you can simply customize your own wreath by visiting our online store.  

As you turn from the design center you see pretty poinsettias blooming red, pink, white and many other colors. The mini poinsettias are always a hit and make the perfect hostess gift for all your holiday partying. We also have holiday plants like holiday cactus, Norfolk pine and more. Our plant experts are available to answer any questions you have and help you add some blooms and life to your home. Don’t forget to visit the holiday fairies in our miniature gardening corner before you leave.

There is something at Fort Collins Nursery for everyone to be enchanted by this holiday season. Stop by and share your best holiday memory or join us in creating a new one.

Winter houseplant care: A pinch of planning for a pound of pride

by Gerry Hofmann

Originally Published November 2013

LemonNow that the weather is definitely ‘fallish’ & even sometimes a bit like winter, many gardeners turn their attention to the cousins of our outdoor landscapes, namely houseplants. They manage to tide us over the cooler winter months quite nicely, if we just give them a little preventative attention.

Some plants have had a summer vacation of their own outside, enjoying the extra light & air for a few months. If you had any in this category, a couple of things to watch out for can keep trouble at bay: spraying them with tepid water, including the undersides of the leaves in the kitchen sink to dislodge any dirt.  It may also be a good idea to knock the smaller ones out of their pots to check for insects looking for a free ride inside.  Give them a good drink while you’re at it, since inside heated air is very drying, which will draw water out of the soil, too. Some leaves need removing if they have gotten sunscald or show evidence of slug or insect damage. When you trim, clean the scissors or clippers (ideally with rubbing alcohol) between cutting different plants so you are not transmitting anything from one to the other.

Most houseplants species originate in the hot, humid tropics. They are happiest in those conditions; however, that can be a tall order to replicate with our over-heated homes. Restoring some of the humidity with frequent misting along with situating plants near kitchens & bathrooms will replicate some of that.

Before looking for brand new houseplants, investigate where you are most likely to site them. Are the spots on the south or west side, where strong sunlight extends? If so, you may find the most success with succulents. These are thick-leafed plants, which are utilized to store water within.  About the only way you can kill a succulent is to overwater it.

Speaking of watering, many people take the ‘more is better’ approach with sketchy results. Especially in sealed-bottom pots, where the extra water has no place to go, too much watering prevents the roots from accessing oxygen. Basically, the plant drowns. The best way to prevent this is to limit watering to 1-2 times a week, deep-watering when you do. Smaller plants may need water more often than larger ones. (If you find a plant wilting long before this, it may be root-bound. That means that it has used up a lot of the materials in the soil, making a bigger plant & roots along the way. Find a bigger pot for it.) The easiest way to check for water is to check the soil moisture just below the surface dirt; if it doesn’t stick to your fingers, it’s pretty dry. You can also just lift the pot (unless it’s too big) to check the weight, a dry plant weighs considerably less……after a little practice you will be able to tell quite easily.

If you are in the market for a larger plant & have a sunny spot, consider a citrus plant. A lemon tree, for example, can bring an aura of the warm Mediterranean into your home, which is especially welcome during the oncoming winter months. Citrus plants are relatively care-free & pest-free and may even yield some bonus fruit. The blossoms of many smell quite sweet too. Fort Collins Nursery has a wide variety of citrus plants, including: oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, kumquats, tangerines, key limes, and more!


The Big Scoop on 2017 Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off & Fall Jamboree

Our 9th Annual Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off was a huge success!  Even extremely windy conditions couldn’t keep our record breaking crowd of over 400 giant pumpkin enthusiasts away.  This year’s competition featured 23 entries in multiple categories from some of the top growers in the region.  The day’s top prize went to Marc Sawtelle from Colorado Springs, CO, making him a first time Fort Collins Nursery Weigh-Off champion.  Marc’s entry came in at a whopping 1245 lbs.!  Here is a list of this year’s winners.

Heaviest Pumpkin

  • 1st Place- Marc Sawtelle (1245 lbs)
  • 2nd Place- Jim Grande (1216 lbs)
  • 3rd Place- Joe Scherber (1118 lbs)
  • 4th Place- Gary Grande (1114 lbs)
  • 5th Place- Gary Shenfish (815 lbs)

 Field Pumpkin

  • 1st Place- Dustin Grubb

 Howard Dill (Prettiest Pumpkin)

  • 1st Place- Lance Hoffa

 Longest Long Gourd

  • 1st Place- Joe Scherber (100.5″)

Kids Division

  • 1st Place-Zach & Olivia Thayer (93 lbs)
  • 2nd Place- Byron Evans (27 lbs)
  • 3rd Place- Harper Jenkins (21 lbs)

Photo Gallery

What Story Does Your Landscape Tell?

The bride and groom cross the lawn. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The bride and groom cross the lawn. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

There exists a common misconception that there is a right way to design a landscape, that there are certain layouts, certain plant palettes, and certain color combinations that one is required to obey. The truth is that, while based on solid design concepts, too many people get hung up on these “requirements” at the cost of creativity, which can leave landscapes feeling sterile and impersonal. Given the opportunity to create something that truly expresses who you are, why restrain your yard’s potential by sticking to conventional themes? Personally, I’ve always preferred landscapes that tell you a story about the person who created them. At my brother’s wedding back in August I encountered a home that sets the standard for this idea.

Water cascades down the windmill. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Water cascades down the windmill. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The wedding was in beautiful Paso Robles, California at a charming homestead called Home Sweet Home Cottage and Ranch, operated by the Clagg family (if you’re ever in the area and can find a reason to visit, I strongly recommend it). The grounds are broken into a multitude of small vignette settings, each related to the next only in its eccentricity. There is a large central pond ringed with palm trees, a windmill jutting up from an island with water pouring from the top in a sort of 30 foot tall farm fountain. The ceremony took place in front of an outdoor bar whose walls are made up of gigantic slab cross sections of salvaged old growth redwoods. The dinner was held on a well-kept lawn seemed delicate and refined compared to its eclectic surroundings. The barn where the reception took place was decorated with all manner of old arborist tools, antique instruments, and retro neon signs. There is a tree house that

can hold 10 people perched 30 feet up among the massive sprawling limbs of a centuries-old live oak.

Redwood slabs at the altar. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Redwood slabs at the altar. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

All this peculiarity is an embodiment of proprietor of this venue, Randall Clagg. Mr. Clagg is not a typical businessman. He is an arborist by trade, a self-described recovering former hippie, and a character with a personality so unique that he’d seem unbelievable if you found him written into a comic book. Home Sweet Home is the realization of his madcap artist dreams and is always evolving to feed his constant creative hunger. If someone less charismatic had built this landscape, it might feel pretentious and forced, but at the hands of Mr. Clagg the place was drenched in authenticity. It is a pure expression of its creator’s personality, and it is wonderful.

The tree house towers over everyone. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The tree house towers over everyone. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

This authenticity is what transforms a landscape from the simple execution of a design into a magic garden. If you are planning changes to your yard, think about how you can let your creation reflect who you are. Someone who values family and friends highly might create a yard with ample room to play and entertain guests. A die-hard plant lover might tear out every last square inch of turf to make room for a specimen of every plant available. A denizen of the lunatic fringe like Mr. Clagg may never be done, starting two projects for every one he finishes.

The barn, replete with dance floor, chandelier, and neon signs. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The barn, replete with dance floor, chandelier, and neon signs. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Regardless of how a landscape looks compared to a by-the-book design, its true merit lies in its context. If it genuinely represents its creators, it is done right. We shouldn’t be limited by the common ways of doing things. After all, each day we make tons of small decisions about the clothes we wear, the way we speak, how we spend our money, how we treat those around us. All of these small acts define us. Compared to each of these minute acts, creating a landscape is massive. It is a rare opportunity to have a canvas as big as the entire yard to express yourself. It is a canvas that literally wraps your home, it is the ultimate first impression, and if it represents you with genuine authenticity, it will always be perfect.  

By Jesse Eastman

Mr. Clagg checks the pump. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Mr. Clagg checks the pump. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

When a Plant is More Than Just a Plant

At its core, a plant is a carbon-based solar powered machine that exists to pass on its genes. As humans, we add a degree of utility to that definition, seeing opportunities in plants for food, shelter, and beauty. Unfortunately, this is where many people stop, but I believe there is another dimension, often overlooked, that truly connects plants and humans in such complex ways that quantifying the benefits is nearly impossible. Plants provide a myriad of different paths for us to act out one of our basic human urges – to be social animals.

Think about it. How many of you have a plant that has some sort of emotional meaning to it? Perhaps an African violet that was passed down to you by your mother. Perhaps a tree you planted with your kids. Maybe you’ve developed a reputation among your friends as the go-to source for garden-fresh salsa every summer. Whatever the case may be, as a species we’ve learned to ascribe deep meaning to the plants that surround us in ways that define our interactions with one another.

This is something I try to help my customers see when they are shopping for plants. You might have come to the nursery looking for a shade tree because your patio gets too hot, but let’s dig a little deeper. Is there a type of tree that recalls fond childhood memories? What purpose does that patio serve in your life that makes its comfortable enjoyment so key? Can this tree fulfill other needs, such as providing a future treehouse construction site or growing fruit to feed your family? Even wildlife viewing, and all the joy it brings, should be considered.

I often have to remind myself that not everyone (in fact, I’d guess quite a small number of people) pay such close attention to the plants that surround them as we plant nerds do. This does not, however, diminish the importance of the role they play in all our lives. Two young lovers may not be aware that the sweet smell of flowers they will forever associate with their first kiss came from a lilac, but that fragrance will always evoke memories of young love.

There are many subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways humans have learned to incorporate plants into our social fabric. We give cut flowers to show love, sorrow, gratitude, and joy. We delight in unique and delicate flavors from an innumerable variety of plant life. Our language is steeped in references to plants – we speak of our deep-rooted passions, family trees, and we all know someone who is cool as a cucumber. We even associate neighborhoods where big mature trees grow with safety, and studies back this up. A study conducted in Portland, OR showed that neighborhoods with large trees tend to have reduced crime rates. “…trees may reduce crime by signaling to potential criminals that a house is better cared for and, therefore, subject to more effective authority than a comparable house with fewer trees.” Contrarily, neighborhoods with smaller and younger trees tended to have higher crime rates, with the study’s author hypothesizing that these shorter trees act as visual barriers, emboldening criminals who feel concealed. In both of these instances, we see trees representing important threads in our social fabric, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but always there, always passively participating in our lives.

I’m sure there are countless additional strands that bind humans and plants together – Michael Pollan expertly illustrates some of these in great detail in his book The Botany of Desire. These links surround us, change with us, and define us. Streets, Cities, and even nations derive their names from plants (“Guatemala” is derived from the Nahuatl word “Cuauhtēmallān” or “Place of Many Trees). We bemoan the loss of rare species while breeding thousands of new ones. We wage furious war against some plants while bending over backwards to grow others. Our lives and the lives of plants are intricately woven together, and the tapestry this creates is truly beautiful if you pay close enough attention to see it.

By Jesse Eastman

From the kitchen to the garden

By Kathy Reid
Originally published October 2014

istock compost 4webI learned the phrase from my mother: “Garbage is gold.” The garbage she refers to isn’t just any old thing that ends up in the trash can. Her “gold” is the scraps that accumulate in the kitchen from the not-so-perfect leaves of lettuce to the stringy orange carrot peels and the used coffee grounds.

Yes, my mother is a composter and has been since long before it became a fashionable thing to do. As far back as I can remember, there was always some sort of receptacle under the kitchen sink filled with her soupy, sour-smelling accumulation. How often did she tell me over the years, “No, no. Not down the disposal. That garbage is gold!” For my mother is also a vegetable gardener and she learned long ago the magical power of the rich, black compost that she created from things that so often end up down the disposal or in the trash can.

As I washed the dishes the other night in my own kitchen, I contemplated the half-gallon milk cartons that line the space along the back of the sink, stuffed with banana peels, potato skins and apple cores. Nothing is wasted, for I, too, have learned the secret potential of what another might see as mere trash.

I don’t know where my mother learned the skill of turning kitchen refuse into a wonderful soil amendment, but I would guess it was from her own mother. The skill, no doubt, is as ancient as cultivation itself. Whatever the source of the knowledge, I am happy to carry on the tradition.

My mother has taught me so many things, among them the precious nature of garbage. I will think of her next spring as I marvel at the tender seedlings pushing up through the dark, rich soil of my garden. Thanks, Mom!