Tag: Virtual Gardener

Hugs for Hugelculture

Whilst dreaming of all the stuff I want to grow this spring and perusing the latest seed catalogs my eye catches a picture of a giant mountain of produce. What is this, I wonder.

A schematic image of a Hügelkultur mound. (A = wood with soil, B = leaves (possibly turf), C = compost, D = garden soil (not shown is the top layer of mulch to protect against erosion and drying out))

Turns out, it’s a hugel and growing plants in a hugel is called hugelculture. Hugelculture are no-dig raised beds. They hold moisture, build fertility, maximize surface volume for soil warming and are great spaces for growing fruit, vegetables and herbs. Developed centuries ago in Eastern Europe, permaculturists are drawing renewed attention to it now.

The part of this technique that is really compelling is that you are growing, but you are doing so as part of a composting process by employing raised planting beds constructed on top of decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials.

Hugelculture replicates the natural process of decomposition that occurs on forest floors. Trees that fall in a forest often become nurse logs, decaying and providing ecological facilitation to seedlings. Walk through the woods and you will see many fallen logs. A log that has rested on the forest floor for five or ten years will be covered in moss, mushrooms, wildflowers and even young trees. Poke at it and you will notice that the decaying wood is damp in all but the most serious of droughts. As the wood decays, its porosity increases allowing it to store water “like a sponge”. The water is slowly released back into the environment, benefiting nearby plants.

Start here for a simple definition: http://homesteadingstewards.com/gardening/huglekulture-hugelculture/

In California they are pushing the envelope with hugel pots and vertical hugels http://lowcostvegetablegarden.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/garden-bed-construction.html

Don’t be put off by the article on vermicomposting toilets, it’s a goldmine of information http://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/many-benefits-hugelkultur

Which trees to use and which to avoid clearly stated here, plus many videos http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

Speaking of videos, don’t forget You Tube. Search “hugelculture” and a variety of clips come up, long and short. Some even show you how to make a hugel with a foundation!

Finally, for more information, google the “Fathers of Hugelculture” and read about Sepp Holzer, the Austrian agricultural rebel, who almost went to prison for not pruning his fruit trees, Geoff Lawton, the down under permaculturist, and here in the USA, Paul Wheaton.

Now, who wants to build a hugel? If you are interested in working on a display hugel here at The Frelinghuysen, please email the Virtual Gardener, lparness@morrispark.net.

==Lesley Parness


Lidderdale: The Fern Gatherer

This past summer, the Virtual Gardener fell in love with ferns. She is not the first to succumb to their charms. In the Victorian era, pteridomania was a craze which obsessed England at every level of society, from the Royal family to impoverished farm workers.

Wiki tells us that “the word is a portmanteau of the biological name for ferns and ‘mania’ in the sense of a craze”; in other words, pteridomania was a passion for ferns. It manifested in a huge range of ways, from going on collecting expeditions to gather specimens, to including fern motifs on every decorative object imaginable. The term was coined in 1855 by author Charles Kingsley: “Your daughters, perhaps, have been seized with the prevailing ‘Pteridomania’ and wrangling over unpronounceable names of species and yet you cannot deny that they find enjoyment in it.”

Continue reading “Pteridomania”

Yes You Canna!

Canna Lucifer

Yes, you can add pizazz to your garden with Canna, Caladium and Colacasia.

The strong focus on spring flowering bulbs in our gardens can overshadow the many wonderful choices of summer flowering bulbs that will perform quite well here in an increasingly hot New Jersey.

Cannas bring tropical splendor and architectural interest to summer borders and they also flourish along the damp margins of a pond. These bold plants feature clustered, flaglike blooms in a brilliant array of colors. They are deer resistant, easy to grow and attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Continue reading “Yes You Canna!”

Join us to make a “Cabinet of Wonders”

Ritratto Museo Ferrante Imperato

What better amusement in this Season of Wonders might there be than to create a “Cabinet of Wonders?”

No ordinary piece of furniture, but a repository of the unusual and the remarkable, Cabinets of Wonder have contained objects of ethnographic or archeological interest, religious or historical relics, and medical oddities.

Continue reading “Join us to make a “Cabinet of Wonders””

Frederick Law Olmsted

A special guest is scheduled for January 12th’s New Year’s Party – Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted. Yes, we know, he died in 1903. But that was not an obstacle for Mr. John Bartram, who died in 1777, and appeared at the 2011 Friends New Year’s Party. Thanks to the theatrical excellence of Kirk Brown, it will not be an obstacle for Mr. Olmsted either. Here is some homework to do before the Members Only New Years Party. Garnering information about Mr. Olmsted is aided by the many wonderful websites about him, including www.fredericklawolmsted.com. Here we learn that his concept of the role of the landscape architect was “as broad as his social and political concerns. Olmsted saw his profession as a way to shape the American city by designing public parks and park systems to meet a wide range of recreational needs.” You can register (for free) to take part in the Olmsted forum, which is populated with knowledgeable folks who frequent Olmsted parks.

The National Parks Service Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, MA has a neat website http://www.nps.gov/frla/index.htm. Here is an interactive World Map of Olmsted designed sites.

To learn about all the places that his firm and his sons designed go to http://ww3.rediscov.com/olmsted/. A quick search revealed some 236 New Jersey properties, private and municipal, received the Olmsted touch. These include many in Essex County, many near Trenton and a number here in Morris County including Drew University, Glen Farm (a cemetery) the private homes of the Twombleys, Perkins, Willis’s and a Miss Margaret Howes. What fun to research further and see if any of them are extant.

The city of Louisville loves Olmsted big time. Go to http://www.olmstedparks.org to read about their efforts to restore these beautiful public spaces in their city where, they write, that Olmsted designed for three types of recreation: Recreative or individual use, such as walking or relaxing; Gregarious or social use, such as picnics; Exertive or athletic use, such as ballgames.

These activities were to be enjoyed in enhanced parklands where “sequestered and limitless natural scenery” could have a “poetic and tranquilizing influence” on an urban populace otherwise surrounded by brick and steel, cement and fumes. That’s how I like my parks to affect people too!

Finally, visit http://www.olmsted.org. for learning at the highest level. Here are links to the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian and Harvard Design School.

In the cold, coming months surely you will have an hour or so to peruse these sites and learn something of a man whose work “reflects a vision of American communities and American society still relevant today – a commitment to visually compelling and accessible green space that restores and nurtures the body and spirit of all people, regardless of their economic circumstances.” Then, come to the New Year’s Party and be prepared to meet the man!

by Lesley Parness – lparness@morrisparks.net

Swat and Scratch!


What is this gardener’s bane? Worse than weeds, the mosquito can damage my garden by keeping me out of it! There are some 63 species of mosquitoes living here in New Jersey. Some will travel just a few yards for a meal, others can fly as far as 50 miles. The potential for contracting St. Louis Encephalitis, Eastern Equine Encephalitis or West Nile Virus through a mosquito bite makes them more than a simple pest.

Continue reading “Swat and Scratch!”


Hanging Kokedama Plant

by Lesley Parness lparness@morrisparks.net

Around this time of year, my fingers are itching to touch soil and roots. So learning about kokedama offered the perfect winter time planting technique. I first saw these charming plantings at last year’s Philadelphia Flower Show in the booth of City Planters, a Philly florist. I was enchanted, bought one and have been learning about them since then. At each of the following websites, you will need to search “kokedama.” Start at www.designsponge.com for a quick intro. Pretty cool, yes?

Continue reading “Kokedama”


by Lesley Parness – lparness@morrisparks.net

This year, fragrance is the Plant Sale’s theme. Likewise, it is the topic of programming for Garden State Gardens (www.gardenstategardens.org) and for a new cell phone tour here at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum. To get you up to speed, follow your nose to these sites.

Start at coty.com to learn about our funder’s history.

From the sublime writings of Diane Ackerman in “A Natural History of the Senses,” at http://www.american-buddha.com/lit.naturalhistsenses.smell.htm to the ridiculous at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smell-O-Vision.

Understand the role of smell in human evolution at http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2011/05/19/Sense-of-smell-drove-brain-evolution/UPI-44821305848041/.

Enjoy some pleasant narration on the nose at http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/media/distillations/088-sense-of-scent.aspx.

And finally, listen to smell snob Chandler Burr, the New York Time’s first ever fragrance critic, at http://poptech.org/popcasts/chandler_burr__poptech_2008.

Our Pollinating Pals

by Lesley Parness – lparness@morrisparks.net

In reflecting back on this summer in the garden, I can definitely say that something was missing: Bees! What is more pleasant than dozing off on a mid-summer afternoon to the quiet drone of someone else (human or otherwise) working hard to improve your garden? Statistics confirm what our senses already know – pollinator populations are diminishing. Animal and insect pollinators include bees, moths, flies, bats, birds, ants, butterflies, wasps and beetles. It has been estimated that pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops. Domestic honey bees pollinate approximately $10 billion worth of crops in the U.S. each year. What can we do? Plenty. This summer, we’ll be hosting several programs on pollinators so here’s some homework to get ready:

Begin at www.pollinator.org – a great site for an introduction to the topic. FYI – NJ is an “Eastern Broadleaf Forest Oceanic Province.”

At the Applewood seed company’s website, http://www.applewoodseed.com/ we learn that “Animal and insect pollinators are essential to pollination in over 75% of the world’s flowering plants, which includes roughly 35 percent of the world’s crops.” See their “Pollinator Conservation” section for good plant selections.

At www.xerces.org tackle the heavy science. The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. For forty years, the Society has been at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.

Finally, at www.nwf.org you will gain confidence to create a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Whether you have an apartment balcony or a 20-acre farm, you can create a garden that attracts beautiful wildlife and helps restore habitat in commercial and residential areas. Look for a class all about pollinators in our next issue.

Virtual Gardener Fall, 2011 Guiseppe Arcimboldo

Virtual Gardener Fall, 2011 Guiseppe Arcimboldo –

This season’s ArTboretum offering is an exhibit of pumpkins carved by artist Nelson Hancock. Nelson found his inspiration in the work of Italian painter, Guiseppe Arcimboldo (1526 – 1593).

Born in Milan, Guiseppe Arcimboldo would rise to the ranks of “Royal Portraitist” in the Court of Emperor Maximillian II. After his death, Arcimboldo’s work was largely forgotten by the art world. It was not until the 1930’s, when the NYC’s Museum of Modern Art mounted an exhibit on Surrealism and Dadaism and included his paintings, that Arcimboldo found his role as mentor of surrealists. How this essentially Mannerist painter came to mentor 20th century surrealists is a fascinating story.

Last year, the Washington’s National Gallery of Art presented “Archimboldo – Nature and Fantasy. Paintings and exhibit text may be viewed at http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2010/arcimboldo/arcimboldo_brochure.pdf

Study his painting “Spring”- can you count the more than 80 flowering plants that compose it? “Summer” features a locavore’s delight.

The Virtual Gardener suggests you visit these all of these sites, in order to understand the world in which Arcimboldo created his fanciful, metaphorical, somewhat sarcastic and always and technically brilliant works.

http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/arcimboldo_giuseppe.html – to learn about Mannerism and link to art museums across the globe with Arcimboldos in their collections.

http://www.theartwolf.com/arcimboldo_bio.htm – to read Arcimboldo’s inspired poetry.

http://arcimboldo.interfree.it/inglese/index.htm – for a nice chronology of his life and interesting comparisons to Leonardo Da Vinci.

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Giuseppe_Arcimboldo – read the section on his “Legend” to see how Arcimboldo’s vision lives on in the 21st century.