Gardening

Growing vegetables, herbs, etc. in a small urban space

Yoga for Gardeners Workshop — Call for Questions

Next Saturday, March 14th, 2:30-5pm, is the Yoga for Gardeners Workshop at Willow Street Yoga Center’s Takoma Park Studio.  A portion of the proceeds will go to the benefit of the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum.  It will be a most enjoyable way to prepare for the gardening season, especially after having been inspired by this weekend’s incredibly spring-like weather.   Advance registration is appreciated, though not required, and all levels of yogins and gardeners welcome.

You can come just open to what will be offered — I’ve got lots to share — but if you have specific questions about how to use yoga alignment while gardening, how to address various challenges of embodiment in the garden, or even yoga philosophy or other gardening/yoga topics, please feel free to send them to me as a comment to this entry or by separate email.  I may not be able to get to every question right away, but I will try to address common questions in the workshop and here on the blog and am also always available after class to discuss individual questions.

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Knowing Your Garden (and svadyaya)

This will be my 20th season in my garden.  I know that my back garden — where I grow my herbs, flowers, and vegetables —  is easily 4-5 weeks earlier than the gardens of my friends’ in Potomac and Silver Spring and the outer suburbs.  It is even almost that much earlier than my front garden.  I have a brilliantly sunny, south-facing, protected back garden with a brick patio that is against an unpainted brick house and a densely shaded, north-facing front garden.  Not only is the back garden sheltered from the wind by the house on one side and the fence on three sides, but the bricks retain enough heat to change the temperature by a a couple of degrees.  I have a special micro-climate.  My climbing rosebush (pictured in the header) is already in leaf.

What does this mean?  While my friends in the suburbs or those with east/west facing houses are starting seedlings for kale and spinach indoors, I can put seeds into outdoor containers in the next week or two without compunction.  The seedlings I would need to start (if I don’t instead choose to purchase them from the organic farmers at the market) are peppers and tomatoes for planting in mid-April.  If I start with strong 8″-12″ plants in mid to late-April (depending on the 15-day forecast), I can have and have had for at least 10 of the past 20 years, cherry tomatoes in May and peppers in early June.  My greens, obviously, bolt earlier.  I’ve figured out that certain varieties of chard do better in these conditions, and that spinach and lettuce do better sheltered by the fence where they get afternoon shade, so that I can have them farther into the season.

This kind of knowing by combining general book and teaching knowledge with personal observation of my little space, is much like the yoga practice of svadyaya (self-knowledge), which is the fourth niyama of Patanjali’s yoga sutras.  Svadyaya is literally study of the self through the scriptures.  Implicit in that is the guidance of a teacher or guru.  Ultimately, though, self-knowledge or awareness must be experiential.  We make the effort to study and we listen to our teacher, but then we practice.  We soften and open to who we (or our garden) truly are — another way of practicing and experiencing the Anusara principle of opening to grace — and then in the context of the teachings, accept who we are.  As gardeners, that means accepting what zone we are in, how much shade, water, space, and sun we have.  As yogins, it means accepting our strengths and our limitations.  We can shift our zone by treating certain plants as indoor/outdoor or as annuals rather than perennials; we can enhance our water flow by storing it in rain barrels, but that is merely expanding the edge rather than making a complete change.  We can expand the edge of our practice, but still need to accept the bodies with which we were born.

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Pre-Season Gardening (and diksha)

In yoga practice the concept of diksha — initiation or threshold — carries with it a sense of right timing and conscious understanding of readiness for the next level.  For example, knowing I was not yet strong enough, this past weekend I chose not to try to jump from adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) to svanasana (headstand), but instead concentrated on doing the poses one at a time, even though I was surrounded by people who could do the transition with ease and my ego was challenged.  Until I am stronger and better able to hold the alignment in poses at that level, I would be too much at risk of hurting my neck and shoulders.

In the garden, it is easy to be fooled by a beautiful weekend to move right to activities that are still 3-4 weeks premature.  Even though it will hit 70F this weekend, it is not time to plant (other than perhaps an experimental row or pot of kale, chard, or beets, which like the cold).  The best gardening you can do in the beginning of March when the weather is swinging wildly from below freezing to unseasonably warm is to read and plan and start seedlings indoors, just like it is best to warm up and work on strength, alignment, and flexibility before going for harder asana in your yoga practice.  It will be tempting to get out this weekend, but do the prep stuff and the clean up.

Here are some favorite books of mine to get ready for planning.  It is mostly more practical stuff (rather than the super glossy, beautiful garden as splendid art and architecture picture book reading) with some food and yoga overlap and a bias for small urban gardens.

The Yoga of Herbs — An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine, D. Frawley and V. Lad (Lotus Press, 2d Ed. 1988)

Gardener Cook, C. Lloyd (Willow Creek Press 1997) (OK — this one is kind of cooking, gardening porn)

The Edible Container Garden — Growing Fresh Food in Small Spaces, M. Guerra (Fireside, 2000)

The Bountiful Container, McGee and Stuckey (Workman Publishing Co., 2002)

Small-Space Gardening — How to Successfully Grow Flowers and Fruits in Containers and Pots, P. Loewer (The Lyons Press, 2003)

Kitchen Herbs — The Art and Enjoyment of Growing Herbs and Cooking with Them, S. Gilbertie (Bantam, 1988)

The New Kitchen Garden, A. Pavord (Dorling Kindersly Ltd., 1996) (Also pretty and glossy, but still practical)

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Native Seed Search

One of the delights of my trip to Tucson, was visiting the Native Seed Search’s shop.  Native Seed Search works to gather, safeguard, and distribute native and adapted seeds to farming and gardening communities, and to educate farmers and gardeners about the uses of those seeds.  When I go to Tucson, I make sure to visit the shop (so much more fun than shopping on-line) to buy unique varieties of peppers and beans for cooking.

The first time I went — three years ago — I did not buy any seeds.  I was not certain that I should be bringing seeds from the southwest to DC for planting.  This year, after the last two years of heat and drought, I bought a few varieties of southwestern greens and some pink green beans to try in containers.  I had a good chat with the workers in the shop about shifting what we plant as the climate changes even as we might otherwise try to avoid bringing new species into the area.

I went small with this experiment.  As long as I do not let the amaranth (to eat as greens not grain) go to seed and pick the beans to eat or replant, nothing will spread.  It will be interesting to observe if these plants require less water or tolerate more heat here than the greens and beans we are more accustomed to planting.

It was also wonderful, on this icy cold day, to take the seed packets out of my bag in anticipation of spring.  Planting season for cool weather greens, etc (etc meaning beets, turnips, and radishes) is only a couple of weeks away.

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Snowdrops and Crocuses (and Spanda)

Snowdrops have been showing up for more than a week, but crocuses?  They seem a little incongruous with the bitter winds and as much a reminder of global warming as of spring.  I feel a bit confused seeing them, though delighted.

It has been a good winter.  I have learned to appreciate the cold and dark, which gives us time to enjoy the pleasures of home and introspection.  Now, I am looking forward to spring, the effusive colors, the warmth, the ability to get back out into the garden.

This time of year, with the radical contrasts of cold winds and flowers does highlight the play of opposites, the very pulsation of existence — in yoga terms, the spanda.  This time in society seems to have a similar play of bitterness and sweetness.  Staying steady with our yoga practice and our community, we can delight in what we see and what we have, even as we may be worried and working for change.  That too, is part of the play (lila).  To invite in a steady warmth and support from our practice and our community, even as we see difficulties and challenges, want things to be different, and know that our work may not necessarily bring about the change we seek.

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Grandma Rose’s Philodendron

The other day, when I was in NY visiting,  I told my mother about the blog entry on Robert’s dendrobium. (Being physically present and discussing the blog entries is the low-tech way of getting comments).  She pointed to the philodendron and some cuttings she was rooting from it and said, “that philodendron was your grandmother Rose’s; it must be 70 years old.”   It might not be 70 years old, but it is at least 40 or 50, as my grandmother left her body in 1977, and I remember her having houseplants.  It is possible, even, that the plant originally came from a cutting from my other grandmother, as that was how we obtained and grew most of the family houseplants.

My mother offered the plant for me to take home.  I declined, but thought about taking a cutting.  By the next morning, I had forgotten, but I will take a cutting one day.  I did not need the cutting to enjoy thinking about bringing home a bit of life that had been living in my grandmother’s apartment and remembering both my grandmother and a space that I had loved.  That was delightful enough.

(ps — one of the many reasons for the name “rose garden yoga” is in honor of my grandmothers — for my grandmother Rose’s name and for the love of gardening I learned from my grandmother Ann).

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Rain (not quite enough)

It was wonderful to get some rain yesterday, but our area really has been way too dry, suffering from storms going to the north and west or to the south and east of us.  Here are a few ways for those of us staying on the grid to reduce water consumption:

1.  Short showers (under three minutes)

2.  Longer showers or baths only an occasional treat.

3.  If you have space (I don’t; though I keep thinking about how to work it) get a rain barrel or two for your garden.

4. Re-use water when you can.  For example, when changing a pet’s water dish, water plants instead of pouring out dish.  Soak pots without soap (needs longer soaking) and use soaking water for house plants.  Same for water from your hot water bottle (to stay warm while keeping the heat down).

5. Practice the old drought adage all the time (“if it’s yellow, let it mellow”).

6.  When it is time to replace a toilet or faucet, use a water efficient model.

7.  Turn off the water while brushing teeth, shaving, or lathering.

8.  For container plants in the garden, use “Soil Moist” or a similar product.

9.  Drink tap water (it takes about 60 ounces of water to bring you a 20 ounce bottle of water).  If you don’t like the taste, filter it.

10. Forget about washing your car (if you have one) except for keeping the windows clean enough so you can see out.

11.  Replace lawns and annual flowers with hardy, native perennials.

Please share your tips.  I’m always looking to learn.

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Daffodils

Daffodils and tulips have arrived in the shops.  If you’ve forced bulbs (I didn’t this year), they are blooming (give or take a few weeks).  The arrival of the Dutch flowers and the forced blooms lets us know that spring is soon to arrive.  If you look carefully, you can see that the early bulbs are starting to come up.  If you are lucky enough to have them growing in your garden or a neighbor (who wants to share), it is a great time to bring in forsythia and pussy willow cuttings for forcing.

How wonderful to enjoy these harbingers of spring in the last few weeks of winter.  I get a similar feeling when I am given an assist to be able to do a yoga pose that will be out of reach for me to do by myself for some months or perhaps longer.  When an assist opens me to an understanding of how I can grow, just as the arrival of the dutch bulbs and the forced flowers give an early reminder of spring, my heart opens.  Given this inspiration, this understanding of the possibility of growth and flowering, I am inspired to turn around and share this delight with others.  How could I not want to share?

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Robert’s Dendrobium

roberts-dendrobium2A number of years ago, when he was moving from Capitol Hill to Denver, my friend and former neighbor Robert gave me this dendrobium orchid, which bloomed this year for me for the first time.  The dendrobium was just an extra.  If you know orchids, you can see that it is planted with a vanda.  These orchids came from Robert’s mother’s garden in Florida.  When she had to give up her place in Florida, Robert brought home some of the orchids, including the vanda.  If I know Robert, he just saw a baby dendrobium in the garden and stuck it in with the vanda when he carried it back north to Capitol Hill.  When Robert moved to Colorado, he left the vanda with me because he did not expect it to tolerate the Colorado climate.  Even here, the vanda is not likely to bloom.  Not enough heat, light, or humidity in DC (really!!!).  But after five or six years of steady care, the dendrobium flourished and finally bloomed.  Robert inspired my affection for orchids; he had a greenhouse and knew each one of his tropical plants intimately.  We would go to an orchid show or nursery, and he would look with love on each and every plant, cherishing their individual traits, no matter how small or large.  At the botanical gardens, he had different plants he visited and enjoyed.  Now his yard has cactii and peppers.  He has a few of his most faithful orchids, which are flourishing and which were delightful to visit, and I have this lovely reminder of a time when Robert was one of my local gardening buddies.  This, I think is one of the extra joys of gardening, especially with houseplants that come from cuttings.  They have a history with our family and friends that is passed on, cherished, and shared.  I also have a night-blooming cereus that was a baby from a plant that started as a baby of one in his mother’s garden.  The night mine first bloomed (just a single night in the year), the parent plant with Robert in Denver also bloomed.

Bonus love from this particular dendrobium; it is scented!

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Cabbage Butterfly

I was sitting at the kitchen table editing a document and drinking hot tea, when I heard a beating of wings against the window.  It was in the inside, not the outside.  A cabbage butterfly.  I do not know how it got inside or where it found a place to grow and open in the house, but here it is in the middle of winter.  It soon gave up beating its wings against the window and found the orchids that were blooming and rested there.  What a lovely surprise.

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