Thursday, April 14, 2011

Listening to the Voices of the Plants

Plants need specific conditions under which to grow.  All Living Beings do. Our Plant Friends tell us relatively quickly if they have or do not have what they need.  They thrive and are robust. Or they deteriorate and die.  Unfortunately, we Humans sometimes forget to ask Plants what conditions that they need. Worst yet, we don't pay attention or even think to pay attention. Sometimes we make casual remarks, like: "I don't have a green thumb."  But the reality is that we have set aside that ability to listen to Plants.

Cases in point on our little Farm:  Three plants have not been doing well.  We planted Rhubarb time and again.  And it just disappears.  Sadly, those Rhubarb plants have had special meaning too.  Some were starts from robust plants we had and loved in North Dakota.  (It would make sense that a variety which did well in another growing zone might not make it here, but it is the only one that has survived.) Another variety came from Dad.

My Gooseberry Bush (which was also Dad's) just wasn't doing well at all.  Its growth is stunted and it has lichens all over it. 

I brought down Coral Bells which were originally a gift from Mother when we moved into our new little house 3 decades ago.  I just loved them and they thrived in North Dakota.  Over time, she lost her Coral Bells. In the 4 years since we moved, my Coral Bells have become just about the teeniest plant I could ever imagine that could still be called a plant. 

In the cases of the Rhubarb and the Gooseberry, I couldn't imagine even having a Farm without those 2 plants.  I don't think we could even past muster without such companions. And I really want to have a Grandmother's Flower Garden with Plants that have long histories and stories. So what is going on?

In the last few days, I headed to the internet and did some searching on growing conditions for these 3 plants friends.  You'd have thought I intended to do them in.  Well, I didn't.

Rhubarb's characteristics include: Cool season, winter hardy, drought resistant, difficult to grow successfully in southern regions, tolerant of most soils (but likes ph range 6-6.8 best), grows best on fertile well drained soils. Reflecting on these characteristics, we provided our Guest with just the opposite of what she quietly requested: hotter climate (and baked location), unusually high amounts of rain, ph at 6, heavy clay soils.

Gooseberry plants prefer: Sunny location with good air movement, soil prepared before planting (use compost or well rotted manure in hole), cool moist soil (mulched with 2-4 inches of straw), well drained soils, plant in part shade or on north facing slope (or in heavier soils) in warmer areas, adequate but not overabundant nitrogen. Once again, I reflect on what we provided our precious visitor: I let the grass grow up through the plant.  As if that was not enough, we put chicken wire around it which seemed to close in vegetation even more.  I can imagine Mr. Gooseberry was pretty hot wearing his blanket. Our location features hot humid summers. Mr. Gooseberry was in full sun and he was the object of attention of the Chickens with their nitrogen rich manure.

Coral Bells likes: part to half shade, (colder climates) full sun with rich humus, evenly moist and well drained soil. Ms. Cora Coral Bells was in full sun on the edge of the flower bed.  She was so close to the edge that the grass began to grow around her.  As a result, she seemed to attract some encounters with the lawn mower.   Flower bed (and west lawn) was "construction fill", and not rich at all.  Ground tended to dry out.  We've had some huge rains around here (2 episodes of 13 inchers) in one summer alone.

So what is my response?  Glinda, you can do better.  We replanted the Rhubarb and the Gooseberry to locations which seem more to their pleasure.  I plan to dig out the Coral Bells, place her in a pot and see if I can coax her along. I have a better spot in mind.  And it is about time.

I cannot imagine inviting a guest to the Farm and then doing everything in my power to make sure that guest is uncomfortable.  But that is just what I did with these plants.  I keep learning and growing right here on the Farm.

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