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The Sky and Earth – a Union We Overlook at Our Peril

September 3, 2016

I often write about creating beautiful outdoor environments to lift our spirits and enhance our wellbeing but we cannot be comfortable if the health of our planet is deteriorating.

We talk about restoring balance to the earth. This starts with the soil. Once the soil is revitalized the atmosphere and weather will correct itself.

Here is why: the sky and earth interact.

In other words, droughts come from poor soils, pollution and other inharmonious activities on the ground. Fix the soil and the droughts and storms will subside.

soil

So start with fertilizing the soil – this does not mean applying more soluble nitrogen fertilizers loaded with anhydrous ammonia or nitrates. Doing this to plants is like feeding them amphetamines. Reliance on poisons to grow our food is one of our major problems right now.

Changing this practice will help our atmosphere greatly. But it is not a quick process so we better start now.

At this point you may be skeptical but think of it this way- ammonium and urea-based fertilizers that we use to grow our food crops are susceptible to loss as ammonia (NH3 ) gas, especially when left on the soil surface. Ammonia gas from fertilizer has a negative effect on air quality and human health. Where are many of our crops grown? In the San Joaquin valley of California. Here is a photo of atmospheric NH3 over the San Joaquin Valley in 2008 (measured by the IASI satellite). It shows the most concentrated area of NH3 in the air in red. That was many years ago…guess what happened to California since then?

San Joaquin Valley, California - Harmful Gas emissions from Nitrogen fertilizers

San Joaquin Valley, California – Harmful Gas emissions from Nitrogen fertilizers

If you want to know more about this – click here.

Healthy soil is a teeming world that contains a symbiosis of fungi, minerals, organisms and more. Root structures interact with these ingredients to elevate levels of certain nutrients. It is an interacting and amazing network.

For example, legumes such as beans, alfalfa and peas bring oxygen to the root tips and release oxalic acid. They affect lime levels, nitrogen and more in the soil (cation exchange, etc. its complicated). Legume’s beneficial activity is augmented in the presence of certain crop roots that exude carbohydrates, like corn or sugar cane.

legume-roots

You can see this in full force in the Four sisters method of crop planting used by the Native Americans: corn, beans, squash and sunflower.

  • The corn is deep rooted, mining the soil for minerals and exuding carbs to the soil,
  • Beans ‘fix’ nitrogen and elevate the lime
  • Squash covers the soil to prevent weeds,
  • The sunflower’s stems, leaves and pollen contain phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium. They can be composted in the soil to help keep it nourished.
  • Buy from Renees Garden

    Buy from Renees Garden

    Add to this, composts, compost tea, rock dusts or pulverized quartz and seaweed or kelp and the soil will start to sing.

    This is vastly different from using soluble fertilizer that releases harmful gas to the sky –

    we should be building a matrix in the soil that is alive and healthy.

    So Governor Brown, please address the state of agriculture in California asap

    and the skies will rain upon the earth once again.

Blog

A Great True story about Organic Soil

August 18, 2016
Tony Avent runs the wonderful Plant Delights Nursery - offering a diverse collection of plants and the catalog is a collectors' item

Tony Avent runs the wonderful Plant Delights Nursery – offering a diverse collection of plants and the catalog is a collectors’ item

On April 29, 2010 Anne Raver of the New York Times asked: “How does Tony Avent, the horticultural mythbuster, grow so many plants successfully in his garden?

Rule No. 1: he uses the same mix of 40 percent native soil, dug on his own land, and 60 percent compost for every plant.

logo”The soil for every plant we have is prepared exactly the same, whether it’s a pitcher plant or an agave,” ….

After he switched to organics, he said, ”it took about a year before everything started jumping. Our insect problems disappeared. It was just amazing.” ….”

This observation took me back to 1972 when I was a landscape architecture student at the University of Hawaii and minoring in tropical agriculture

The university farm was in Pearl City ( next to Pearl Harbor) and it was divided into one large section devoted to standard agriculture (agribusiness majors) plots and a very small section reluctantly relegated to organic gardens (run by us ‘hippie haoles’ who were studying tropical agriculture)…

I had come to Hawaii via Kenya and was very interested in saving the world through tropical organic gardening.
Jan hawaii

This is me in Pearl City, Hawaii tending to my vegetable garden years ago – note the Kenyan Kikoy I was wearing..the latest in fashionable gardening clothes.. .:-)

The agriculture students got stipends for their seeds, fertilizer and pesticides…

the organic students got nothing….and you know what happened?

banner_ctahr
Well, every semester the organic plots got better and better because the soil was being improved consistently with fish emulsion and compost ( a local health services organization was training mentally disabled students on how to make compost on premises)

while every semester the big fertilized plots run by the aggies got worse and worse…this was back when ‘organic’ was some weird, unrealistic approach to agriculture….and no professor back then would acknowledge what was pretty evident to the eyes. The crops treated with herbicides and chemical fertilizers were poor and weak….

untitled

Of course, it didn’t help when the campus newspaper did a cover story on our ‘new organic plots’ at Pearl City..and they interviewed me.

I talked about how our crops were flourishing and about a new (ha!) organic pest control called BT -bacillus thuringensis. After that interview, I presented a report to a Hawaii legislature committee on why Oahu should use their sewage sludge in a soil fertilizer similar to Milwaukee’s Milorganite ….

they didn’t go for it but look at what is out there today:

menehune magic

Now, almost 40 years later, I marvel at how long it took society to understand what we – the hippies – knew: Organic is the only way…it is Nature’s Way.

And look at what they offer at Pearl City today:

Organic Gardening!

Live demonstrations by UH Master Gardeners including Organic Gardening 101, Building Healthy Soil, and Composting! First demonstration begins 9AM -10AM, next session 10:30AM -11:30AM.

Composting Worms for Hawaii
Small-Scale Vermicomposting
Backyard Composting Recycling a Natural Product
Building Healthy Garden Soil
Organic Gardening Resources

whole1crew menehune magic

We have come a long way….

The truth is that true tranquility lies in compost and happy earthworms….

And if you live in Connecticut you should know about these people too:

ctnofa_logo_webpage5

And you should know:

Authentic Haven Products - Compost tea

Authentic Haven Products – Compost tea

Blog, Books

Win a free issue of Garden Design Magazine right here!

July 18, 2016

As you may know, I love Garden Design magazine. It is gorgeous, each issue is 148 pages thick and packed with fascinating gardening info and landscaping ideas and, best of all, it has no ads! It is published quarterly, one issue per season.

How can they make it work? Well, it is a subscriber-supported magazine. Jim Peterson is the publisher and Thad Orr is the editor. I think they have made it the best garden magazine out there….

Would you like an issue? I am giving out the current issue to 3 lucky winners…see below for my random drawing.

And I am thrilled to say that Garden Design chose to feature my ideas on Creating a Relaxing Retreat in their current issue which features Serene Spaces. I am honored and so happy that it is being shared by such a prestigious and elevated magazine!

jan johnsen - despau illustration

The 6 page article, ‘Serenity and the Sweet Spot’, offers my tips for creating relaxing outdoor spaces that I have refined over the years. I look to ancient sources and have used them in my landscapes. They took my photos and had a brilliant illustrator from Spain, David Despau, interpret them in colored pen an dink drawings. Wow.

SERENITY AND THE SWEET SPOT 2

Also they have a 16-page spread on David Austin roses.

roses

And an article on hydrangeas that made me swoon. I am planting so many of the new varieties these days for clients. And then there is the article on the Thomas Jefferson garden at Monticello with Peter Hatch. It is called ‘Jefferson’s Legacy, at last’ That is the best! TJ is my hero and I went to see Monticello on my honeymoon. (I have been back since).

(Photo credit: GardenDesign/Ngoc Minh Ngo — used by permission.).

(Photo credit: GardenDesign/Ngoc Minh Ngo — used by permission.).

And lastly, they have a great piece on Disneyland’s horticultural magic. What a fascinating article! Am I gushing? Well that is because it really is a great magazine.

For a chance to win an issue of Serene Spaces issue of Garden Design (U.S. and Canada residents only) post a comment below.
I use the number generator at Random.org to select 3 winners.

Winners will be announced both here and on my Facebook page on Saturday, July 23, 2016, so check back!
If you want to buy your own subscription to Garden Design, and receive your first issue for free? Click here: Garden Design.

Blog

Loren Eiseley’s Prescriptive for Our Times

July 17, 2016

“Let it be admitted that the world’s problems are many and wearing, and that the whirlpool runs fast.
If we are to build a stable cultural structure above that which threatens to engulf us by changing our lives more rapidly than we can adjust our habits, it will only be by flinging over the torrent a structure as taut and flexible as a spider’s web, a human society deeply self-conscious and undeceived by the waters that race beneath it, a society more literate, more appreciative of human worth than any society that has previously existed.

children at play outdoors
That is the sole prescription, not for survival — which is meaningless — but for a society worthy to survive.”
Loren Eiseley, Firmament of Time
circle
For more excerpts from Loren Eiseley go here:
http://alexsheremet.com/8-great-passages-loren-eiseleys-firmament-time/

Blog, Books, Garden Tips

Garden Design Magazine – My Tips and Interview

July 9, 2016

Garden Design Magazine interviewed me for tips for blending ancient and modern ways to create gardens that simply make you feel good.

They also had the fabulous illustrator from Spain, David Despau, illustrate photos of some of my landscapes.

I am honored. It is in the summer issue of Garden Design:
summer 2016 cover (1)

It is such a great magazine.

You can use this link to subscribe to garden Design and get your first issue free
www/gardendesign.com/janjohnsen

You can also order just this one issue here
https://subscribe.gardendesign.com/store/#

Blog

“Learning the Trees” – Howard Nemerov

July 8, 2016

I used to teach Tree Identification at a community college decades ago.
 
 I also wrote the book, ‘Ortho’s’s All About Trees’ which introduces trees to the reader. 
 
This poem reveals the beginner mind.   Watch for samaras and drupes…. 
 
Jan Johnsen

Learning the Trees

BY HOWARD NEMEROV
Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn
The language of the trees. That’s done indoors,
Out of a book, which now you think of it
Is one of the transformations of a tree.

The words themselves are a delight to learn,
You might be in a foreign land of terms
Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,
Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.

But best of all are the words that shape the leaves—
Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform—
And their venation—palmate and parallel—
And tips—acute, truncate, auriculate.

Sufficiently provided, you may now
Go forth to the forests and the shady streets
To see how the chaos of experience
Answers to catalogue and category.

Confusedly. The leaves of a single tree
May differ among themselves more than they do
From other species, so you have to find,
All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”

Example, the catalpa in the book
Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three
Around the stem; the one in front of you
But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;

Maybe it’s not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.
It may be weeks before you see an elm
Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,
A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.

Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,
Little by little, you do start to learn;
And learn as well, maybe, what language does
And how it does it, cutting across the world

Not always at the joints, competing with
Experience while cooperating with
Experience, and keeping an obstinate
Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.

Think finally about the secret will
Pretending obedience to Nature, but
Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,
Dividing up the world to conquer it,

And think also how funny knowledge is:
You may succeed in learning many trees
And calling off their names as you go by,
But their comprehensive silence stays the same.

Howard Nemerov, “Learning the Trees” from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977). Copyright © 1977

Blog, Garden Tips

Beautify Your Vegetable Garden with These Ideas…..

July 1, 2016

The French have long understood that vegetable gardens can be places of beauty. They located their traditional potagers, or kitchen gardens, outside their kitchen windows and included vertical structures, flowers, and artistic plant groupings designed for aesthetic appeal.

Flowers look beautiful and attract the all important pollinators to your garden. Read the wonderful article I have linked here for learning how to include beautiful flowers and more in your veggie garden.

Infographic - go here for more

Infographic – go here for more

Blog

A Rare Honey Moon on the Summer Solstice – Tomorrow, June 20

June 19, 2016

On June 20, 2016 there will be a very rare Honey Moon at the same time of the summer solstice – the longest day of the year.

June’s full moon is known as a “Honey Moon” because it can have a slightly golden tint, according to EarthSky.org.

yellowish 'honey' moon

yellowish ‘honey’ moon

That’s because it appears low in the sky, meaning we are viewing it through the lens of more of the Earth’s atmosphere. This is the lowest moon of the year, the moon’s path across the sky this month actually mimics the sun’s low arc across the sky in December, according to EarthSky.

Pink honey moon rises over Sweden

Pink honey moon rises over Sweden

The June Full Moon rising appears to loom impossibly large near the horizon. That effect has long been recognized as the Moon Illusion.

The cause of the giant Moon illusion is poorly understood and not explained by atmospheric optical effects, such as scattering and refraction…they cannot fully explain this !

honey moon over grand canyon

Majestic scene with honey moon

Btw, is this why they call the sojourn after a wedding a Honeymoon? Did everyone get married in June and so that was how the name came about? Just asking.
If you want to know all the names of the moons click here and go to the great blog, Seasonal Wisdom. Teresa O’Connor describes all the moon names – fascinating.

Again click here for more fascinating info on this event

Blog

‘Purple Smoke’ – The best Baptisia

June 13, 2016

purple smoke baptisia
This year I am planting Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’.
A deer resistant, native, drought tolerant, purple, long lived perennial! Wow!

Baptisia-Carolina-Moonlight purple smoke

Photo – Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden – Puple Smoke Baptisia and Carolina Moonlight Baptisia

It is a hybrid of B. australis and B. alba and is a vigorous grower. Discovered by Rob Gardener of the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, it has charcoal-gray stems and is purple.

Baptisia is a native perennial that has a long taproot, loves sunny sites with lean or poor soil. Average to dry soil is best. Its deep tap root allows it to survive long dry periods, making it a challenge to move once it is established.

Purple Smoke from Bluestone Perennials

Purple Smoke from Bluestone Perennials

The flowers resemble lupines and are smoky violet. Numerous flowers open first at the base of the flower stalk in May and ascend upwards, topping out at 4.5′ tall. It has fine textured, blue-green foliage.

The flower spikes rise above the foliage for easy viewing. I love its unique flower color and strong vertical form. A Niche Gardens introduction.

Steve Foltz, director of horticulture at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, says ‘Purple Smoke’

“is one of the best—if not the best—Baptisia on the market.”