Browsing Tag

musings

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I Go to the Woods Alone…

January 8, 2017

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend….

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned.

woodland walk – photo by Laura McKillop

I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

Mary Oliver

Blog

Garden tip – Obey the Request of the Stone

December 29, 2016

rocks and blue fescue – Johnsen Landscapes


My upcoming book, The Spirit of Stone (published by St Lynn’s Press) will be out in February, 2017 . It looks at many ways you can use natural stone in the garden from artful accents and stone walks to sustainable dry creeks and rock gardens.


One of the topics I address is the art of setting stones in a rock garden. I once lived in Japan (I worked in a landscape architecture office in Osaka) and so I feel a special connection to Japanese rock gardens. In my work with placing rocks (often with large machines) I always listen to what the stone says. Sometimes, after a tough time placing a rock, I say that the stone does not want to be there and remove it.

I used to think that this conversation with a rock was my unique approach. But I was wrong. I also said that the first rock to be set determined the rest of the rocks in the garden and so this was the most important. Again, this was an old rule that I thought I made up. The 11th-century guide to making Japanese gardens, the Sakuteiki, said it first.

Steinhardt rock garden in NY – photo by Jan Johnsen


The Sakuteiki was written in a time when placing stones was the most important part of gardening in Japan. Stone literally defined the art of garden making, ishi wo tateru koto (build up with stone) referred not only to stone placement but also to garden making itself.

Here is an excerpt from the wonderful book, ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ by Tan Twan Eng. It is an interchange about setting rocks in a Japanese-inspired garden:

“How will I know where to place the stones?”
“What is the first piece of advice given in Sakuteiki?
I thought for a second. “Obey the request of the stone.”
“The opening words of the book,” he said, nodding. “This spot where you sit, this is the starting point. This is where the guest views the garden. Everything planted and created in Yuguri has its distance, scale and space calculated in relation to what you see from here.

This is the place where the first pebble breaks the surface of the water. Place the first stone properly and the others will follow its request. The effect expands through the whole garden. If you follow the stones’ wishes, they will be happy.”

boulder outcrop with plants – Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

Blog

Speaking with Earth Spirits

November 18, 2016

Amsonia foliage sparkles in fall

Speaking with Earth Spirits

Deep down, in the warmth of the fecund earth,
the spirits sing songs of life.
Hoping we hear, they inhale and exhale along with the seasons.

Beautyberry in November

Now, in the cool days of November,
they sing to us of rest and replenishment
and ask us to be calm.

Molinia stands tall in late fall

The time has come to listen
and of course, to rake the leaves…the leaves…

– Jan Johnsen

the deep reds of November

the deep reds of November

Blog

The Glorious Sunflower – The Fourth Sister

September 8, 2016

I have written about the Native Americans’ Three Sisters Garden (corn, beans and squash ) but I neglected to tell you of the Fourth Sister…

a very important member of this family!

web-sunflower-jan-johnsen

This is from Hubpages:

“Fourth Sister, didn’t look anything like her other sisters, although she was as tall and as slender as First Sister (corn) . That seemed fair to all, because Third Sister and Second Sister shared similar but different features. They could climb and run, while their other two sisters were forced to stand tall and proud.”

Mother Sun explained that each sister had her job and each had to benefit from and protect one another. But Fourth Sister’s job was most important of all — for she was the guardian of the North, planted firmly, to protect others from the robbers who soon would come.

web-jan-johnsen-sunflowers-2010

The fourth sister was the elegant sunflower.

van-gogh

The Sisters are known to the Native Americans as the “mothers of life” but they all need each other to survive.

  • Corn uses the nitrogen supplied by the nitrogen fixing roots of the beans and provides a place for the beans to climb.
  • The squash suppresses weeds and keeps the soil shaded and moist.
  • The prickly leaves of the squash provide a deterrent from four legged raiders of corn.
  • sunflowerisraeli082401

    So what does the Sunflower do?

    Taiyo Sunflower (click here)

    Taiyo Sunflower (click here)

    The sunflowers keep the birds from devouring the corn.

    How? Well, true sunflowers exhibit the heliotropic habit of following the sun through the day but when they are full of sunflower seeds they stay facing the east.

    Thus when sunflowers are planted to the north of the garden patch, the birds see the sunflowers first thing in the morning sun and dine on the sunflower seeds rather than the corn kernels….

    from Rainy Side Gardens

    from Rainy Side Gardens

    The FOUR SISTERS celebrate the harmony of nature and bring abundance to farmers and happiness to the well fed home.

    By the way, the true giant sunflower is used as an emblem of the philosophy of Spiritualism.

    They see the sunflower as forever looking to the light and applaud its unique arithmetic: supposedly each sunflower has

    • 12 sets of leaves ( months in a year) ,
    • 52 yellow petals (52 weeks in a year)
    • 365 seeds (365 days in a year).
    • I cannot verify this but that is the story….. I hope it is true.

Blog, Garden Tips

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

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
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For more excerpts from Loren Eiseley go here:
http://alexsheremet.com/8-great-passages-loren-eiseleys-firmament-time/