New Year’s Resolution: Nurture

Jan 3, 2023 | Gardens & Grounds

From the Desk of Bennett O. Dowling, 577 Organic Garden Landscape Horticulturist

It is that dreaded time of year: resolution season.  Instead of focusing so much on improving ourselves by going to the gym more or eating healthier foods or getting more (or less) sleep, let’s take this year to focus on improving ourselves by improving our relationship with our mother, Mother Earth.  As a bonus, many of the things we do as nurturers and gardeners can increase our physical activity, improve our access to healthy foods, and make us tired enough to get the proper rest so desperately needed. 

There are many things we, as gardeners, can do to help Mother Earth. Here are a few resolutions I have made for the grounds here at 577:

  • Spring Cleanup – focusing less on tidiness in the perennial borders can greatly improve the habitat for countless vertebrates, invertebrates, and microbial life in the soil. In the spring, I pull dried leaves away from perennials and make sure they are not piled up inside shrubs, but when possible I allow the leaves to remain to enrich the soil and so as to not disrupt cocoons, chrysalises, and eggs sheltering in this natural mulch. Many other invertebrates reside in the hollow stalks of spent perennials.  There is debate as to how long to wait before invertebrates emerge, but many agree that when daytime temperatures have been above 50 degrees for a consecutive week, we should be in the clear to start cutting back perennials.  While some naturally-minded gardeners may leave the stalks standing until May or later, that will drive me crazy, so any stalks that get cut will remain in their flower beds or be piled somewhere out of view. 
  • No Mow May – Spring 2022 was our first time participating in No Mow May, a movement begun in the UK and now spreading throughout communities in the US.  It is a pledge to avoid mowing the lawn for the month of May, a key period for the emergence of many pollinators.  Unmown grass creates shelter and allows many flowering weeds to feed the pollinators.  While we did not surrender the park to turn into a prairie, we did allow many areas to remain unmown.  Not only was it beneficial to insects, but it also decreased our use of fossil fuels and resulting air pollution.  It allowed for the diversity of a healthy, organic lawn to become more apparent in its patchwork of colors and textures, much as it would have been when the Stranahans first gardened here.  This spring we will once again allow certain areas of the park to remain unmown. 
  • Remove Invasive Shrubs and Replace with Natives – Lastly, we will continue our efforts to remove invasive shrubs from the grounds and replace them with native perennials, shrubs, and trees that contribute greatly to the natural ecosystem.  Whenever you see greenery removed here on-site, rest assured that it is not done without a firm plan to re-establish a more ecologically diverse, sustainable, and beautiful plant community.

This January, as you purchase new yoga pants or buy low-fat recipe books, also take time to assess your relationship with Mother Earth. Just like all mothers, she likes when you check in with her, and she loves a good gift.

~ Bennett

Flowering “weeds” feeding the early pollinators during No Mow May 2022

More Posts

Music in the Gardens ~ Saturday, June 8

Music in the Gardens ~ Saturday, June 8

TSA String Quartet will be playing classical tunes from 11am to 1pm, followed by the enchanting harp music of Rebecca Swett from 2pm to 3pm. And as a special treat, Swanky Scoops will be there with delicious ice cream! Plus, select areas of Virginia’s House will be open for tours and activities from 11am to 3pm.

Join us for Music in the Gardens on Saturday, July 13, from 11am to 3pm. Events are free, family-friendly, and rain or shine.