Thursday, February 7, 2008

The good, the bugs, and the ugly

This morning was my turn to help "host" a garden club meeting. Although hosting has all kinds of wonderful implications, none of them were true for me this morning. I hadn't cooked or ordered food, decorated, helped set up, or booked the speaker. But I got lucky, thanks to my colleagues in garden club, who invited Jessica Walliser.

Jessica is the co-host of The Organic Gardener, a Sunday morning radio show. I was once interviewed for this show, but who knows how I came off because that was the morning of the time change (spring forward) and I missed it, despite setting my alarm for it. In other words, I'd wanted to hear her for a long time, but hadn't gotten the chance.

She talked about all kinds of insects, all the good guys in the garden. It took me back to my favorite days of entomology class in grad school (you think I'm being sarcastic, but I actually did love that class). The best fact I learned was that dandelions, clover, and other small-flowered weeds are actually a nectar and pollen source for early beneficial insects, the kinds that impose gruesome deaths on all the garden pests.

Well, no wonder I've never seen a pest in our garden (besides the fact that I don't look too closely)! We have dandelions, bluets, creeping veronica, mints, and especially clover - in spades, so to speak. I actually seed the clover, which I have to special order from our neighborhood garden store. I have all kinds of reasons I love all these little plants - one is that they are free (and I'm thrifty, to put it kindly), and two is that I don't mind when my daughters pick them. In fact, I love when they pick them, as long as they don't make me carry the wilted bouquet around for the next hour. And even better, most of the weeds put on fresh flowers the very next morning.

Jessica has a book coming out on beneficial insects next spring; if her talk is any guide, it will be a good one. I'm looking forward to reading it.


Jessica said...

Hi Nancy -

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the lecture on Thursday. Your garden club consists of so many wonderful women with such a passion for gardening and environmental stewardship - it seems you fit in quite nicely! I will continue to read your blog as I have really enjoyed perusing your posts to date. With a two year old at home, my husband and I are constantly on the prowl for ways to get him (and us) outside. He loves to hike and collect things and walk to the horse farm down the street to count the manure piles! We have plans for constructing some areas specifically for him in our garden this year. A bean tee-pee, a sand pit, a twig tunnel and a few other things. Since he's so young, and your girls are older, can you offer me any advice on some other things we can do in the yard to create a nurturing environment? (not that just being outside isn't nurturing!).

It was great to meet you!
Jessica Walliser

Nancy said...

Thanks so much Jessica! It really is a good group of women; I never imagined being part of a group like that, and I feel very lucky to have been surprised.

I'm not sure our yard is that great; we've done very little with it. I can say that the girls are very drawn to anything they can climb - we had a tire swing which was a big hit (gone now, but we plan to put up another), they love our very-climbable apple tree, the younger one climbs our poor dogwood when I don't stop her. One of our neighbors has a great platform-treehouse structure nestled in a huge stand of bamboo, and that is a big hit. They also like playing under evergreens, especially if there are low branches they can use for various purposes. I'm not sure how to design these attractions, but these are definitely what our girls are drawn to.

With us, the biggest attraction is just when my husband and I are outside ourselves. I think especially for a 2 year old, just going out and making sure the garden plants aren't too dear for a bit of toddler abuse is the best attraction of all.

I've tried a sunflower house/ring several times, but the bunnies are always munching those tender shoots. I plan to try again this year, with some sort of net protection. We'll see if it works!

Thanks so much for reading - since Thursday, I think of you as a kindred spirit and colleague already!

jessica said...

Thanks for the suggestions. We are going to be planting some fruit trees in the spring and I look forward to the day when he can climb into the branches to pick and play. I like the bamboo forest idea too, but I don't have a place to do it where it won't take over the world. We do already have a tree house from the previous owners but we need to fix it up a little bit first.
I really, really like the sunflower circle idea too. I had seen one of these years ago at a botanical garden somewhere and totally forgot about them until you mentioned it! I'm going to try it this year and see how it goes. And a bit of toddler abuse to our plants is never a problem around here! What fun he had last summer picking all the unripe cherry tomatoes off the vine and tossing them into the compost bin! I always end up with too many of them anyway.
Please let me know when your new book 'hits the streets'. We'd love to have you as a guest on the program again to talk about the book.
Be well,