Thursday, January 17, 2008 | | editorial, winter
Like most people who have eyes and ears and minds that are open, I learn something new every day – but sometimes it’s good to get out and actually be “schooled”. Now that the gardens aren’t commandeering every moment of our time and every scrap of energy in our minds and bodies, we can give ourselves the chance to be taught by something/someone else outside of our daily realm. For Gail and me it’s a winter ritual to go to the RI Nursery and Landscape Assoc. (RINLA) Conference and Trade Show.
I attended the RINLA Conference yesterday and as usual came back with my mind humming and my world a little rattled. Sometimes it’s not just that I don’t already have access to the information that’s being shared but find by listening to someone else (usually an expert) speak about it, I am handed a new way to process or think about the information. For instance, during the panel discussion on invasives (what’s currently being done to limit/control invasive species in RI and MA), Dr. Sue Gordon from URI mentioned worms. She said that as a kid she remembers crashing around the forest in leaf litter that was up to her knees. Now-a-days forest leaf litter is only ever inches thick. Native worms in the U.S. were wiped out in the last ice age and what we’ve got now (we all know this) are European immigrants and we’ve been taught as gardeners to love and feed these lowly dirt munchers. Well. Perhaps too much of a good thing is not so good after all. Worms are not meant to be in our forests and leaf litter that breaks down too quickly is not good for forest ecology (see Teeming with Microbes by J. Lowenfels and W. Lewis). Native plants get stressed and opportunistic invasives get the strangle hold and the balance goes all out of whack. Dr. Gordon who also manages Kinney Azalea Gardens in South County said that she can’t keep a root ball around her nursery plants because the worms have made the soil so friable. Have you ever had worms in a potted plant? Because now that I think of it, it’s awfully hard to keep a wormy pot watered… Maybe – could it be that we shouldn’t go quite so crazy adding organic matter to our gardens – especially those of us in places that have been teetering on the edges of drought? I don’t mean to say that we should stop making compost or ammending the soil in our gardens but I do think we might have to keep an ever more vigilant eye out for all kinds of potential invasives in our local landscapes. And we’ll have to learn methods of moderation. (Doesn’t come down to “all things in moderation”?) And I think we should keep getting “schooled” by the experts. Have you learned or heard anything that rattled your world this winter? (For lists of Blithewold’s winter educational offerings click here and here.) At RINLA I learned more than I knew about using native plants too – stay tuned for that post later (when I’ve done some more reading on the subject!).