Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Hail to the Nurses

As the Coronavirus pandemic corrals us into social distancing and self-quarantine, I find myself more and more grateful to the nurses, doctors and front-line healthcare providers who are risking their lives and working tireless hours to care for affected patients.

When I turn to nature and gardening for much needed therapy during this stressful time, I recognize I am also grateful to nurse logs, often described as the healers of the forest. I recently learned about nurse logs from my friend Inta Krombolz, who is a sculptor, designer and gardener extraordinaire. Inta designed a nurse log exhibit for a garden club symposium in North Carolina which captured my attention.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Inta’s Nurse Log Display

Nurse logs are basically fallen trees which through their death provide a healthy and secure habitat for seedlings to grow and flourish. Starting life as a seedling is harder than you might think, given that many of these tiny plants can’t find enough light or nutrients to grow on the dark floor of a forest. Given the security of a nurse log though, they not only survive but thrive.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

New life beginning on a nurse log

Fallen trees are a perfect habitat for insects and small mammals. Insects burrow holes into the wood, which are then filled with water as it rains. Like sponges the decaying logs retain the moisture needed to support life. Fungi are attracted to the moisture and the magical process of decomposition occurs. More nutrients result to enhance seedling growth. Small mammals help out when they leave food remnants and excrement behind to further enrich the soil.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Insects have created holes that will support future life

As modern gardeners, we are often overzealous in cleaning up our landscapes. We pick up sticks, remove dead wood, and strive to keep things spic and span. I encourage you to find creative ways to resist the urge to eliminate the dead wood and instead utilize it to create a healing space. In my garden I have lined pathways with fallen logs, left stumps to rot and cut dead trees 20 feet off the ground so they can decay in place. Other gardeners use old logs or stumps as planters for an attractive accent. In whatever way you can, I challenge you to incorporate some nurse logs in your landscape as protectors of your garden and of life.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

A fallen branch that lines my woodland trail

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

A tree cut high and left to decay

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

A fallen tree in the forest

A stump planted with annuals and perennials as a decorative accent in the garden

A stump planted with annuals and perennials

 

Foxglove

Dare to Be Wild

I love the spring for so many reasons.  For the magic of the garden exploding in color and form, for the birds nesting and tending to their young, and especially for the warmth of the sun after a long, cold winter.

But there are a few things about spring that bother me besides spring cleaning and tax season. I trust you won’t be offended when I share my opinions on the wildness of things. If you are one who trims shrubs into balls or lollipops or perfect Versailles-like hedges – I applaud you for your attempts to control the landscape. For me, perhaps because I have limited time to work in my own garden in the spring or because I’m moved by the naturalistic plantings of Piet Oudolf and others, I feel the need to let the wildness happen.

I love seeing the wrangled branches of my forsythia reach out to greet me as I drive up my driveway.  I much prefer it this way as opposed to some unnatural shape that looks out of place.

Wild Forsythia

I adore the Columbine which have happily seeded themselves around and are showing up in new forms and colors each year.

Columbine

I congratulate one of the foxgloves, a treasured gift from my parents’ garden, for planting itself alongside my water feature.

A single foxglove self-planted

Foxgloves galore

Please don’t think I have relinquished all control of my garden. I still attempt to keep the weeds at bay, without as much success as I would like. I move plants that are being crowded out by others and water new plants as they settle in to a new spot in the garden. I assist Mother Nature as best I can. We collaborate.

I think my fellow Hardy Plant Society member, Syd Carpenter, said it best when quoted in a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society magazine from the winter of 2017. “As a gardener you are a collaborator, an enabler with nature, the sun, the earth. The notion of control is laughable. Gardening is a question of cooperation, acceptance, and submission – you bow to the process. Sometimes you are disappointed; sometimes you are rewarded. And you hope that over time the rewards outnumber the disappointments.”

So the next time you are putting your spring to-do list together, think about leaving off some tasks like hedge trimming or the weeding out of seedlings. Let them be and instead focus on cleaning those windows so you can enjoy the view that the natural and wild landscape offers! And when you have finished cleaning your windows, please come to my house to help me out with mine!