WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK WITH OUR GARDENS, with ILENE FLAX, DISPATCHES FROM THE HOME GARDEN SERIES

December 13, 2018

Today we enjoy another of our Dispatches from the Home Garden. In mid-October, this gardener reached out to me and wrote: I am a landscape architect, gardener, restoration ecologist, and cook….and she shared with me an essay she had written about the Ash trees in her garden and the sense of doom and perspective she held knowing the Emerald Ash Borer was not far away. She wrote: My garden is a conversation with nature and natural processes. I love making life and death decisions in this arena. But it remains a conversation and I am committed to the listening part as well. This means making space for the unexpected, even these agents of destruction.” I knew right away that I wanted to hear more about her ongoing life conversation with her garden.

 

 

"I’m not especially committed to any sort of look or feel it’s kind of just been

evolving over time - and its nice to let it be and become as it does."”

Ilene Flax, Home Gardener &Landscape Architect,

Boulder ,CO

 

Like many in the West – water is always an issue in Colorado and in Boulder gardeners receive an average of about 20 inches of rainfall a year. Ilene wrote that “My garden is an expression of water. Every downspout is thoughtfully directed:  We don’t have an automatic irrigation system, in part because I so enjoy visiting with my plants as I water ……"

 

Ilene covered some of these points in our conversation today, but I wanted to share her thoughts on the Emerald Ash Borer making its way from East to West and having been found in Boulder a few years ago. Boulder is not alone in its potential to be transformed by the loss of the Ash - much like the loss of American Chestnuts to a fungal blight at the turn of the 19th century, and then the devastation of the American Elm by a fungal disease carried by elm bark beetles in the mid 20th century. The city of Denver has more than 16,000 mature Ash trees, 1 in 6 trees in the urban forest there. According to state sources, Ohio is home to more than 3.8 billion ash trees — about one in every 10 trees— and the loss of Ash has created a void in the existing fragile ecosystem. All Ohio counties are currently under federal regulation for emerald ash borer.

 

Of her home city, Ilene reflects: "Trees aren’t at home in Boulder. The only natives here are cottonwoods and willows in wet spots and conifers creeping down from the foothills. The others were planted to create our irrigated garden of a City. Between late and early frosts, chinook winds, and drought, the weather has it in for the trees."

 

"Ash trees are a special breed. Though they wouldn’t be here without human support, they have escaped cultivation, volunteering to live where our cup overflows. They do this by leafing out late, dropping leaves early, bending and losing a limb or two in the wind, creating an abundance of seed. But they’re not so well-adapted that we consider them weeds."

 

"Most trees in our midst start their lives in nurseries, grafted and balled from inception. Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees” clarifies the distinctive quality of trees that live alongside their offspring. Interconnected by roots and mycorrhizae, these trees have lifelong relationships. The elders discipline the youth by limiting access to resources to ensure slow, solid growth, and the offspring support their parents in their decline. Being volunteers means that the ashes live in a community of trees that are communicating with one another."

 

"This is part of why the four green ashes in my backyard are beloved. Also, for shade and habitat. Also, because they are so beautiful in the fall: their clear yellow leaves against the blue sky fill me with gratitude: This is what color is for."

 

"Color is also the name of change: The emerald ash borer. Rapidly crossing the country on the wings of climate change, these critters are expected to kill every ash tree in their path. In Boulder, that means 15% of our tree cover. Things are going to be different."

 

"Which isn’t new. The City Beautiful movement spurred American Elms to be planted on every main street. In the 1950s, when their vase-like arches were in their prime, Dutch Elm Disease took them out. “Get Ready,” one colleagues’ forester grandfather told her grandma, “things are going to change.”

 

"That’s the diagnosis for Boulder: things are going to change. “High Value” trees are being treated with pesticides. That’s a life-long commitment I can’t stomach. Maybe if these trees were more significant or picturesque. They’re not: one is a ‘fist tree’, having lost its leader to a chinook, one under the power lines was hacked with every line clearing, and the other two are nothing special."

 

"I’m not willing to treat my ashes, to poison my backyard to hold onto these particular occupants. My garden is a conversation with nature and natural processes. I love making life and death decisions in this arena. But it remains a conversation and I am committed to the listening part as well. This means making space for the unexpected, even these agents of destruction."

 

"But I’m sorry to say goodbye to my ash trees. There are telltale ‘D-shaped’ holes in two of their trunks, and a lot more branches died back this summer. I’m spending time this fall basking in their beauty. I’m trying to scribe them in my memory, so I can draw on them when I need them. I’m sure the oak, walnut, redbud, plums and chokecherries growing nearby will appreciate the opening."

 

"An accomplished landscape architect in her area, of her home gardener personal practice Ilene writes: "My garden is on a small (1/6 acre) standard suburban lot. There’s not a lot of area here, but the conversation I’ve been having doesn’t need a lot of space. With the high-country wilderness so accessible, many in my community see their connection with nature on an AWEsome scale. It’s important to me that this conversation occurs on a home-based scale, in an everyday way."

 

I like that conceptualization, don’t you? This home scale conversation we have with our gardens? They don’t need a lot of space, or AWE, or inputs. They need our presence, our listening, and our everyday ways to be just what we need where we are.

 

As we tend toward the winter solstice in just 1 short week – I can’t imagine a better conversation to be in than this one.

 

THINKING OUT LOUD this week..

 

So you might have noticed that in the end credits, I now have a new teammate – Sky Scholfield is the new Engineer on most of the podcast programs out of North State Public Radio here in Northern California.

 

We are a small station with a small but mighty staff. When the #Campfire roared through our region, the staff here stepped up and have been reporting their hearts out ever since. In this fray, Sarah Bohannon, producer of Cultivating Place stepped more fully into her role as News Director at the station and is now engaged overtime in working with new reporters both on-staff and volunteers and visitors to produce outstanding coverage for our immediate listening area.

 

So while Sarah is still the official producer, I hope you will all welcome Sky to the team with me. Sky was born and raised in Northern California – specifically Redding, Ca – he graduated from Humboldt State and studied Journalism there. He is a member of the Wintun and Pit River First Nations whose are the original peoples and stewards of this region. I make my garden on their homeland with deep gratitude. Sky loves documentary, technology, electricity and renewable resource research and engineering. Sky is now engineering the program weekly as well other NSPR podcasts including one of my favorites Blue Dot, named after Carl Sagan's famous speech about our place in the universe, features interviews with guests from all over the regional, national and worldwide scientific communities. Blue Dot’s host, Dave Schlom leads discussions about the issues science is helping us address with experts who shed light on climate change, space exploration, astronomy, technology and much more. Dave asks us to remember that: "from deep space, we all live on a pale, blue dot. " It’s great listening – you should check it out!

 

Are you the kind of person to make new year’s resolutions? I almost always do – I make them on my own birthday – my personal new year and sometime between the Winter Solstice and the calendar new year. I try to make them about positive things to DO rather than bad habits to Fix….I already started talking about my intentions/resolutions in last week’s episode in the book round up – and this concept of Ilenes about being in conversation with her garden certainly has me thinking about my intentions for my conversation with my garden this coming year….but it also has me thinking about my conversation with you all.

 

As I reflect back on 2018, we certainly covered a lot of ground. And I am curious – what did you like best? I received A LOT of positive feedback about the series we did in early fall – the seed series and the botanical artistry series and so I have two missions – homework assignments if you choose to accept them:

 

1. I’d really love to hear some of your garden related resolutions for the new year – I will try to compile some of them into the Jan A View From Here newsletter (if you don’t subscribe to the monthly A View From Here Newsletter – make that your first completed resolution and just do it! If you’re still listening and you don’t subscribe – go do it already! It really does help me stay in touch with you more directly.

 

2. And right AFTER you subscribe to the newsletter – send me a note with your top three garden themed resolutions for the coming year….

 

3. For your third Assignment – I know this is a lot to take in – I'd love for you to send me some thoughts on topics for series you'd like Cultivating Place to dive into for 2019. A handful have crossed my mind – Art/Sculpture Gardens, Botanic Gardens, Herbariums, Native Plant Gardens/Gardeners (from a wide range of places), Indigenous Plants people, Latina/Latino Garden Ways/ Gardeners, Herbalists….the list could go forever I suppose – but what would YOU add to it?

 

Please let me know – send me an email at cultivating place at gmail.com, or leave a note on this week’s episode notes at Instagram or Facebook….and I am serious – I’m trying to live up to one of my new year’s resolutions people which is to stay in tune with what you like to hear, and I need your help to do it!

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