Archive | December 2017

Spring Has Just Begun – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

This article originally appeared in the winter 2009 OCMGA newsletter 

In summer, the trees in front of my home shelter me from the view of the road, and I don’t even notice the cars passing by. But now, only a few stubborn leaves remain tethered to a maze of branches and twigs. Not only can I see the road, but I can see beyond the hay field across the street, all the way to the neighbor’s house a half mile away, a neighbor I’ve never even met. The dark silhouettes of tree trunks are a stark contrast against the gray winter sky beyond. It leaves me feeling somewhat exposed to the outside world. I much prefer my sanctuary in the heat of summer when passers-by have a difficult time even realizing a house exists beyond the expanse of maple, hickory and oak trees.

The long afternoon strolls through my yard have long since been a thing of the past. From my window I can see that the once glorious bed of hostas and Japanese painted ferns has faded into the landscape, now covered with a thick layer of fallen leaves. The only sign of a garden ever existing there are the random plant markers that occasionally pop up through the leaves, but those will soon be covered up by snow. Next to my driveway, I’ve cleared away the beautiful zinnias that drew so many compliments from visitors only a few months ago. All that remains is plain earth with a smattering of mulch.

Winter is here; another season has passed. All that once seemed so vibrant and full of life feels only like a memory now. The earth seems to have fallen asleep. As winter continues, I know I’ll start to forget what green grass even looks like, or what the scent of a fresh rain smells like. I must confess that as autumn turns to winter I feel a sense of loss, almost mourning and grieving the beauty that no longer can be seen. All I can feel is an absence of what used to fill my life with so much joy. Winter reminds me that things of this earth are only temporary. Life is temporary. Or is it? It seems that way, doesn’t it, and especially in the midst of winter when everything is still and a shroud of darkness covers the earth? But we know that in the natural world there are seasons, and we’ve come to trust that there will always be spring, and that with it will come new life, and that life will be more beautiful and more magnificent than the season before. Despite the struggle to watch those things we love fade away and die… there’s hope. It’s that hope that sustains us through winter. But there’s not only hope, but a belief and trust that when spring arrives, we’ll see life again, and it will be more beautiful than before.

It is winter, not only in the garden, but in many hearts that have experienced the loss of someone they love. Our hearts mourn what once was, and as time passes, we try to not forget the memories. But all too soon, we forget the sound of their laugh or the smell of their hair. The little quirks that once annoyed us are now what we sometimes miss the most, and we wish they were here to experience them together again with renewed appreciation and affection. But like watching a garden fade away, all we can feel is an absence of what used to fill our lives with so much joy. Our hearts feel exposed to the outside world that passes by, unaware of the ache inside our soul.

Winter seems to come early for some, as it did for our friend, Sally, who served faithfully as an Outagamie County Master Gardener volunteer for so many years. Sally’s winter came when she succumbed to Leukemia in early October at the age of 53. She brought joy to so many with her serving heart, her unending zeal for life and a beauty that went beyond what anyone could see on the outside. But I believe that in the midst of such sadness there is still hope. You see, I believe that for those who remain, the winter will pass and there will be a spring, and we will get to see those we love again, more beautiful than before. Let that hope sustain you through the winter. The time in between is difficult; waiting and wondering what the next season will bring. We will still go through the mourning and grieving that winter brings.

Meanwhile, we’ll wait with hope, trust and a belief that one day soon, our paths will cross again and we’ll enjoy new life together. But for me, I believe that for those who have gone on, a season of new life has already begun. Hmmm… maybe winter didn’t come early for Sally after all; maybe her spring has just begun.

Written in Loving Memory of Sally Jaeger-Altekruse

December 2009

Drought Tolerant

We’re entering winter and our green thumbs are itching to find a project, especially as the garden catalogs start filling the mailbox. What a great time to spend some time looking at your existing gardens and finding the weak spots! Do you have an area with little or no water so you’ve ignored it for too long? How about spending some of this long winter planning a drought tolerant garden?

Just because you’re designing for low water requirements doesn’t mean you can’t mix up the colors and textures just like you do with your other flower beds. Also, be sure to factor in various bloom times and plant height to provide interest and beauty across the growing season.

As with any garden, well-drained soil is a key to a successful garden so, if you’re stuck with compacted soil, dig compost into the bed before planing so the roots can grow deep. Though you may need to water it weekly to get it going (maybe the whole first year), plants with well-established roots will be better able to withstand drought.

Plants to consider that will provide height, texture, and color variety:

Don’t let lack of water deter you from having color and butterflies to enjoy all summer!



The Learning Garden “Lasagna Garden”

by OCMGA Master Gardeners Barb Dorzweiler and Janet Carlson

True to the name “The Learning Garden”, my team and I learned how to build a lasagna garden in the summer of 2014. We had never built a lasagna garden before, but we were definitely interested and we were up for the challenge. Far from being an expert, but knowing how to find information, I researched a little on the subject before we set out. I referenced the UW Extension publication, A4021 “Making and Using Compost in the Garden.” Yes, there is a science to this. I also referenced another helpful article, “How To Create a Lasagna Garden” by R. J. Ruppenthal originally published in the May/June issue of Urban Farm. First of all, a lasagna garden is a no-till method of building a garden by adding layers of organic materials that will cook down over time not unlike what happens in your compost bins. It can also be referred to as “sheet composting”. We had a designated plot in The Learning Garden and our first step was to dig up two inches of the topsoil on our plot to set it aside for the topmost layer so we could plant right away. The plan was to alternate layers of “green” and “brown” organic materials. Brown materials are rich in carbon and include dry leaves, shredded newspaper, straw, and even shredded toilet paper rolls. Green materials are rich in nitrogen and include green leaves, green grass clippings, coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps. Our building happened over two different dates in May in part to give the bed time to cook and because the spring weather was not as warm as we hoped. On May 2nd, we started the bed with a brown layer: straw, compost from the UW-Ext bins and newspaper. The second layer was a green layer of vegetable waste and coffee grounds. The third layer was brown with sawdust and shredded dry leaves. We covered this with a black landscape cloth and left it to warm up for a couple weeks. On May 19th, we added a layer of newspaper and watered it immediately with the garden hose to keep it in place and make it easier to work with. Then again more layers of brown and green materials: dry leaves, grass clipping, coffee grounds (free from Starbucks), and newspaper. Then we added back the topsoil as the topmost layer to use as the planting medium. The lasagna bed was now about 10-12 inches high. Our initial planting was one tomato plant and two rows of lettuce. We labeled our rows with cut venetian blind labels. In later weeks, another tomato plant was added along with carrots, radishes. As expected, the lasagna garden cooked down and lost some of it height. This told us the organic materials were being composted into a fertile, fluffy soil. With the heavy rains this summer, some of the material was washed away, but the mulching around the garden beds helped hold its borders. We were able to harvest bountiful lettuce, tomatoes and the other vegetables. We had concerns that the lack of green grass clippings would slow down the decomposition, but the “green” materials (kitchen scraps and coffee grounds) we used were sufficient so this wasn’t an issue. As we cleaned up for the fall, this wonderfully fertile, loose soil can be spread and used over the adjacent garden plots or added to for another lasagna garden. It’s definitely a sustainable way to keep your organic material out of the landfill and improve your soil at the same time. I definitely recommend this process. On to next year’s plans; what will the next team do? It was a fun and learning experience for us!

Reprinted from the OCMGA member newsletter from the winter of 2014


Straight Scoop: A Clean Driveway is a Joy Forever

by OCMGA Master Gardener Lynne Finch

Hardly has the last leaf tumbled from the trees when my husband starts waiting for the snows. That wouldn’t be surprising if he liked skiing or other snow sports. It wouldn’t be surprising either if he owned a winter resort, a plowing business or a tow truck. Or even a riding snowblower. What he does have is a long driveway, a lot of sidewalk and an obsession with keeping them immaculate. His only tools are a batch of shovels and some strange inner drive that makes him glow with pride when he finally leans on the handle to survey his cleared domain.

After a recent blizzard, as we both leaned on our shovels, he turned to me and said, “There’s nothing like a shoveled driveway.” He swung his arm to include all the snow-blown driveways along the street. “Notice how a snowblower leaves an untidy surface.” He gazed dreamily down the 100-foot drive leading to our garage, “But a shoveled driveway is neat and clean. Definitely a thing of beauty, wouldn’t you say?” I failed to appreciate the esthetics of shoveling. I was glad it was done–he was glad it was beautiful.

In all other respects he’s quite a normal fellow. He growls in the morning, fusses about taking out the garbage, and complains that there are never enough apple pies in the house. He refuses to wash the ceiling and does windows only under protest. It’s when Mother Nature plays the flip side of summer that he goes berserk. I began to suspect something when he gently caressed the handle of our first snow shovel and leered at its broad, steel-reinforced edge. From there his habit progressed to pushers, then on to chippers and brooms.

The path to our door was always immaculate. When we lived in apartments, he cleared whole parking lots, single-shoveled. Now he commands a motley collection of snow equipment that includes a hand-made wooden pusher, a grain scoop and a manure scraper. The steel-edged pusher that came with our old house scrapes a path as wide as the sidewalk. The grain scoop is lightweight and swoops easily through deep snow at amazing speeds down our 100-foot driveway and 130 feet of sidewalk.

My husband also is not one to let a puddle lie. He disperses them quickly with a broom; if one freezes he approaches it, ice chipper in hand, and smashes it to bits. He works carefully, never overexerting himself. Before shoveling he does warm-up exercises in the house. His shoveling form is flawless. A perfected swing and follow-through produce a smooth, steady rhythm of lift and toss. Knees bent to a precise angle relieve stress on his back. When he returns to the house, he is refreshed of body and spirit, glowing with accomplishment.

He is not one to wait out a storm before swinging into action. While other driveways may wait quietly beneath eight inches of fresh snow, ours may have already undergone two or even three strippings. Sometimes he even shovels in the dark of night, tossing snow that reflects the silvery moonlight. As the snowy walls grow taller, he treats them to occasional trimmings, much as a summer man shapes leafy hedges. But eventually they begin to shrink and the snow he so valiantly conquered sneaks into the ground or runs down the street. After all is said and shoveled, he’s a handy man to have around in the winter. He doesn’t need gas and never has been delayed at the repair shop.

Now if I could only convince him that a well-kept yard is a beautiful as a shoveled driveway, I’d have it made in the shade.

– Reprinted with permission. Copyright Lynne L. Finch.