It’s been a cloudy morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. At 6 a.m., I asked myself, “Where’s the sun?” and now at 1 p.m., I am asking the same thing.
Minor snowflakes float to earth from a gray sky as the temperature holds at 26.8° and birds and red squirrels share the feeders for a late lunch.
Each year a company named Pantone announces its color choices for the upcoming year. They factor in their understanding of psychology and come up with colors that influence everything from fashion and home and garden furnishings, to the vehicles we drive, and every purchase we surround ourselves with, including the plants we grow.
This year the color choices include Pantone Illuminating and Pantone Ultimate Gray. The color descriptions tell it all. “Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warm yellow shade imbued with solar power. Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.” If you scan through gardening or home decorating magazines by late Spring you will see these colors surfacing. New colors make us review our gardens and decide what additions, subtractions, or rebuilds we need to make come spring….as the new colors warm us in difficult times even though in a sense we have been here before. Here’s a thought.
Rewind to 1943. America was in the throes of war and times were tough. In some respects, it was different than our current crisis but some of the problems were the same. A broken food supply chain as an example. From the war came the Victory Garden Manual, a book that taught us that gardening was a way to feed ourselves, our friends, neighbors, and soldiers. We learned what fruits and vegetables would grow in our temperate zone and we were reintroduced to the Universal Food Grinder, the Foley Food Mill, hot bath canners, and pressure cookers. Not only did we learn to grow and harvest food but we also learned to put foods by.
Now more than 75 years later, one-third of American farmers are over retirement age but still working. Six percent of all farmers are under age 35. Climate change is upon us, and pollinators, ever so necessary to help with our food production, are in decline. Invasive plants and invasive insects which we have never before seen in such large numbers are prevalent in our backyards. Beetles are taking down red and white pine trees, tamaracks, hemlocks, ashes, sugar maples, and beeches. Is positive change possible? Yes, it is! Gardeners by their nature are always changemakers striving for a better tasting fruit or vegetable, earlier and higher production, and resistance to more viral or fungal issues. Gardeners share with us the importance of learning about new plant or seed varieties. They learn the right plants for where we live, and the right place to plant respective of sunlight, soil type, hydrology, and the plant’s growth rate to maturity. Gardeners teach us the importance of pollinators and how to grow plants that pollinators can reproduce on while they carry out their work.
If you haven’t gardened much before, give it a try. Raised bed or container gardening are two ways to get started. You can add fruit trees or bushes to your property and start that way with blueberries, elderberries, strawberries or apples, pears, or plums. In the process, you can expand your backyard bird and animal habitat as your gardens grow. Add vegetables to your perennial flower gardens and consider when your gardens bloom and how to add color from flowers next to the blooms of vegetables you grow to eat. Blueberry bushes planted in flower gardens provide red leaves as fall approaches. Tricolor beets—the reds, oranges and yellows—seeded into flower gardens provide color and textures that contrast with your flowers and grace your table with healthy food. Clumps of purple, pink or white liatris or swaths of three-foot-tall blue Verbena bonariensis lure all sorts of pollinators and in so doing provide entertainment as you watch them work and learn to identify them one by one. Kids love to learn about insects and teaching them early on will encourage their respect for environmental concerns forever. Clumps of grasses such as Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ become floral targets for insects you probably have never seen before while offering five-foot scapes by year two.
Yes, gardeners and their gardens truly are changemakers. In times such as these, gardens offer a peacefulness, a place of respite, an activity that calms when other news is something to avoid. Give gardening a try! We know you will enjoy it!
George Africa has been growing great color at Vermont Flower Farm in Marshfield for 24 years. He blogs as The Vermont Gardener and is always here to help you grow your green thumb. He welcomes reader questions at email@example.com