Thursday, February 28, 2008

Winter a Great Time for Learning

As I type this, the snow is beginning to fly again. While I love winter, it can be a little tough. The gray weather and lack of sunshine is what really gets to me. Cross-country skiing, sledding, and walks in the woods all help, but I still start to get spring fever. I want to be outside planting, puttering, and feeling the sun on my skin. I want to see flowers in bud and bloom, and I want to start snipping fresh herbs for my salad.

This year I'm trying a new cure - classes! As though they were reading my mind, local organizations are holding some great classes covering everything from native plants to pruning to rain barrels. I've signed up for a three-week course on organic gardening at Hidden Lake Gardens, and I've got my eye on a native plant series through the Stewardship Network, too.

Other good courses are at Mattheai Botanical Gardens in everything from photography to Michigan's orchid population. A really great variety of topics to satisfy learners from across the community.

Frederick Meijer Gardens offers classes in horticulture as well as art for those who like to combine their interests. A visit to them is worthwhile any time of the year as their programs and displays are always changing, and their permanent collection which is always worth a second look.

Michigan State University and the Horticultural Institute partnered with Learn2Grow to offer an intriguing set of on-line courses and gardening tips based on research at Michigan State University. Like regular courses, there is a small fee.

Leila Arboretum Society offers a nice mix of classes to get you through the winter, especially nice as they are up near Grand Rapids. You could hope from Meijer Gardens to them! Well, maybe not exactly hop...unless you're wearing snow shoes....

Michigan Garden Clubs will link you with garden clubs and serves as something of a clearinghouse for courses and information on flower arranging, landscape design, and general gardening.

Lynne Weise, a landscape architect, offers a comprehensive series of courses in garden design at Garden Design in Mount Pleasant. For those looking to gain a really in-depth knowledge of garden design, this series would be worth checking out.

MSU Extension offers any number of great, informative courses, too. The MSU Ornamentals Team ( I kid you not. This is what they are called.) offers a virtual cornucopia of information on landscaping, floriculture (flower farming), and turf grass.

There is also a link to the Michigan Master Gardener Program, which is well worth a look. You could find a nearby Master Gardener program, and sign up. While not everything in the curriculum may be of interest to you, it is well worth considering. I met many other local gardeners, learned how to prune my apple tree, and found the information I needed to start convincing others they could turn their lawns into gardens in no time.

This is just a smattering of what's out there in terms of classes, and if you know of more I'd love t hear about them.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Winter Thoughts

Winter is easily my favorite season. A friend asked me recently as we set out on a cross-country ski adventure why that is the case. Was it because I'm originally from Wisconsin? I theorized that it is perhaps because my birthday is in Winter. (It seems logical that any season in which one receives presents could well be a favorite.)

I like the starkness of Winter, I confess. I like the cold air that freezes my throat and lungs a bit when I breathe it in. I like the contrasting colors of a gentle snowfall that sketches the texture of tree branches and bark so that I feel as though I see them all for the first time. I like the drifts that look like frozen time that the wind deposited. I like the snap of stars on a cold, cold night, and the squeak it makes when I walk. There is nothing so beautiful to me as a moonlit night of still, bitter cold on that white, blue, and black landscape. It thrills me with a sense of magic and life like no other moment.

Winter feels in its frozen grace like life. Perhaps it is the contrast with what we so often think of as representing life - green lush leaves, bright petals waving at passing bees - that appeals to me. It is the potential for life just under the ice and snow, the knowledge that these branches so clear to me now will be obscured by a bounty of green leaves in a few months.

Yet, that does not feel like the right answer, either. And perhaps it doesn't matter. The cold wind fills me with joy when I breathe it in, and comforts me as it sings me off to sleep. The glint of sun or moon on a hillside is pure happiness.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Great Sight for Photos of Prairies

A few years back I discovered Lyndon Anderson's Prairie Journal, while looking for pictures of native plants for a demonstration garden I was planning. The site is full of photos of everything from native grasses like Big Bluestem and Indian Grass to flowers and plants like Purple Aster and Milkweed. Mr. Anderson captures scenes in the landscape and sky that make his home in North Dakota unique and special. It remains a pleasure to return again and again to see how the prairie blooms and changes.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Our Little Rain Barrel

Susan Harris at Sustainable Gardening had a great bundle of information about rain barrels, which had me thinking about ours.

A couple years ago we made our own rain barrel. It's nothing fancy, to say the least, but it does the trick. We shied away from the cost of a new, fancy-dancey one (although they are a great way to go if you can), and made one out of an old cider vinegar barrel. (Eden Foods is just down the road from us.)

Our drain spout dumps right into it, and the top is simply open. I just dunk the watering can in, fill it, and water away. We took care of the mosquito concern by getting a couple goldfish. They spend the summer swimming around, eating mosquitoes and whatever else lands on the water. Winter is spent in a fish bowl in our kitchen.

Even after a long drought this past summer, the water level remained fairly high. And it was a welcome source for the garden. I mulch pretty heavily, and we try to water late in the day. We're considering adding another this summer to help cover our front yard, too.