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Author: Margaret Roach

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A WAY TO GARDEN is the horticultural incarnation of Margaret Roach
221 Episodes
Let the seed-shopping season begin! The 2024 offerings are being loaded into seed-catalog websites, and the earliest print catalogs are already arriving in our mailboxes, as if to help soften the separation anxiety we may feel if we’ve already put our gardens to bed for the winter.  One that I always look forward to is Turtle Tree Seed, a biodynamic company where years ago I discovered a few must-have vegetable varieties that I’ve grown every garden season since.  My guest today is Lia Babitch, co-manager of Turtle Tree in Copake, N.Y., which offers about 400 biodynamically grown varieties of vegetable, herb and flower seeds.  Turtle Tree is part of Camphill Village Copake, a non-profit intentional community of adults with developmental differences. Lia will tell us more about that, and about biodynamics—and I suspect she’ll entice us with news of some of the upcoming seed offerings, too.  
I don't think I've read a mystery novel since the “Nancy Drew” books of my long-ago childhood, though I will confess to having watched more than a few who-done-it TV series over the years, most of them from the BBC.  But I never noticed how many mystery writers, from Edgar Allen Poe to Agatha Christie, incorporated elements of the garden into their tales of intrigue.  Today's guest picked up on all the clues in their stories, and many others, and put them together in her own latest book, titled “Gardening Can Be Murder.” In each of her many books, “New York Times” bestselling author Marta McDowell digs into the way that plants have influenced some of our most cherished writers, including Beatrix Potter, Emily Dickinson, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Now she's focused her latest one on mystery writers, and how they, too, have often drawn influence from the garden and its plants. 
Most of us may automatically think “monarch” after hearing the word “milkweed,” or vice versa. And that's in fact a critical and intimate relationship, the one between monarch butterflies and native milkweed plants.  But the genus Asclepias offers sustenance to a wide diversity of animal species beyond just that one beloved insect.  Today's guest is Eric Lee-Mader, author of the recent book “Milkweed Lands: An Epic Story of One Plant: Its Nature and Ecology.” Eric is an ecologist at the invertebrate-focused Xerces Society, where he is the pollinator and agricultural biodiversity co-director. He and his wife also operate Northwest Meadowscapes in Port Townsend, Wash., providing regional native seeds and consultation services for meadowmakers. 
Yes, it’s time or almost time to do some raking, and to dig the dahlias to stash – time to perform the rounds of the so-called “fall cleanup” and put the garden to bed.  But today Ken Druse and  I want to advocate for a sort of Cleanup Plus: for tending not just to the obvious chores, but also doing some reflection, and making time for often-overlooked late-season tasks like seed-saving, or finally transplanting one of those two overcrowded shrubs that have been screaming for more elbow room that you keep swearing to rescue...but never quite get to. Sound familiar?  You all know Ken Druse, author of 20 spectacular garden books, an old friend, and my colleague the last few years in our Virtual Garden Club online courses, which resume in January. We’ve been talking this last week together on the phone about how we’re winding down our respective garden seasons, and wanted to let you in on some of the details that we hope will help you in your own Cleanup-Plus. 
Are any of your houseplants edible? A new book by the owners of the beloved rare plant business called Logee’s Greenhouses suggests that we make room for some delicious candidates among our potted indoor plants, including a range of citrus. Their book is called “Edible Houseplants: Grow Your Own Citrus, Coffee, Vanilla and 43 Other Tasty Tropical Plants.”  My guest today is Byron Martin, who with Laurelynn Martin co-owns and operates Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, Conn., a family business since 1892 that specializes in distinctive plants. We talked about citrus suited to growing as houseplants—except maybe when treated to a summer escape outdoors. 
Reducing the footprint of our lawns has been a key environmental message for gardeners in recent years, since lawns lack biodiversity, and involve huge amounts of pollution between fertilizers, herbicides and the gas used in mowing. But what to cultivate instead? That is the subject of a nearly 15-year research project called the native lawn at Cornell Botanic Gardens, in Ithaca, NY, with some interesting insights.  My guest today is Todd Bittner, a plant ecologist, who with his Cornell Botanic Gardens colleagues began a quarter-acre research experiment known as the native lawn demonstration area.  “Please DO Walk on these Plants” a sign on a pedestal there tells visitors, explaining that it’s a test of “a mix of low-growing native plants” as an alternative to traditional lawn. I’m so glad he’s here to tell us more about what they have learned along the way. 
It's hard to think of another place so rich with major gardens as the Brandywine Valley in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and an adjacent portion of Delaware. Five of those gardens have a historic connection—a family connection—as they were all by members of the du Pont family.  A new book portrays the story of those places, and its photographer and writer are here today to take us on some virtual visits to these must-see gardens. "Du Pont Gardens of the Brandywine Valley" profiles five gardens created by generations of the du Pont industrial family—Longwood, Winterthur, and Mt. Cuba—among them. It’s rich with photographs by Larry Lederman and words by Marta McDowell, both of whom I'm pleased to welcome to the podcast.
My how times have changed. That’s what I keep thinking looking around my own garden in recent years, and I’ve been struck by the same thought over and over as I read “The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year,” the latest book by Margaret Renkl that takes us through a year in her garden, 1,000 miles to the south of mine, in Nashville.  The “what happens when” of nature is all shifting in the face of environmental change, and how we each garden has shifted, too—for Margaret Renkl and for me and maybe for you, too, toward more native plants and messier fall cleanup and other contributions we can make to our beloved birds and the rest of natural world that’s increasingly under pressure.  Like many readers, I got to know Margaret Renkl in 2019, upon the publication of her book “Late Migrations.” Since 2017, she has been contributing a popular weekly "Opinion" column to "The New York Times" each Monday, which the newspaper describes as covering “flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.”    Margaret Renkl and I will be doing a webinar together about her new book and about our gardens on the evening of Nov.  7; I’ll give more information about signing up for that over on with the transcript of this show – where you can also enter to win a copy of “A Comfort of Crows,” her latest. 
When you shop for food—whether produce or meat or eggs—and see a label that says “organic,” what do you think that means? At its most fundamental level, I guess I always thought it meant vegetables grown on the fields of an organic farm—like, in the soil, or animals raised in its pastures. But increasingly, as hydroponics have become more widespread, soil isn’t always part of the organic food-raising equation.  Today’s guest is Linley Dixon, a Colorado-based organic farmer  who is also Co-Director of the Real Organic Project, an advocacy organization of farmers who grow in the soil and together seek to protect the integrity of the organic label’s meaning on food. Real Organic Project is holding a daylong conference October 14 in Hudson, NY, with a great lineup of presenters from the organic community, and we’ll hear about that, too. 
The words joy and delight figure prominently in writer Ross Gay’s work – and so do moments he spends in his garden, and descriptions of his relationship to plants.  Is that a coincidence -- that the garden is a main character in his books, books with the titles “Inciting Joy,” and “The Book of Delights,” and the latest, “The Book of (More) Delights”?  As a longtime gardener who finds both joy and delight in my life outdoors, I don’t think so. It’s no surprise to me at all that from garlic and sweet potato harvest times to devouring a fresh fig from a friend’s tree, Ross Gay finds himself positively delighted. I wanted you to meet Ross and his work, and hear about what he’s up to in his Indiana garden.  Gay’s four books of poetry and three of essays have won him much praise. He teaches writing at Indiana University in Bloomington, too, where he also gardens.
It’s not time quite yet for what I call the mad stash – storing those non-hardy plants for the winter that we wish to keep alive for another year of service – but it is time to make some plans to do just that. Marianne Willburn, author of  “Tropical Plants and How to Love Them” and a serious mad stasher, is here to help us puzzle out what goes where for best results.  Marianne is also a contributing editor to the collaborative blog called Garden Rant.   We've both been stashing many kinds of "investment plants" over many years, with wins and losses along the way, and we compared notes to help you fine-tune your strategic plans for adapting spots in the house, cellar, garage, wherever to improve your mad-stash results.
The question “What do I do about the Asian jumping worms that are destroying my soil?” has outpaced what was the most common thing I was asked year in and out for decades as a garden writer—the relatively simple challenge of “How do I prune my hydrangeas?” Now gardeners from an ever-widening area of the country are voicing this far more troubling worry, about an invasive species that seems to be on a mission of Manifest Destiny. Today’s guest, ecologist Brad Herrick from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, has been studying jumping worms for a decade, and is here to share the latest insights.  Brad Herrick is the ecologist and research program manager at the UW-Madison Arboretum, where the staff first noticed the destructive handiwork of Asian jumping worms in 2013. He’s been studying them ever since. 
I saw news of a new book called “Pressed Plants” recently, and it got me thinking about my grandmother, and one of the many crafts she enjoyed way back when. Grandma made what she called “pressed flower pictures,” bits of her garden that she carefully dried, arranged on fabric and framed under glass—some of which still hang on my walls.  It also got me thinking of the 500-year-old tradition of pressing plants for science, and the herbarium world. Whatever the intention, pressed plants are today’s topic, with Linda Lipsen, author of the book “Pressed Plants: Making a Herbarium.” Linda presses specimens in the name of science, as a curator at the University of British Columbia Herbarium in Vancouver. She’s carrying on a method of recording the botanical world this way as humans have for centuries. Linda joined me to talk about what information those centuries of pressings hold for us in today’s world, and how and why we gardeners might want to give pressing plants a try – whether for art or science.  
Maybe seven or eight years ago, in a conversation with landscape designer Claudia West, she said a sentence that has really stuck with me, as she explained her approach to selecting and combining plants.  “Plants are the mulch,” Claudia said then, about making immersive landscapes that engage humans as much as they do pollinators and other beneficial wildlife.   Though it’s tempting to choose the plants we buy for our gardens based on looks alone, Claudia and her colleague Thomas Rainer of Phyto Studio, co-authors of the groundbreaking 2015 book “Planting in a Post-Wild World,” have tougher criteria for which plants earn a spot in their designs.   Claudia is here today to talk about how the Phyto Studio team figures out what makes the cut, and more. 
The term food forest, from the permaculture world, sounds big—like if I suggested you start one, you’d probably say, “I don’t have room for a forest of any kind.” But today’s guest bets that most of us who garden have room for at least a little bit of fruity deliciousness in the form of a tree or two underplanted with some carefully chosen companions. Like maybe where a portion of the front lawn is right now—and maybe emphasizing native fruiting species.   Maryland-based Michael Judd is a longtime champion of edible landscaping, the author of various books including, “For the Love of Pawpaws,” and hosts an annual pawpaw festival each September. And lately he’s even the creator of a new app called Fruit Patch to help you get started on your own little food forest.  
I saw a video reel on social media the other day of a harvest of shallots, and it made me realize that I haven’t grown those delicious little Allium bulbs in forever—and who knows why.  The harvest video was on Hudson Valley Seed’s Instagram account, and one of that New York-based organic seed company’s co-founders, K Greene, is here today to talk about growing shallots ... and their more commonly grown cousin garlic ... and maybe share some other ideas for succession sowing of edibles whose planting time still lies ahead, whether for fall harvest or to overwinter and enjoy in the year ahead. 
Around this time each summer I look forward to the onslaught of fresh tomatoes—while at the same time hoping against hope that what I call “tomato troubles” don’t reveal themselves and get the upper hand.  I’ve been hearing from lots of readers and listeners in recent weeks that the new normal of weather chaos nationwide isn’t helping them get to the tomato finish line successfully...and that they’re worried.  So with all that in mind, I made my annual frantic call with some urgent tomato questions to today’s guest, Craig LeHoullier of North Carolina, the NC Tomato Man as he’s known on social media, author of the classic book “Epic Tomatoes.” Craig knows more about these cherished fruits than almost anyone I’ve ever met, and he even shares that in Live sessions each week on his Instagram account, where you can ask your questions and get solid answers.  I asked Craig how he’s doing, and what we should all be doing to bolster a bountiful harvest, and also about which fruits to save next year’s seed from anyhow, and other tomato questions. 
We gardeners all know the experience of loss: of plants that don’t make it, for one reason or another—from a tomato felled by disease in a too-humid summer to a venerable old tree taken out by a nasty winter storm. There are losses every year, no matter how expert a gardener you are...but some of them really stand out in memory, indelible. Plants we have loved and lost, but never forgotten: That’s our topic today with my friend Ken Druse. You all know Ken, who gardens in New Jersey, and is the author of an impressive 20 garden books.
Succulents: You probably already grow some perennial ones in your garden, and perhaps others that aren’t hardy are among your favorite houseplants. But what if some of those indoor types started playing seasonal roles in the garden, too? That’s what Harnek Singh, a longtime gardener at Wave Hill in New York City, has been thinking about and experimenting with lately, to pretty stunning effect.  It helps if you have a spare garden area to experiment in like they do at Wave Hill, where what’s called the Paisley Bed – because it’s shaped like a giant paisley -- is planted in a whole new theme each year. This year, until sometime in October, it’s all about succulents, and the design includes many of the plants in the cacti and succulent collection that Harnek cares for in Wave Hill’s conservatory, just one part of his overall horticultural role there.   He’s here to recommend some favorite succulents for indoors and outdoors, with tips on how to grow them, and use them, and even which ones are easy to propagate more of. 
Can a historic formal space become the home to a forward-thinking landscape of native plants? The team at Stoneleigh, a five-year-old public garden on an old estate in Villanova, Pennsylvania, says the answer is an emphatic yes, and their horticultural experiments seem to prove that’s true.  Its director, Ethan Kauffman, is here today to talk about how he and his team are reinterpreting the grand old landscape with a natives-only ethos handed down to them by the non-profit called Natural Lands that conserved the place.     Two-dozen kinds of native vines now climb the majestic century-old stone pergola at Stoneleigh, and space-defining hedges of white pine and American arborvitae, or dwarf Magnolia grandiflora and among those redefining the 42-acre landscape. There are lots of other lessons for home gardeners, too.  
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