Now is the time of resolutions and this blog would be remiss without a few suggestions for resolutions incorporating nature. Though not an exhaustive list, I hope it plants some ideas for growth and enjoyment in the New Year:
#1 – Add Nature to Your Health Resolutions.
Most likely, the majority of resolutions include something about “getting in shape” – those are the kind I assiduously avoid.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting in shape, losing weight if needed (gaining if you’re one of the lucky ones) and improving one’s health. It just seems too obvious to make that one of your resolutions so why not look at the fitness resolution through nature’s lens . . .
Do you like to run, bike or walk along a favorite route a few times each week? The same trees you pass along your route during one season do not necessarily look the same in subsequent seasons. Take the time to look at the landscape as you walk, ride or run along that favorite path.
Weeping Redbuds (“Ruby Falls”) is one of those beautiful trees that hold visual interest year round and if you’re lucky enough to either have one in your garden or pass one along your route, notice how the leaves change throughout the year while maintaining their distinct heart shape. In spring, the leaves appear in a shiny, deep maroon color and by fall, those hearts, green all summer, begin turning a pale yellow before dropping to the ground.
Weeping redbuds are beautiful with or without leaves and with or without the distinct redbuds (which last only a few weeks if the weather cooperates). When selecting trees for your garden, consider the shape, not just the bloom, and think about the profile it will add to your garden. In my opinion, no garden would be complete without a weeping shaped tree.
All you health nuts might run past trees without paying attention to the landscape much less glancing towards the trees to “get to know them.” With your healthy resolution, consider becoming more familiar with the landscape and pick a tree to observe throughout the year. The same tree that simply looked like every other tree covered in leaves in summer could turn out to be another unique, and fairly common, tree in this area – Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. Known for their corkscrew branches, this is one spectacular tree . . . . . ..especially without its leaves.
If this doesn’t appeal to you and all else fails? At least be smart enough to pick a nice, large, shaded tree as a place where you “need” to stop for just a second to take a sip of water, tie your shoelaces or adjust your Fit Bit. If you’re exercising with a group that looks askance when you stop by a tree, merely wave them off and say, “just making sure this tree’s fungus has cleared up and healthy buds are forming.”
#2 – Travel To Magnificent Locations n Your Home Town
Many resolutions include taking trips, some of which might be extravagant and, if you are fortunate enough, maybe 2015 will be the year when you are crossing something off your “bucket list.” Who am I to allow jealousy to rain on your parade? Enjoy!
Just don’t forget about the magnificent places you might overlook or take advantage of in your hometown. It has always surprised me how many people in D.C. have not been to the Tidal Basin during Cherry Blossom time (or other wonderful locations to view these spectacular blooms). You do not need to travel far, or spend hard earned resources, to enjoy all that nature has to offer.
Take advantage of visiting the obvious and include a few others off the beaten path. Below are a few ideas for those readers living in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area but no matter where you live, finding local attractions is just a Google away:
- Billy Goat Trail
- Locust Grove
- Olmstead Falls
- Dumbarton Oaks
- McCrillis and Brookside Gardens
- Ladew Topiary Gardens
- Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
- Meridian Hill Park
- Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but it’s a sampling of how much diversity there is within a relatively small geographic area. Even if you’ve visited many of the parks in your area, there are more to find and if not? Take another look at the places you’ve already been – there is always something new to discover.
Don’t forget to visit Botanical Museums and Gardens, National Parks, Historical Sites and keep informed about special exhibits, tours and events. They provide everyone with the opportunity to see things you might ordinarily not have access to and teach more about something you’ve been curious about. Garden shows, home and garden tours, seasonal displays and classes also add to the list of potential opportunities.
If you want to elevate this resolution because you’ve taken the time to become familiar with the majority of parks in your area, why not consider becoming a volunteer or helping them with the many educational programs our parks offer? Better still, if you are planning a trip for work or other reasons, take a little time beforehand to learn about their parks and other sites.
#3 – Community Involvement
If one of your resolutions has anything to do with becoming more involved in your community or giving back to the community, please don’t forget about the many opportunities that exist using nature as a way to become more educated about, and involved in, your community.
Whether it’s giving time at an animal shelter, volunteering time for special events, taking part in garden tours, attending local fairs, supporting causes, planting in a community garden or any of the other numerous opportunities, it’s important to remember that nature plays an integral, important part of every community. Does your child’s school have a garden and if so, do they need your support? If not, maybe this could be your opportunity to become involved in the community by working with the school to develop a garden. Many educational institutions have extensive gardens which are incorporated into the curriculum . . . and in the cafeteria as well.
Go to the local farmer’s market and buy your produce from someone who grew what you are going to eat. Get to know them, learn more about what they do and explore new resources.
#4 – Add a Nature Book to Your Pile Of “To Read”Books
Are you in a book group and/or enjoy having a book on hand? Do you have a pile of books next to your bed so you can pick and choose depending on your mood and time? Think about adding some nature books to your list (as long as you always have a copy of “The Secret Garden” on hand, too).
There are as many diverse choices as there are readers. Here are just a few suggestions that I feel are ripe for exploring:
Amy Stewart’s “From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden”
Terry Tempest William’s “ When Women Were Birds”
Valerie Brown (Photography) and Barbara Glickman (Text) “Capitol Splendor: Gardens and Parks of Washington DC”
Elizabeth Lawrence’s “Through the Garden Gate”
Vita Sackville-West & Sarah Raven “Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden”
#5 – Fly
The world is full of ornithologists and I know many people who take their bird watching seriously. I admire them – all the more so when they can photograph and identify the birds. I still have a difficult time identifying the most common birds but that does not mean I’m not interested nor does it mean my observations aren’t helpful to those professionals.
If you have any interest in birds and notice nests in your yard, there are so many ways to a) learn more, b) encourage nests and new types and c) become a “Citizen Scientist,” providing ornithologists with your observations. “Citizen Scientist” programs allow you to be the “eyes and ears” for professionals who ordinarily wouldn’t have access to what’s happening in your area.
For example, become a Citizen Scientist with the help of Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology and become an official Nest Watcher. I’ve blogged about it before and probably will again so for purposes of this post, just go to www.NestWatch.org for more information. I promise you – no previous experience necessary and it does not take much time to participate; just a few minutes every couple of days and jotting down some basic information. Your efforts will help the ornithologists keep track of increasing and declining bird populations (among other information). Visit the site and learn about the many programs they offer.
If you’re an educator, there are wonderful opportunities and educational packets to use in your classroom. With your students, take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, learn how to build a bird box and become involved in the world of ornithology.
Whether or not you take part in a formal program, consider a resolution on your own and pay attention to the sights and sounds in your yard. There are nests to observe, butterflies to attract and identify and so many other wonderful visitors from nature – all of which are right outside your window(s). If you are adding some plants to your garden, consider choices that attract butterflies. That first hummingbird sighting really is breathtaking and “butterfly bushes” really do attract butterflies.
#6 – Have Fun
I can remember coveting a Venus Fly Trap when I was young. Who wouldn’t want a houseplant that actually DOES something – catching flies, at the time, seemed especially magnificent. There are so many wonderful plants that have unique characteristics and part of the fun in evolving a garden is in selecting a wide range of plants. Sure, it’s important to know what will grow in your zone and conditions and it’s also nice to have some sort of plan for the plantings (you know, the tall ones go in the back, try to plant for good color combinations and blooms throughout the seasons . . .). Equally important, I strongly recommend having fun when selecting plants.
If you’re looking for some new plantings and don’t want to spend a lot of time researching the specifics, go to the nursery, ask a friend and/or look in a catalogue not only for the aesthetics (and appropriateness for your planting conditions) and plant something that makes you laugh. It could be based on the common name (which typically describes a characteristic of the plant) or the growth pattern, color combinations . . . whatever tickles your fancy.
I added a skullcap plant during the High Holidays – the lovely little flowers don’t resemble a skullcap (yarmulke) in my opinion, but it turned out to be a really nice addition to the garden and the name tickles me.
The corner of my perennial bed had a large bare spot last summer and need a shrub with a low, wide profile – that describes a lot of shrubs. I ended up selecting a smokebush not only because the characteristics were perfect for the location but also how could I resist? I can’t wait to see the “smoke” appear in season (the ‘blooms” are airy and fluffy, hovering over the leaves and shrub, thus resembling a layer of smoke).
Balloon Flowers, Obedient Plants, False Dragonhead, Ice Plants, Bleeding Heart, Wand Flowers, and Fairy Wings – the options are limitless and many of the time, they will work in your garden. Gardening can be laborious enough so you might as well have a chuckle while you are at it AND enjoy the beautiful results.
#7 – Grow Edibles
No matter how much space you have, grow something you can eat or use as a spice, herb or flavoring. There’s nothing like having fresh mint for iced tea or mojitos, tender lettuce and vegetables for a fresh salad. Beans, corn, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, root vegetables , berries – so many options and surely something will appeal to you. There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction in making a meal with the ingredients in your garden.
If you’re impatient to get things going in a vegetable bed, start the seeds inside and plant either when conditions are appropriate or invest in a cold cover to get a jump on things. I’ve been gardening with my twins since they were young and thankfully, one of them continues his love for gardening and is quite handy with the garden. He has built raised beds, trellises, put in a drip irrigation system and researches all kinds of possibilities for the future.
#8 – Use Plants to Commemorate Moments
Some of the most important plants in my garden are there because they were either gifts to mark a life cycle event or I planted them to honor someone or something.
The Scotch Broom that blooms in May reminds me of my brother and sister in laws wedding in Scotland on May 18th.
And the daffodils bursting into bloom in March are a tribute to my mother who passed away on March 8th. At first it was sad but now, in addition to the inevitable sadness, there’s joy that her memory lives on in a beautiful form and those daffodils help me continue my bond with my mother and her love of spring’s appearance.
#9 – A Garden for All Seasons
Fall’s beauty is not found solely in the leaves changing color and a garden’s not complete unless there’s consideration paid to seasons. Annuals help round out the blooms but this year, think about investing in some varieties that will bring color, growth and change to your garden year round.
Hellebores, for me, are the most dependable blooms for the longest period of time. Best of all, I have varieties that begin growing in December. The sight of buds developing and then bursting open with color in the middle of winter is delightful and made even more beautiful if the blooms are set against the backdrop of snow. With just a few varieties timed for sequential bloom times, you can have a blooming garden beginning in winter.
Witch Hazel trees are wonderful additions because they look like someone threw confetti all over your tree – the blooms are that unusual. Mine is yellow, a color I see a lot in the area, but there are many other colors and most begin their bloom time in late February and continue through March.
Consider planting plants that bloom in the spring and rebloom in the fall. I’ve not had as much success with that as I would like but I have had success in late summer and fall plants. Some good choices include Toad-lilies, Japanese Anemones, and several varieties of salvia, asters and fall crocuses.
This year, instead of waiting for the first signs of spring and “ending” the gardening season with mums, consider some of this – and other – additions to your garden for year round visual interest. And don’t forget – there’s beauty in the form of plants that aren’t dormant under ground. During your fall clean up, consider leaving the remnants of some plants and see if you enjoy looking at their shapes during the cold months. I think you might be happily surprised.
#10 – GROW
Cliché though it is, by merely taking the time to smell the roses you will be surprised by how engaged you can become in nature’s activities. If nothing else appeals to you on this list and/or you don’t formalize resolutions, much less those with a nature aspect, just try to take a few minutes to look at those gardens you pass, the trees lining streets, listen to the songbirds signaling spring’s arrival, find some binoculars and look for birds and nests, observe the way plants change, smell and make you feel – try to embrace nature’s beauty and with it . . . grow.