Winter Solstice Sunset

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Ice formations, caused by waves. Lake Arthur, in Moraine State Park.

Heaven and the Horizon

It’s a beautiful day to be outside among the clouds so white…
Take me to the valley depths and show me to the light…
The space between horizons is colored in sapphire blue…
Midnight stars of Orion shine while holding hands with you…

Read the rest here…

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Sometimes, it’s the simple sunsets that I really love.

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Waves, frozen in time… Waiting for the next warm spell to come alive.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Been a While – Reconfiguration

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  It’s been a while since my last post… A lot has happened… I got married… Bought a house out in the country… Even Started a side business making crafts out of recycled pallets and selling them at craft shows… Life is different now and I can’t wait to share it with you… I am […]

End of June into Early July

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Sorry for the lack of writing lately… Still doing it… But have been spending more time behind my camera… Here are a few of recent… plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Field of Gold – The Fog will Follow

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“Field of Gold” – Keystone State Park – Westmoreland County, PA – A collaboration with nature…

Sitting in a flowering meadow… Myself and the swallows…
When this wind stops blowing the evening fog follows…
Sunset… Magic in nature… Magic in our short little lives…
Like these tiny swallows our energy rises and dives…

Water droplets from the relentless rains… Clinging to the trees…
A warblers song suddenly brings me to my knees…
Persistent decrescendo… Thunder rolling in the distance…
Between sunshine I imagine cooperative coexistence…

Existence with nature is simpler than existence with each other…
It’s easy to hug a tree but impossible to hug your brother…
Community is common unity… Unity is a social experiment…
The idea we can all get along is somewhat of an embarrassment…

We all have best friends… And we will all make enemies…
Value both… Learning experience taken from the centuries…
Unconditional love is thicker than water… Like a raging flood…
After the clouds comes the sun… Then the rain becomes mud…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Urban Splendor

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plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Complementary Gardening – Gardening Without Borders

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“Tulip Behind Borders” – The Garden Table – Wilkinsburg, PA – This garden is a vacant lot that happens to be located in a rather high traffic location… I am actually planning on installing a fence and gate this summer… Something I said I would never do…

It is a long-standing practice in gardening to use a border to define the edges of our gardens. My preferred border material is bricks, they are plentiful in my neighborhood, have historical value, and help me keep my personal gardens neat and orderly. Borders are basically a line used to define where the lawn maintenance ends, and where the meticulous garden maintenance begins. Without borders, the neighborhood children would not know where my garden started… They also wouldn’t know the point at which I start yelling… Though… The kids are very good about not stepping in my garden…

As a garden installer, I spend a great deal of time thinking about garden borders… But as an artist/environmentalist… I also spend a great deal of time thinking outside my garden borders… To start this article off, I want to answer a simple question… What is a garden? A garden is typically defined as a collection of plants… In most cultures… To dream of paradise… Equates to dreaming of a garden… Or a lush landscape at the very least… This collection is typically contained within the confines of ones own yard… It just makes sense… Plants cost money… Why would you put them someplace you don’t own?

As my journey through the gardening world has progressed… I have found myself constantly looking to nature for inspiration… Over the last few years, I have left the borders of my garden… And gone in search of other gardens… My search has taken me into the forest in search of spring ephemerals… Into the fields to look for Echinacea… And up into the mountains to look for ginseng…

I have spent a great deal of time seeking out, and observing plants in their natural settings. Over time, my hobby has blossomed into an obsession. Now that I have been doing this for a few years, I have developed a bond with many of the plant patches I find… I have actually developed an emotional attachment to them… Oddly… I recently realized that I feel the same way about the woodland wildflowers I regularly seek out, as I feel about the plants in my garden…

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“300 Acre Garden” – Keystone State Park – Westmoreland County, PA – Can an entire state park be considered a garden… I believe it can be… A sunset photo of my newest garden…

Walking through trillium along the side of a mountain… I stopped to pick up some litter… It was at this exact moment that I realized my garden no longer had a border… Standing on the side of this mountain… I realized I was the only person who would ever pick up these plastic bottles… The Trillium certainly couldn’t do it… Not the jack-in-the-pulpit’s… Not the tasty Morels… Without me stopping to pick up those bottles… They would have been there for a really long time…

In order to garden, an individual must have an affection for plants… In my own experience, this rarely dies, in most cases it blossoms into an addiction and before you know it… You have more plants than you know what to do with… Some see this as a bad thing… But I personally see it as a good thing… It is at this point most people start looking outside of their own garden to scratch the gardening itch… When a gardeners mind finally steps outside of their own property… Only then does nature truly see a benefit… This is when the journey really begins…

Our gardens are a direct connection between ourselves, and the environment that surrounds us. Bees for example, collect pollen from the flowers blooming in your garden, although this pollen is then transferred among the other plants in your own garden, it is also spread to the plants surrounding your garden. This everyday transfer of genetic material is just one way plants communicate… The plants you plant in your own garden, affect the next generation of plants that will grow in your surroundings…

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“Trout Lily” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Frick Park is a place I have been spending a lot of time in… I consider it an urban garden… And I will care for it as such…

Although we will go to great lengths to keep animals and birds out of our gardens, nature always wins. Many seeds have evolved to survive digestion, after consumption, these seeds are then spread through “natural processes”. I have followed plant-covered deer trails through the woods, these trails can be hotspots for finding early spring wildflowers… I have followed trillium trails for miles… Likewise… The old ginseng hunters used to follow deer trails when foraging for medicine…

Humans have been pushing nature away for hundreds of years… We cap the earth in cement… Trap and kill anything we consider “wild”… We eliminate ecosystems… Then replace them ad-hoc in the places we deem suitable… We create gardens full of food in the middle of exotic monocultures of chemically dependent monocots… Organic vegetables growing among a sea of garbage… Food labeled as organic… Hiding behind a ten-foot fence… Taunting the deer… Torturing the rabbits… But in desperation… Will not stop a single one of them…

Man and nature can live in harmony… In fact… Nature only requires a small amount of compensation… I laugh when I hear stories of people living in these new plans of McMansions… Entire ecosystems have been destroyed to put these plans in… Yet the inhabitants still cry foul when their cheap landscaping shrubs get devoured almost immediately… If you tore my hundred-year old house down… And built a fire-hazard on top of it… You better believe… I am going to do more than eat your shrubs…

Living in western Pennsylvania, I am asked more questions regarding deer… Than any other garden pest you can think of… Everybody wants a magic bullet… When I answer by saying feed them… Most people scoff… But I stand by my word… The goal to keeping nature from eating your share… Is to compensate… More simply put… You need to make other food sources easier to acquire than your own… Depending on your situation… This is often as easy as a simple fence around your vegetables… And a feeder and salt block somewhere else… This isn’t really a secret either… Any old-time farmer will tell you this…

I guess what I am trying to say is this… Gardening is a skill that requires us to learn how to work with nature… In order to do this properly… We must think outside the borders of our gardens… We must allow our minds to seek out answers beyond the confines of our own property… The insects and animals surrounding you have no respect for the borders in your gardens… They do not see property lines… They do not know where nature ends… And where the garden begins… And that is my point… Nature doesn’t see where the wild ends… Animals don’t know where the garden begins… And neither should we… The entire earth is a garden… A paradise… Every square inch of it deserves protection… As gardeners… Our gardens have no borders… And Nature… Well that Is in fact… What we do…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Floating Sea of Green – Anonymous Mountains

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“Floating Sea Of Green” – Keystone State Park – Westmoreland County, PA – Trillium as far as the eye can see… Right here… On the side of this mountain… I am but a small part of this picture… Yet… When I am among the Trillium… I feel like a king… Exploring natures beauty…

Sitting on the side of an anonymous mountain…
Among jack-in-the-pulpit and white trillium fountains…
Spring beauty blossoms through last years leaves…
A garden is growing among the woodland trees…

A garden is bigger than the size of your yard…
Gods creation is more than just broccoli and chard…
Heaven is a garden… And here on Earth it’s blue…
A bee that visits my garden brings sweet gifts to you…

Among the trees I realize I am a part of this land…
It is my job to defend the places that I find so grand…
If it came to it I think I would be willing to kill…
Stand on top of my Trillium and I’ll do it for the thrill…

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“Mountainside Morel” – Keystone State Park – Westmoreland County, PA – Among the treasures to be found in Keystone State Park… A single Morel Mushroom growing among the Club Moss… Trail side… Hidden by the leaves…

So while I slowly tiptoe across this sea of green…
Knee deep through Mayapples I guide my queen…
Carefully we navigate these Appalachian thickets…
Among the mason bees and the mountainside crickets…

I let go of my baggage and release my inner fears…
A garden is a state of mind and my mind is right here…
A garden has no borders… There are no class walls…
A plant doesn’t see us unless we get down and crawl…

Big degrees… Pedigrees… Even the smart and dumb…
A plant doesn’t give a damn about your annual income…
I garden… Because it requires nothing but the desire to learn…
I sow seeds because I realize it will soon be my turn…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Keystone State Park – Between Rain Showers

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All photographs were shot at Keystone State Park in Westmoreland County, PA… They are all available for sale as prints… Please email me with any questions or requests at c.condello@hotmail.com… plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Practical Permaculture – Summer Reflections – Mint and Hugelkultur

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“The Brain on Gardening” – Hamnett Place Park and Ride – Wilkinsburg, PA – An onion flowering under a Serviceberry…

A permaculture garden should be thought of as a laboratory, we perform experiments with our plants and record the data for the future. Through careful observation, we determine what changes we need to make in our gardens and lives to better serve the land as a whole. Although permaculture is nothing new, many of the techniques are considered the cutting-edge of agricultural science. Given the new-nature of these techniques, there is still much to be learned.

Permaculture and science do not always get along, controlled experiments in laboratory settings regularly show no evidence of real benefits (of any kind) in even the most storied of companion plants. Sometimes, an individual must make a faith-based decision on what they think will work. Skeptics tend to only look for information that proves their skepticism, therefore they look past all of the opposing information. Optimists tend to do the exact same thing except in a positive direction, the difference is the optimist will only find evidence of the system working and typically… The system will therefore work…

Occasionally, something that seems like a good idea on paper… Fails miserably in the field… Here are a couple of tidbits I picked up this summer…

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“Telephone Pole Garden” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Pineapple mint growing at the base of a local telephone pole garden I created a few years ago…

Mint and the Fruit Tree Guild

After a summer of observation, I have come to the conclusion that mint has no place in a dwarf fruit tree guild, it simply grows too fast to properly maintain to a height conducive to the health of the trees. The first course of branches on a dwarf fruit tree can be as low as one foot off the ground, and many mints will stretch to 4′ tall when in flower. One of the most important aspects to a trees health that is often forgotten in permaculture is air circulation, it is absolutely required for the health of the tree and production of fruit.

Many pests will search for the weakest target in their foraging territory, a tree trunk that is covered by competing weeds is a favorite of many boring insects. In nature, a fruit trees canopy hoards water and sunlight from the plants growing beneath it effectively keeping trunk contact to a minimum. This effect can be demonstrated by planting a sun loving perennial next to the trunk of a large shade tree, although it may survive, it will always seem like it is trying to migrate away from the trunk and into the sun.

The plants that you plant in a tree guild need to benefit the tree, anything that grows quickly or aggressively is most likely robbing the target of your guild from nutrients. A mint patch that is several years old becomes a tangled mess of rooted stems, this mat is impenetrable by all but the hardest rains. Mint can outcompete many weeds, it is safe to assume it will outcompete your tree, and garden as long as you leave it in the game.

Although mint can be a troublemaker in the garden, it is important to remember all plants have a place. Beginners often have no clue that the plants purchased in tiny nursery pots will one day grow into massive clonal colonies, no matter how many times they are told they still make this common mistake. Mint should be grown in an out-of-the-way spot in the garden, if you will not be harvesting it regularly it can be run over with a lawnmower a few times a year in an attempt to keep it regulated… plus it’s like a breath mint for your lawnmower…

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“Burnt Sienna” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – What remains of a large log left to rot on the ground… A few short years ago this log was a formidable obstacle… Now it is nothing more than a smear of red on the forest floor…

Old Man Hugel and the Mystery of the Disappearing Mound

As the story goes, old man Hugel was a miner who liked to collect wood. He spent his days working in the mine, but his nights were spent searching for his prized native lumbers… He eventually collected so much wood that it filled the house to the point that he could fit no more, growing increasingly frustrated he began to pile it in his backyard, and then the front.

Old man Hugel died in an accident later that year, his piles of precious wood left to rot in the wind and rain. The community toiled over who was going to clean this mess up, given the nature of government, this took some time and as a result, the piles of wood were left out exposed to the elements for quite some time.

Two years passed before the community was ready to clean up the mess, the money had finally materialized and the red tape had been cut. Much to the surprise of the group the piles were now apparently gone, a result of the effects of nature and time. You see, nature has no red tape. Rain, snow and wind do not argue. The elements are very unforgiving of the things we create, and are constantly fighting them. Some things we create are intended to be destroyed, as is the case with the hugelkultur mound.

Sorry… Not quite sure where that came from…

hugelkultur is a style of gardening in which wood, organic material and soil are stacked into mounds, these mounds are planted in and left alone to slowly break down. There is a lot of confusion and misconceptions pertaining to the use of  these types of mounds. The confusion arises from the belief that a hugelkultur mound is a permanent landscape feature, when in fact it is nothing more than a glorified compost heap.

Huglekultur, when done correctly can effectively eliminate a large amount of wood. When built properly, the wood inside of the mound slowly breaks down providing nutrients for the plants growing above. Individuals intending to create a permanent feature in their yard using the hugelkultur technique will ultimately be disappointed, this disappointment is only further materialized with the realization that doing everything right is what caused the failure.

Wood is not an impervious material, it is intended to break down into soil over time. A large tree that has fallen in the forest will not exist indefinitely, as it is exposed to the elements and weather, it will eventually break down into a tiny fraction of its original size. For this reason the amount of wood put into a hugelkultur mound directly affects the long-term size of the pile. The wood contained within the mound is meant to break down, in ideal conditions it is safe to assume your mound will disappear in a few short years.

I receive an alarming amount of emails asking questions about previously installed hugelkultur mounds… I want to stress, that I sincerely believe this is a product of misinformation as opposed to deceit. Complaints of hugelkultur mounds disappearing over time are in fact, a testament to how effective they can be at the conversion of wood into organic material. This common misconception is the reason for this post, I am essentially tired of answering questions relating to the subject.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

I sell prints of my photography here – http://www.society6.com/chriscondello Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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