Complementary Gardening – Gardening Without Borders

PurpliWhiteTip

“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…

Keystone1

“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…

TroutLily

“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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A Plant A Day Till Spring – Day 7 – Grecian Windflower

GrecianWindflower

“Anemone blanda var. rosea ‘radar'” – Spring 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

“A Plant a Day till Spring” will highlight one plant a day, starting on the winter solstice (December 21, 2013)… And ending on the vernal equinox (March 20, 2014)… If all goes to plan I will be starting with old Snowdrop photos from 2013… And ending with new photos of Snowdrops in 2014…

Going minimalist on this extremely cold Friday… Anemone blanda… A plant that only seems to bloom for a day or two… I actually stumbled upon a patch behind an abandoned house a few years back… Small baby blue flowers rising above a carpet of English Ivy… After observing in awe for a few moments… I liberated a few specimens for my own gardens… Here is what I have learned so far…

Grecian Windflower is a herbaceous perennial plant growing from a short rhizome… It has bronze-tinged leaves… Each plant produces a single flower that lasts for a few days… If left alone it will form a mat… Sunlight requirements are variable… It will survive in both full sun as well as full shade… Though when grown in the shade the full potential of the bloom will never be realized…

Any flower that blooms around the same time as the trees can be considered beneficial… Early season pollinating insects are absolutely necessary for fruit production… I can’t stress enough how important it is to never forget that the pollinating insects need food just like us… Don’t be a dead-beat employer… If you expect the bees to work in your garden… Pay them in flowers…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

New To writing and never had to site sources before… These “Plant a Day Till Spring” posts are simply intended to kill time until spring… My source is Wikipedia.org… The photography is all my own… And I am adding my own information… But much of this is just related from the web…

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

Remember to tip… My Bitcoin digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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Cold Weather Warms the Soul

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The winter fog settles on the sleepy street… The only thing louder than my heartbeat is the sound of silence… And the occasional cats meow… With a steady pace I cut through the fog… Rain drops fall so I start to jog… Through a puddle I feel the cold… Soggy bottoms but a warming soul… Soon my socks are making sounds… Hop along and skip around… December weather urban splendor… Midnight visions spiritually render…

Looking at these midnight sights… Orange glow from the street lights… Tonight the clouds must be especially sleepy… Purposely making the world look creepy… Stuck to the ground… Not making a sound… A slight breeze smells of the snow… Cutting through the rain shower I go… Cutting through the air… And cutting through my mind…

Urban life is really something special… Wildlife and those living the wild life… Friendly folks and mean… Even the occasional obscene… Houses packed like books on a shelf… Side by side… Like volumes in a series… Each one is similar… But completely different…

Many of us go for months… Without actually touching the Earth… We drive on roads… And we walk on sidewalks… But our feet never actually touch the ground… Like at some point it became taboo to do…

Put your feet on the Earth… Bury your seeds in the ground… Harvest your veggies… And pass them around…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – The Urban Fire Pit

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“Recycled Fire Pit” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – This fire pit is made entirely from locally found recycled bricks… The bricks pictured have been in place for three years now… As you can see… A few will need replaced this year… But other than that… The pit is in perfect condition…

A few years ago, I built a small fire pit in our backyard using recycled bricks found locally in my neighborhood. When we first built this fire pit, the legality of it was a big question mark, as time has passed, we have come to the understanding that it is perfectly legal as long as we are not burning trash. Before constructing a fire pit in your backyard, consult with your local government as to the legality of burning in your specific locality… I also recommend talking with your neighbors, smoke can bother some people… Remember, even if burning is perfectly legal in your area, a complaining neighbor can usually convince the fire department to make you stop burning…

Now I know what you are thinking… But Chris… What in the hell does a fire pit have to do with gardening or permaculture?.. My fire pit happens to be one of the secrets of my garden… I can make the equivalent of an entire garbage can full of garden refuse disappear in a single evening… A better estimate of time might be a six-pack of beer… The secret is to get your fire as hot as possible… Then slowly add material a handful at a time, only adding more when the existing debris has burned away completely… After a few fires… Clean the ash out of your fire pit and spread it around your garden… I think of this as not only feeding the garden nutrients… But feeding it good memories… I know… I’m a big dork… Get over it…

Deadfall branches are commonplace in my neighborhood, I can burn an entire evening, just with the wood I find on the ground within 500 feet of my backyard… And I live in a very urban environment… Much of that wood is not the best burning wood available… In my corner of Wilkinsburg… Mulberry and Sumac are commonplace… And believe me, they both are poor burners… The secret to getting rid of these types of wood is exactly the same as with weeds and leaves… Get a very hot fire going using other woods… Then sparingly add the junk wood… Taking care to wait for the previous pieces to completely burn… Junk woods not only emit more smoke… But that smoke often smells bad… Lilac is one of the worst smelling woods I have ever burned, comparable to plastic or rubber…

Food cooked over… Or inside a fire tastes better than the same food cooked on a gas range… Living in the city, cooking over a fire is a luxury… If that luxury is available to you… Use it… Cooking on a gas range is not doing the environment any favors… Not saying that I don’t use one… But it is important to remember where that gas comes from… In my area… It comes from the Marcellus Shale deposits and is fracked out of the earth… Any available opportunity to screw that industry out of an impending dollar should be embraced….

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“Kindling” – © chriscondello 2013 – Highland Park – Pittsburgh, PA – My girlfriend pointed this shot out… If you are going to keep a pile of wood on your front porch… Might as well stack it creatively…

Almost all of the big box stores sell some type of ready to use fire pit, these are all perfectly fine… And surprisingly… I have nothing negative to say about them other than they are a bit expensive… And essentially all you are going to do is slowly destroy the thing with fire… If you have the money to buy one… And don’t care to build one… Then by all means just go and buy one… But if you are looking to build one yourself… Then this article is for you…

The basic purpose of a fire pit is to contain fire, a common practice is to find an old truck rim and simply set it on the ground… You can also bury the rim… I personally prefer my fire pits to be sunk into the ground, it makes the fire a little more difficult to detect from the road. My fire pit is nothing more than a brick lined hole in the ground, and it has lasted for three years with very little maintenance.

As far as specific dimensions are concerned, it will depend on the size of your yard. I like the hole to be the depth of a brick standing on end, or around 10″. My pit has a 36″ opening to allow me to burn wood that is a bit bigger than what would normally be burned on a small urban lot. Most commercial firewood is cut around 16-20″ long, the extra room allows oxygen to reach the fire, otherwise the fire would smothers and smoke…

Let me talk about bricks for a moment, after all I do collect them… A common question I am asked when people see my fire pit is whether or not the bricks explode… The short answer is no… They will not explode… Bricks are fired at high temperatures during manufacturing, they have already been exposed to temperatures higher than anything you can throw at them in one night of recreational burning.

On the other hand… Some bricks have a tendency to absorb water, it is not inconceivable to speculate that a water logged brick could shatter when heated… Or likewise… Shatter when a heated brick is rapidly cooled… But a brick will not explode with any type of force… I had originally put the red bricks on the inside of the pit, although they didn’t explode… They didn’t last for shit… They would fall apart after a few fires… The yellow bricks have lasted for three years now… They are noticeably heavier… And much harder than the red bricks…

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“Red Passion” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Another view of my fire pit… Just with a Red Passionflower…

The ring of bricks around the outside of the fire pit serves a few purposes other than just looking nice. The ring of bricks serves as an extra buffer between the flames and my grass… Which as you can probably tell from the photo… I take pretty damn good care of… The bricks also serve as a place to put your feet when sitting around the fire, without the bricks, feet would wear the grass down to bald spots. I no longer have that issue… And finally, the bricks serve as a place to set the smores sticks when you are roasting the marshmallows… If you wanted to put a grilling surface down, the bricks would work for that also…

The most difficult aspect of having a fire in an urban environment, is figuring out how to keep the smoke to a minimum. The only way I have found to accomplish this, is to keep your fire burning as hot as possible. Do not burn wood that is still wet, and I’m not talking about rainwater wet, but still green wet. Don’t let your fire smolder either, keep it fueled and flaming. Simply paying attention to your fire will typically be enough to keep it burning… Oh yeah… Excessive fire poking is not only annoying… It creates more smoke… And often sends sparks flying in every direction… Keep the fire poking to a minimum…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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I now have prints available to purchase online… You can find them here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – This site… And all the photographs and information presented within… Are provided free by the author… Me… At one time I had considered asking for donations… But that’s not me… So I have decided to sell prints of some of my photography… It is by no means a requirement… But it helps… If you have a few minutes to check them out… Then by all means… Please do…

Paved Waves – Asphalt Creeping

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“Asphalt Creeping” – © chriscondello 2013 – Vassar Way – Wilkinsburg, PA – So many textures and patterns… I could hardly contain myself… The wavy new asphalt interacting with hundred year old bricks… And a concrete gutter… An urban timeline…

Block after block… Outlined in black… Highlighted in gray… Urban sprawl… City night call… Orange tones and abandoned house bones… Sights… Sounds… And alley cat moans… Creeping through the darkness… Lit by the lightning bugs… Flying through my mind…

Jasmine blossoms bless the air… Scented lily’s… Citrus blooms… All combine in my backyard room… Raise the bar on my scarred soul… Enhances energy… Enlightens life… Brightens the darkness… Fuels the light… Currently all my energy… Comes from flowers of white… Scented dreams… Scented memories…

Streets lined in gardens… Hell strips converted to heavens… Scented herbs beneath my feet… Impossible to miss if you park on the street… Sunflowers hide the telephone poles… These should be everyone’s goals… Simply don’t ask permission… It’s a guaranteed no… It will probably mess with the traffic flow…

Even after all the rhymes and theory… People apparently don’t seem to hear me… Plant a garden… Or a tree… Do it without asking… Do it for free… Or get paid… Regardless… Just do something… Something for you… Something for me… Something for the land… Or something for the sea…

Promote life…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

I now have prints of some of my work available here – http://society6.com/chriscondello – If you would like a print of a photo not listed… Just ask…

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Silent Misconception

Selfie

“Selfy” – Sculpture – © chriscondello 2013 – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Created on 4/7/2013 and destroyed on 4/7/2013 – As soon as I saw this log… I knew I needed a big stone… My natural self-portrait…

Tonight… Silence… Well… Relative silence…
Silent enough to hear the footsteps…
Slowly creeping down the alley…
Gravel crunching… Moving towards me…
Cell phone blaring inaudible sounds…
Easing closer to my yards bounds…

And then the music stops…

I know in a moment… Shots will ring out…
This is probably some gangsters scout…
Then the phone rang… What did he do…
Answered it… Hello mom… How are you…
When the call ended… He said…

Yes ma’am… I know…
I love you…
Too…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Restless Friday Night

"Friday Morning" - © chriscondello 2013 - Whitney Avenue - Wilkinsburg, PA - Guerrilla Garden between two abandoned houses on my street...

“Morning” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Guerrilla Garden between two abandoned houses on my street…

Hot and muggy night… First of June…
Sirens wail… And gunshots boom…
All the while police cars loom…
Urban sounds… In an urban room…

Peace is relative in my neighbor hood…
Unity makes a community good…
The higher ground is where we stood…
Silence is a statement that’s misunderstood…

Memories play on my mental display…
Helps me see what you call gray…
Up all night… Sleep all day…
Heaven doesn’t care when you pray…

Or who you pray to… A state of mind…
Look in your heart and you will find…
It doesn’t matter if everyone is kind…
Always move forward… Learn from rewind…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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