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Earth Matters

Earth Matters: Gardening During COVID Isolation

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living.

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by Jennifer Giunta

Recently, a single tiny yellow trout lily bloomed in the far reaches of my yard. It’s way in the corner, not far from the road. Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) require wet shade, and sometimes need to be established for ten years before they produce a second leaf and bloom. I’ve been watching their mottled leaves emerge briefly in April for the past three years, anticipating this event. After a few weeks, the ephemeral leaves and flowers disappear, and don’t appear again until the next spring.

This small celebration of flowering had me wondering if there were blooms that I missed during previous seasons. I haven’t been paying much attention to this fertile little corner. Is it possible that the time and confinement that the coronavirus quarantine has provided has changed the way I see my garden? Are others taking in this year’s spring season in new, more observant, more detailed ways?

A trout lily (Erythronium americanum) blooming in Valley Cottage, NY, April 2020

Allium tricoccum, also known as ramps or wild leeks, is a species that enjoys the same conditions as trout lilies. Prized by chefs for their delicious early spring foliage, they are often depleted by enthusiastic foragers in the wild.  They grow from a bulb, like an onion does, and like any other plant that grows from a bulb, some foliage is necessary to nourish the bulb so that it produces the following year. If all the foliage is taken off, the bulb could expire. Now that we’re faced with shortages of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, maybe we could apply the forager’s lesson to shopping; if we resist our instinct to hoard, there will be enough supply to sustain us all in the future.

Having time on our hands and having to stay home presents an opportunity for us to envision new landscapes for our lawns and patios. Some are being inspired to grow medicinal plants, such as elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), a scientifically proven antiviral. There’s even evidence that dirt microbes benefit the immune system. Scarcity of produce in stores and the potential hazards of shopping have renewed interest in the Victory Gardens that sustained our country during WW2. Stores are running out of seeds, and local seed exchanges are busy with requests. (Although The Nyack Library is closed to the public, the librarians allow a weekly visit for volunteers to fill seed orders from the Nyack Seed Exchange.)

Mimi in the garden, April 2020

Our family’s recent adoption of Mimi, a 10 week old mixed breed puppy, has prompted lots of quick visits to the side yard. For Mimi, these visits have an important purpose. But once the duty is done, there is usually a distracted bouncy romp through the nearby daffodils and herb garden. This year, we’re seeing the world through the eyes of a puppy, which amplifies its many textures and, in her case, tastes. If you’re wondering about the difference in flavor between a catalpa pod and a shard of oak bark, Mimi is the one to ask. Yet she wonders where all the birds go when she chases them. She’s oblivious to the world’s crisis and what a strange and tragic time it is to be alive. Her in-the-moment, jubilant discoveries make us smile.

Gardeners sometimes talk about needing their fix of outdoor time. They crave the solitude, mindfulness, and beauty that only this intersection of wild and cultivated can provide. Gardens are an expression of creativity, a stress reducer, and a place for spiritual reflection and contemplation.  Maybe the most important thing COVID-19 is teaching us is that accepting nature’s unpredictability is critical to our sanity. As much as we’d like to, we have no power to speed things up. Patience is forced upon us, and we have no choice but to slow down and bide our time. The garden is the perfect place to do this, and embark on new adventures like Mimi’s. It is our outlet, our teacher, our refuge, our temple, and our rescue.

Jennifer Giunta is co-owner of Cottage Creek Gardens, a home-based plant nursery in Valley Cottage, NY and a co-founder of The Nyack Seed Exchange at The Nyack Library. 

Read Earth Matters every Wednesday on Nyack News And Views, or sign up for the Earth Matters mailing list.

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Earth Matters  focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. 

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