Growing the Midwest garden

Ed Lyon, 1957-

Book - 2015

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Portland, Oregon : Timber Press, Inc 2015.
Main Author
Ed Lyon, 1957- (author)
First edition
Item Description
Includes bibliographical references (page 297-298) index.
Physical Description
315 pages : color illustrations ; 23 cm
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • The Midwest: A Breakdown
  • Locality and Microclimate
  • The Allure of Zone
  • Exceptions to the Rules
  • It Starts with the Earth
  • Low-Impact Gardening
  • Sustainability
  • Scourges of the Garden
  • Pesticides
  • Develop a Plan
  • The Design Elements
  • Additional Hints, Tricks, and Guiding Principles
  • Acknowledgments
  • Recommended Reading
  • Metric Conversions
  • Photography Credits
  • Index

Preface Horticulture is my second career. When I lost my agribusiness job in the 1990s, like many people at that time, I realized it might be a good time to return to college for a new career. I researched a number of fields and realized that what I had always considered a hobby, gardening, had developed into an obsession. That insight directed me to a plant-based focus and I worked toward an M.S. degree in horticulture. I think the value of this book is that a hands-on amateur turned "expert" is dispensing the advice. When I advise others I am quick to tell them that they will learn far more from my mistakes than my successes. This might be my definition of gardening. As a horticulturist, I will forever be in debt to my father for teaching me about native vegetation. It was an integral part of our lives that instilled deep love and appreciation for nature and would eventually change my career. I doubt I will ever feel at home without the proximity of trees and scent of dried leaves. Growing up on a small dairy farm near Cooperstown, New York, I remember my father lamenting that the property bordering our farm contained black locust, but it missed our land entirely. In contrast, we were the only farm with mature, fruit-bearing butternuts (oh, how I miss Mom's butternut cake!). We didn't think consciously about it as youngsters but we had already learned that plants prefer specific environments and what flourished in one area didn't thrive in others. When I took dendrology (a fancy name for the botanical, versus horticultural, study of trees), we learned how site specific tree species can be. I returned home after that class and took a reminiscent walk through the "back forty." I noticed that musclewood and ironwood grew only in the wooded border, sugar maple and beech populated the eastern hillside, and eastern hemlock dominated the north. Black alder and American sycamore were happy along stream banks but only smaller shrubs effectively established roots in swampy muck. Tamarack and white oak defied the challenges of wet ft. until they eventually reached a size where roots forced shallow due to excess water could no longer sustain their weight. They had toppled with giant circular plates of root-bound soil jutting skyward. This exposed more sunlight for shrubby willows and arrowwood viburnum; Davids to fallen Goliaths. Trees may have been the most obvious evidence of plants evolving and adapting to specific, culture-influenced sites, but there were plenty of examples of perennial plant acclimatization as well. Foam flower wasn't a popular garden plant when I was a farm boy, but by the time I was gardening as an adult it had become a favorite. I discovered it abundantly in two forms in the glen growing between stream and dry upland woodland. Fortuitously it was spring and the plant was in bloom; I was delighted to see clumping Tiarella cordifolia intermixed with running T. cordifolia var. cordifolia. My woodland traipsing is a lesson in culture for gardeners. It is when we see how specific these plants site themselves in their natural environment that we better understand their cultural needs in cultivation. The fact that foam flower populations ended before reaching the upper woodland explains why that plant fails to thrive in dry shade gardens. Home gardens are contrived versions of what we find in nature and it is necessary to understand the conditions each species needs replicated to grow well. Breeding cultivars of naturally occurring species improves traits; however, plants have taken centuries to evolve and adapt to specific sites and a few generations of breeding isn't going to dramatically change basic cultural needs. My mother's influence was the calming effect of growing vegetables. She had a vegetable garden close to an acre in size that provided a bounty of fresh produce all summer, two freezers packed full, jars of preserved fruits, and vegetables that were visual delights lining shelves in the basement. I was a typical boy who loved animals--I had my own flock of bantam chickens--but didn't think I liked vegetables. However, I did show some interest in Mom's planting activities at about age twelve. She recognized the curiosity, ordered a Gurney Seed Company one-cent seed packet for kids, and encouraged me to plant the seeds in a plot adjacent to my chicken shed. A boy on a dairy farm knows all about manure as fertilizer, so I amended my little plot with rich, aged chicken dung. My seed packet contained a number of large, round nasturtium seeds. I had no idea what this pea-like seed would produce and wouldn't know until researching it later that nasturtium prefers lean soils for ideal flowering. Mine grew like a proverbial weed, producing massive, waist-high "shrubs" (I was twelve, remember). They didn't flower much at all; it would be years before I would learn that vegetative growth from highly available nitrogen produces foliage at the expense of bloom. It hardly mattered, as my first attempt at growing something had produced colossal plants! This was my first lesson that if you want to get someone excited about gardening, their initial efforts need to be successful, exciting, and rewarding. My mom praised my gardening prowess--smart lady--and the following year that little plot was simply not enough and I was side-by-side with her in the vegetable garden. Another life lesson on the value of gardening is the personal connections that it can facilitate. When I was around sixteen, my grandfather and I had reached the point of nearly despising one another until we bonded over gardening. I told him about adding Epsom salts to tomatoes and he was exuberant when his plants grew massively larger than mine. Just like my experience with the nasturtiums, he didn't care that the yield was low, it was more about the success and the huge plants he grew. We competed over size and yield, discovered new vegetables, and delighted in sharing harvests with others. By the time I left for college my grandfather and I had become friends. I thank gardening to this day because two years later he died from a brain tumor. The benefits of gardening are numerous. Ornamental plants provide opportunities for enjoyment, inspiration, creativity, and satisfaction. They add value, curb appeal, and outdoor living opportunities to homes, along with offering privacy and personality. Edible plants furnish healthy sustenance. Native plants supply food and habitat, sustaining natural systems. Gardening also evokes memories of loved ones, reminds me of childhood influences, and reconnects me to nature and my early development. is my hope that they become part of your gardening experience as well. Excerpted from Growing the Midwest Garden by Edward Lyon All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.