June Blooms

IMG_4601I always find it crazy the way garlic and strawberries do their show at the same time. Usually plants seem to know when to shine together, like tomatoes and basil or rhubarb and mint.  But, alas, today we harvested strawberries and garlic.  Another reminder to live and learn next to things that have little in common but the world around them.

The students picked 5 or 6 institutional peanut butter containers of strawberries last week and the same this week.  The first year we gave up complete hope on a strawberry harvest due to the turkeys and then WOW we get a gorgeous harvest.

We have developed quite the permaculture garden at the Pre Release Center Garden, all thanks to many challenges we have faced, little water, turkeys, only one morning a week to tend the garden as well as a desire to work with what we have.  It has been a real lesson in going with what works.  The things we are tending come back each year without our seeding, planting or watering.  They are raised organically so they are very healthy and they are used by the site which is about as local, healthy and sustainable as you want to eat!

For weeks the men have harvested cilantro, sage, rhubarb, thyme, strawberries, chives, mint and each week I encourage them to eat the Johnny Jump Ups and the chive blossoms

IMG_4418…  soon we will have dill self seeded from last year and about knee high now.  The next crop on the horizon is the raspberry patch with many hard little rock like berries ripening in the June breeze.

Today we picked enough mint, cilantro, sage, chives and garlic to give to the kitchen for a pasta dish being made for the entire center.  I call that success.  I call learning how to grow perennial fruits, herbs and flowers a real hard core life skill.


Every week we harvest buckets of flowers to put into the visiting room for family and friends.  It is such a proud feeling for the students to put the flowers on the tables and know they will bring joy to visitors.






Last Autumn we planted 100s of bulbs and this week we harvested them.


The students made 25 bouquets for visitors.  A couple of buckets went to the Emerald Necklace Conservancy Office to give away to visitors there as well.

If you are ever at 125 The Fenway on a Wednesday and stroll by around lunchtime to visit,  you might just see some flowers there to enjoy yourself.

Teaching with beautiful results.





Spring Lessons


While I teach the students organic gardening practices every Wednesday, the rest of the week they work in the Emerald Necklace Parks.  This week they have been shoveling heavy spring snow.  I want to share with you part of the Mission Statement for our Maintenance Collaborative:

“Increase maintenance of the Emerald Necklace park in a cost-effective manner. The Maintenance Collaborative crews provide over 5000 hours of maintenance work in the park each year. A well-maintained park improves the short and long-term health of plantings and park eco-systems, increases use of the park by residents and visitors, and increases park safety. Given the continual pressure on state and local budgets, the Maintenance Collaborative increases the level of park maintenance in an extremely cost-efficient manner.”

Yesterday we did a team building exercise in “continuity” as a way of illustrating to the students the idea of supporting each other’s work, be it in the classroom, in the parks or in their larger lives. Maintaining a massive park entails a great deal of team work as does building a supportive life and community.

We each had a pile of flowers; forsythia, daffodils and hyacinths. For ten minutes we drew and then passed the paper to the next student for 10 minutes and so on until 60 minutes later we had 6 cohesive drawings, all different but all in the same theme.



While some botanical images were more sophisticated than others, more primitive, robust or gentle … they all came together as a series of equally beautiful images because we shared our talents and our strengths.  “One for all and all for one” as someone pointed out.


Go With What Works

One of the biggest lessons we learn in the garden is to go with what works. Between turkeys eating seeds, lack of water, shade and limited number of hours we have in the garden (Wednesday) it is increasingly prudent to plant things that thrive by themselves.

Today we divided the very overgrown woodie Montauk Daisies. I brought in a small bucket of these a number of years ago and we now have many gigantic mature plants ready for division. These require no water, just compost, room to reach their full habit and sun.
From three plants we divided them into 25 plants. Since our goal this year is to produce flowers to give away we are well on our way to producing a beautiful crop of fall, fragrant sustainable cut flowers. This is what organic gardening boils down to, taking advantage of what does work in nature and not working against nature.  A few things popping up today in the garden:

Johnny jump ups: edible perennial, charming, harmless

Cilantro: self seeded, edible annual, fragrant, delicious, harmlessIMG_3135

Please stay tuned as we continue to explore what works.  Nature is a great life lesson too when it comes to behavior, success, self respect and cooperation, all life skills springing from the earth.



I was standing in line today at Panera waiting to buy a loaf of bread and heard someone shout my name, I looked up and it was one of my former students.  He waved vigorously and flashed a generous smile but then dipped back into the kitchen to work.

I can only say that I think Fredrick would be happy.  Like a lot of my students, Olmsted did not have the easiest start in life. His mother died of a laudanum overdose when he was just four.  He struggled getting started and despite having come from a family of means he still struggled with his demons, depression and manic phases albeit coupled with a life of tremendous creative accomplishment.  Olmsted was an experiential learner. Many of my students struggle with reading and writing, be it from learning disabilities, language barriers, no support or a whole host of other reasons.  I teach assuming others learn experientially.

His father’s generosity and patience as well as Olmsted’s inability to settle into a career took him to many far away places; China as a young man aboard a ship, the southern states writing about slavery and the Civil War for what would become the NYTimes and Europe to study the picturesque and the pastural styles in landscape design.  A combination of privilege and his identification with all kinds of people provided him wonderful experience, knowledge and a desire for designing democratic urban parks in the United States.

The men on the Emerald Necklace Maintenance Collaborative have the opportunity to acquire job skills as well as work experience, fresh air and a certificate of completion in a program using the Master Gardener curriculum.   Whether the student goes into this field or not at least they have had the opportunity to have maintained a grande example of American History and a living work of art here in Boston.  I hope all their experiences good and bad, like Olmsted, will provide them with the tools to build something wonderful as well.


Finished Planting the Bulbs


We finally planted the last of the bulbs this morning.  100 Yazz Narcissus and 50 Pink Wonder Jonquils, all in the pink, apricot and cream family. We did not naturalize the bulbs as we would in a woodland or perennial garden because I am teaching the students this time about a production garden for our cut flower CSA (community supported agriculture) that we have begun in earnest.  Instead, we dug a 6 inch trench and planted with room to multiply but no room for other plants around as I would in other gardens. Come April and May we will have two long rows of fragrant flowers for cutting.  150 bulbs will make 10 or 20 pretty bunches to give to visitors at the Pre Release Center.  Our goal eventually next year is to also supply bunches of flowers to the Emerald Necklace Conservancy office for visitors, volunteers and donors to illustrate some of the important projects they support!

Thanks to a generous donation from Mahoney’s Garden Center in Winchester we also recently planted hydrangea, asters, rudbeckia, black eyes Susan’s, sages, coreopsis, nine bark and spirea.


Of course we have many flowers planted from past years as well, peonies, iris, primula, tulips, roses, muscari, allium, self seeding cosmos ….

We also planted a bunch of garlic in the herb garden, one thing that always does well and turkeys do not like.  The only problem with the garlic is that I think the men eat half the bulbs as they plant!  Hilarious!  I always anticipate this and bring extra.

Skills learned; coming out in the rain on a cold December morning to dig a trench, learning what a bulb is and how to plant it three times its height, where and when to plant; beginning to understand to plant what works and what doesn’t; learning to grow things forward as this group of men will be gone when these bulbs bloom in the Spring; learning to give back to the community by creating beauty.

Stay tuned to what promises to be a gorgeous spring full of flowers to be given away grown by men who are being trained to be “fine” gardeners.


Strawberry Propagation


Taking stock this fall we determined that strawberry plants are successful.  Despite the fact that the turkeys ate every single piece of red fruit, the plants multiply rapidly, they don’t need water other than what they get from the rain, they grow in crummy soil, they don’t mind a bit of shade, they are perennials, sustainable and delicious, (unless the turkeys get to them before you do).  The family of turkeys this year included 11 babies so they really did a number on our morale in the strawberry department.  Full disclosure, the above photo is last year’s harvest.  I’m hoping the turkeys move on this winter and we return to the former glory of last season. However, in the meantime, we were determined to find success in whatever we could so I decided to teach how to divide and share the plants.

In 2007, my first year teaching at the Boston Pre Release Center Garden, a donor gave us 4 strawberry plants.  We now have 1,000s of strawberry plants.  Wednesday was the tail end of the heat wave so I knew we needed a shady job or else I would lose my students.  We ended up moving from one shady spot to the next carrying all our tools and buckets of water.

First we dug up a shovel full of seemingly parched earth, brown leaves and weeds.  We then carried the clump to the shade.  I demonstrated once how to shake out the dry soil, pull out the weeds (which fascinated the students since it was mostly ajuga which mimics the strawberries with its runners and serrated leaves, we had a cool talk about that too as many weeds seemingly mimic those around them), cut off the runners to create multiple plants, prune the roots, prune the brown leaves…

A student arrived late to class and one of the earlier students said “let me catch him up on this” and he proceeded to describe the process in detail.  Rewarding teaching moment.

We then hydrated the thirsty little plants and let them have a good soak in a laundry bucket.

The guys then rolled up each little plant one at a time in a damp paper towel or newspaper and wrapped each in a plastic bag, each one done very neatly and with care.  We then placed them all in small buckets and one guy wrote a note with instructions.

Both buckets were left on the entrance table to the visiting center for anyone to take.

BTW we got about 50 plants from just a five clumps of nothing looking plants!


Again, we try each week to concentrate on what works and build on that.  Its really profitable in MANY ways.