Spring Fling: Plant Exchange, Seeds, Herbs, Music, Food, Poetry

We held this meeting at University United Methodist Church, where a table of delightful spring foods and drinks was available for pre- and post-meeting snacking, as well as covert raids during the meeting. 

Renee-Noelle Felice introduced our topic by reading a moving poem, Invocation by Jean Loman. Then she was joined by Liz Spence and Gay Montague as they read part of a poem for three voices Vernal Equinox by Caroline Candler. Each of our readers had dressed for her part as maiden, motherhood, and crone, adding visual emphasis to their words.

Francine Berg then led the assembled women in a Native American song that repeats, accompanied by the sound of everyone patting her thighs:

“The earth is our mother, We must take care of her, Hey yana ho yana hey yon yon.”

We are always amazed at how good we sound when Francine leads us!

Francine introduced Elizabeth Dorosz, a Syracuse dentist who was originally from Poland. Elizabeth believes strongly in natural (not the same as organic) gardening, using no chemicals.

She began by warning us not to buy seeds that have been genetically modified. These will grow into plants that lack hardiness, and if you harvest the seeds from the ensuing crops, they won’t germinate the next year. This keeps the seed companies in business, as new seeds must be purchased every year. She suggested that the best source for organic seeds is Nature Tyme or the Co-op on Kensington Place.

Francine volunteered that she had purchased a large supply of potted herbs which all died. Elizabeth said that happened because the plants probably were genetically modified and forced, and lacked the stamina of natural plants.

Julienne said that when she tried to buy non-coated seeds, the store clerk told her that all of the produce at the Farmers’ Market come from modified seeds.

Elizabeth also explained how to compost household vegetable waste, using this with manure, sand, coffee grounds, and peat to improve the soil and nourish your plants.

Elizabeth also warned to be careful putting purchased flowers, especially those that travel long distances, in your compost, as they have undoubtedly received large doses of artificial fertilizers and pesticides.

In response to questions about controlling garden pests, Elizabeth said controls should be natural. Allow toads to eat the slugs; enjoy the ladybugs because they eat aphids; plant marigolds around tulips to deter deer or among the tomato plants to discourage Japanese beetles; put down black plastic as a weed barrier. She suggested using fish fertilizer, available at Country Max on Bridge Street, to water the plants rather than chemical fertilizers.

Elizabeth said that combining certain plants will help avoid some pest problems. Plant lettuce between your carrots, radishes, and beets. Put parsley and dill together. Plant lovage. Elizabeth offered two handouts with additional information.

Our next speaker was Betsy Wiggins. She brought photos of her spring and summer gardens which circulated as she spoke. Betsy read a passage from A New Earth by Eckart Tolle, which spoke of the first flowers as the enlightenment of plants. Tolle related the story of Buddha, who gave a silent sermon as he held aloft a single flower and gazed at it. When a monk eventually began to smile, it was clear that he was the only one who understood the sermon. According to legend, that smile, that realization, was handed down by 28 successive masters, and eventually became the origin of Zen.

Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken in humans the beauty that is the most essential part of their innermost being. Recognition of beauty is one of the most significant events in the evolution of human consciousness, connected to joy and love.

Betsy said that she first felt that enlightenment at the age of five in her mother’s garden. She had awoken very early and dressed quickly to race out to be the first one at the swing in the back yard. Lying in a patch of lily of the valley was her mother, breathing in the dew-laden fragrance of the tiny white bells. Betsy stopped and lay down with her and found the experience so perfect that she cried.

Today, Betsy doesn’t mind the passing of any flowers, as she knows that there will be more to come. She feels that plants teach you to pay attention to shapes, fragrances, and colors that complement or contrast.

Betsy’s Mom was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, where it was common on Sunday afternoons to go visiting. And the visitor would bring the hostess a tussy-mussy, a bouquet of mixed flowers from her own garden. They were things of beauty and instant conversation starters, as the homeowners compared the progress of their gardens and shared its bounty. She pointed to the bouquet of tulips, daffodils, bleeding heart, forsythia, hydrangea, pansies and violas that she had brought to decorate our center table, as an example of a tussy-mussy.

For Betsy, gardens are her Zen, bringing awareness of beauty in both the outer and inner worlds. She nurtures her plants outside during warm months, and indoors under grow lights in cold months. She peruses catalogs, planning for the next season and feeding her soul.

In response to questions, Betsy recommended an egg and vinegar mixture to deter deer. She buys the dry mixture at Home Depot and adds water, spraying this throughout the season. Although it has a bad smell that reoccurs after rain, it is quite effective and natural.

Several members had brought poems for the season, representing a variety of cultures, and read them aloud with delight. They put us in the mood for our final activity, a fusion of color, movement, and laughter. Sixteen women held wide, summer-hued ribbons attached to the top of a Maypole. With eight moving clockwise and eight moving counterclockwise and up and down, we wove the ribbons around the pole in a beautiful pattern as Francine sang and we all enjoyed the confusion of the process.

Now on our feet, we all went to the plant tables where members shared the bounty of their gardens. Elizabeth had potted basil plants, enough for everyone. Betsy had bagged marigold seeds from last year’s garden, enough for everyone. Others had brought chives, lily of the valley, lamb’s ears, pachysandra, and other plants, and many members left with bags ready for planting in their gardens.