Pictured Above: A path through Rick Darke’s garden. | Rick Darke photo

There’s an old gardening adage that you should never make drastic changes to your garden the first year you move into a place, but this adage is equally true if you are just taking a look at the land surrounding a house you’ve lived in for years with an eye toward gardening for the first time.

Paying close attention to your garden’s needs in all seasons was a focus that presenters came back to again and again in Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Spring Gardening School and Garden Lens lectures on the weekends of March 19 and 26.

The ever-increasing threats to the natural world couldn’t help but show their faces throughout the series.

“We are in an age of extraordinary change. Things have always been changing, but the only constant is the accelerating pace of change, said author and landscape designer Rick Darke in his Garden Lens lecture, “Dynamic Design & the Art of Observation.”

“The trick is to take the ‘up’ view,” he added. “Change is good. It means you’re alive and engaging.”

He’s a self-admitted suburbanite and his acre-and-a-half home in southeastern Pennsylvania is his laboratory for “only things that are adapted to grow here…. things that can live responsibly in a community.”

He began his lecture with a tour late this winter through his backyard, where, despite the snow, you could still see the seed heads of last fall’s asters, left for the birds to help get them through the winter. He then showed off photos of the beauty of color schemes to be found in different seasons, studied by the plein air painters of the Arts & Crafts Movement.

“It was an artistic and ethical movement, about regional culture,” he said. “There is no off-season. There is just a continual progression of seasonal increments. We have to learn about them all.”

New York Times Garden editor Margaret Roach echoed this approach in her talk on “Non-Stop Plants: A Garden for 365 Days.”

“Our job as gardeners is to paint the picture with the plants nature gives us,” she said, urging gardeners to “shop in their garden” for perennials and biennials that reseed in unusual spots, transplanting them to where they might be more aesthetically pleasing.

Both Mr. Darke & Ms. Roach praised the habitat provided by dead trees in the landscape, which can be made safe and still support life in the garden.

Ms. Roach urged gardeners when shopping for plants to seek out spring ephemerals, late fall bloomers and “four season performers, that are like soldiers that do the ongoing work — real powerhouse plants.”

She said she started gardening in her mid-20s, just after her father died, and when she was becoming a caregiver for her mother who, at 49, was beginning to fall victim to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“I needed some refuge, and someone gave me “Crocket’s Victory Garden,” the classic book,” she said. “That’s how I came to gardening, during a very difficult time in my life, and it’s still a great escape for me.”

Perhaps a Victory Garden is now needed more than ever as we all adjust to our rapidly changing world.

Margaret Roach is author of “A Way To Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season” and Rick Darke is coauthor of “The Living Landscape” with Doug Tallamy, both of which are excellent inspiration for the cold days of early spring.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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