GREEN THOUGHTS: A good time to get dirty

THE YEAR 2020 HAS BEEN like no other, but you can’t keep good gardeners down. Last Monday, 11 master gardeners opened their plots to our in-house Pandemic Garden Tour. Since our tour for the public had to be canceled, this members-only event at least got a few friends together, masked and socially-distanced, for the first time since the pandemic hit in March. It was nice to see the gardens in their mid-summer glory, and great to see folks I’ve only had a glimpse of on Zoom. At the end of the day, my heart held a flicker of joy and a spark of hope.

The master gardeners agree that the act of gardening has been a lifesaver during these overwhelming days. Weeding, plucking and pruning allows one to have at least a resemblance of order over a tiny spot in a chaotic country. Hard work makes one forget about the national news. There are no restrictions on getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Nurturing a bit of nature releases positive feelings, and even disappointing results are seen in a new light: next year will be better. Gardening is often a solo affair—most of the family members disappear when it’s time to spread mulch—so we’ve got that covered, too.

Master gardener volunteers take care of a variety of public gardens, and those are being brought back into bloom, too. Initially, caution canceled all activities, but eventually we wrote a plan which allows us to work in gardens safely. Our Demonstration Garden at the Robert C. Parker school is in good shape and open to visitors, but we skipped mulching it this year, as that takes a tremendous group effort. The City of Troy closed all parks, but we were allowed back to the 9/11 Memorial Garden in Lansingburgh in late June, and the master gardeners have been busy ever since. Leslie’s Garden in downtown Troy, cared for by a team involving us, neighborhood volunteers and TAP, Inc., continues as a neat and colorful spot in the city. We’ll be returning the Hospice Garden soon. It’s all about keeping our plants, as well as our community partnerships, growing.

Mother Nature hasn’t exactly given us the easiest gardening season, either. It wasn’t so long ago I was interviewed by an Albany TV station as we all worried about a late frost. Since then, the temperatures have climbed and we’ve had a few heat waves, too. Spring rains have given way to summertime dryness, with lawns toasty and corn leaves curling. We’re officially in a moderate drought now, and I’m awfully glad of a one-inch rainfall last week.

Anyone shopping at a local garden center discovered another phenomenon—plants and paraphernalia are selling like hotcakes, welcome news for the local economy. Reports are that Americans are picking up a hoe and getting dirty in record numbers. Let’s hope this year’s new gardeners, especially those of the youngest sort, stick with the green scene when good times return.

To contact David Chinery, horticulture educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County, email

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