Horticultural TherapyWritten by Thomas Leo Ogren
The idea of using gardens and plants as “tools” for therapy is growing fast these days. Makes perfect sense, too. There is a great deal of evidence that working in gardens is wonderful for our mental health. The relation between our mental health and our physical health is a close one. If we feel good about ourselves, about our families, our work, our friends, often our bodies will feel stronger too. Just being in a beautiful garden can make many of us feel better. Doing small chores in garden, deadheading roses, pulling weeds, planting some bulbs, fertilizing, all of these things have ability to make us feel good. In Persian language words “garden” and “heaven” are one and same. In our own lives so often we spend most of our time rushing here and rushing there. We spend way too much time stuck in front of computers, TV sets, stuck in rush hour traffic, doing things that may be necessary, but things that aren’t much fun, much less satisfying. But working in garden, that’s different, especially for those of us who really do love to garden. I recently came on some research data that suggests that more tuned into gardening a person is, more nurturing, creative, and compassionate that person will be. Again, this makes sense too. In garden we are free to experiment. In garden what we do actually does make a difference, a huge difference. Unlike so many things, more effort we put into our gardens, better they are. What is link between gardening and empathy for our fellow man? Could it be that gardening brings us closer to nature? That by getting in touch with Mother Nature, we are ourselves enriched? Probably so. But then too, there’s no doubt that type of people drawn to gardening in first place, may already have in them an extra dose of creativity and compassion. I used to work in a prison for juveniles. The CYA it was called, California Youth Authority. I started from scratch program there and over years program grew, gardens expanded, I learned new things and so did my wayward students. Most of my “boys” in CYA were gang members from Los Angeles area. Typically they were “in” for armed robbery, muggings, murder. Most of them, although they ranged in age from fifteen to twenty-five, most could barely read, and none had done any gardening. I designed our gardens to be therapeutic. We built a big brick barbecue so we could cook things we grew. We grew fruit trees, hundreds of them, so we’d have fresh fruit to eat. We put up bird feeders so we could attract and see birds in garden. We put up birdbaths, we made wind chimes, and we planted huge gardens of vegetables and flowers. In our gardens we grew things organically. I taught them to value frogs, toads, lizards, snakes as welcome additions to garden. We made huge piles of compost. About only form of punishment we used was, “turning compost heap.” We always had a radio to play some music to listen to while we worked. Deep, profound changes happened to many of these hardened criminals while working in garden. As they learned to hybridize roses they lost their desire to rob liquor stores. As they grew tomatoes big as your fist and watermelons big as beach balls, they became proud of their accomplishments. The more they learned about plants, less they were interested in crime. Many of these boys learned how to read, to do math, to write, and learned it all there in gardens, in greenhouses. I worked in CYA for twelve years. People in authority sometimes claimed that I bribed my “wards” and that I must be doing something illegal. They couldn’t understand how it was that these hoodlums could learn scientific names of hundreds of plants, that they actually learned to love to read, to love to garden. But I didn’t bribe boys; I just set up a garden with a healing atmosphere and then let it work its wonders. The right garden is a magical place. Plants are not judgmental. You take good care of them and they thrive. In garden our minds are free to wander, to daydream, to relax. Good things happen in good gardens. Why talk about horticultural therapy in a book devoted largely to allergy avoidance? The answer is simple. Gardening of itself can be very therapeutic, however, if garden is filled with plants that cause allergies, well, gardening experience won’t be that good. It is no fun to be sneezing and even less fun to have attacks of skin rashes or asthma. By making our gardens allergy-free we can avoid these negatives. The physical work done in gardens is also good for us, burning calories, making our muscles stronger. In right garden air is cleaner, too, refreshing our lungs as we work. If it makes sense to have a therapeutic garden be allergy-free, it also makes sense that gardening is food for soul, and happier we feel about life, quite often, better will be our health.
Starting Your Own Fruit Trees Written by Thomas Leo Ogren
*Note: This article first appeared in Grandiflora Magazine.
Starting Your Own Fruit Trees
Thomas Ogren I flat out love growing fruit trees and have been crazy about them all my life. Or at least, as much of my life as I can remember. Actually, very first thing I can clearly recall involved fruit trees. I was about three, possibly four years old. It was a warm, lazy spring weekend and my older sisters were gone somewhere with my mom, but my dad was home, working in garage. I wasn’t allowed to cross street by myself, but down block, across street, was a beautiful pineapple guava tree growing in middle of some grouchy old man’s lawn. The tree had a huge crop of large, green, totally delicious fruit, but owner wouldn’t let any of us kids pick guavas from his tree, much less climb it. He claimed that we would break branches. He would however let us have fruit that fell on ground, but these guavas were generally too soft and mushy. That day I walked down street by all by myself, seeing no adults or even any other kids around. I looked at that tree and dashed across street. The old man was nowhere around and I climbed up his guava tree and started stuffing big, fat guavas in all my pockets. I picked as many as my pockets could hold and climbing back down I did indeed break a few small branches. Looking both ways (of course!) I ran back across street with my loot. Back at home I found my dad still in garage and I showed him my stash, expecting him to yell at me for crossing street. But dad never did make connection and thus my first episode of crime was all in all, a total success. Some fifty years later I now have five guava trees growing in my own yard, all grown from seed. I also have many other fruit trees, all of them homegrown ones.
Fruit From Cuttings Some fruit is so easy to propagate I always wonder why everyone doesn’t try it. Grapes, figs, mulberries, and pomegranates are all easy to grow from directly-stuck cuttings. I cut off a piece of dormant wood, 12-18 inches long, and I bury almost all of it in ground where I want it to grow. I leave at least one good bud above ground. Sometimes to insure a better take, I’ll stick five or six such cuttings in same spot. If they all grow, then next winter I dig up extra ones and give them to friends. I use cutting wood that grew last year and find that wood that is about pencil thickness or somewhat thicker roots best. I recently accidentally discovered a way to get plum wood to root for me. I used a long whip of plum branch (dormant wood) as a stake in a one gallon pot of some fancy gold heart ivy. To my surprise plum wood rooted and started to grow next spring. I now do this on purpose, using plum wood that is from last year’s vigorous growth. I select plum whips 2 to 3 foot long, with no branching on them, and stick each one all way down into center of a gallon pot of some well-rooted perennial flowers or herbs. A surprising number of these plums grow, and since they are "on their own root,” they don’t need to be budded or grafted. Try it.
From Seed I have a spot in my backyard next to my compost heap, and here I toss any and all old pits from plums, apricots, peaches, and nectarines. I toss apple and pear seeds in here too. At end of summer I shake an inch or so of old compost over area and see what grows. Since I do this every year, I always have a ready supply of seedlings each year. In winter months, or in very early spring months if you live in a zone 4-7 area, dig up some of these year-old seedlings, bare root, and pot them up one to each one gallon pot. I use a 50-50 mix of potting soil and garden dirt. I then water pots, set potted seedling on a table, clip off most of top, leaving 4-6 inches of trunk above ground, and then cleft graft seedling. Cleft grafting is, I think, easiest method and it works well with apricot, peach, plum, nectarine, quince, apples and pears. I use a thin bladed knife and tap it (tapping back of knife blade with a small hammer or a piece of wood) directly into center of cut seedling, going down only about one inch. I cut scion wood (whatever you want to convert your seedling to) that is from last year’s growth. I like to use scion wood that has a diameter that is slightly smaller than diameter of seedling I’m going to graft it to. The grafts, or scions, should be about 3 to 4 inches long and each should have several good, dormant buds. The scions can be cut to shape with a sharp pocketknife. Try to get your scions cut smoothly, with a gradual taper. The scions are then tapped into place in split seedling (the rootstock), making sure that cambiums of both scion and rootstock match on at least one side. The cambium is thin green layer of wood that is just inside outer bark. To keep your work from drying out, cover entire finished graft with a thick coating of grafting tar or grafting wax. I also put a dab of tar or wax directly on exposed cut tip of scion. Be careful as you do this, not to knock scion out of contact with rootstock cambium. Now, unless a kid, bird, or a cat bangs into this graft and knocks scion askew, if you did it right, come springtime scion will sprout and grow. Voila! You’ve got a grafted fruit tree. You can graft peach onto almond, apricot, plum, peach or nectarine rootstock, and visa versa. For sandy soils peach or nectarine make best rootstocks, but for heavy clay soils, plum is by far best. Apples can be grafted on apple seedlings, as can pears. Pear can also be grafted on apple stock. If so inclined, scion wood from quince can also be grafted onto apple or pear. An apple or pear grafted onto a quince rootstock will be a dwarfed tree. If your soil is clay, a pear rootstock grows best. If sandy or loamy, apple is preferred. I grow these new fruit trees on in gallon pots for a year, making sure to cut off any sucker wood that arises from below graft. Keep them well fertilized and watered and they will often grow 3-5 feet in one summer’s time. The next year either plant them or give them away to friends. If you have a potted fruit tree seedling where graft fails to take, simply cut off unsuccessful grafted part. You can re-graft it next dormant season. If you have year old seedlings left in ground that you won’t get around to digging and grafting, consider chopping them off just above ground in late fall. The next spring these seedlings will grow up with multiple trunks. The next winter dig your second-year seedlings with multiple trunks, thin them back to strongest 2 or 3 stems, and then cleft graft each of stems to something different. I have made many three-in-one trees this way, part plum, part apricot, and part nectarine. These make extra nice presents. You can of course just as easily graft each branch to a different cultivar of same species, such as three different kinds of plum on same rootstock. A tree like this is often very fruitful, since it will cross-pollinate itself.