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Judy Isacoff
Layered lavender branch, pinned with pieces of ironweed stem.

NATURE’S TURN: The Giving Garden

By Monday, May 20, 2019 Farm and Table

May 20 – June 2, 2019

Mount Washington — Silvery stands of common sage, Salvia officinalis, have been mainstays in both a small, semi-circular flower and herb garden in front of an entrance to my house, and an herb and native plant bed integral to my vegetable and berry garden. Last summer, several old sage and one sprawling lavender bloomed as usual and provided cuttings enough for bunches of vibrant and fragrant flower spikes as well as leafy stems for drying. In recent years, my enthusiasm for learning about and adding new varieties of berries, herbs and natives took my focus away from established perennial plantings. Reminiscent of Shel Silverstein’s poignant message about the unsustainable demands we make of nature in his book, “The Giving Tree,” this spring, I discovered that perennials I depend on to anchor parts of my landscape and to otherwise nourish my plant-centered way of life had died back.

Sage plant leafing out, foreground. Background plants await trimming to live wood. May 14, 2019. Photo: Judy Isacoff

I bent over the sage and lavender, searching for new green leaves. They should have appeared by now. Yes, there was some new growth but, clearly, many stems had expired.

Lavender shrub in process of being pruned of dead wood; violet sprouts at base, May 14, 2019. Photo: Judy Isacoff

With hand pruners, I cut dead stems and trimmed dead material above new growth. When cleaned up, I found large, twisted, trunk-like branches growing close to the ground from the center of the sage. The core was 1-inch diameter dry wood, which I cut away with loppers. Radiating out were strongly rooted branches sprouting new growth. The lavender also has dead wood at its core and living stems growing out from its center. See one branch that I pinned to the ground to assist its taking root.

Many of the plants in my original beds have atrophied because they are root-bound and/or invaded by weeds. I am in the process of cutting these into as many pieces as each requires, then replanting them in refreshed ground with space to grow. See the onion chive image for a simple example of a challenged plant. I will slip a shovel down its center, pull out the weeds, free its roots and perhaps cut again before replanting two to four pieces several inches apart.

Overgrown onion chives. Photo: Judy Isacoff

If I had followed my initial impulse to pull up the old lavender and sage plants and buy new, I would have wrecked the botanical rebuilding that was underway. As it happened, I imbibed the scents of lavender and sage from their leaves and stems while learning lessons of sage living.

Stomp it out (by pulling)! Or eat it! Invasive garlic mustard. May 11, 2019 Photo: Judy Isacoff




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