Posts by Tim Parsons

 
 
 

Cultivating Hope, Wisdom, Compassion, and a Tree

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Nature can teach us many things. Life, death, love. And Hope, Wisdom, and Compassion. How appropriate the 14th Dalai Lama uses ‘cultivating’, the act of promoting growth, to describe his wish for the dissemination of his main tenants for the human race to strive for.

Sogyal Rinpoche, the Buddist author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, writes of trees:

Think of a tree. When you think of a tree, you tend to think of a distinctly defined object. But when you look at it more closely, you will see that it has no independent existence. When you contemplate it, you will find that it dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretch across the universe. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it all the seasons form part of the tree. As you think about the tree more and more you will discover that everything in the universe helps make the tree what it is; that it cannot be isolated from anything else and at every moment its nature is subtly changing.

A Bur Oak is planted next to the Garden of the Seasons just south of the main library, waiting to be blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Think about this tree, as it grows tall and wide, its roots spreading far across the quad joining its companions, and be reminded that like a tree, we all depend upon each other as well: we all share a subtle net of relationships. Let the small oak show our hope, our faith in growth and long life, as our grandchildren will see the large tree. And let it teach us wisdom, like the timeless ‘wise old oak’ of our childhood stories, and learn from it compassion, as no tree stands alone.

Bur Oak by the Garden of the Seasons

A New Vermont Geology Map

Categories: GIS, Midd Blogosphere

I’m a sucker for blogs and websites that send me scrambling to a dictionary, and recently I’ve come across a good one. Here’s your word for the day-odonatist. I’ll wait here while you look it up.

Back? Good. The site was The Daily Wing, an outdoor blog focusing on winged creatures, such as birds and dragonflies. (that’s an odonatist, if you were lazy and not terribly curious, a person interested in dragonflies, of the Odonata group. Good luck using that in your next conversation.) Bryan Pfeiffer, the author, writes all of the posts, and shows some of his amazing photography. It’s a gorgeous blog.

And like my blog, it seems like many things interest him. (Unlike my blog, he updates his more frequently. No excuses here-I got my house painted this summer.) What caught my eye was a post on the new Vermont Geological survey map, with the awesome title of “A History Expressed in Stone”.  The map, published by the state Vermont Geological Survey, is over 30 years of work, and shows major bedrock formations across the entire state. I want to get the paper copy, but our house lacks wall space for the 3 6 foot by 5 foot sheets, and my cave of an office wouldn’t even fit one.

So I’ve downloaded it, and the three PDF’s would blow my entire Papercut budget for the year, so I’m holding off on that. I’ve also download the shapefiles for Google Earth and ArcGIS, but am waiting to really delve into that this winter.

As a landscaper, something I’ve learned the hard way is that you just can’t fight geology. I’ve tried over and over to grow rhododendrons, holly, and other ericaceous plants on the MIddlebury campus, but our high pH soils just won’t let me. And the reason for that? The bedrock.

Watering

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Pick up any plant biology book, and they consistently list the three macro nutrients all plants need as N, P, and K, the chemical symbols for Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus. But really, what we share with plants is a need for ‘macro’ macro nutrients, something so profoundly necessary that the books don’t even feel the need to list them, and they form the backbone of all life. We’re talking about C, H, and O, or Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen.

The carbon and the oxygen are easy, the plants are getting that in the air we breathe. It’s the Hydrogen that’s been stressing me out lately. Plants obtain it solely from water, through photosynthesis. I always remember my snide remarks in the retail garden center world, when a customer would ask me what kind of fertilizer to buy with their new purchases. For the most part, I’d tell them the single greatest thing they could do would be to water.

How much? It’s a good question with no real definitive answer. I remember from who knows where that gardens in the northeast need about 1/2″ of rain a week in the growing season, and an article on strawberry production I found says about the same (actually .63″). Trees need quite a bit more, though, as they have much more extensive roots throughout the soil horizon. Plan on 2″ of rain a week. I found a handy online calculator to do the math, but here’s a quick answer. A newly planted tree with about a 2″ trunk, should have a 5′ x 5′ zone watered around it, so that’s about 30 gallons, pretending to be a 2″ rain.

Sounds a little high, but the wild and woolly world of plants is never easy.  Last year we were averaging 4″ of rain a month, and we didn’t have to do any supplemental watering. On cloudy days plants don’t transpire, or lose water, at as great a clip, so maybe last year it was fine.

Or not. We’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off right now, watering every tree we’ve planted for the last 3 years. (that’s a lot) All of our recently planted trees are showing drought stress, and I’m wondering if I hadn’t watered enough in the last 2 wet years to well establish the trees. When watering, it is best to water a lot all at once, so that the roots have ample moisture and can grow long and deep. Too little water, and the tree keeps its roots near the surface, where the water is, and this makes it less drought resistant in the long run.

Gator Bags for Watering

We water all trees with 40-50 gallons of water about every 2 weeks. We use two gator bags zipped together, and they drain over the course of about a day. We hand water any tree we missed, and then gator bag it. In this heat and drought, I’d like to water weekly, but I’ve been checking the ground around the trees, and I think we’re keeping up.

Another good trick I learned once when hand watering is to watch the ground as it absorbs water from the hose. I think this is the one of the Eliot Coleman gardening books, but I loaned my copy out and now it’s gone. Once the ground starts to get saturated, the top gets glossy. Take the hose off that spot, and the glossiness will disappear. If you can count to 3 before the glossiness is gone, the ground is moist enough.

Drought stress symptoms in Birch

identifying drought stress in plants can be tricky, especially in herbaceous plants like annuals and perennials. Woody plants are easier. The inner leaves of the tree turn yellow and fall off. I find this remarkable. It isn’t like trees have brains, but here they are smart enough to drop the inner, less efficient leaves, to conserve its precious water for the maximally producing outer leaves. By the time your plants are showing symptoms of drought, obviously much damage is done. Plants are pretty hardy, so even with serious problems the tree will probably be fine.

The Juice Bar at Crossroads Cafe

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I make no excuses for not blogging.

I’m not one of those super-organized, or super-marketeer landscapers who spends the slow winter writing blog posts to store them for slow release all summer. No, we spent the snowless winter busily pruning more trees in one winter than the previous 3, and my dream list of blog posts keeps growing almost, but not quite, as fast as the weeds in the garden.

So what’s my first blog post of the dog days? Guess what, it’s not even about plants, but food.

Some of you probably know my wonderfully patient wife, Nancy, and if not go introduce yourself. She summers as the supervisor of the Juice Bar, which, lacking students, is run by the Grille staff, where she slums in the winter. They’re calling it Crossroads, probably because of the large sign above the back, but the menu is all Nancy. Last year was the year of the Panini, which they’ve kept (try the Sierra Smoked Turkey one), but this year crepes are the thing.

We had crepe weekend here at home a month or two ago, where she and the children practiced all weekend. (Oh, the sacrifices I make for the Middlebury community; I didn’t eat until Tuesday)  She’s got it down now, and has taught Sydney and Kate (Kate from Wilson Cafe, similarly slumming in McCullough for the summer). And you owe it to yourself to go get one.

Like the Goliath, with flank steak, goat cheese, carmelized onions, and roasted red pepper. Or the Fernicky, (don’t get the name? Ask Miguel), with sausage, ricotta, and apple. But, believe it or not, even this landscaper thinks the best one may be the vegetarian option, with a coconut tumeric lime sauce. I run and hide from Indian food (an unfortunate experience at a local restaurant after a Sunday brunch), but this crepe may be the greatest thing since skinny pancakes came along.

So go for the crepes, but stay for the Chocolate Soup. Really. We practiced that recipe at home too, but I was training for the Middlebury Half Marathon, so it was’t a sacrifice, but needed fuel.

Or so I said.

Real Sod, Fake Grass

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Towards the end of the term the observant on the north end of campus would have noticed a sod box on the south end of Battell Beach, about 7′ high and 5 ‘ wide. Constructed by Cha Tori and Hannah King for Professor Sanford Mirling’s The Artist Collective class, the sod hut joins a long tradition of end of the term student projects sprinkled about the landscape. Being the end of term, it sadly didn’t stay up very long, a victim of timing and student vandalism. I’ve posted their narrative below, as well as a brief slideshow.

“This work began in Sanford Mirling’s sculpture class, The Artist Collective and as a response to the prompt: make an environment for something. Working together, Hannah and I initially chose to make a room in which you felt happier when you left it. As the project progressed, we decided to achieve this by contrasting the natural with the synthetic. Dealing with the feelings of happiness and sad-ness, we purposely left the room free of objects so that it would lend itself to impressions but not specific memories. We wanted the outside of the sculptureto appear seamless with the work’s environment, as though it were growing out of Battell Beach. As a material, sod is very strange because it is a naturally grow-ing product but typically used in highly manicured settings. While the sod allows the box to blend with and grow out of the grass surrounding it, as a material that can be manipulated into a box, it underscores the more nuanced relationship between our conception of the real and artificial.”

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2011′s Tree Karma Score

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Applying for certification for Tree Campus involves a very enjoyable day of taking stock of the previous year. They ask about tree plantings, removals, dollars spent, volunteer hours, and community service projects. During a terribly boring snowless winter, it was nice to sit down and revel in our accomplishments during the previous growing season.

2011 was a banner year for tree planting. With the Forest renovation, the CFA renovation, our normal tree planting program, and the Atwater Turf Battle construction, Middlebury planted nearly 100 trees on campus this year.

We’ve had to remove some too. Storms and hazard tree removals are the most common culprits, although occasionally construction takes it’s toll as well. (It’s this reason I get lots of input from many people before planting, including managers in Facilities and the Master Plan Implementation Committee.) This year 22 trees have been removed.

So our Tree Karma score for 2011 is a very healthy 4 1/2 trees planted for every one removed.

Informally we try to plant 2 trees for every one removed. Our six year karma average is 3.8 trees planted for each removed. I got asked the other day what my favorite trees planted this year were, and thought it was either the Arbor Day planting, the large trees planted around Ross Commons, or maybe the rare trees planted to the west of Munroe, including a Stewartia, a variegated Tulip tree, and a rare yellow Magnolia. Or maybe the disease resistant elm in Adirondack Circle. But how can I single out one child over another?

We’re planting this spring too, mostly locally grown trees, in various locations all over campus. There is a method to our madness, we don’t just randomly plunk trees down all willy-nilly. One example is this year’s Arbor Day planting, just north of Battell. That awkward little triangle of grass lets Battell Beach lose it’s structure on that corner, and the space of the beach bleeds into the quad in front of La Chateau. The trees planted there will form a wall of sorts, segregating two spaces, and probably extending the usable lounging space of the edge of the beach.

(Not making any sense, am I? The next good beach day, go look at where people are laying out on Battell Beach. The southeast corner, down by Forest hall, along the southern edge, near the Forest hall sidewalk and some pretty spectacular ash and beech trees, or along the base of the slope that heads up to Pearson hall. Think about all those spaces. Psycologically, they are all protected–your back is up against a building, or a line of trees, or a slope. The northeast corner, near Chateau? No wall, no back, just open space across the sidewalk. Almost no one sits there, preferring instead to be near the line of spruces on the north end of the beach.)

Other places trees get planted are near trees that are dying, albiet slowly. I don’t like removing trees, and it makes me feel better to know when I do remove a tree I’ve already got it’s replacement planted and well established nearby. Look for some new trees near the Davis Family Library for this reason.

And by all means, join us today at 1 to plant some more-north of Battell Hall. We’ll allow you to get dirty.

Arbor Day 2012

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I measure my life in tree plantings.

Every time I come home from the Burlington airport, I drive down Dorset street in South Burlington and visit a Blue spruce I planted on a landscape job my first year out of college, 1989. It’s over 40 feet tall now, making me old.

A paperbark maple in front of my mom’s house in Connecticut is a lot smaller, but slows traffic down on the road in it’s awesomeness. A pair of honeylocust in front of a local church down there planted at my very first landscaping job now towers and dominates the little front yard. A Kentucky Coffeebean tree in my side yard in Weybridge planted when we moved in about 11 years ago is now starting to look like an actual tree, the trunk about 4″ now (it started small, I’m cheap).

Middlebury College has once again been certified as a Tree Campus by the Arbor Day Foundation, and the landscape department is celebrating by planting trees (naturally). Come join us Friday afternoon from about 1-4 just north of Battell as we plant 5 large shade trees. The holes will be pre-dug, so it won’t be too much work. (Sorry, can’t let you run the backhoe, I would if I could). Here’s your chance to make a mark on the Middlebury campus, and always have a friend to come visit when you return to paradise.

Or maybe we can call it my open office hours, no appointment necessary. Visits need not  be limited to 15 minutes.

Map of the Tree Planting-click for larger size