We Care - Earth Care!
Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church
March 2021
The Garden Issue
Upper Rhenish Master, The Garden of Paradise (1410)

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden. 
—Genesis 2:8
From the Editors
After the February snows, the days warm and lengthen. Snowdrops and crocuses start poking through, new birds flock to the feeder, and some of us get the urge to dig in the dirt. We want to see green again. We long for blossoms and fruits. We crave birdsong and insect hum. No wonder the garden looms so large in our culture’s dream life! Back in the beginning, we’re told, God planted a garden for relaxation after the hard labor of running the world. Human beings were created to help: the original job description was that of a gardener. And that first garden was meant not only as a source of food but also as a place of relaxation, devotional practice, beauty, and—yes—erotic love. Many of these attributes have endured down through the centuries, in the Song of Songs, in medieval romances with their walled pleasure grounds, in the monastic cloister with its herbs, labyrinths, and colonnades, in the paintings of the Old Masters. Even today we seek and find them in our public parks and the private, constructed spaces of our own back yards. It seems we all need a taste of Eden from time to time. In this issue we share stories of friends who have been there.
In this issue:
Speaking of Faith: John Tallmadge on dancing with wildness; Nina Naberhaus on gardening, spiritual values, and eco-confidence
It’s About Time: Rebekah Nolte on surviving February; Rich Bitting on winter dreams
Walking the Talk: Dale Myers on gardening as a way of life; Rick Sowash constructs a pleasure garden
Know your Neighbors: Julie Malkin on Cincinnati’s Bhutanese gardeners
Learn More: Kathy Downey on becoming a Master Gardener; Julie Malkin on composting; Dale Myers suggests some reading.
Speaking of Faith
Dancing With Wildness
John Tallmadge writes:
Ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote that there were spiritual dangers in not owning a farm, and the first was assuming that food comes from the grocery. To avoid it, he said, one should plant a garden, “preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue.” Happily, those of us in Krogerland can still enjoy gardening as a spiritual discipline that contributes to an urban practice of the wild.
We don’t grow vegetables, of course. They grow themselves. The best we can do for them is care and feeding and protection. With attentiveness, sensitivity, perseverance, and a bit of luck, our ministrations help them express their inner nature, their inherent squashiness or basilicity—in short, their wildness. We have to take them as they are and learn to dance with it. If we succeed, they achieve an exuberance that is not only beautiful but tasty. They grow and flourish, increase and multiply; we learn, adapt, adjust, perspire, wait anxiously for rain, pick out the weeds and bugs, gather up the blossoms or the fruits and then, God willing, finally eat.
Gardening connects us to the daily, seasonal, and annual rhythms of the living world. It helps us learn how nature works, fostering a mild interdependency that deepens our ecological awareness. What better way to appreciate the Creator than engage intimately and productively with her creatures?
The cycle of the garden year also helps us appreciate the unseen and grace-filled dimensions of nature: from spring, when the seeds go into blind receptive earth, some small as a grain of mustard, to the sunny height of summer when the cucumbers and tomatoes run riot, to the withered dryness of fall when all life has pulled in and focused down and husked itself against the cold, to the dark, snowy, dampness when everything seems defeated or asleep, immobilized by failure, even while the strange, winter chemistry of the unconscious is transforming all that wreckage and experience into fuel for the resurrection.
Gardening, Spiritual Values, and Eco-Confidence

Nina Naberhaus writes:

A friend once told me about a sermon she heard about self-esteem. True self-esteem, the priest said, is a rock-solid understanding that you have a special place, a unique and beloved place in the Universe, and that place is not at the center of it. I have always loved this message, and I often turn to it when I am puzzling over my role in the world.
When it comes to the challenge of saving our ecosystems, I have found my place not in the center, not as a leader, but in the role of discerning follower. In this role, I must stay aware of my relationship to my spiritual center as I wade through the vast quantities of information that threaten to swamp us all in this internet age. I try to evaluate information based on whether or not it displays care for the whole, as well as for each part. 

It seems to me that an orientation toward the fullness of creation works as both an ecological and a spiritual foundation. This means affirming that every living thing has a special, unique and beloved place in the web of creation, and that we do well to base our approach to growing food on this understanding. In other words, giving a tomato just what it needs to be its best tomato-self is key to good gardening, as is the recognition of the tomato in the context of the garden as a whole. I believe this approach brings joy to the tomato, the whole garden, the people who work in it, and the people who enjoy the produce from it.
I am not a gardener—never have been. But I did have the good fortune to work for almost eight years at a center with a long history of growing food and pioneering holistic and organic practices. While my job didn’t involve working in the gardens, I spent a lot of my downtime walking in the pastures with the cows and listening to the head farmer talk about animal, vegetable and mineral alike. Here are a few of the things I learned along the way. 
  • The nutritional content of the vegetable is wholly dependent on the nutrition in and health of the soil where it was grown.
  • Grazing livestock may play a key role in sequestering carbon and saving the environment. Healthy soils are a huge carbon sink, and they require animal inputs.
  • The term “organic” is not an indicator that holistic agricultural practices were employed. Commercial-style organic growing operations are not necessarily holistic, or even good for the environment.
  • CSA (community-supported agriculture) programs exist to support the farmers, as well as to build community and grow nutritious produce.
I sometimes feel that my life would have been easier had I not learned so much. I now look at the organic section of the grocery store with suspicion. And I am continually peeved at the labeling practices that are built to mislead, with terms such as “natural” and “free-range” that don’t necessarily mean what they seem. Choosing wisely is complicated, not to mention more expensive.
I work hard to keep up with policies, practices, and science related to food, agriculture, and the environment, and I have developed some eco-confidence in my ability to understand what I am seeing. And, while I can’t save the planet singlehandedly, I can do my part by making informed decisions, grounded in joy and optimism, that are an expression of my connection to Creation.
The Question of When...

Rebekah Nolte writes:

By the end of February, I often feel listless and fatigued from the long slog through winter. I thrive on outdoor time and sunshine. Being cooped up for months, especially during a pandemic, makes me feel like I have been away from home, even though the reality is that I hardly ever leave except for a quick trip to the store or the office. The thing is, I feel most at home, most rooted, with my bare feet in the cool garden soil and dirt caked under my nails. There is this energy that surges through me when I am surrounded by green things and intimately connected to the networks of life just beneath the surface, be they mycelial meshes spanning hundreds of acres or the root systems of grasses that run for miles. 
When I stand in my garden each spring, I am reminded of my holy belonging, my connection to the earth and to all life. I have especially needed that reminder this February; I am sure many of us do, as we approach the one-year mark of pandemic life and physical separation from community, friends, and family. While there are tangible signs of hope on the horizon, many questions still remain. When will we be able to gather in person? When will we be able to share food around a table?

When? When? When? This question rolls around in my head most days, as I go  about my work. It can be consuming at times, as I ache for the familiar.  
Yet the February doldrums are one of the most familiar things to me, as I reach the end of my capacity for winter. At this point, I know it is time to pull out my collection of seeds, trusting that spring will come again. I may not know the answer to many of my whens”, but I do know when it is time to start seedlings indoors. This reminds me that winter will not last forever. Even now I can nurture my connection to the earth and tend to the hope of new life. 
This is my first spring in Cincinnati, but with a last predicted frost about eight weeks away, there are many tender green things that can be started indoors. It took more effort this year to get started, as so many things do, but I sorted through my seeds and chose several vegetables and flowers to grow in my kitchen. Now each morning when I pour my coffee and consider the day, I can watch the familiar signs of germination unfold. For just a few moments I am reminded and renewed. I remember that the plants and I are in this together. February will not last forever.

Winter Dreams of Gardening

Rich Bitting writes:

I’m looking out my window at garden beds tucked under a blanket of crusty snow. The kale and garlic are sleeping, awaiting the first warm day. A stack of garden catalogs is on the table in front of me. I have been busy imagining what new plants I’ll grow this year. Late February is one of my favorite times. The sap begins to rise, buds become fuller and the natural world wakes up to the promise of a fresh beginning.
This is the time of year that I begin to start seeds. This year I’m trying some native flowers whose seeds have to be cold stratified. I’ve had some luck in the past, but I’m hoping that a new technique will be more successful this year. I’ll start them indoors along with other seeds a few weeks before the last frost. Some I can plant directly In the ground after the last frost date. Starting seeds always helps me to begin the gardening season. 
Having grown many gardens over the years, I have learned the plants that will prosper in my particular garden space, which is shared with two large and verdant oak trees. In early spring, before their leaves fully open, they allow sunshine most of the day. As the season continues and the sun climbs higher my garden becomes shadier. This results in only a few reliable sunny spots from about mid morning to sunset. I plan my yearly plantings with this in mind.
My vegetable garden consists of seven raised beds, a cold frame, and two trellises. I’m careful to rotate my crops to avoid disease and to pick the sunniest areas for the tomatoes and peppers. The shadier areas are good for lettuces, cabbages and root crops. Every year the garden is full of surprises, for example last year I had an unexpectedly stellar turnip crop. My “Three Sisters” experiment was a failure. The sweet corn did not develop ears and the beans and squash produced very little fruit. 

I’m gradually adding more native species to my flower gardens. I have one filled with pollinators, including two kinds of milkweed, spearmint, cone flowers, and Joe Pye weed. Although the bees avoid them, I keep a border with day lilies because I like their early July display of floral fireworks.
I always look forward to working in the garden. I feel that gradually I’m acquiring patience as I learn to appreciate that there are things outside of my control. With each small gardening success my knowledge and confidence grow. Tending my garden connects me to the natural world and its cycles. When I work in the garden, my disappointments and anxieties melt away. The sounds of my environment enter my unconscious and mingle with my thoughts. I am in my ideal space.
Walking the Talk
Into the Garden with Walt Whitman

Rick Sowash writes:
Year that trembled and reel'd beneath me!
Your summer wind was warm enough, yet the air I breathed froze me,
A thick gloom fell through the sunshine and darken'd me,
Must I change my triumphant songs? said I to myself
Must I indeed learn to chant the cold dirges of the baffled?
And sullen hymns of defeat?

Thus wrote, of all people, America’s great optimist, our dear, sweet, gay, old Walt Whitman. You don’t expect Uncle Walt ever to be downcast. But in this
poem, he is. 
All of us have been struggling through just such a year. We kept thinking, How should we respond, hour by hour, day by day? Should we chant the ‘sullen hymns of defeat’ or somehow find ways to resist the grief, shock, stress and depression? 
I tried all kinds of things, like reading the NY Times each morning, phoning elected officials three or four times a week, painting toy soldiers, and riding with Jo on the bike trail to Terrace Park, where we’d sit on a bench on the village green, eat a peach, and then bike home. There were jigsaw puzzles, emails to friends, cooking and cleaning and watching good TV. And finally, there was our garden, a small but splendid thing that took shape as the first six months of COVID “trembl’d and reel’d beneath” us.
We often reminded ourselves, “At least our garden is coming along.” It was a comfort, and the finished garden is a delight. It even has a Greek revival pavilion with a burbling fountain and, in summer, crickets screaking in the background.
To see a 5-minute slide show of how the garden took shape, accompanied by the Mirecourt Trio’s recording of the “Summer” movement from my Piano Trio #1 “Four Seasons in Bellville,” click here; http://www.sowash.com/recordings/mp3/birth.garden.mov
Why I’m a Gardener

Dale Myers writes:
Gardening is more a way of life for me than a hobby. I grew up on a small farm in western Pennsylvania where my parents had a large vegetable and flower garden and an apple orchard. As a child, I learned to plant seeds, nurture plants, harvest, and preserve vegetables. In my family, gardening was both practical and aesthetic. We grew vegetables for food, but my mother also tended (and dug up every fall) over 600 gladiola bulbs, planted sequentially. She decorated the Presbyterian Church of Prospect with colorful gladiola bouquets all summer long. After I left home for college, I never lived full-time in Pennsylvania again. But in every state where I’ve lived since, I’ve had some kind of garden. 
Now Diane and I live on five acres in rural Clermont County tending a small raised-bed garden with a high deer fence. We grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers and manage eight apple/nectarine trees. As a boy I also learned beekeeping and still keep a couple of hives. We’ve found that gardening is a good way to socialize and connect, from sharing the work to enjoying harvests. Children love to be involved, especially with picking beans and snacking on cherry tomatoes.

In Ohio, gardening is not just a summertime activity. Its tasks are woven through all four seasons: ordering seeds from colorful catalogs that arrive around Christmas, planting seeds in pots under grow lights in the basement on snowy March days, digging the ground to plant after all danger of frost (which down here means after Mother’s Day), weeding and watering plants on hot summer mornings, sharing harvests well into fall, and creating rich soil for next year’s plants by composting kitchen scraps all year round. Gardening makes you aware of the earth’s seasonal rhythms.
Some of our favorite plants are heirloom white half-runner green beans, Cherokee purple tomatoes, and hardneck garlic. The tomatoes and garlic take a long time to grow but their flavors are worth the wait. For vitality, we grow a mixture of modern hybrid plants and non-hybrid heirlooms. And in honor of my mother’s gladiolas, we always include patches of flowers. Most recently our favorites are hybrid red zinnias, orange zinnias, and marigolds. 
In the fall we clear off the garden, plant extra hardy German garlic cloves, and cover them with straw. They are a lesson in resilience as green garlic leaves push up through snow and ice and grow through the winter. 
I love gardening for many reasons.
Gardens stimulate all your senses. A patch of scarlet zinnias is arresting. Think about the tangy taste of a just-picked tomato, the smell of basil leaves, the way sunshine or a breeze feels on your skin, the background sounds of birdsong. 

Gardening is good for physical and mental health. Numerous scientific studies document the benefits of physical activity, sunshine (in moderation), and a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Gardening reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and induces calm. And when you move your body aerobically to dig and plant and weed and move heavy weights regularly, you can skip the gym.
Responsible gardening is good for the earth. I don’t think you can nurture plants without becoming more aware of nature. Indifference to the environment is no longer an option. Gardening fosters a reverence for the earth, which compels you to tend and protect it. In The Unsettling of America, Culture & Agriculture, Wendell Berry said, “The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.”
Whether your garden experience is tending a potted plant near a window or something bigger, may it fill your senses, support good health, and connect you to the earth. 
Pieter Bruegel the Younger, Spring (1600) 
Know your Neighbors
Meeting the Bhutanese

Julie Malkin writes:
For many years I drove to work via Compton Road and Hartwell, past the Saint Clare Franciscan Convent, where, a few years ago I noticed lush vegetable beds on a hill to the east. I assumed these were sponsored or maintained by the convent, but Marci Peebles, Community Garden Director at Franciscan Ministries, explained, to my surprise that most of the gardens are tended by Bhutanese refugees.
The Bhutanese in Cincinnati are ethnically Nepalese whose ancestors lived in Bhutan for several centuries, owning land and attaining citizenship but retaining their national identity. In the middle of the 20th century they became targets of political unrest, and hundreds of thousands fled into exile. The UN created seven camps that could hold 250,000 refugees, and in 2006 the US agreed to accept 60,000 of them, the largest resettlement effort since the Vietnam war. Cincinnati was one of the first host communities, and today there are about 15,000 living here. (https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2017/12/18/refugees-confront-pain-of-youth-suicide-bhutan/897876001/)
Five years passed, I retired, and one Saturday this fall I found myself volunteering at Tikkun Farm in Mt Healthy, where I once more came into contact with Bhutanese gardening. Lutheran pastor Mary Laymon explained that she and her husband, Greg York, had bought the run-down dairy farm in 2010 and named it “Tikkun”, the Hebrew word for “healing”. At that time they thought of “healing” in terms of building restoration, but they soon began developing programs to heal people and communities as well.
It was not long before Mary turned to the land. In 2017 she was praying for someone to help her farm it—to “heal” it—and the next day she received an email from Sheryl Rajbhandari of Heartfelt Tidbits, asking if Bhutanese refugees could use her land for their gardens. The next day five people showed up with seeds and picks. They worked the earth and planted mustard greens (in spite of the fact that it was late August; typically a time for harvest, not planting). (https://www.hortmag.com/headline/healing-gardens-tikkun-farm-helping-refugees)
In an interview Mary described how important gardening and the earth are to the Bhutanese. She exclaimed, “Isn’t it so appropriate that you found out about the Cincinnati Bhutanese community through their gardens!” According to Mary their spirituality is earth-centered. They tell her, “The earth is our mother, she nourishes us”. They weep when they talk about this relationship. They say, “when we lived in Bhutan we provided everything for ourselves from the land, except salt and kerosene.”
Women do most of the garden work at Tikkun. They use various forms of pick axes to work the soil, adding manure (primarily from Parky’s Farm), and employing other traditional agricultural practices. When they lived in the refugee camps, they were allowed to garden but were limited in what they could plant. Here they are grateful for the freedom to choose what to grow. At Tikkun, this includes mustard greens (which they call spinach), potatoes, gourds, a type of winter squash that resembles a green pumpkin, a variety of bean, and several medicinal plants including stinging nettle and bitter gourd (which Mary says is very bitter and difficult for our palate to tolerate).
Local novice and experienced gardeners, alike, respect the Bhutanese farming heritage. Mary Laymon wants to restore the land at Tikkun Farm but admits that she has a lot to learn. Although the refugees employ some methods that conflict with her commitment to no-till farming, she does not push the issue with them. “They have much more to teach us than we do them,” she says. “Our work is collaborative and we support each other.” Peter Huttinger, Turner Farms Community Garden Program Director, provides classes and other support to Franciscan Ministries St. Clare gardeners. He notes, “Unlike the other gardeners I’ve worked with, the Bhutanese—most of them—were very experienced in agriculture,” so they did not need much advice. (https://www.franciscanministriesinc.org/community-garden-.html)
I came to know the Cincinnati Bhutanese refugees through their gardens. What a wonderful metaphor for our lives! Please check the embedded links for more inspirational information about this community. 
Learn More
Becoming a Master Gardener

Kathy Downey writes:

When I retired in 2019, I started the Master Gardening program through Ohio State, which had been on my bucket list for years. I was interviewed and accepted into the 12 week program held at the Civic Garden Center here in Cincinnati. Once a week for eight hours 24 nature loving adults got together with some of the most interesting, well- prepared and funny gardening experts for discussions on soil chemistry, pests, fertilizers, composting, growing annuals and perennials, tree pruning and planting. We took field trips to the zoo to discuss their flora with staff horticulturalists. We discovered that Spring Grove Cemetery is the place to learn about trees as it is the home to many state and national champions (the largest of their kind in the area.)
I was very impressed with the lectures but had not anticipated how much I would learn from my fellow participants. Most were 50 or older and had come with years of experience, playing in their own gardens, enjoying their house plants or growing shrubs and trees in their yards. Immediate friendships blossomed. Class members would bring jellies they made from their homegrown berries or wine from their dandelions.
For the first year, after passing a written test, I was required to volunteer for 50 hours at one of over 40 approved locations such as the zoo, city parks, or private nature preserves. For 6 months I volunteered one day a week at the Krohn Conservatory as a plant janitor, picking up leaf litter, trimming plants, and helping with seasonal displays. Also I had to attend 20 hours of CME. To keep up my certification after the first year, I now need to volunteer only 20 hours a year.
Two times a month, the Hamilton County Master Gardeners meet via Zoom for a short lecture followed by discussion and questions about plant identification or plant problems people may be having. Others in the group almost always are able to help. The group also meets two other times a month for a “lunch and learn” session that includes a talk on anything from ticks to grafting trees to how to get lilacs to bloom. None of these talks are mandatory and I can go back and watch at my convenience. 
I cannot say enough about the joy this program has given me, how much I have learned and what wonderful new friends I have made.
If you have interest in this program or upcoming classes, visit the Hamilton County Extension website or call 513-946-8998.
Local Resources for Gardeners and Their Allies

Julie Malkin suggests:
Cincinnati Garden Center
The Civic Garden Center’s mission is “building community through gardening, education and environmental stewardship. Founded in 1942 out of the Victory Garden movement, we are THE place to go in Cincinnati to learn about gardening, sustainability, and horticulture. We are located at 2715 Reading Road on the former estate of Cornelius J. Hauck, Hauck Botanic Gardens. Here we host classes, a horticultural library, several gardens for visitors to enjoy free of charge, the Green Learning Station and an outdoor compost classroom.”
With over 200 member organizations and individual members passionate about enhancing the environmental health and vitality of our region,” their mission is to “lead collaboration, incubate ideas and catalyze solutions that create a resilient, sustainable region for all.” Green Umbrella sponsors many events of interest to gardeners, including the upcoming “Local Foods and CSA fairs” (March 7-12). A recent “Victory Garden” class provided instruction on soil health. Check out their calendar of events, which is updated frequently. 
Composting Resources
Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 30 percent of what we throw away, and could be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. (https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home
Great Parks of Hamilton County’s website has a good primer on composting, with resources for backyard gardeners. Of additional interest is a small feature about the community composting program at Winton Woods campground (https://www.greatparks.org/discoverprojectscompost)
Composting for Apartment Dwellers
What do you do if you don’t have space for backyard composting? There are a number of food scrap drop off options in Hamilton County.
Several companies mentioned in this link offer residential pick up subscriptions for a fee. For example, The Better Bin Compost Company provides customers with a 4 gallon bin and lid, which is picked up weekly and exchanged with a new container ($30/month)
Worm farming (or vermicomposting) is an alternative to outdoor composting. It is an excellent source of compost and an outlet for kitchen waste.
Master composter classes are offered in the spring and fall at the Civic Garden Center. If you are eager to start your own worm farm, check out this resource: https://www.civicgardencenter.org/assets/Worm-Bins.pdf
For Further Reading
Dale Myers suggests:
  Berry, Wendell. The Unsettling of America, Culture & Agriculture, edited by Norman Wirzba, Counterpoint, 1977
  Darnton, J. and McGuire, L. 2014, “What are the physical and mental benefits of gardening?” Michigan State University Extension, May 19, 2014.
  Hayes, K. 2017, “5 Secret Health Benefits of Gardening” AARP Healthy Living, June 14, 2014.
  Thompson, R. 2018, “Gardening for health: a regular dose of gardening,” Royal College of Physicians Clinical Medicine, PMID 20858428.
What's Next
Upcoming Issues:
April: Birds
May: Flowers
June: Insects
July: Walking
Thanks to all our contributors for this issue! If you’d like to write for us, please contact your faithful editors, Julie Malkin (mlkjulia458@gmail.com) and John Tallmadge (jatallmadge@gmail.com).