Category Archives: Plants

Pruners Without Borders

March 15, 2021

FECO volunteers, Reid and Jacob, both well over six feet tall, used their height last summer to glean a few figs from a tree in Green Lake Park. They agreed that the tree needed care.

This spring, Reid asked me if I might be interested in helping them prune the tree. I was game. “Sure! Ask Colleen Hackett, at Park N Rec, what she thinks. She knows us and she knows we prune fruit trees.”

Kevin, senior gardener for Green Lake Park, appreciated Reid’s ask for permission. Kevin expressed real delight in having volunteers eager to care for this tree. He explained that it had been planted in 2005 by a Parks Department employee but they could never afford the staff time to prune and care for it.

FECO Plant Sale! Sat Mar 20, 10-1
masks and distancing
everything from Starts to Finishes
Fig pruning class
Sat Mar 27, 10-11:30
donations welcome

We were delighted and a little surprised at the prompt and positive response. I met Jacob and Reid at the tree site. I have never seen a fig tree so dense and tangled. The fig looked as though it had never been pruned. It suffered from abuse – people pulling branches down or climbing the tree to get at the figs. This tree offered an opportunity to sharpen our rehabilitation skills, and do to so in a public space where we can’t control what others might do.

The important part of any pruning effort is to understand the goals of pruning for a particular plant. Kevin stated his goal, “If you can remove the very low branches and the huge forest of suckers around the base of the tree, my mowers will be able to get closer to the trunk.”

For our part, we decided that our long-term goal is a healthy tree that bears and ripens a good crop of figs year after year. We know it will take a few years of pruning to remove damaged and excess wood, and create good structure for fruit bearing.

Time to get to work. Reid, Jacob, and I brought out our loppers and pruning saws on a chilly, windy March morning. With a focus on reducing the tree mass, we made only thinning cuts. The heading cuts, that stimulate growth for next years fruit production, will need to wait until we have created good structure.

I’m grateful to Reid and Jacob for hatching the idea of taking this tree into our care. If you see a plant or area that seems neglected, ask the caretaker about it. You just might find yourself with a good opportunity to improve a public space, and learn a few things along the way.


Is Anything Happening in the Winter? Don’t yawn yet!

February 16, 2021

“Do ya need any help in the winter?” Visitors stop us from our work and ask this question, with some frequency. My response is, “Yes! But the winter tasks are not very sexy.”

How lucky are we. During these winter months, an energetic group of volunteers kept their shoulder to the plow. Here is what they have been working on, to stay warm:

moving plants, making new beds, working on drainage, root pruning, sheet mulching, building rabbit fencing, propagating plants, accounting catch-up, building and installing art, weeding and pruning out invasive plants, pruning perennial plants and trees, searching for winter moth eggs, rebuilding plant supports, ordering seeds and planning for spring gardens.

Volunteers needed! by appointment please email
Feb. 20, 11am Ingela tree pruning
Feb. 27, 10:30 Nancy grape pruning

Meanwhile, if you peel up that layer of snow, activity abounds and another group of volunteers are busy generating heat.

Tree roots grow in the winter, as long as there is moisture and the soil temperature is about 40°F or higher. On February 15, mid-afternoon, I took a soil thermometer and measured 40-42°F soil temperature in several locations at FECO. The air temp was 43°F and the snow temp was 35°F. The warm spot was within the chip pile at 50°F, a clear signal of active microbial life.

In fact, at 32° F, many microbes can thrive. Stoop down and imagine them snarfing up organic matter and ‘pooping’ out nitrogen and other nutrients that plants salivate for. Look closely and watch the plant root tips dribble out sugars, to bargain with the microbes for those nutrients.

All those biological and chemical processes require energy and produce heat; just the same as the volunteer work above ground. So, eat up first then come out to enjoy the outdoors. The volunteer schedule is on the Calendar page.

Many many thanks to our winter volunteers: Sue, Joe, Nancy, Miles, Nematode, Paige C, Rotifer, West, Reid, Worm, Lee, Amoeba, Jake, Bacteria, Becky, Jodi, Actinobacteria, Meg, AL, Gabbie, Pat, Karin, Kate, Fungi, and Melody


Tree Dormancy
Kuhns, Mike (3/9/2020)
Utah State University Forestry Extension

Low temperature limits of root growth in deciduous and evergreen temperate tree species
Alvarez-Uria, P., Körner, C. (01/10/2007)
Functional Ecology, British Ecological Society

Lab 5: Soil and The Carbon Cycle, Part A: Soil, Carbon, and Microbes
Carlton College EarthLabs
Image: Cicle_del_nitrogen_ca.svg:
Dréo , Johann (User:Nojhan), (03/30/2006)

Microbe Diet Key To Carbon Dioxide Release
Manzoni , Stefano, Porporato, Amilcare (08/05/2008)
Duke University

Find a Stone that Speaks to You: The Magic of Nature in Times of Crisis

January 12, 2021

I thought to blog about Horticulture Therapy, but the topic is sizeable. Instead, I chose to highlight two well-known authors who wrote about the therapeutic benefit of stones.

Psychiatrist Harold Searles was troubled by the extent to which technology was interfering with people’s ability to relate to nature. “Over recent decades we have come from dwelling in an outer world in which the living works of nature either predominated or were near at hand, to dwelling in an environment dominated by a technology which is wondrously powerful and yet nonetheless dead, inanimate.” (1960) Searles’ relations theory identified a hierarchy of complexity, with relationships to people being the most complex, followed by animals, then plants, then stones. According to Searles, people at a low level of mental strength can get help from the most simple relations, such as those to inert objects in nature, e.g., stones.

Volunteers are needed!
by appointment
please email
Please check calendar page for events!

Johan Ottosson, author of many articles on nature-based rehabilitation and health promotion, at the age of 39, was hit by a car when he was cycling to work, and suffered head injuries. For his doctoral thesis in Landscape Planning, he wrote about his rehabilitation experience. Searles’ idea of nature as a link between the conscious and the subconscious appealed to Johan. Ottosson writes, “Searles maintained, contrary to contemporary mainstream thought, that Nature plays an important role in our mental health. People in crisis need ‘stable’ environments in order to feel well.”

Ottosson wrote his photographic essay in the third person (excerpt):
“When he thinks back to the early days, right after the accident, he is surprised by how many of his impressions from the natural surroundings are connected with stones. The untouched stone with its blanket of lichen and moss in various shades of green and grey gave him a sense of security through its timelessness, calm and harmony. It was as though the stone spoke to him: ‘I have been here forever and will always be here; my entire value lies in my existence and whatever you are or do is of no concern to me’. The stones did not speak to him in words, but in feelings, which made the relationship both deep and strong. The feelings calmed him and filled him with harmony. His own situation became less important. The stone had been there long before the first human being had walked past. Countless generations, each with lives and fates of their own, had passed by.”

Ottosson’s recovery was very challenging. For nine years after the accident he could not read or write, but he developed a personal system of symbols and was assisted by computers, tape recorders and secretaries. His career continued at least through 2017.

Look, we have a lot of stones in the orchard, including a pile of them in the north end. I frequently pick up a rock, admire it, and put it back down. If you are walking slowly, you may spot a stone that speaks to you. What does it say?


Harold Searles M.D., PhD, psychoanalyst
The Nonhuman Environment: In Normal Development and in Schizophrenia
(1960) New York City: International Universities Press.

Selections: Harold Searles, Unconscious Processes in Relation to the Environment Crisis
(1972) Psychoanalytic review  59(3): 368

Johan Ottosson, Agr lic, landscape architecture, MScHort, Department of Landscape Planning, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
The importance of nature in coping with a crisis
(2001) Landscape Research 26: 165-172

For a good book on Horticulture Therapy, I can recommend:
Sue Stuart-Smith, The Well-Gardened Mind
(2020), Scribner: New York City