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Tending the Garden

Tucker Smith


July is prime-time gardening time.  If you’re using best Sustainable Milton management practices, you’re not up to your eyeballs in weeds or hauling hoses to water everything all the time.  The secret is a five-letter word: MULCH.  My favorite mulch is free – doesn’t cost me a cent and isn’t dyed unnaturally red or black.  It’s “leaf mulch” made by mowing some* of last autumn’s leaves into smaller bits and hoarding in a pile until Spring (*some, not all – because leaves left on the ground keep lightning bugs and a few lepidoptera species snug throughout Winter).  First I combine this light and fluffy leaf-mix with my own compost or Milton Garden Club’s composted cow manure (aka “Black Gold,” 40-lb. bags sold annually every May to benefit its civic projects).  Then I apply a generous 3-4” of this as atop-dressing on my planting beds.  The aesthetic is tidy and natural, and the recipe is nutritious for your plants.  Remember, leaf mulch reduces water evaporation and weed germination, looks good, and helps create healthier soil tilth as it biodegrades. Win-Win: Win for your plants and your landscaping.

Are you planting to sustain wildlife as well as yourself,especially pollinating critters (birds, butterflies, moths, bees, and native bees/wasps)?  Ideally, your menu du jour should offer:water, nectar, pollen, leaves, berries, seeds, and nuts throughout the season.  It’s a fact: native creatures find native plants tastiest because they have co-evolved together over time.  The crucial concept of “native” is, nowadays, more about time-frame(how long plants have existed in a given place) than geography.  Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens (Timber Press),wrote in a 2015 NYT article (“The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening’), “What we plant in our landscapes determines what can live in our landscapes…. Value plants for what they do, not for what they look like….”  

Not that native plants – trees, shrubs, and perennials – are ugly!  See for yourselves at Blue Hills Trailside Museum’s Native Plant Garden and Rain Garden (1904 Canton Avenue/Route 138) and at Mary M.B. Wakefield Estate (1465 Brush Hill Road), the latter a newly accredited arboretum, where many native tree and shrubs can be found.  At both sites, plant material is labeled for your easy identification and education.  These make inspirational field-trips so check their websites for summer hours and visit. Town of Milton’s own street trees are being replanted with native tree species thanks to the joint efforts of Milton Shade Tree Advisory Committee and Milton DPW (and remember to water your tree/shrub plantings regularly – even mature trees suffer in drought).  More wins!

What else does a Sustainable Milton gardener do (or NOT do)?  I’m a 30+ year compost aholic: this reduces my solid waste (fewer $3 trash stickers) and feeds my plants.  I don’t irrigate – grass naturally enters a period of dormancy in summer’s high heat but greens up with autumn rains. I support local vendors and farmers, read labels (“What exactly is IN that product?”), recycle, and say “NO!” to chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.  Yes, we have lots of clover(nitrogen-fixing and deep-rooted) and some dandelions – and bees, butterflies,and bare feet without worries (other than stepping on a bee).  Try it!

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11 Standish Rd
Milton, Ma 02186

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