Lately I’ve been busy–I’m sure almost everyone reading this can relate. You would think that the busier I get, the more I would look to finding faster ways of doing things, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. Lately I’ve been drawn to activities that can’t be finished quickly, but force me to take my time and think in terms of long-term goals, rather than short-term. For instance:
Gardening: I’ve gardened in the past, but the difference this year is that I got my act together and planted seeds (from our amazing seed library!), rather than just waiting until mid-June and transplanting seedlings. I’ve been having a lot of fun going out to look for sprouts with my children, although honestly I think I’m more amazed at the little green shoots than they are. (Because, wow! Green things growing from practically nothing!)
Quilting: Full disclosure–I haven’t actually made (or even started) a quilt yet. It’s one of those things I thought I’d never be interested in, and yet I find myself inexplicably itching to make a quilt. And if I’m going to go down this road, I reason, wouldn’t it be neat to hand quilt, rather than use a machine? Part of me thinks that this is insane, and yet I can’t get the idea out of my head. I have no interest in machine quilting, but I’m in love with the idea of doing it by hand.
Oral history: My mother recently told me a story about her childhood that I had never heard before. It was just a passing reference, but it sparked my curiosity to know more about her life and the life of others in my family, and the idea of compiling an oral history of my family popped into my head. This was another one of those niggling ideas that I couldn’t stop thinking of, and now I’m knee deep in a fascinating oral-history project. I’ve been reading some oral histories for inspiration, like this one (one of my favorites!) and the Pittsburgh oral-history project that you can find on our website.
Running: Two years ago I started running again after a long hiatus. Here is the amazing thing about running: first you can’t run at all, struggling to get through a mile, and then you can run two miles, and three, and one day you find yourself running a half marathon. The thing about running is that distances start to seem skewed in your mind; 13.1 miles doesn’t seem very far when you meet all these people who are running 26.2 miles and you start to wonder why you don’t just do that distance. I’ve been reading this book, and I dare you to not feel inspired to try running a marathon after reading these stories!
Allentown Pop-up library program – newspaper seedling pots
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
– Margaret Atwood
There are so many great quotes about springtime and gardening and many of them come from some of my favorite authors, such as the one mentioned above. I absolutely love this time of year – every day a new visual explosion of color and textures, not to mention the overload to the olfactory sense. On the days when I’m not digging and weeding and planting and planning, I like to read what other gardeners are saying about their (often near spiritual) experiences in working and planning out their outdoor spaces.
I have a few favorites which I’ve been pulling out during the “too rainy to garden” days of late – The Writer in the Garden edited by Jane Garmey, Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox, and the sweet little book that a friend gave me long ago which always brings a smile to my face, Sara Midda’s In and Out of the Garden. One other title I’ll mention is a recent purchase found while trolling through numerous book stores in a college town, titled Pleasures of the Garden; A Literary Anthology selected by Christina Hardyment, which is filled with little essays that immediately transport you from your own yard to some of the greatest and humblest gardens in history. I especially love the selections under the heading “Solace for Body and Soul” as it seems to vindicate for me the time and money I’ve spent hiding out in my own yard –I like to think of Mother Nature as my own personal therapist! The art history major and amateur botanical illustrator in me also loves to just page through this book for the illustrations as varied as the essays themselves.
In reading gardening anthologies such as these, I feel as if I am part of a secret society that goes beyond the historic reaches of other such groups. I’m a kindred spirit with the likes of royalty and sages dating back thousands of years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not deluding myself that my humble little suburban garden in any way reflects the great gardens of Babylon, Versailles, Giverny or Monticello, but those great works and the diligence of my own friends, family and neighbors have inspired me to play and work and smell like dirt at the end a great spring day.
Raised Bed Gardening in Allentown
Believe me, I understand that many either don’t share in this love or have the time and space to practice this ancient art of therapy for the body and soul. But if you’re at all thinking about maybe one day getting started, a great place to do that is through the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Not only do we have a spectacular collection of materials at the ready, but many of our branches coordinate a program called “Gardening Thyme,” made possible with support from The Mary Jane Berger Memorial Foundation. It allows the Library to provide some really great programming related to gardening and urban farming; increase our collections about gardening for children, teens and adults, and have gardens at many of the CLP locations. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a wide variety of free programs – everything from seed bombs to learning about bee keeping to finding out the benefits of composting. To find out more about these particular branches and their programs, go to the Gardening Thyme page on the CLP website. You won’t be disappointed and you may just find yourself enjoying the smell of dirt.
I’m not a gardener.
Not even close.
Oh, I pretend to be. Every spring, just when we start getting a few 70 degree days, I check out some gardening books from the library. I have fantasies of growing a kitchen garden with abundant basil and oregano to last me into the winter. I’m going to grow lavender and make sachets for Christmas presents. I have no problem photographing the progress of the daffodils in my front yard to show off to all my Facebook friends.
But here’s the reality: I don’t do any of those things.
(Except photograph my daffodils to show off on Facebook.)
Yup. Planted every bulb myself. (Or, y’know, maybe the previous owners of our house were … I dunno … master gardeners? Or something?)
I don’t know what my problem is. Maybe it’s a dirt thing. Books are a lot cleaner and less labor-intensive, you know? They don’t need to be watered. There aren’t any bugs –
– all right, now I’m just making excuses. Recently, students in the horticultural program at Bidwell Training Center put me to shame. They volunteered to plant the garden at CLP-Sheraden and they also did some tremendous clean up work. This is a photo of the project in the very beginning stages, but the result was fantastic!
It almost made me get the urge to plant my own garden.
You know, right after I finish this chapter of my book.
Special thanks to the amazing volunteers at Bidwell Training Center for their incredible work on CLP-Sheraden’s garden! You did a tremendous job and the Library is so grateful for your time and hard work!
~ Melissa F.
After this long, frigid winter, I think most of us are pretty excited about the warmer weather. I’ve been happy to see early springtime flowers starting to bloom, and daffodil greenery poking up through the ground. I’m feeling eager for our frost free date so I can start my garden for the year. My kids and I have spent the winter planting seeds in jars and watching them grow (did you know that you can grow just about any type of seed in some crumpled up paper towels and a jar? We’ve tried pinto beans, lentils, and apple seeds so far with great success!). I’m looking forward to actually digging in the dirt and watching my crops grow.
In anticipation of my garden, I’ve been thinking a bit about garden design. I have a plot at the Homewood Community Garden, and if you’re lacking the space for a garden of your own, there are lots of great community gardens throughout Pittsburgh- check out this site to find locations and see what’s available. My plot has enough room for me to grow a fair amount of vegetables and flowers, and I enjoy plotting out just where I’m going to plant everything.
After I plan out what to plant this year, the fun part starts! Buying seeds and starting seedlings is one of my favorite things. I plan on getting lots of my seeds from CLP’s Seed Library, and saving seeds to return at the end of the season. In the meantime, as I wait for the weather to enter full-on spring mode, I plan on checking out lots of books about planting and growing.
In late 2013, I found myself drunk with possibility. So long, stinky 2013! It’s time for a new year! A new life! I concocted about 100 new year’s resolutions. Start rock climbing! Paddle board all summer! Learn to kayak! Eat a ridiculously clean diet! Plant and grow more food! Read 52 books! Purchase all clothes second hand! Fix up the bike and ride it everyday! Cook dinner at home every night! Remember every niece and nephew’s birthday! Be a better person! Stop eating so much cheese! Have never-ending patience! Do more yoga! Train your dogs to not act bananas! Slow down! Quit caffeine!
You may have guessed that my list was a little too long and ambitious. The new year hit and I realized that I needed to manage my expectations. Sadly, I can’t do it all. Maybe I wouldn’t want to – who wants a life without caffeine? So, first step: whittle down the list to my priorities. Second step: learn how to make things happen. I did what any linguistic learner would do. I read some helpful articles and blog posts about how to actually make resolutions work. It’s all about systems and support, my friends!
I broke down my resolutions into manageable chunks, and have hacked away at them by asking for support and by creating systems that I can use to tweak my schedule. It’s almost spring, so now the focus is on things I can do outside. I am going to build my gardening skills. Luckily, I work at the Library, which offers a plethora of tools to do just that. We have a great collection of gardening and cookbooks. We also have actual gardens and a seed library. And we have programs to help us become better, more sustainable gardeners. On Saturday, March 15th, in collaboration with Grow Pittsburgh and Phipps Conservatory, we will offer our second annual Seed Swap. This is a great way to get you motivated for the gardening season. In addition to the actual swapping of seeds, there will be workshops. We’ll have a seed starting workshop at 12 pm and a seed saving workshop at 1pm next door in the Oversize Room.
So don’t get overwhelmed by resolutions or by the fear of finding a way to work gardening into your schedule. All you must do is come to the library. We have you covered with the support you need to become a great gardener.
I’ve been on a waiting list for a plot at a community garden for some time, and last week learned that a plot was available. Since it’s gone untended all year, that means a lot more clearing out than actual growing just yet. As I cut down and dug up a forest of wild carrots and mint gone rampant, I discovered that my garden was not just home to lots of weeds, but also to lots, and lots, of bugs.
I am not a bug person. Spiders make me scream, bees will elicit a flurry of arm waving and hopping and flinching, and ants, beetles, crickets, and millipedes will all have me running for a corner of the room that is as far away from them as I can get. But as I dug in the dirt over the past few days, I discovered a few things: first, I don’t so much mind bugs when they’re outside, where they belong; and second, that they are actually kind of fascinating to watch. My kids and I watched giant ants scurrying to save their larvae after we turned over a log that they had been living in, we saw more types of spiders than I knew existed, and my son dug for “roly-poly parties,” as he called them, and we watched them all running away or curling up into balls as they made their escape. It turns out that I actually like seeing all the bugs in my garden. It makes me feel as though any spot that can support that much life will surely also support the plants I put in.
Books on insects and entomology might not be your first choice for summer reading, but they are actually a pretty good seasonal pick. To help me identify what some of the little guys are, I picked up A Field Guide to the Insects of America North of Mexico, as well as The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. My parents used to have copies of several of the Audubon Society field guides, and I always loved trying to figure out what different types of butterflies I saw. It’s actually a little difficult to find a field guide to insects; there are just so many different types that most books don’t try and tackle them all. So even though using a field guide is a lot of fun, I also plan on using a book like Good Bug, Bad Bug: Who’s Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically (All You Need to Know About the Insects in Your Garden).
Even if you don’t garden, there are still other interesting books on insects. A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes and Maggots, Murder, and Men: Memories and Reflections of a Forensic Entomologist are both about how insects can be used in forensic investigations, to determine time of death or whether a body was moved from a crime scene, for instance. And if you’re looking for a novel, you can always pick up Robert A. Heinlein’s classic Starship Troopers. Like all good science fiction, there’s a definite subtext here, but the story at face value is about a war on an alien planet on which the aliens are giant arachnids. *Shudder*
Thanks to another generous grant from the Mary Jane Berger Memorial Foundation, twelve Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations will be growing community gardens this year. Several locations are doing this for their second year – Carrick, Homewood, Knoxville, Lawrenceville, Mt. Washington, Sheraden, Squirrel Hill, West End, and Woods Run. Plus, we have a few new libraries participating – Main, East Liberty (who will be experimenting with container gardening), and our pop-up location in Allentown.
Our gardens will be growing herbs and vegetables, which will be available to the community members, with extra produce going to local food banks. Some of the herbs will also be used in library programs being held throughout the summer and early fall months. Be sure to check out the events on our web site to find Gardening Thyme programs of interest to you.
Staff from each location have attended seminars to learn about creating successful community gardens and growing plants organically. But we need your help! They key word in “community garden” is community. Without volunteers from the neighborhoods we serve, our gardens will not grow and thrive as we’d like them to. Please be sure to find the library garden closest to you and let them know you’d like to help. We’ll need people to plant, water, and weed. You’ll be helping your community, your library, and yourself (you’ll likely get first pick of the herbs and veggies!).
See you in the garden at Main!
P.S. Don’t forget about the Seed Libraries at Lawrenceville and Main, if you’d like to use and save heirloom seeds!