Nutrition for the spirit

Photo by Al Alexsa

Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

– “Bread and Roses,” James Oppenheim, 1911


Growing flowers for the pure pleasure of it seems almost too bourgeois and frivolous an activity in which to invest our energy when many of us are trying to stretch our household budgets, when we’re thinking about sustainability for our kids’ future, and when we’re becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of our food supply. The word gardening has come to evoke the growing of vegetables and fruit.

But there’s something about spring that awakens the urge to bring home a bouquet, even if it means doing without something else that week. People need bread first, but also roses. If you’re lucky enough to have a plot of soil to call your own, even a few planters on the veranda of your apartment, it won’t cost you much to raise some flowers for cutting this summer. Think of it as nutrition for the spirit.


Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County (CCEUC) certainly takes the subject of growing your own food seriously. It offers resources to county residents seeking advice.

This year, CCEUC is trying to strike a balance between the culinary and aesthetic sides of gardening at its annual Garden Day, scheduled for Saturday, April 14 at SUNY-Ulster. “Flower Power” is the theme, and the all-day event will feature an array of experts talking about a variety of the hottest trends in flower gardening designs from all over the globe.

The keynote speaker will be getting into the act, despite the fact that agronomist Jane Mt. Pleasant is more renowned for her work in preserving heirloom varieties of maize. A professor of horticulture at Cornell University and director for more than ten years of the Cornell American Indian Program, Mt. Pleasant comes from a Haudenosaunee family. She has devoted her life to the study of the soil-preserving no-till planting methods practiced by indigenous people. In 2005 Smithsonian Magazine honored her as one of “35 People Who Made a Difference in the World” for her work championing the Native-American model of polyculture, and she has been named a science hero by the online My Hero Project.

But Mt. Pleasant’s talk at CCEUC’s Garden Day won’t be limited to corn, beans and squash: Her theme is “Plants: More than Just a Pretty Face.” According to the description in the event brochure, “Plants are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they contribute to human well-being in multiple ways,” says the event brochure. Jane will discuss how plants enable people to recover more quickly from surgery, foster social interactions, increase our ability to focus, and buffer children from stress.” Her keynote speech will start at 9 a.m.

The rest of Garden Day will consist of a packed slate of one-hour workshops. In the first session, you’ll have to choose among “Flowers around the Seasons,” taught by master gardener Bonni Nechemias; “The Cutting Garden” with Earth Designs’ Aja Hudson; “Wildflower Gardens: More to It than You Think” with artist Polly M. Law; or “New Varieties in Bloom” with Victoria Gardens’ Victoria Coyne. Session II offers “The Iris Family: Extending Your Bloom Season” with the American Iris Society’s Kathryn Mohr; “Flowering Trees & Shrubs” with master gardener Allyson Levy: “Documenting Your Garden through Photography” with professional photographer Michael Nelson; or “Structure in the Garden” with Sally Spillane, host of WKZE’s Gardening Show.

A boxed lunch may be pre-purchased for $8, or participants may bring their own.

Session III will feature: “A Flower Arrangement for Every Season” with master gardener Ellen Richards; “Bulbs, Glorious Bulbs” with master gardener Cecily Frazier; “The Power of Roses” with Garden Design magazine’s Kevin Lee Jacobs; and part one of “Pruning Trees & Shrubs” with Healthy Plants’ DeVerne Rist. The latter class will carry over into Session IV, which also features the following master gardener workshops: “Using the Color Wheel to Plan Your Garden” with Barbara Darbin; “Herbaceous Peonies” with Dorothy Emig; and “Master Gardeners’ Favorites” with Barbara Bravo.

There will be a marketplace at the event with plant and garden product vendors, a free soil-testing lab, expert plant identification and disease diagnosis and even a drawing for door prizes at the end of the day. Please note that most vendors will not be able to accept credit cards, so come prepared with cash or checks. Activities run from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on the SUNY-Ulster campus on Cottekill Road in Stone Ridge. Check in at the Vanderlyn Hall cafeteria entrance.

The cost for four classes and a full day of garden advice is $35 per person before Friday, April 6 or $40 at the door. Preregistration is recommended to ensure class choices. For information contact coordinator Dona Crawford at 340-3990, extension 335.

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