Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day, 2008.........Going Green at the Dixon

View of the Dixon Gardens South Lawn from behind "Europa and the Bull" (which I first showed you here).
The photo just above (courtesy of the Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal) shows Horticulture director Dale Skaggs (left) and Bobby Rice, a landscape gardener at the Dixon, using a steam generator to kill pathogens and weed seeds in soil.
As today is Earth Day, I thought that you might be glad to know that even this large and beautiful garden space, Dixon Gardens, is adopting greener methods of landscaping and gardening. This article, by Commercial Appeal garden reporter Christing Arpe Gang, appeared in The Commercial Appeal on February 29, and has made me enjoy my visits to Dixon Gardens even more:
"Those who don't take the time to stroll in the gardens get to see cut examples of the plants artfully arranged and placed in the gallery by members of the Memphis Garden Club.
The garden is being renovated to make it more environmentally friendly, as well as beautiful.
"We want to promote sustainability and greenness at the Dixon," said Dale Skaggs, director of horticulture.
The project includes improving drainage in the mixed perennial border, installing a new irrigation system and steam-sterilizing the soil in the planting beds.
After having soil samples analyzed, Skaggs discovered that years of using synthetic fertilizers created a nutrient imbalance in the soil.
"We had almost toxic levels of phosphorus," he said.
Starting this year, soil fertility will be improved with the addition of nitrogen-rich organic products, such as cottonseed meal and blood meal.
The Dixon gardening staff is also installing a new drip irrigation system. It replaces a system that sprayed water on the leaves and stems of plants, which set up an environment ideal for fungal diseases. The new system emits water at the base of the plant, where it can quickly soak down into the root zone.
"This will keep us from having to spray fungicides," Skaggs said.
Drainage will be improved in the mixed perennial bed by adding French drains and raising the beds a few inches above ground level.
The most dramatic new tool in the move toward sustainability is the use of a portable steamer for sterilizing soil and compost.
The portable Steam-Flo Steam Generator is connected to several porous hoses that are placed on top of gently tilled soil in a planting bed. The hoses are covered with a heat-resistant tarp before the steaming begins. In about 15 minutes, the soil reaches 180 degrees, high enough to kill pathogens and weed seeds in the soil.
"Sterilizing allows us to start planting with a clean slate," Skaggs said.
The not-so-good outcome is the steam also kills earthworms and beneficial microorganisms that make soil the healthy, living environment plants need to prosper. A teaspoon of good garden soil will contain as many as a billion invisible bacteria and fungus threads.
To remedy that situation, garden staffer Lowell Lott is preparing compost teas teeming with microorganisms to add back to the soil.
Commercial products that contain microorganisms will also be added to the soil.
Microorganisms are essential to soil health in every garden.
To boost the level of these invisible but very important creatures in your garden, you can learn how to make compost tea at a workshop at the Dixon at 10 a.m. March 13.
Each participant will receive a five-gallon bucket, an aquarium pump, ingredients and recipes for making an aerated compost tea, the kind that promotes the growth of microorganisms. Lott, a retired chemist, is teaching the class.
The steamer is also being used to sterilize leaf mold made every year by composting the huge volume of leaves collected in the woodland areas at the Dixon.
Leaf mold is a key ingredient in the potting soil mix made at the Dixon and is also an organic soil amendment.
Previously the Dixon sterilized leaf mold in a small-batch "cooker" that used a lot of electricity.
Most commercial potting soils and composts available in retail garden centers are also sterilized before they are bagged and sold.
All of the work in the cutting garden is expected to be completed in time for spring planting, so there will be lots of flowers for the arrangements inside the gallery and for visitors to enjoy outdoors."
In our family we recycle, keep our thermostat set very low during the winter and higher (with ceiling fans) during the summer, and consolidate trips in our cars as much as possible. Also, when planting in the South, considerations about watering and heat-tolerance are very important, so we try to use native plants in our garden. One of my favorite recent finds is the coco-brick, or "coir". These fibers, found on the outside of coconuts, would usually be a waste product in coconut processing, but are available now as a moisture-retentive soil additive, and are a great alternative to peat. I find the brick form to be easy to use....the brick is soaked in a bucket of water for a few minutes until it turns into a mass of fluffy fibers, and then you just mix handfuls of the fiber in with your potting mix. I have found that it works better for retaining moisture (without souring the soil) than any other additive, at least in our region. You can read more about coir here.

What are your favorite earth-friendly practices?


Jim said...

Today, I was going to celebrate earth day by wearing my old bell bottoms, a hemp t-shirt and a head band. Maybe some flip flops.

Rambling Round said...

Great post for Earth Day!

J. Andrew Lockhart said...

playing golf is my favorite. :)

Steve Buser said...

A very good Earth Day post.

Olivier said...

la statue est très belle, et j'aime bien ton choix de composition. Bonne journée de la terre (avec un léger retard)
the statue is very beautiful, and I like your choice of composition. Good day of the earth (with a slight delay)

PAT said...

Hi Andrea...

I've enjoyed these Dixon photos, so very much.

The walkways in the previous post are amazing. I snapped a few photos around our yard yesterday afternoon. We had a beautiful day for Earth Day, 2008.


Professor said...

Great pic and post!

Fénix - Bostonscapes said...

Your photo of Europa and the Bull is delightful. I really like the perspective and how you framed the view, with that very attractive backdrop. Lovely.

I'll come back later with more time to read the caption.

Big Earth Day hug. :)

Dan said...

Wonderful post today and this looks like a very beautiful place.

I am not an earth day fan. I associate it with a guy by the name of Ira Einhorn. He was, or claimed to be, instrumental in getting the whole earth day thing started. He was also the murderer of the sister of a friend. He found refuge from the law in France for 20 or so years but was eventually extradited and is now serving a life sentence.

As for earth friendly practices. Hmmm, good question. I drive a gas guzzler (Suburban) and one that is more economical (Camry) so they kind of cancel each other out. Hmmm, we also have replaced incandescent lights with those curly florescent ones, but now understand that over the long term the curly ones are more harmful. So, maybe not much!

George Townboy said...

You are so in-tune with what's going on around you ... I'm amazed. Love this post!

brian said...

very nice post, i love going to the park in the spring when everything's green like this... cool statue too!

babooshka said...

Such a great eart day post. Very informative, a great statue

Anonymous said...


I was actually just messing around with my computer about going green and came upon this site. I really loved the pictures. I believe that here in memphis we need to have more then one earth day. We are in the top 35 of the worst cities to live in because of our environment.My family and I have went green all the way. We use green cleaners, soap, laundry detergent and vitamins among other things. I'm a firm believer that green is better and safer on us as well as our planet. To find out more on going green please email me at swilliams453@comcast.net