Why I love my job: Mulch races

mulch races

One of our faculty in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University is Nina Bassuk. She’s the director of our Urban Horticulture Institute and knows more about how to choose and grow trees in cities than anyone else I know. She co-teaches a woody plant course along with her husband, Peter Trowbridge, who is a faculty member in landscape architecture.

The last few weeks, Nina and Peter’s students have been working on their final class project — installing a new planting along the north side of the Plant Sciences Building, right outside my office window. The new plantings — which feature mostly newer cultivars that are popular in the industry but not found elsewhere on campus — are replacing some old, scarggly yews and will serve as a living lab for future classes.

Lest you despair that youth today aren’t interested in plants, I live on another planet where 20-somethings are passionate about plants. They got a taste of the real world today, when the mulch deliverers dropped the mulch at some distance from where it was needed. There weren’t enough wheelbarrows to do the job. So they grabbed some rubber mats from the construction material lying around from the library renovation, made some twine handles, and races around with the mulch, making short work of it.

Does my heart good to see the joy with which they go about their work.

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50th thanks (lotsa pix)

A great big thanks to everyone who made my 50th such a very, very special day. I’ll share some of the pictures below …

Elly scanned a bunch of old pictures for a ‘through the years’ poster [1.7 mb]

Corey came home from school in Albany. Fred was so happy he was dancing.

fred dancing

Carol made the cake and a mighty wind got all the candles first try.

carol and cakemighty wind

David and Rosemary, what a pair. They both wore black in mourning for my passing (the 50 mark).

david and rosemary

The big surprise, Dad (with Corey) and Sandy (pictured later) came up from Florida for the bash.

corey and dad

Corey and cousin Becky. Becky set up the scope so we could see the crows nesting in the pines. And she made me granola. Another Uncle Craig mystery exposed.

becky and corey

Charles was in charge of the speedies on the grill so I could relax. Jack mentors Cay on her business plan in the Camry office.

charlesjack and cay

The wise ones, Eunice (my mother in law), Cal (my father) and Sandy (my stepmom).

wise ones

I only hope that I can be half the man my dog thinks I am.

me and fred

Marc made me a cold frame to replace my dilapidated one in the background. And he painted it bottle-tree blue.

cold frame

Sister Sue gave me a trellis, and Kim and Nance brought a Thunbergia. And they didn’t even plan it out ahead of time. Robert roamed his barn looking for things an eccentric gardener might do something with. What can I plant in this disk blade?


More goodies from Robert’s barn.

barn goodies

A vase (rhymes with was) from the Museum of Modern Art from Steve. I’m not sure many of my flowers are classy enough for this work of art. Thanks Steve!

moma vase

Sue and Corey reading one of the weiner cards, no doubt.

weiner cards

Look dear. You open and close the card and the guy picks his nose.

El and me

Niece Nancy. Bowling pin vase Marc made me. The bowling ball in the garden story will have to wait until a future blog. But by now you should understand Marc is one serious artist. Check out his bowls and other woodworking. The make great gifts.

nancybowling pin vase

Lori and Paul from the balcony.

Lori and Paul

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Blogger ethics

john ashcroft before he draped justiceIt’s been a long day today, what with the hour it took me to dig out the 4 feet of hardpacked slush between the cars parked at the end of the driveway and the bare road just on the other side. I finally got to the computer tonight to find this cryptic email in my inbox from Susan Harris over at GardenRant:

To redeem your shoes just email alec@sloggers.com and give him this redemption code. Give him your color choice and size. Enjoy!

Your code is: XXXXXX-XXXX GardenRantSusan Harris

My natural reaction, of course, was to fire Susan back a note accusing her of trying to buy my vote in the Mouse and Trowel Awards. I started multiplying the number of garden bloggers out there by the cost of the shoes and figured they must want the trophies really, really bad. I suggest that she go read the Bloggers’ Code of Ethics.

Later on, I finally made it from email to browser and saw the post explaining that the kind GardenRant folks were simply showing their appreciation to their ‘top commentors’ — though they don’t specify the criteria for ‘top’. (I’m betting they’re paying by the pound.)

So I am publicly apologizing to Susan and the rest of the crew for questioning their integrity. (Plus, at first I thought it was a joke to get me to wear pastel garden shoes when I love my old sneakers that put a blooming amorphophallus to shame.)

But seriously, that code of ethics is worth a read. Ethical behavior is a huge (and controversial) issue on the political blogs I frequent. Bloggers in that realm are struggling to gain credibility on par to the MSM (that’s the shorthand for mainstream media), which has some serious ethical challenges of its own. It was bloggers who dug up and stayed with the US attorney scandal that’s about to bring down AG Gonzalez and others when the MSM wouldn’t touch the story.

Reading the ethical guidelines, it challenges me to do a better job. Some examples:

Distinguish factual information and commentary from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

I often plug Cornell resources because I’m familiar with them, but also because I think they’re valuable. But I should always remember to write: Full disclosure. I work there. I wrote or edited this, or the researcher is a friend of mine outside of work.

Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

I try to keep it in the ‘Art’ category. (My brother was disappointed by the content he found in the ‘woodies’ category.) And I have to admit that picture of John Ashcroft up at the top of this post makes ‘my mighty eagle soar, like she’s never soared before.’ (Go ahead and click it, chicken.)

Disclose conflicts of interest, affiliations, activities and personal agendas.

GardenRant gave me some shoes so I won’t have to garden barefoot any more. In exchange, I promise to continue to post contrarian comments there.

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‘Plant Blindness’

From Natalie Angier’s Basics column in todays NY Times, Green, Life-Giving and Forever Young.

Show somebody a painting of a verdant, botanically explicit forest with three elk grazing in the middle and ask what the picture is about, and the average viewer will answer, “Three elk grazing.” Add a blue jay to the scene and the response becomes, “Three elk grazing under the watchful eye of a blue jay.”

What you’re unlikely to hear is anything akin to, “It’s a classic temperate mix of maple, birch and beech trees, and here’s a spectacular basswood and, whoa, an American elm that shows no sign of fungal infestation and, oh yeah, three elk and a blue jay.”

According to Peter H. Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, many of us suffer from an insidious condition called “plant blindness.” We barely notice plants, can rarely identify them and find them incomparably inert. Do you think that you will ever see a coma as vegetative as a tree? “Animals are much more vivid to the average person than plants are,” Dr. Raven said, “and some people aren’t even sure that plants are alive.”

I don’t suffer from this malady. I notice plants everywhere I go. I notice the plants in movies. I remember as a kid noticing that all the westerns seemed to be filmed in the same oak grove in California that didn’t look at all like where the western supposedly took place.

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