Monday, August 27, 2012

Life in the Garden

Life in the Garden

No garden truly blooms until butterflies have danced upon it
~K. D’Angelo

As the daylight grows shorter, and the temperatures finally fall below 90, I am starting to feel that fall is definitely in the air. Although the temperatures still rise by late afternoon, I’ve noticed an incredible decline in blooms here in my southern garden. I’ve also sensed what appears to be a decline in butterflies for what I can remember for this time of year. Some contribute this to the climate change and to habitat loss. I’m still very patiently waiting for the butterflies to make their journey south and I’m holding on to the hope of seeing more soon. There’s a good probability that I will not see as many, but then again I do have one of the few pollinator enticing yards with more than just greenery in the neighborhood. I can only hope.

"For most butterfly species, climate change seems to be a stronger change-agent than habitat loss," Breed said. "Protecting habitat remains a key management strategy, and that may help some butterfly species. However, for many others, habitat protection will not mitigate the impacts of warming."

I went out yesterday with my camera in hand and I had a blast chasing the few butterflies that were there, trying ever so desperately to get that perfect photograph. I’m stalking the hummingbird feeder and hummingbird plant as well, just hoping that the one hummingbird that I’ve seen buzzing over my head will become comfortable enough with me out there to come within focal distance.

I know I must be quite the spectacle wheeling around my yard and staring at my plants waiting for these creatures to appear. My neighbors must think that I’ve lost it, but then again they probably have already felt this way for some time now. Being a slightly eccentric individual has never bothered me, and I certainly have never worried about appearances. I’m comfortable with who I am. My disability has somehow given me more confidence and, admittedly, a feeling of being somewhat invincible at times. I know my maturity contributes to this too and sometimes I have to remind myself that others may be taken aback by my forwardness. I don’t consider this attribute to be a flaw, and, personally, I’d rather deal with those more upfront with their feelings.

I don’t usually say what I think impulsively, I think about what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it first. Sometimes I don’t really need to say anything; my face tends to say it all for me. (I would never have a good ‘poker face’.) Imagine if everyone had the guts to speak up or take the necessary action every time an injustice occurred? I certainly would have a lot less work to do as a disability advocate! I’m not trying to encourage anyone to take on an unnecessary confrontation, but rather to take the time to educate whenever possible. If an activity is illegal or potentially dangerous, obviously one should call 9-1-1. If you see someone leave a cart in the striped off area to an accessible parking space, try to tell them nicely that they’re blocking the entire space for someone who drives a van with a wheelchair lift. If they get ugly, keep on moving, unfortunately sometimes people do become confrontational.

We can all individually make an impact. We can enlighten one human being, even within our own family or within our own circle of friends. We can improve our own habitats too to entice more butterflies. I grow butterfly weed for the monarchs and I have a passion vine for the fritillaries. I keep parsley and have had fennel for the swallowtails. Sunflowers and zinnias seem to attract many beneficial pollinators into the garden too. We can only hope that our individual efforts will have a significant impact on the lives of others.

This week I was honored by a beautifully written article on Access to the Garden written by Christopher Di Virgilio with PVA Magazine, PN Online. Chris did a really outstanding job. “On her blog site she not only describes what she’s doing as a gardener but also as a gardener with a disability. Many people see her as just a gardener, but what she’s doing and how she’s doing it is important information for those who believe they can’t garden; that’s all the motivation she needs to help encourage others to pursue their passions.”

I also had the privilege of being asked to review a farm that is in the planning process of becoming an educational/community farm. This kind of cooperativeness between the disability community and any kind of enterprise can help assure better involvement with those people within the community with disabilities, even within a community garden or farm. I am thrilled to provide technical information to them regarding accessibility.

It will be an educational opportunity for me as well. There is a rural transportation company with an integrated accessibility policy (I wrote it) that rides by the dirt road to the farm at least 3 times a day. At this point, I’m not certain how far off the paved road the bus will actually travel if at all. The proposed future bathroom and parking area are located away from the farm (roughly 500 feet) and on the other side of this very narrow dirt road thus necessitating the need for possible parking in both areas. There is no pedestrian access way or route other than the dirt road. This whole scenario presents many unique challenges. Complete consideration from all involved will be given to every aspect of the project. Any recommendation or technical specification that I make will be run by the US Access Board. They too only provide technical information. I will also be consulting with the National AgrAbility Project (, although there is not one in this state to support our farmers with disabilities.

Any determination will obviously be made by the entity proposing the project. Determining location and number of raised beds will also give consideration to the needs of people with disabilities for utmost inclusion. Most entities make at least 5% of their garden accessible with the use of raised beds of varying heights, but I’ve yet to come up with who/how this number was ever derived. The ADA only requires equal participation and doesn’t specify the number. I have a lot of research ahead of me, and I genuinely look forward to it.

It’s refreshing to work with any entity that strives to do everything possible to guarantee participation of people with disabilities. I was seriously considering the possibility of moving elsewhere. This, in addition to the recent efforts of a city north of me, has made me reconsider, at least for now anyway.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Embracing and Welcoming Change: At Home and in the Garden

Embracing and Welcoming Change: At Home and in the Garden

“August rain: The best of the summer gone and the new fall not yet born.
The odd uneven time.”
~ Sylvia Plath

This week I found out that my son who is in the US Navy is going to be stationed in my hometown of Newport News, Virginia. Although this makes me very happy because he’ll be living closer to me, it has also brought on an intense feeling of sadness for me to endure momentarily. The last time that I was in Newport News, was for my Mother’s funeral. I remember thinking while sitting at the burial service that I knew more people buried in the cemetery than I actually knew who were still living in Newport News. This thought seemed to put things into perspective. If I’m not mistaken, I have very little family left in the city other than an Aunt and some very distant cousins perhaps. Most of my childhood friends have also moved elsewhere. I pretty much left the area to begin my adult life back in 1982, when I moved to Vermont.

Wow, so now my son will be creating his own memories in my old stomping grounds, at least for as long as Uncle Sam wants him to anyway. In a place that I’ll always call home. In a place that still brings back so many happy and sad memories. I can only embrace my feelings now by accepting the fact that I really miss my mom, dad and brother. I miss my grandmother and aunts and uncles who are now deceased. I miss what was, but I have to look forward to what’s ahead.

It’s almost the end of August, and I’m starting to feel the change in daylight. The days are definitely getting shorter. This is that time in the southern garden where you start to notice that most of the flowers are fading and are finished blooming. A few stragglers remain and yet, although you’ve cut back your perennials, you know that their fall bloom will be small. You’re appreciative for your still blooming lantana and portulaca. It’s easy for me to see how much time has passed by going back through my many photo albums since things sprung into life back in early May. These photos reflect the passage of time. They also get me through the winter months with hopes of what we’ll have next spring and summer.

The question becomes, what do you plant next in this almost seemingly ever living environment? My goal now is to take a little break and to let it cool down a little before adding the fall annuals. Basically it is time to look at the garden, and figure out what I want to add or possibly move around or get rid of next year. It is time to plan, relax a little, and recover. It’s time to pull some weeds. It’s time to fantasize about living in some tropical paradise and to be very thankful that we don’t get buried in snow. Yet sometimes I think that may be better than seeing dormant plants and dead looking grass.

I look at my arms, and they’re covered in scabs from multiple ant bites and from a recent rash from contact dermatitis. A rash caused by the sensitivity to the exposure of plant oil, usually from plants with spines or thorns, in combination with sunlight. Nothing serious, just temporary intense burning and itching that goes away for me rather quickly. It is not as severe as poison ivy. It is just a consequence of not wearing long sleeves.

I had a great interview this week with a magazine that I’ve always considered to be a leading resource of information for people living with paralysis since the onset of my spinal cord injury back in 1983. PN Online, Paraplegia News is published by the Paralyzed Veterans of America. I am thrilled to be listed as a resource, as a person of PN Online, for anyone with a disability who is interested in accessible gardening. I’m pretty ecstatic actually! I’ve always looked to them for information, and I hope more people with spinal cord injuries will connect with me, my blog and on facebook.

This week with the rain, I’ve had time to catch my breath a little and to actually add dirt to and buy seeds for my vegetable planters. I’ve also taken a breather from advocacy to let things work themselves out a little. Sometimes people, like a garden, need time. I’ve revisited a few older accessibility issues and thankfully found out that designated accessible parking had been created on the street near our fabulous, and very accessible aquarium. The SC Aquarium has great employees who have always had great attitudes about doing everything possible to make every visitor feel welcomed. I was around in the early 90’s when they asked me to review their building plans, and they still value my opinion today. This kind of respect makes me incredibly happy.

In the week ahead, I’m feeling privileged to have been asked to look at a site for accessibility to a planned community garden. This type of planning will, hopefully, make it a better place for all to enjoy. I’ll also be looking at potential real estate for my son. This too will be fun. I look forward to going back to visit my old homestead more frequently. Fortunately, I still have a sister living not too far away from Newport News, a few terrific nieces and many great nieces and nephews. I also have a couple of old childhood friends not living too far away either. (One friend just got her own chickens!) It is definitely time for more happy memories to be made for sure! Life is too short not to live for these happy times.

"To every thing there is a season, and time to every purpose under the heaven:A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. " The Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:18.

Excellent article by PVA Magazine, PN Online:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Container Vegetables: Learning from Mistakes

Container Vegetables: Learning from Mistakes

A gardener learns more in the mistakes than in the successes. ~ Barbara Dodge Borland

Yesterday I had the realization that through my gardening, my blog and my work with Access to the Garden, I am changing. I’m changing in a healthier kind of way. I told my husband that I only wanted a homegrown organic tomato in a recipe we decided to try! After eating our own fresh tomatoes all summer, I couldn't think of using anything else. This isn’t to say that I will not have an occasional relapse and eat french-fries, but I’m striving to do better with my diet. When people recognize that they can make a change, even within themselves, great things can happen.

I am living in an area where there are actually two growing seasons for vegetables. As usual, I’m a little behind with my container vegetable plantings, but I’m certain that I’ll learn something from this experience as well. I have chosen to use Terracotta containers and my previously purchased elevated beds for my vegetables because they are easier for me to tend to from my wheelchair.

I have purchased a soilless mixture, also known as synthetic soil, and I’m ready to use it in my shallow containers that I’ve had stored away. This does not mean that my soil is artificial. It is simply a mixture of organic and mineral components. There are organic potting mixes for sale, but usually at local garden nurseries and not at the large garden centers. I also now know how to make my own for future use too. I’ve learned to use coffee filters over the holes to retain the potting mix.

The organic part of a mix may be peat moss, coir (coconut husk), bark of hardwoods or conifers, or a combination of these organic ingredients. The mineral part may be vermiculite, perlite, pumice, builder’s sand, granite sand, or simply a combination of them. The most commonly used minerals for soilless mixes are vermiculite, perlite, and fine sand. The mix you buy may be 50% peat moss and 50% vermiculite, or 50% ground bark and 50% fine sand, or several other combinations of the organic and mineral components depending on what you are using the soil for.

The ingredients in the mixes vary, but the principle behind all mixes is the same. Soilless “soil” must provide:
* Fast drainage of water through the media
* Air in the media for drainage
*A reservoir of water in the media after drainage

Most important in any container-growing medium is the air in the soil after drainage. Plant roots require air (particularly oxygen) for growth process respiration. In a heavy garden soil, there is little remaining pore space between soil particles. When the water is applied to the soil, it drives out air filling the small pore spaces. A container mix has small and large pores (micro pores and macro pores. When the mix is irrigated, water is held in the micro pores but quickly drains through the macro pores, allowing air to follow.

The size of the container will be determined by the vegetable grown. Generally, most vegetables grown in the soil can be grown in containers as long as ample space is provided for root development. Shallow rooted crops like lettuce, peppers, radishes, and herbs need a container at least 6 inches in diameter with an eight inch soil depth. Bushel baskets, half barrels, wooden tubs, or large pressed paper containers are ideal for growing tomatoes, squash, pole beans, and cucumbers.

Several other sources on the internet provide very helpful information as well. I have shared many on my facebook page. Most importantly you should know which variety of vegetable that you’ll be planting, especially with tomatoes. Fertilization is generally 5-10-10 and is required more frequently with containers because it leaches out faster.

Which vegetables are best suited for a potted vegetable garden?

With the exception of a few space heavy vegetables like corn & pumpkin, almost all types of vegetables can be grown as potted plants. Just be sure to buy the dwarf varieties in each vegetable. Several seed packets now indicate if they are good for container use. A few examples of dwarf varieties available in each vegetable are given below. (I have seen corn grown in containers too!)

• Beets - Little Egypt, Early red ball
• Brussels sprouts - Jade cross
• Carrot - Short & sweet, Tiny sweet
• Cucumber - Patio pik, Pot luck, Spacemaster, Bush pickle
• Lettuce - Salad bowl, Bibb, Buttercrunch
• Onion - White sweet Spanish and Yellow sweet Spanish
• Pepper - Sweet banana, Long red cayenne, Jalapenno, Apply red cherry
• Spinach - Dark green bloomsdale
• Tomatoes - Tiny tim, Toy boy, Small fry, Spring giant, Pixie
• Eggplant - Slim jim, Black beauty
• Snap Beans - Tender crop, Bush romano
• Green Beans - Kentucky wonder, Blue lake
• Radish - Icicle, Cherry Belle
• Cabbages - Red ace, Dwarf modern
• Broccoli - green comet
• Squash - Gold Rush, Scallopini

The information that I’m providing is fairly basic. There are a lot of different opinions regarding container vegetable gardens. Even with the selection of containers, there is uncertainty. How do we know that the plastic is free of harmful chemicals, or if the metal is lead free? How do we know if there are dangerous preservatives in the wood that we’ve used? Use cedar or redwood when possible. These are each naturally rot and insect resistant. I recently read that you could use organic potting mix, organic seeds, with organic fertilizers and yet, if you are not using a PVC free or natural rubber garden hose, you could end up with Bisphenol A (BPA) in your food.

It is important to be aware of what’s going on with plastics, and to buy PVC free products that specifically say they’re safe. Pictured above is a polyurethane pvc free coil garden hose. Do your research regarding consumer safety before you buy any garden products, and choose what you feel comfortable with using. At least you’ll know that the food you grow isn’t genetically modified. (Scary stuff.)

Container vegetable gardening is a relatively new experience for me. I hope to add some raised beds in the fall to be able to grow even more vegetables by next spring. My neighbor recently told my husband that she knew that I really loved my flowers and that she enjoyed looking at them too. Little does she know that by next year I’ll be sneaking some veggies into my borders too!

With the abundance of information available on container and raised bed gardening, hopefully our gardening mistakes will become less and less! It is important for us to learn from them and to utilize the resources that are available to us. When someone can admit to making a mistake, so much can be accomplished. This is true in and out of the garden.

When an entity can admit that they can do better at providing equal access, or they can acknowledge that a situation is indeed potentially dangerous for a person with a disability, so much can be accomplished too. Progress can only be made with the acceptance that more can and needs to be done to improve any situation. A telltale sign that an entity hasn’t provided equal access is when someone says that no one with a disability has ever been there. There’s generally a good reason for this, and it’s usually because they can’t easily or safely get there.

Get out, garden, and get your hands dirty. Life is too short not to be surrounded by gorgeous flowers or to be stocked up with healthy food. They make you feel good. I’m certainly convinced! Please join me on facebook at Access to the Garden. Lots of great people, with lots of great ideas and beautiful flowers too!



2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 small tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium yellow summer squash, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan


Heat oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil over medium and cook onion until tender and lightly golden, 6 to 8 minutes.
Arrange the onion on the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Overlap tomato, squash, and potato on top of the onion. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with thyme and Parmesan, and drizzle with more oil.
Bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden, 30 minutes more.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mission Possible: Impossible is Nothing

Mission Possible: “Impossible is Nothing”

This week’s inspiration came to me from the nicest article anyone has ever written about me. My son wrote an article for his high school newspaper years ago that was also published in the National Edition of High School Journals. The article was entitled, “Mission Possible: Student taught lasting lessons by mother’s fortitude.”

Sometimes I forget where I’ve been to get to where I am now. A friend recently told me that her father once told her that if she didn’t sing her own praises, that nobody else would. The one lesson that I have learned as of late, is that there is a lot of truth to that statement. Fortunately, those who know me or still remember my past efforts know my fortitude. Can’t was never a part of my vocabulary, and neither was the word I.

Having led an effort that was once considered the leading effort in the state and recognized nationally by the President’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities which is now no longer in existence, I take a lot of pride in what I had accomplished with the help of a lot of great people. My leadership was also once recognized with numerous awards and letters of recommendation from various mayors, institutions and other community leaders. I even introduced others from around the state to the concept of an active Mayor’s Commission on Disabilities. I still take a lot of pride in that too.

When others make great strides towards better access, I acknowledge their outstanding accomplishments too. It requires a community effort for success, composed of dedicated individuals with the right kind of attitudes. It also requires a commitment to maintain what is accomplished and an administration with the dedication to keep the move going, from one administration to the next. Yet, another lesson learned as I have pursued other interests.

You can only hope that the next person in charge will be as committed as you were to keeping the movement moving forward towards greater access. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to work out that way, and you realize progress has either halted or become worse. Once this realization hits you, you have to decide how much more is within you to keep things moving forward. No one wants to quit, yet no one wants that kind of responsibility as a volunteer when others are getting paid to do so. Quite frankly, you expect them to do what they are legally required to do and/or paid to do.

Someone recently asked me to write about how I got into gardening. Oddly enough, this is how I got into gardening. I got into gardening more or less as a retreat from the frustration that I was feeling from creating equal access in an area where attitudinal barriers are somewhat more extreme than the physical ones. An area where priorities are often not with creating better access and with administrations that are very quick to blame the past administrators for the lack of compliance. An area too where people with disabilities aren’t working together in a cohesive effort towards improvement. Complacency sometimes seems to be the norm, and most complaints aren’t followed through with the committed action necessary to make a change.

Even the best fighters know when to throw in the towel. “Am I fighting a losing battle?” I’ve asked this question quite often. I hope not. I’m a doer and I like progress, measurable results, etc. I also know when my efforts are wasted. I plug away at this little by little because I know that I will not let it get to me personally and that I will not let it overwhelm me. When I can see things being built the way they are supposed to be, and when I can participate equally, I am happy because I know others will be too. For now I’ll continue to help, but I do someday foresee reaching a threshold.

Sometimes we do feel disappointed about the seemingly lack of progress. It helps to focus on the positive efforts taking place wherever they may be happening, even if they are happening on the other side of the state. I jokingly say I want to move elsewhere sometimes, but I’m not quite ready to pack up and leave. I do see good results around me now too and others interested in learning advocacy. I’m feeling somewhat encouraged once again.

Today I made an open faced tomato sandwich on fresh bread and from my own tomatoes. Even though I had pitiful results from my squash plants, my tomatoes have more than made up for it. My sandwich was delicious, and I am making a huge effort to eat healthier since I began my focus on Access to the Garden. My incredible fortitude, hard headedness and willingness to fight will sure as heck help me in the garden too! “Life is a garden! Can you dig it?” ~ Unknown

Tribal Tribune, Mission Possible: Student Taught lasting lessons by mother's fortitude
Tribal Tribune - Wando High School - Mission possible: Student taught lasting lessons by mother’s fortitude