1Thing: Greening up your staycation, composting tips, and Philly-area gardens to visit

A garden
Photo credit Cheryl Ramalho/Getty Images
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  With so much travel now relegated to armchair escapism with a travel magazine, that armchair is often planted in a home garden. Our balconies and backyards have become the destination during this safer-at-home summer.

The planning for these spaces jumped as soon as shelter-in-place orders started to spread. Online seed purveyors scrambled to meet demand this spring, as a form of panic plant-buying took hold and we turned to gardening to pass the time and feel productive. 

The Outdoor Trend Report for 2020 by Wayfair Professional — the online home store’s program for business customers — shows that in addition to all forms of patio furnishings, searches for “outdoor sheds” increased by 132% this year compared to 2019, and searches for “wall planters” grew by 62%. 

The positives in all of this is the benefit to bees and other pollinators when we plant more, but the negative can be the combined hit to our wallets for all the supplies, as well as the hit to the environment if we rely on chemicals to encourage growth and discourage pests. 

We offer a quick list of tips to minimize the impact on both areas. Choose any as 1Thing for your garden or try them all!

While using gray water on your garden is an excellent way to conserve the resource, it’s not recommended for anything you plan to eat as any chemicals can be absorbed into a plant, and pesticides especially can harm the beneficial bacteria, worms, and other microbes in the soil.

Reduce the amount of food scraps and yard waste in your trash by composting it and digging that “black gold” into your plots and planters instead of commercially-produced plant food. Keeping decaying organic matter out of landfills also reduces the potential release of the potent greenhouse gas methane. (Composting services are available.) 

Some plants past bloom are going to seed. Collect them for next year, share with friends or even with a local seed library, such as the one at the Haddonfield Public Library. Or start siblings from cuttings. (It’s not too late to start herbs from seed or cuttings.)

Repurpose containers for pots and any number of items — even furniture — for planters.   

Although the garden shows and tours that used to inspire amateur gardeners migrated to the virtual variety this past spring, there are increasing opportunities to be led down the garden path beyond your own property line. 

Gardening grand dame Longwood Gardens has reopened on a limited basis. Winterthur is open with restrictions as well. There’s even a typewriter garden (not a typo!) in Mount. Airy that you can visit by appointment.

And in Philadelphia, the beloved pop up gardens from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society await you. 

The South Street location in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood aims to evoke the gardens of the Mediterranean, according to Andrew Bunting, PHS vice president of public horticulture.

“We have really focused on both the color and texture of foliage in this garden using plants like bananas, cannas and elephant ears for their bold and exotic foliage,” he wrote in an email, “and the silver foliage of cardoons, the architectural forms of agaves. For finer foliage we have grasses like sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium and the Mexican feather grass, Stipa tenuissima. Also, for bold exotic foliage we have three large specimens of staghorn ferns mounted to the walls in one of our covered areas.” 

The soon-to-come PHS Pop-Up Garden in Manayunk will feature a central community garden to highlight food production and pollinators.  

“Around the perimeter of the garden are large raised beds which will feature lemons from the Flower Show and a host of fruiting shrubs, vegetables and herbs,” Bunting explained, adding that visitors will see the large olive tree that is over 60 years old that was the main feature at the show.

He also says there will be pollinator plants like the purple coneflower, mountain mint, Russian sage and “Nepeta x faasenii ‘Walker’s Low,’ a selection of catmint will keep the garden ‘abuzz’ with a host of beneficial pollinators.”

The Wayfair trend report finds we’re searching for “outdoor bars” 155% more than we did in 2019, and the PHS Pop-ups will feature food and plant-based libations again. According to PHS Pop Up Gardens associate director Cristina Tessaro, some of the organic ingredients might not be readily available in your backyard plots. 

“The frozen mojito is made with butterfly pea flower,” she said, “which is the natural ingredient that turns the drink purple.”

But margaritas based on watermelon, hibiscus and even cucumber will be available, as well as a cucumber-based gin cocktail. 

PHS isn’t sharing recipes, but you can rummage among your plants and your liquor cabinet for some cocktails.