Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Switch: From to For

Last Friday I was honored to work with other Master Gardeners and volunteers to teach over 600 children about trees at the Grand Rapids Home and Garden Show.  Six different schools bussed children to The DeVoss Place over a three hour period where they attended a presentation on trees, had a scavenger hunt and planted a birch tree seed.  I was a docent for one of the eight tree stations on the scavenger hunt.

Brochure from The Grand Rapids Home and Garden Show

I was the best tree ever, the cacao tree.  Correctly pronounced, this sounds like kacow, but is commonly called coco.  This is the tree from which chocolate is made.  Best tree ever right? When the kids came to our spot, my partner and I gave a very short speech about the cacao tree and showed some pictures.  Kathie, my partner had printed out some small pictures of a tree, its blossoms and beans.  I had drawn a cacao pod and together we were able to show the kids what one looks like.  Some of the groups of kids were a bit flighty so we were happy to simply get them to write down the answer on their paper and tell us their favorite kind of chocolate.  Other groups were a lot of fun because they were really interested and we were able to teach them a bit more.

My quick drawing of a cacao pod used as a prop.

I visited a cacao farm in Costa Rica a couple of winters ago and was able to share what the trees and pods look like, how they are harvested and what the fruit tastes like as well.  Cacao trees are understory trees which means that they grow only to about 30 feet and are happiest in the shade of other taller trees.

This is an organic cacao orchard T and I visited in Costa Rica… pretty much jungle with cacao trees planted in it.  There are actually several cacao trees in this picture with fruit on them.

The seeds drying after being fermented.

Chocolate “shots”  This cold drink was a spicy chocolate drink that was similar to the native people’s recipe.

After we were done working with the children, I was able to stay and go to the Home and Garden show for free.  There were over 400 exhibitors, large garden installations, a marketplace, artwork and free classes and workshops to attend.  I had a blast talking to different people, catching up with some of them since the last time I had seen them at the show as well as meeting new people.  I wasn’t that interested in the products or collecting trinkets as I was in looking at the gardens and plants and asking questions.  Lots of questions.

Ironically, I think the best lesson I learned that day was not at a garden class but at the Home Stage where Peter Walsh gave a presentation entitled, “Getting Organized: How to Conquer Your Stuff and Find Happiness.”  A half hour talk is a pretty short amount of time to deliver such a big concept but he did it.  I have read many of his books, watched the show Clean Sweep on the computer, and have a healthy dose of respect for this gentleman.  I would say that I am a fan and I appreciate his approach to encouraging people to thrive, not just exist or barely survive with their possessions.

Peter Walsh photo from google

He started out making everyone laugh and get comfortable with the idea that we all needed help, that’s why we were there right?  And then he found a guy who was dragged there by his wife and handed him a $5 bill to go buy a beer after the talk so he would have something to look forward to.  Everyone cracked up and off we went on an exploration of the status of our homes, how people generally declutter, the types of clutter we hold onto and the general frustration of dealing with STUFF.

He then explained that most people focus on the question, “What do I want FOR my room?” This is a stuff based question and leads you down the path of confusion, arguments, living in the past with memory clutter or living in the future with what if I might need it clutter.  He said we need to switch the question to, “What do I want FROM my room?”  This switches the focus to the character of the room you want to develop rather than a specific object in the room.

He said to imagine that you are standing outside your bedroom with your spouse and asked to describe how we wanted that space to feel, what we wanted from the room.  Collected answers from the audience included warm, beautiful, safe, sexy, peaceful and calm.  He said to now step inside of the room and look at the first thing you see which he suggested might be a computer, desk and all the paraphernalia that goes with it.  “Does that computer help you achieve the goal of a peaceful, calm sexy bedroom?”  Obviously we all shake our heads no and he continued on to look at the other things in the room the same way.

The computer isn’t bad, it is just an object, a thing, a potentially useful and necessary thing but if it hinders your life in some way, it is an obstacle that needs to be removed, either from the bedroom to another space or completely from the home.   This whole mind shift removes the battle over stuff which is usually a negative experience and turns it into a positive movement towards defining how your surroundings help you engage with your path towards life.

This concept goes far beyond having two pairs of tennis shoes or five.  It has the possibility to change my perspective on how I do life.  How I organize my home to how I design a garden.  Instead of what flowers or hardscape or fancy pots do we want here, the question is what do I want from this space, how do I want the garden to nurture me.  Choices then become ones of positive change rather than ones of guilt over thoughtless purchases or measuring up to someone else’s standard.

One step further brings the question to what do I want from my life?  Do my choices of how I spend my time, what I put in my mouth, the things I place before my eyes, the thoughts I allow to percolate in my mind and my decisions of what to focus on adhere to my answer?  These are challenging thoughts from a decluttering seminar.

My second favorite class was one given by a horticulturist who works at Frederick Meijer Gardens.  Her title was, “Planting Meijer Gardens’ Containers: Season by Season, Year by Year.”  She took us through the five different container changes made through the year with tips on how to reuse your plants while changing up the look, how to edit and add, the use of greens and dried material and a bit about plant care and pots.  The biggest revelation to me though was the insider tip on how the containers always seem perfect and why that may not be as easily accomplished in my yard.  Beyond the grooming tasks of deadheading and pruning, she introduced the concept of replacement:  as in replacing a past peak blooming plant with a newer, fresher, in full bloom version of the same plant every two to three weeks.  Often a container’s grouping will be scheduled to stay for several months before switching to the next season; however, for example, the bulb plants may not last that long in full glorious bloom.  They simply switch them out with other forced bulbs in bloom obtained from a local nursery to continue the display.  Lightbulb moment.  My desire to have containers that look like the botanical gardens examples is only feasible if I have a staff and greenhouse out back supporting my habit.  Well, duh that is probably obvious to everyone else, but it is good to understand why.

One of my mixed succulent plantings beautified by dew

Learning this technique was actually very freeing for me because I had just listened to Mr. Walsh’s class on determining what I want from my space.  Do I want that level of work, now that I really understand how they accomplish it?  No, not where I am right now, doing what I do.  I don’t need to replicate their excellence in my yard to be a “good” gardener.  I can copy that which makes me happy and I can reasonably replicate but there is no demand to have two months of glorious blooms in order to succeed.

I really enjoyed my day.  I met some great and interesting people who encouraged and taught me something new, hopefully encouraged a few myself, personally spoke to about 400 kids about this amazing world God has created, got to represent the best tree ever, and came home with ONLY two plants.  A free spruce seedling that a local nursery was giving away and two Nerine bowenii [Cape Flowers] bulbs that I purchased.  Ok, fine THREE plants but I was good…

Baby spruce tree

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