The Kiss of the Sun for Pardon

Magnolia buds

Buds on a star magnolia offer promises of brighter, warmer days ahead.


By Michael Leach

Winter brings special magic to the garden. Visions of snowy branches, frosty twigs and bluish moon shadows on clear frigid nights come to mind. But sunshine is part of the potion.

Sea oats

Seeds of northern sea oats glow in morning light.


In this part of the Midwest, winter sunlight can be a rare and fleeting phenomenon. Weeks of gray skies are not unusual. So there is delight when the sun makes an appearance. When those welcome rays appear in early morning and late afternoon,  the garden glows softly with the burnishing effects from the sun low on the horizon.

ornamental grass

Plumes of ornamental grasses stand out against the somber backdrop of evergreens.

The poem on a garden plaque I keep meaning to buy starts, “The kiss of the sun for pardon … .” That kiss in winter, no matter how brief and infrequent,  warms my heart regardless of the temperature.



Sycamore branches are tinted with the first rays of a February day.

In recent weeks I collected images of this warming touch. Perhaps they will inspire you to go forth in the remaining days of winter to look for special effects and golden vignettes before becoming overwhelmed with all the work that lies ahead.

Prairie dock leaf

The withered giant leaf of a prairie dock wears the gilt of sunshine on a winter morn.



Love ’em or hate ’em, yuccas seem magical at dawn on a clear winter day.


A walk in the woods in late afternoon brings enchantment and the voice of the woodland.



Happy Spring!


Spring Countdown: 1 day

Leach garden (22)How to grow a winter garden without raising the heating bill

By Michael Leach

Wearin’ o’ the green is one thing. I prefer eating greens, especially those fresh from the garden. With floating row cover, and a bit of Irish luck, this is doable on St. Patrick’s Day and weeks before — even in the Midwest.

By chance I discovered floating row cover does more than keep cabbage butterflies away from the kale, collards, turnips and other cold tolerant greens. I plant these in late summer for a fall, winter and spring harvest. This lightweight agricultural fabric helps the plants resist winter weather, apparently by offering some wind protection. Even without row covers, kale and collards have grown well into December in some years.

While Debra was gathering rosemary during our spate of Zone 7 winters in our Zone 6 world, I harvested small amounts of greens almost weekly. Dim winter days slowed production to mere bragging rights over a few leaves in darkest December and January.

But by the end of February, the combination of warmer readings and longer days triggered new leaves and harvests two or three times a week.

This year things are different, due to one of the coldest winters in a generation. The lush, venerable greens, planted last spring, died despite the row cover. A cursory check shows little hope of new life arising from the roots.

The younger plants of late summer provided the season’s  first small harvest of greens — just in time for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. That’s no Blarney. Seasoned with a bit of butter, sea salt, pepper and bragging rights they were awesome.

(For inspiration on growing your own winter garden, check out Eliot Coleman’s books based on his experience of year-round vegetable gardening in Maine without  heated greenhouses. Visit his website.)

Spring Countdown: 2 days


In keeping with the green-theme here is another set of books to consider.  From bottom to top:

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – I still have the original The Basic Book of Organic Gardening edited by Robert Rodale – a dense paperback that was published in 1971 and purchased by me in 1989 for $3.95.  The pictured book was published in 2002 and has much of the same down-to-Earth information, but with lots of pictures.  We like pictures…

The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Farming – This is a book that has become one of the bibles of the sustainable food movement.  Parts are poetic; other parts are packed with process-thinking and science.  If you are considering growing your own food organically, this book will give you a path to follow.

No Nonsense Vegetable Gardening – now for something on the quirky, but very fun, end of the spectrum… Donna Balzer and Steven Biggs travel through the issues of vegetable gardening with humor.  Not everything is cut-and-dry and gardening is not rocket science.

The Green Gardener’s Guide: Simple, Significant Actions to Protect & Preserve Our Planet – Joe Lamp’l offers quick, yet informative, lessons on how to garden and how to work with nature.  He stresses that you don’t have to do it all at once, just take one step at a time.  Most topics are 2-3 pages long.

Green Guides Crops in Pots: Growing Vegetables, Fruit & Herbs in Pots, Containers & Baskets – For those of you who do not have the acreage for an in-the-ground garden but want to garden, here’s your book.  The tips are very helpful and the sound-byte facts are thought-provoking; for example, “Did you Know? North America produces nearly 90 percent of the world’s blueberries.”

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for Your Home and Garden – I do have to take a stand with the word “new”, but the time-honored information is presented in a very attractive and easy to understand format.  If you follow the recommendations, you will be saving energy, money and be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

And lastly, Green, Greener, Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-Smart Choices a Part of Your Life – This book goes beyond the garden, proposing options that are at different levels of action; your choice.  As I tell my students, there isn’t always a best option, sometimes it boils down to: what is the least-worst?


Spring Countdown: 4 days


In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is a recipe that I’ve made many times.  This is comfort food!

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup

From Moosewood Daily Special with a few changes…

2 TBL      olive oil

2 c.         chopped onions*

1 tsp      ground caraway seeds (fennel is another option)

½ tsp     salt

4-5 c.     coarsely chopped green cabbage

2 c.         sliced potatoes

3 c.         water or vegetable stock

2 tsp      dried dill**

4 oz.       chevre

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onions, caraway and half the salt until the onions are translucent; about 7-10 minutes. Add the cabbage and remaining salt and cook until the cabbage is beginning to wilt.  Add the potatoes and water and bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are tender. Turn off the heat.  Add the dill and chevre, and stir to combine.  Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.  Simmer the soup if it has cooled too much, add salt and pepper to taste and add water if the blended soup is too thick.

*   When in season, I use leeks instead.

** If you have fresh dill, use at least 2 tablespoons; other herbs to use: thyme or sage; both are especially tasty with fennel instead of caraway.

Spring Countdown: 5 days

By Teresa Woodard

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, I couldn’t think of a better spring green plant to pay tribute to this Irish holiday.  Mosses are now greening up creek banks, rocks, tree trunks and other shady native habitats.  In the landscape, moss is also moss containergaining interest as a no-mow lawn alternative, a lush addition to container planters and an attractive accent to shade gardens.

To learn more about moss gardening, check out the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association website including a “Bryology 101” and a listing of species counts by county.  Also, Joe Lamp’l shares ideas for growing moss in the landscape and container gardens in an all-moss segment on Growing a Greener World.

Here are two online sources for purchasing moss:  Moss Acres and Moss and Stone Gardens.  Remember when harvesting moss, avoid parks and ask for permission on private property.  Only take small amounts from a colony, so the plants can regenerate.

Spring Countdown: 6 days

IMG_0443By Michael Leach; photo by Abby Fullen

Choruses of bird songs, gentle breezes murmuring through bare branches, and the distant sounds of spring peepers are among my favorite sounds of the season of rebirth.

Just as evocative but barely louder than a whisper, is the sound of seeds rattling in a paper packet.

Seeds mean seedlings and this conjures visions of sun on the back, warm brown earth and dirt under the fingernails.

After gardening for more for than a half century,  the simple act of putting seeds in the soil and watching shoots emerge still excites me more than any other part of this always new business of working with plants.

Some people may yawn. Yet planting seeds unleashes the power of life in a humble row of turnips. The infinitely complex process of life unfolds as the sun warms the soil.

Seeds, seemingly dead things, open with delicate roots and tiny leaves. Eventually an eggplant or an oak tree arises. The astounding transformation is exceedingly commonplace — like the sun coming up — but it amazes me each time I see seedlings or the sun appear.

Posted in Spring countdown



Spring Countdown: 7 days

Experience the living "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" through Columbus's Topiary Park

Experience the living “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” within Downtown Columbus’s Georges Seurat- inspired Topiary Park 

By Michael Leach

“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” said American novelist Henry James.

Admittedly he probably was referring to an English summer afternoon, more like a late May afternoon in the Midwest. Yet in our region of often sultry summer afternoons, not to mention stifling dog days, summer afternoon still conjures a pleasantness unique to the season of school vacations, swimming pools and backyard barbecues.

Winter, on the other hand, offers little in the way of appealing — much less beautiful — word pairings. Does anyone ever want to read polar vortex again, much less survive it?

How about: mixed precipitation, freezing rain, ice storm, wind chill, snow emergency, road salt, snow shovel, ice scraper, record snowfall, record low, blizzard conditions, jackknifed semi, icy freeways, near whiteout or pot holes?

Some may cite “white Christmas” as beautiful winter words, but after this dreadful winter, is anyone dreaming of that yet?

Spring Countdown: 8 days


March: a wild corner of the yard; later to be covered with green. The grasses in the background will soon be cut down and added to the pile.

By Debra Knapke

one, two, buckle my shoe,

three, four shut the door

five, six, pickup sticks

seven, eight lay them straight

nine, ten, do it again!

This perfectly describes what I am doing in the yard right now.  Branches from two red oaks, sugar, silver and black maples, hackberries and a dawn redwood litter the front and back yard.  Even our stalwart ginkgo has lost branches this winter.  Wind and snow graced us this past winter, and there are many “hangers” in the trees and twigs on the ground.  It seems that there are more branches down this year than the “usual”.  Although, I’m beginning to wonder what “the usual” is anymore.

This bounty of branches goes into my wood compost pile or into a wild corner of our lot.  This is where Mother Nature can do what she wants.  Later in the season, Jerusalem artichoke will come up along with many plants some might call weeds: pokeberry (although, I only leave one or two; apologies to Mother Nature), thistles, dock, red clover, ironweed, goldenrod, cup plant and more.  I have not taken a picture of this area, because, well… it’s messy.

I also place the leaves of cut-down grasses here.  Need to do this soon.  These seemingly useless old leaves have been used by resident chickadees and wrens to build their nests.

Yesterday, as I wandered around the yard picking up sticks, I also catalogued the chores to come; can’t wait!

March:  the quiescent garden – plastic covered object is an Earth oven protected for the winter.

March: the quiescent garden – plastic covered object is an Earth oven protected for the winter.

Spring Countdown: 9 days

By Abby Fullen

After a long winter of dull gray, white, and depressing, there’s no better way to brighten up your garden than by adding the Pantone Color of the Year, Radiant Orchid, in your garden.

This year’s trendy color is described by Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute and the visionary behind Pantone’s Color of the Year, as a “descend[ant] from the purple family, which is kind of a magical color that denotes creativity and innovation. Purple is just that kind of a complex, interesting, attracting kind of color…[The] back-story to purple is that it inspires confidence in your creativity, and we’re living in a world where that kind of creative innovation is greatly admired. In the world of color, purple is an attention-getter, and it has a meaning. It speaks to people, and we felt that it was time for the purple family to be celebrated.”

The color purple is a rare find in nature. Our earlier ancestors probably never saw a purple anything. According to, “The earliest purple dyes date back to about 1900 B.C. It took some 12,000 shellfish to extract 1.5 grams of the pure dye- barely enough for dying a single garment the size of the Roman toga. It’s no wonder then, that this color was used primarily for garments of the emperors or privileged individuals.”

Purple is indicative of nobility and luxury to many people around the world. The shade of purple is important, too. Lighter shades of the color are light-hearted, floral, and romantic. Seems appropriate then that Radiant Orchid is a lighter shade of purple, don’t you think?

As the name implies, Radiant Orchid can be a very bright, eye-catching color. But then, who wouldn’t want to show off their newly accented-with-orchid garden? If you’re unsure, start small. Plant a couple orchid-colored floral plants here and there, and add to the appeal by incorporating the color to a porch or patio, too. Here are some great ways to show off this bright, new, winter-busting color.

Abby Fullen is a Senior at Hilliard Davidson High School. She tends a square-foot vegetable garden with her mother. This piece was written to serve in conjunction with her Career Mentorship class at the Dale McVey Innovative Learning Center.Abby-radiantOrchid

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