finding refuge in our gardens, and hope in a hoya, with ken druse

finding refuge in our gardens, and hope in a hoya, with ken druse

Ken Druse and I have known each other through many gardening seasons, like about 30. And we’ve each been gardening longer than that. But this year already feels different, of course, and we wanted to talk about that, and what plans we have to take full advantage of the refuge aspect of our own backyards—and also of our indoor companions, our longtime houseplants, like Ken’s beloved hoyas (like Hoya kerrii with its heart-shaped leaves, above at Ken’s) and more.

Important: We hope you will chime in after listening, or reading the transcript (or both), to share your own strategies with fellow gardeners. Use the comments box at the very bottom of the page.

Read along as you listen to the March 23, 2020 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

Margaret: Hi, Ken. We could tell everybody we’ve been talking virtually every day, haven’t we lately?

Ken: Yes, and we’re talking about what everyone’s talking about, which is the virus.

Margaret: And as you and I have talked about everything in our lives for the 30 years-ish that we’ve known each other, we’re talking about it through the filter of the garden. So it’s kind of an eerie juxtaposition out the window and on fair days outside, when we can go outside right now of sort of unfolding beauty and innocence, tiny bulbs, plump little buds, and the headlines hourly and daily. So I wanted to backtrack about what gardening means to us and sort of what brought us to it. How long have you been gardening? [A high-season view across Ken’s garden, above.]

Ken: [Laughter.] O.K., since I was very young. How’s that?

Margaret: Yes, a little boy?

Ken: Since I was a teenager. And I started with indoor plants and got really turned on. And then when I went to college in Rhode Island, I was kind of close to Danielson, Connecticut, which is where Logee’s is. And I was thinking about all this stuff, and I think that shopping has a lot to do with my acquisitiveness. And my interest in seeing a new plant, finding a new plant, thinking, well, they’re all so incredible. And shopping online is something you can do now solo really well.

Margaret: Uh-oh. So you’re going to be spending some money. You said you were a teenager and so forth. Besides the sort of amassing a collection, that sort of instinct that you apparently had, was there some other escapism or something else that brought you to it? I don’t know. I don’t want to project onto you. I mean, I can tell you mine, but I don’t know.

Ken: I know I have a need to nurture, and I just love, it’s so exciting to see… It seems like slow-motion in most cases, but to see a plant grow and thrive or something from a seed, sometimes that’s pretty fast. And then from a seed to, in your case, edibles, it’s a miracle. And to participate in that, I’m thinking how heartwarming it is. It’s a boost, and it makes you think about tomorrow.

Logee’s Greenhouses, as I mentioned before, they have some, and Gardino Nursery, I think it’s called. But if you look online, there are people who specialize in hoyas, and when you read about them, some of them make really good houseplants because they can take low humidity. And some of them want lots of humidity. The leaves are different on every single one, as are the flowers. They bloom in clusters. It’s kind of hard to describe. They’re like stars in these fireworks clusters, and some of them smell like cinnamon. And Hoya kerrii smells kind of like clove and tomato. In other words, it smells kind of like ketchup.

Margaret: That’s funny. And you’re the guy who just wrote a book about fragrance, “The Scentual Garden,” so I guess you’d have thought this through about what things smell like. Yes.

Ken: And this is a wonderful situation we’re in. It’s a terrible situation, but it’s a wonderful time to think about dreaming about fragrance, to feel a little better.

Margaret: Yes, get a whiff of something wonderful, yes?

Ken: Mm-hmm.

the variety from Turtle Tree Seed. It’s just ‘Butternut,’ but it’s been selected for 25 years or something at Turtle Tree Seed—neighbors of mine, that seed company’s right near me—for lastingness. Every year they see which fruits last the longest and replant from those. I’m oversimplifying, but they’ve been selecting for two decades-plus for lastingness. And I’m telling you, I have these massive fabulous ‘Butternut’ sitting in the kitchen with me right now looking for their time in the soup pot or whatever. And they’re perfect in late March. [Above: Two fruits from Turtle Tree’s ‘Butternut’ stil in prime shape the next spring after fall harvest.]

Ken: Well, you got sun, so you might think about things that you can put up. I know you freeze a lot of stuff. But in the old days and during World War II, victory gardens as you said, a lot of people grew stuff that they could can. And people don’t can as much. Well, if you got a big freezer, that’s great. But growing things that you can can, so to speak.

Margaret: Yes. So I think for me, the garden’s going to look different. It’s going to be more about my connecting to it and right around the house and feeding me. Things that when the garden’s usually open to the public, certain days it’s not always the same focus, so that’s going to shift for me. The birds are super important to me now. I don’t know if you enjoy them there at your place. But I’m super-excited because a pair of Carolina wrens that has been with me all winter… They’re tiny birds and they have a lot of personality, like all the wrens, and this pair has been right around the house all winter and talking and making all kinds of fun sounds.

And they’ve been eyeing and clinging to the back porch post that has vines surrounding it all winter, sort of staring at the house, like staring from the edge of the porch posts at the house. And I’m thinking,  “What are you doing? Why are you always here all winter?” Well, it turns out they’re planning on using one of the old phoebe nests that was left behind last year sort of on the porch posts, tucked in the corner by the roof of the porch. They’re now building a nest on top of the phoebe’s nest from last year. [Laughter.] [Carolina wren, below, from Wikipedia.]

Christopher Lloyd, who did Great Dixter garden in England. And I’m thinking I’m going to re-read… I forget which one, but I’m going to re-read some Christopher Lloyd, too, for inspiration. So anyway, it’s good talking to you as ever, and we’ll be chatting on the phone and everything. But thank you for sharing, as they say.

Ken: [Laughter.] My pleasure, Margaret.

Margaret: All right. Take good care. Be safe.

Important: We hope you will chime in after listening to the show, or reading the transcript (or both), to share your own strategies with fellow gardeners. Use the comments box at the very bottom of the page. Thank you all!

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