Solar Intelligence

To technology-glutted moderns, the celebration of the New Year may seem like a fleeting one-day inebriation, a hiccup in the 365-day trajectory it takes for our planet to complete one orbit around the sun.

May their hangover cure include realizing that without the sun’s heat and light, they, like the Earth, would be a lifeless, frigid and lonely piece of rock. We are but a footnote to the sun’s extravagant powers.

Take a breather from AI to consider the works of the sun: it created all living matter, our bodies and brains, circadian rhythms, atmosphere, seas, climate and weather patterns, and gives energy to the green plants that provide our food and oxygen. You can’t call the sun a technology, such as AI; it’s more than that. It’s the difference between day and night.

We marvel. We inquire. What intelligence created the stars, of which the sun is ours? What gives us our days and nights? What wondrous higher power designed the sun to create and synchronize all life on Earth?

Given our extraordinary powers by the sun, we humans have been playing God for thousands of years, ever since we domesticated the first wild plants and animals. We transformed grains into bread, cotton into cloth, flax into linen. Pasture grasses doubled the size of livestock, blessing us with food, leather and wool, while colorful flowers have cheered our daily lives and fresh vegetables have nourished both body and soul.

Mendelian genetics makes AI look like “superficial intelligence”, especially since we had no technology other than our brains, senses and opposable thumbs. It took us longer than the lightning speed of today’s myriad quicksilver innovations, but with the sun we created the foundations of civilization.

The sun never sleeps: ultra-violet radiation stimulates our bodies both to produce vitamin D and to increase serotonin, helping strengthen our bones and reduce anxiety respectively. Not coincidentally, fresh flowers match the effectiveness of the average mood-enhancing anti-depressant, according to research conducted by Jeanette Haviland-Jones at Rutgers University. Flower color was invented by the sun. Twinkle, twinkle.

Along with the wheel, the plough and written language, the genetic domestication of life has proven to be the template of modern technology, including AI. Horticulture–protected gardens as in plots and parks–gave rise to agriculture–protected fields as in amber waves of grain–when we moved from family and tribal settlements into ancient cities.

If AI is the Terminator, as Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested last summer (and who should know better having acted the part in the all too prescient 1984 film), the garden is the Germinator.

Leaping into this New Year of 366 days, we mark a beginning for both us and the sun, the beginning of the beginning, without which we would not have this day or any day, much less our living planet. So, join me in a toast to the sun, without whom we’d be nothing.

A version of this article appeared in The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, the Quad-City Times and the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

The Inner Garden

Late summer is a golden time for American gardeners, when their love and nurture of their plants are requited with whiz-bang vegetal yields in the American outdoor living room. This continuing harvest, amidst the elegiacally shortening daylength and fading daylight between the June solstice and September equinox, delivers on spring’s joyful promises and continues into early autumn, or what we call a “second summer”.

Our company annually surveys thousands of gardener-customers, leading off with the most important question, “Why do you garden?” This year’s majority of new answers shocked us: for the first time ever most of our customers prioritized ethereal and emotional rewards from their garden over the tangible and down-to-earth reasons such as home-grown flavor, abundant yields and solar-powered savings.

Today’s customers tell us that what motivates them to garden are non-material benefits floating like a halo over the vegetable cornucopia. Most frequent is “a sense of peace”, followed by “tranquility”, “eases my heart”, “reminds me of childhood”, and others including, “my own paradise” and “my Zen time”. My favorite new category pertains to love: “I garden because I love it”, “I get to love my plants”, “I love to love my garden”.

American gardening is undergoing a transformation, a horticultural tectonic shift. Gardeners are gardening primarily for peace of mind, meditative space, a sense of a higher power, and an antidote to anxiety. They harvest extradimensional benefits that constitute an inner world, a sense of a greater life beyond material existence. Here is everything missing we shall never find in our digital existence: a deep sense of satisfaction of the familial love plants inspire.

Our core customers, numbering in the millions, have begun to dwell in both an inner and outer garden. The first seeded the second—you could say that the outer garden has finally done its job: the new inner benefits have fully flowered and fruited in the gardener’s consciousness.

Simultaneously, recent quantum leaps in personal telecommunications have spawned a wasteland of unsocial media and public-private fantasy worlds. By forcing us to focus on our backyards, the pandemic lockdowns both rehabilitated those suffering from screen addiction by introducing them to a new world of nature, and inspired existing gardeners to expand. Voilà, 18.3 million new gardeners in 2022 after which, one year later, the inner garden makes its debut. Check it out for yourself.

Once finished with the day’s tasks, take a seat in your garden, be it on the fragrant earth, a stump, or a lawn chair. Observe the life of the life around you. Your thinking soon drifts from specifics—plant life, sunlight, watering, pruning, deadheading—into a boundaryless zone where time and place flow together. The garden is the least alienating place there is, an enchanted realm where we ourselves take root, grow and blossom.

Let us hope that both the outer and new inner garden seed and give rise to a third horticultural dimension where we share our love and knowledge of our gardens with our families, neighbors, and communities across the world. Personal growth, indeed.

A version of this article appeared in The Sacramento Bee and the Altoona Mirror.

The Vitruvian Garden

Hail spring, farewell winter, and a rousing welcome to the spring equinox for precisely positioning the earth—and us—in time and space. We watch in awe as the solar conductor rouses the vegetative orchestra to life, transforming fallow plots of land into flourishing gardens. Let there be life!

The equinox provides a YOU ARE HERE moment as our planet travels around the sun. Today the solar disk appears directly above the equator; the northern and southern hemispheres have equal amounts of day and night; the sun rises true east and sets true west the world over.

Every spring equinox, I think of “Vitruvian Man”, the enigmatic 1492 work by Leonardo da Vinci, the most recognizable drawing in the world. It reflects the tenets of Vitruvius (c. 80-70 B.C. c. 15 A.D.), the Roman military engineer, architect and author who wrote “De Architectura”, the earliest surviving treatise on architecture, in which he set out the necessary methods for designing temples, shrines and other public buildings.

Guided by the March equinox, Vitruvius calibrated his sundial with the sun’s location at noon on every first day of spring. Knowing the cardinal directions allowed him to align his buildings with the rising and setting sun for optimal sunlight and shade. Perfection!

Da Vinci’s drawing, true to the spirit of Vitruvius, similarly correlates the human body’s ideal proportions with the geocentric cosmos. He situates Vitruvian Man within perfect forms—a square representing the earth and circle symbolizing the heavens. This angular framework conveys that humanity is sacred, a microcosmic embodiment of the macrocosmic universe.

We post-moderns long to be one with both the earth and universe. In our marginless, 24/7 digital reality and cacophonous popular culture, we find ourselves remote from life and far from Eden. But the equinox grounds us. The first day of spring signals renewal, fertility and the drama of vegetation. From today on, we can re-engage with the plant kingdom from which our civilization has strayed.

Welcome to the Vitruvian Garden, a personal paradise where the spring equinox orients and connects us to the life cycle of plants, the earth, seasons, sun, time of year, and time of day. Here we allocate our botanical resources across myriad gardens, patios, hanging baskets, and windowsills.

Through green alchemy, our senses become alive and attuned. We collaborate with nature to create a pageant of shapes, colors, scents and flavors. Flowers elevate our mood without side effects; fresh garden air and exercise infuse us with physical and mental energy rivaling a week of March Madness.

Plants coevolved with humans, enabling us to quickly and completely metabolize their nutrients and minerals—no costly supplements needed. Are you searching for the Fountain of Youth? Look out your backdoor. Our new Eden benefits both mind and matter, body and soul and, considering our current economy, piggybanks and pocketbooks.

On the March equinox, we feel a joyous excitement in our gardens, as we begin to create a new realm of beauty, poetry, music, and movement—a new world within our world, a new self within our self.

Welcome, spring.

A version of this article appeared in The Roanoke Times

2022: Year of the Garden

We now take a break from our dystopia to announce happy tidings for the new year. Welcome to 2022: the threshold of the American gardening revolution.

The boom you’re hearing is not the launch of a billionaire’s ego-powered rocket or the sudden crash of a cryptocurrency. Reverberating across the country, the blast—a sonic bloom?—comes from the explosion in American gardening.

In 2020, seed and plant sales showed more than a 60% increase—unprecedented in our company’s 145-year history. As that year’s garden season came to a close, skeptics were already shrugging off the year’s bonanza crop of sales. It was most certainly an anomaly, we were assured, an out-of-the-blue miracle in a singular year, a unicorn in the garden.

Then, in 2021, the miracle happened again, a phenomenon rarely seen with miracles. We grew by double digits over the previous year’s peak. And now, low and behold, the volume of orders from late 2021 and feedback from gardeners themselves confirm that 2022 will be another double-digit record-breaker, the third miracle year in a row.

A recent survey of over 4,700 gardeners bears out our projections, with 86% excited to try out new plant varieties, and 92% planning to spend the same or greater amount on their gardens in 2022.

For 60 years, garden writers have anticipated the cosmic growth of new gardeners. The Great American Garden Boom was always just around the corner; for the time being, it was a horticultural sleeping giant no one could awaken. It took the COVID crisis to spur the giant to action, and to impel the population of American gardeners to multiply, grow and prosper.

The massive new interest in gardening demonstrates Americans’ ingenuity and determination when faced with an intractable crisis. For much of 2020 and 2021, COVID precautionary measures involved social distancing, masking, remote work, virtual schooling, and millions of Americans sheltering in place. The home, once the family castle, was now its penitentiary.

Americans soon discovered a green new world waiting for them right in their backyard. Creating gardens gave stir-crazy stay-at-homes a new focus, a fresh perspective, and scenic escape from stress and close quarters. In the garden they felt a sense of belonging, and a measure of control over untoward circumstances.

The American revolution in gardening is about more than monumental sales increases. Quantitative trends are about numbers, which can go up and down, and are subject to cancellation at any moment. Qualitative changes are structural trends which signify a profound shift in cultural values, priorities, and practices. This transformative development will shape American culture for generations to come.

Moreover, not only has US gardening grown to a permanently greater size, its appeal reaches across the proverbial aisle … as few things do in our current environment. Astonishingly, over the past two years, gardening sales growth figures are practically identical, with red and blue states both up 77%.

Since this miraculous gardening revolution touched every state and territory in the country in the same way, it has allowed, mirabile dictu, tens of millions of people to finally agree on at least one thing: that food for the body and beauty for the soul are within the grasp of a seed or plant, and a few steps from our door.

We have truly become a harmonious nation of gardeners. Fractiousness and conflict be gone. Goodbye, Digital Age. The Garden Age has begun.

A version of this article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on January 4, 2022

The Garden Machine

Let’s welcome the Estival Solstice, the first day of summer, a simple astronomical event with a stunning array of effects on Earth. Now begin gradually shorter days and longer nights, barely perceptible in late June’s splashy technicolor landscape.

In a single moment, the sun’s course reverses, beginning a gradual pivot, arcing from the northern to the southern hemisphere, nudging us Northerners toward winter. We live in a clockwise universe.

Today, we bid farewell to spring—the manic kaleidoscopic swirl of seedlings, sprouts, shoots, young leaves and blooms springing up and dancing around us—and shift into prolific summer, the mature season, the prime of our planet’s plant life.

Summer Solstice begins the year’s vegetative (think vegetables) phase of spreading foliage, lengthening stems, dilating leaves reaching out for yet more solar rays, and flowers tuning their colors and sweetening their nectar—all to ensure pollination and fruit set. An annual vascular plant’s only goal is to reproduce; a seed uses a plant to produce more seeds.

If you find the Solstice intangible and remote, you can observe cosmic clockwork up close here on Earth: gaze through its sunlit crystal and behold its lush green dial—what we call a garden. And you are the spring that powers the garden clock.

A few skeptics insist it’s off-putting to describe the garden as a “machine”. My friends advise me that no one—save perhaps futurist Ray Kurzweil—wants to be a machine. It’s not aspirational; it’s off-trend. I reply to them that the garden is the only living machine that humans make.

The 17th-century philosopher René Descartes would agree with me. He wrote, “I suppose the body to be nothing but a statue or machine made of earth.” Perhaps we can extrapolate, “I think, therefore I garden.”

In 16th-century Europe, clocks were the most advanced devices, high-tech sensations, the internet of their time. They were the rage among royalty, scholars and monks. Cathedrals featured giant elaborate astronomical clocks with synchronous displays of puppet-like automata portraying the Virgin Mother, processions of monks and other motifs from scripture, the heavens and nature.

Situated behind the altar, the holy timepieces conveyed the orderly motions of God’s universe to the faithful. The Church and secular scientists agreed: the world and the heavens functioned like machines. Worth noting: the round faces of clocks and watches are a legacy of the gnomon and sundial, timekeepers for which Earth is the single moving part.

The garden is a kindred mechanism: a combination of clock and weather station. Plants are attuned to the lengths of day and night, seasonal changes, and the slightest variations in temperature and humidity. They can reflect time’s passage. Plus many taste delicious and make lasting memories. Can your Fitbit do that?

Plants are remarkably self-sufficient. They produce their own food, pump their own water, exchange messages with other plants, pollinators and predators. They orient themselves for maximum sunlight, absorbing nearly all they are exposed to. Once they’ve had their solar fill, they turn shiny to deflect the sun. When necessary, plants can migrate across oceans and continents.

Plant parts are no less ingenious. High altitude tropical epiphytes—air plants—turn their roots into crampons to grip the tree or rocky crag where they reside. Exposed to the sun, the roots turn green by day so they can photosynthesize—the leaves’ job. Role reversal continues: the leaves reach high into the air and by day inhale nutrients from ambient dust, and by night absorb water from the fog and mist—the roots’ job.

But in their new homes, domesticated plants need our help—a gardener ex machina—to change a plot of land into a garden. The first step on the garden path is building an enclosure to protect its plants from invaders large and small. Good fences make good gardens.

Like the clocks of Renaissance Europe, our gardens are cultural as well as mechanical. We present ourselves to the world through our plant choices, design ideas and decisions about nutrition and disease control. Gardens represent our identity, personality and ingenuity much like the church clocks reflect the ideals of their builders. We are what we garden.

Each plant needs its own unique calibration of cultivation and care within our garden’s extensive network of soil, light, air and water. Like the Renaissance clock, every garden is a machine with its own set up, operation and maintenance.

Does our garden plant require more or less sun? How much clay, sand or loam does our soil need; is it too acidic or alkaline? Should we sow before or after last frost? Should we fertilize now, later or never? Soon enough we develop brain and muscle memory and become our garden’s mechanic.

Thereby we experience our garden in unprecedented ways—seeing new sights, feeling new emotions. The garden turns us on, so to speak, giving us more motivation necessary for its survival. We work happily, most of all at the menial tasks. We thrive as the springs of the earthly and cosmic garden clock.

Happy summer.

A version of this article appeared in The Spokane Spokesman-Review, The Fayetteville Observer and the Asbury Park Press.

The Growing Trend

The first day of spring kicks off the unofficial national gardening holiday everywhere in the northern hemisphere. In the US, gardeners are celebrating riotously.

For the largely quiet home gardening business, this year started with a bang—no, an explosion. On the heels of 2020, a breakthrough year for seed buying, 2021 has already produced sales unprecedented in our company’s 145-year old history.

Triggered by an ever-expanding population of new gardeners, the surging seed demand is not evidence of a speculative craze, like Tulipomania or tech stocks. To invert Alan Greenspan’s phrase, the tsunami of seed buying reflects “rational exuberance”. In addition to offering outsized nutrition, flavor, fragrance and beauty, seeds are exceptionally lucrative, delivering seed-to-vine-ripened produce values that would be the envy of Wall Street.

The coronavirus, confining restless Americans at home, afforded ample time to gaze out the picture window upon a monochrome vista of uniform lawns—the kind of vacuum nature abhors.

Seemingly at once, the view became a vision, and millions of Americans had a collective aha moment, prompting a newfound urge to grow backyard Edens abounding with life. For the first time in recent history, the American public turned away from their devices and screens and dismounted the digital hamster-wheel.

The petals of our collective unconscious were ruffled by the menace of Covid-19, stirring our souls very deeply. We returned to the primeval quest for safety and security to ensure our survival and that of both our species and our families.

Gardens first took root 10,000 years ago, give or take a millennium, when pioneering nomadic hunter-gatherers put down roots to create the first settlements. In so doing, they established the first planned conversion of solar radiation to human metabolic energy.

Before the domestication of plants, people’s lives were guided by the migration of animals, the prey which supplied meat for sustenance, fur and hide for covering and warmth, bone and sinew for tools and weapons. One drawback of this endless hunt: wild beasts in turn regarded humans as enticing, nourishing entrées.

Once people followed the example of plants, stayed put and produced their own sustenance, civilization burst into bloom. By planting gardens, we humans were at last able to focus better on ourselves and each other. With a more certain and abundant food supply, we could devote the energy and time expended on hunting and gathering to agriculture and communities with shelter and protection, civic and cultural life, specialized crafts and trades. The rest is history.

Such ancient moments are alive in us today. New and seasoned gardeners are sowing, growing and harvesting the widest gamut of vegetables, fruits and grains as never before. Indeed, this year the number of first-time Burpee customers—most having never gardened—exceeds that of our returning ones.

The coronavirus has rendered us less like animals and more like plants. We are changing from online vagabonds to garden-bound locals,  growing a fresh, tasty food supply on our own terra firma. By partnering with plants—the genesis of civilization, and water—the solvent of creation, we rediscover both our roots and ourselves. Green peace.

Deeper in the green, one day we may create artificial chlorophyll-based energy, perpetually renewable with zero emissions—the Holy Grail of solar panels. At research laboratories such as the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis at CalTech in the US and others in the UK, Australia and Belgium, scientists are using only sunlight, water and carbon dioxide in an attempt to produce unlimited clean energy.

Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortes, please take note: with emission-free fuel and electrical energy based on the model of living plants producing their own food, “green” will never be a better “deal”. Domesticating photosynthesis would be biomimicry on such a profound level that it would make artificial intelligence seem trivial.

Today, we are experiencing a rebirth and reprise of one of the greatest cultural changes in history: the emergence of garden-centered communities. We are learning plants’ seemingly endless lessons and thereby glimpsing more deeply into both the universe and ourselves.

This year’s gardening revolution is marked by a significant transition—today’s equinox, when day surpasses night and, however riotously, spring begins. Let the sunshine in.

A version of this article appeared in The Allentown Morning Call and The Spokane Spokesman-Review

Growing Hybrid Politics

The 117th Congress convenes today. Let’s raise a toast to this newly-hatched deliberative body and bid a fond farewell to the 116th—the least productive session in Congress’s 230 years.

From January 2019 to today, our elected representatives managed to have just one percent of proposed legislation approved by the House, ratified by the Senate, signed by the President, and enacted into law. Here we have a teachable moment of Congressional inaction in action.

The reason for this legislative gridlock is polarization: the two parties can’t agree on anything. The concerns of constituents back home, and their quaint kitchen-table issues, are stampeded under the juggernaut of party loyalty. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, My party, right or wrong, is like saying, My mother, drunk or sober.

In an earlier golden age—not so long ago—our elected representatives resided in the Capitol with their families. There were bipartisan social gatherings facilitated by the social lubricant of the barbecue. Congressional families attended the same churches, school events, and kids’ sports matches. Goodbye to all that.

Today’s elected officials are in Washington just three grueling days a week, spending four days visiting their constituencies; they spend slivers of time with their families. Congress has been called the least family-friendly workplace in America; this from the daughter of two representatives.

As our Congress folk don’t see eye to eye, and barely see each other, I suggest they study nature. There they will learn about “heterosis”, the heart and soul of plant breeding.

Better-known by horticulturalists as hybrid vigor, heterosis is the mating of two purebred parents that results in offspring, called F1 hybrids, combining the more desirable traits of each. The resulting synergistic effect creates bigger, healthier, faster-growing, more fertile, and higher-yielding plants than either parent.

For this magic to work, the parents can’t be too alike: that results in inbreeding depression, a sorry state of affairs. The key to making 1+1=3 is the differentiation of individual organisms. The more different the parents, the more vigorous and innovative the offspring. Differences fuel not only survival, but evolution itself.

You will ask, how does nature’s mating game relate to the business of Congress, society, culture?

Good question. Cultural hybrids abound and flourish. Our country, for instance, is a hybrid of a democracy and a republic. Many of our traditions derive from a Greco-Roman x Judeo-Christian hybrid—a rare “tetraploid” or four-way cross of two hybrids.

Pablo Picasso transformed modern art by incorporating aspects of African art. Andy Warhol pollinated painting with ephemeral consumer goods. Rhythm and Blues is a conjunction of gospel and blues; rock and roll a mingling of R&B and country swing. Elvis is a hip-wriggling hybrid.

The birthing of new genres is a fine example of hybrid speciation: the creation of a unique and vigorous new species. Originally sprung from ragtime, blues and Louisiana Creole funeral marches (a three-way or “triploid” cross), jazz introduced improvisation: a source of ongoing variation and differentiation—a furnace of speciation.

Our obdurately partisan plant families in Washington are what horticulturalists call monocultures—unchanging, unadaptable, immune to influence, and doomed to extinction—to be inevitably outdone by fitter, more nimble hybrid political species.

The root of the word “Congress” is from the Latin gressare, meaning “to walk” and, combined with con, it means “to walk together”. I recommend our leaders in Washington “congress” out of their partisan morass, start to actively listen and both combine and recombine their best ideas. As co-creators and collaborators, they will engender hybrid vigor—new realms of invention, variety and beauty in the Great American Political Garden.

A version of this article appeared in The Spokane Spokesman-Review and the Chicago Daily Herald.

The Garden at the End of the Tunnel

Home gardening occupies a serene corner of the clamorous, go-go American business landscape. You’re unlikely to find the gardening sector grabbing headlines and leading off news broadcasts. Usually, the loudest buzz in gardening comes from bees gathering pollen.

2020 is a whole other story. Within six months, the home garden industry saw a quantum leap in sales and new customers, with revenues magically levitating 60%, a seismic event in a tranquil nonindustrial industry.

Magic has been in short supply this year. For nine months, the COVID-19 virus has upturned our lives. Our viral foe—invisible, intangible, indifferent—has caused dire levels of illness and lives disrupted and lost. Looming winter lockdowns darken our world. It’s all bad.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Gaze meditatively and you will soon see a kaleidoscope of vivid colors, natural beauty and ripe produce. Freshly perfumed air wafts through the cold. How can you bring this dreamscape to life? Ask one of our country’s 50 million devoted and dedicated gardeners—who will lead you to the Beulah Land in your own backyard.

Indeed, just when everything seems to be contracting, the garden is expanding. The 2020 gardening boom will reshape not just the horticulture crowd but American society at large—a natural counterforce to the light speed technological web that ensnares us, as we surrender two-thirds of our time to staring at glowing screens where nothing grows.

In contrast, towns, civic life, technology, and culture—all the features of our lives we hold dear—arose from the cultivation of plants. The way we garden today is scarcely different from how the first gardeners went about their work about 12,000 years ago. Nothing is new under the sun.

Consider the so-called “Coming Singularity”. Technocrats envision a near-future in which human brains, merging with cybertechnology, develop “superintelligences”. Machines, however, will concurrently possess super-super intelligences that will get more super by the second.

Some believe this mega paradigm shift will result in the extinction of humanity. I see it as a rebirth, a renaissance when we obsolete homo sapiens will have new free time and space to super-evolve our creative aptitudes and capacities for a Second Enlightenment. Gardens will flourish and nourish lives. Home at last.

Moreover, living in a deep green world brought us here. We coevolved with the garden, and the garden with us—a singular super-hybrid. Plants are the essence of life on earth: the prime resource for animal life, food, shelter and clothing—and the key to survival for all eight billion of us. For all our cybernetic and digital intelligence, the coming Singularity has been here a long time. How so?

This proto-Singularity is powered by the super-genius of plants. Scientists in various disciplines are continually studying plants’ myriad technologies to understand their intricate genes, self-propagation and uncanny communications.

Using only air, sunlight, water, and soil, plants have been relentlessly creating, recreating and varying themselves ad infinitum. Unlike even the most powerful cyborg army, cultivated plants and gardens are altogether both simple and complex, as well as ancient and modern. Happily, you can’t turn them off.

Thus, 2020’s expansion of new gardeners—20 million strong—will fundamentally transform America’s landscape and society. This grassroots movement will be a harmonious and relaxed affair, with participants of every race, ethnicity, income, age, gender, and political slant. Call it the “Plural Singularity”.

As we wrap up this hapless past year, our gardens are a beacon of new hope. No other place is so many places. Even the simplest garden plot extends home and family life. A garden is a refuge, an outdoor schoolroom, a Shangri-La of bliss, joy and revelation. It’s all good.

In your garden, you partner with plants to create a private Eden of color, flavor, scent, nutrition, ineffable beauty, and deep satisfaction. True magic is available at any time, right at home—and you are the magician.

A version of this article appeared in The Allentown Morning Call, The Fayetteville Observer, and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Summer’s Second Act

Just when you thought the gardening season was over, fall arrives to prove you wrong. Many believe we hang up our trowels on Labor Day, as if Mother Nature slammed the garden gate on us. Not so fast! There are at least two more months of pleasant, productive gardening weather—over three in the Sun Belt.

This bonus gardening season, starting during a socially-distanced mid-August, is a happy surprise—a “second summer” for both the currently estimated 30 million US gardeners as well as the 18 million new ones who took up the healthful hobby during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. First, find an open spot nearby, pull out the weeds and till forth.

For those who missed out last spring, you still have time to start a vegetable patch (cooler weather and fewer bugs too). Sown or transplanted now, a fall garden will abound in poignant flowers; sweet Asian cabbage; crispy lettuce and peppery radish; savory broccoli, cauliflower and greens; creamy root vegetables and fragrant herbs—all before Thanksgiving.

Some of us tend to view the coming months after August with foreboding, envisioning a season of darkness and decline—a chilly farewell to blooming flowers, a vegetative requiem, an ominous prelude to winter’s cold, blink-and-they’re-gone days and mausoleum-long nights. Not quite!

Fall is not an end but a beginning—a season of complex initiatives and burgeoning power, not of fading glory, incapacity and lassitude. COVID-19 shouldn’t deter but rather encourage outdoor family fun and tasty, nutritious harvests. Life-affirming gardens provide a plucky panacea to anxiety and gloom. Your mind is tricked by seeing fewer lusty blooms, and trees shedding their tear-like leaves. This is creation? Absolutely.

As fall nears, the plant kingdom becomes its most creative: rearranging, reallocating, restoring, and preparing energy and food reserves for the winter and spring. Autumn’s perceived decline is just the opposite. Behind poignant scenery, plants, bushes and trees are hard at work, switching from flowering and photosynthesis to reproduction, ripening, and the dispersion of thousands of seeds—and that’s from an average backyard. The seeds of fall ensure the future. The “amber waves of grain” are vast resurrection machines.

Nowadays we tend to gauge our progress in terms of technological advances. Yet seeds put our high-tech marvels to shame. No surprise there: they got a 350 million-year head start. Imagine a microchip—or a robot, if you like—which, equipped with needed nutrition and a protective shell for surviving, proceeds to produce millions of identical chips, each of which then becomes a new, slightly varied replica of its original self. Can your robot do that?

But we can’t survive on microchips alone. The difference is that seeds are alive, their reproduction is essential to both the endurance and continuity of the plant and its species. For humankind and nearly all life on Earth, seeds, and the myriad foods made from them, are the lifeblood and, perhaps, the genesis of our existence and survival. Respect.

These very same seeds can help focus the attention of restless students house-bound by the continuing COVID pandemic. The autumn garden is the ultimate 3-dimensional outdoor classroom, rewarding patience and care with tangible results: fresh, nutritious and tasty home-grown produce and the magic of ornamental plants. Here is an education that can last more than one school year—the pleasures of gardening are lifelong. We shall rightly perceive spring as a miracle after enduring the long nights of winter. Remember that “spring” was set, and first came to life, during the biologically active months in the autumn garden, to which you are warmly invited.

A version of this article appeared in The Fayetteville Observer and the Chicago Daily Herald.

The Green Light

Welcome to the first day of summer, the summer solstice, when the sun is at its highest, vegetation greenest, daylength longest, and night shortest. Call it, “summer cum laude”, since we’re so happy that our year’s longest day has come.

We edge downslope now to December’s winter solstice. From today onward, daylight will progressively shorten, and nights lengthen. Ripening plants need less sunlight; night temperatures come into greater play.  The plant’s growth is less urgent than its fruiting—tomorrow slowly begin the more temperate nights of harvest time. Watch for evening mists to rise from pastures, lawns and gardens.

Mid-March’s spring equinox coincided with the imposition of safety measures to guard against the COVID-19 virus. As a rule, we regard our residence as a refuge. Since the Great American Lockdown it has felt at times like house arrest. Yet spring gradually released its light on innumerable young leaves, shoots, buds, and sprouts. The sun has revealed everything living around us morning, noon, and evening. Green light seems to wash over everything and everyone.

Parents and their offspring have found inspiration and liberation in the backyard. They bask in warm weather, get their fill of chlorophyll, and care for new gardens. After all the TV binge-watching and telecommunication screen time, three dimensions seem strikingly innovative, and the colors so lifelike. We’ve rediscovered and, in some cases discovered, our yards, parks, and forests.

Though green is not a primary color like red, blue, or yellow, it is the primal color of our world—resonating with beauty, nourishment, and life, the one thing we can’t live without.

The vibrant tones of plants and trees comprise the green of greens, the wavelength of light to which our eyes are most responsive. Green excites our visual apparatus and stimulates our neurons like no other color.

Vegetation is the bridge between Earth’s terrestrial biosphere and its atmosphere—a massive relay station that captures sunlight and, through the marvel of photosynthesis, converts it into chemical energy that fuels plant growth and reproduction and, by extension, nearly 8 billion humans and all other life on the planet. No green, no oxygen, no life, no us.

Green rules the world. Research gleaned from satellites has established that plants are the predominant lifeform of our planet’s biosphere, representing 81% of Earth’s total biomass of 550 gigatons (550 billion tons) of carbon. The nearest contenders are bacteria (about 13 percent) and fungi (22 percent). Human biomass is .01 percent, cheek by jowl with termites and krill. Cheer up; as consumers of earthly life, humans are unsurpassed.

For aeons, plant life has been under siege from a ravenous horde of herbivorous predators, from beetles to elephants, that would consume every snackable bit of green foliage, and destroy all life on Earth.

For each species of green plant, there are five species of animals. Of the 6,836,330 animal species, 30% are straight-up herbivores, and 40% omnivores who dine on both vegetables and animals. Preventing a “plantaclysm” are carnivores (30%) that prey on herbivores and omnivores, reducing their numbers so plants and trees can thrive and survive. Carnivores keep the planet green.

The pandemic that shuttered us indoors has serendipitously opened our eyes to the green realm right outside our house, a new kind of living room, where, while we tend our plants, we are productive citizens of the all-encompassing empire of green.

A version of this article appeared in the Chicago Daily Herald, The Spokane Spokesman Review, The Allentown Morning Call and The Cedar Rapids Gazette.