Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Water Garden is Wolfgang Oehme's Legacy

The photo above is of the St.Joseph Hospital fish pond garden designed by Wolfgang Oehme in 1974.

While taking a walk with my family today I suddenly realized that water, or more specifically, fish ponds in gardens, played an important role in my dad’s life. I remarked that fish pond gardens were Wolfgang Oehme's legacy that is now the Oehme family's legacy.

You see, my dad grew up observing, playing with, and maintaining a fish pond where he lived in Germany. As a young adult he worked in gardens that had fish ponds in Germany and elsewhere. I know he worked in the large park in Hamburg called Planten en Blomen that has extensive water gardens. After he moved to the US and he was designing gardens, he always designed fish ponds if the client was open to the idea. An example is the Japanese style garden he designed in the early 1970’s for St. Joseph Hospital which had a fish pond and waterfall. I played there as a young child. I think there is still a plaque there about his role. And, the water garden became the hallmark of the many Oehme, van Sweden designs. Finally, in his own gardens he always designed and built a fish pond.

I experienced the joy of observing and playing with the water and animals in our fish pond as I grew up. And, I helped my dad maintain our fish pond. An interesting story is when I was maybe eight or nine years, I caught crayfish in the stream near our home and released some in our fish pond. Well they loved it there so much that they were multiplying greatly. Strangely our fish were decreasing in numbers. And, then I realized that the crayfish were eating our fish. So, the crayfish had to go since we wanted to see beautiful fish, not creepy crayfish, which you don’t really see anyways since they hide most of the time. I remember after we drained the pond for a cleaning, I was catching all of the crayfish and I found a pregnant female with a mass of eggs under her tail. I caught her just in time. After that, we had no more crayfish and our fish came back. Such fond memories last a lifetime.

And, that interest and caring for nature is the legacy my dad taught me, and is what I am teaching my son. I wish all children had the opportunity to grow up with an appreciation for the natural world. If this were so, then there would be no environmental destruction since when the children grow up and become adults, they would always remember there connection to nature and would never destroy it. That is why I think there should be a national program to create schoolyard flower and vegetable gardens where children learn about plants and animals of the natural world, and learn how to be farmers by growing their own food. Gardens can easily be used in the teaching curriculum and such lessons would create better educated, more emotionally aware, and more intelligent adults.

For me, I would never consider harming the environment; I only think of how I can help foster the natural world and help wildlife. And I realize that my father’s love of nature runs through me and has created a foundation in my life that guides and inspires me every day. Someday I will create a water garden for my family.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Is the Horticultural Profession Ignorant of the World’s Problems?

Today I attended the PPA (Perennial Plant Association) MidAtlantic Regional Symposium in Baltimore, Maryland. This was a fine conference with interesting lectures given by everyone who presented. However, the takeaway for me was a sense that the discipline of horticulture is stuck in a ignorant vacuum of its glorious past and has not completely committed itself to the global issues of today, such as global warming, environmental destruction, endangered plant and animal species, habitat loss, invasive plant species, human overpopulation, and so on. Some might say, “What are you talking about? Horticulture does not have to be concerned about these global issues.”, and, “Horticulture has nothing to do with global warming and other big issues. That is for the government or nonprofits to solve.” Well folks, I am here to tell you that EVERY profession MUST be concerned with global issues, because each one of us must play a part in solving these issues or they will never be solved. That is right. We cannot continue to follow the normal course or the whole ship will lose its way. 

Horticulture is modeled today as it was 100, even 200 years ago, in that the plant industry finds or breeds new plants and nurseries market these new plants to the public for consumption. As I heard in the talks today, horticulture still seems too preoccupied with fulfilling the fantasies of the wealthy few of our society. As one of the speakers said in his talk, “The US has the lowest consumption of plants of the worlds’ western countries.” Horticulture is too far removed from most of the concerns of most people of the US. I think this is largely due to horticulture’s primary focus on this old business model and its inability to deal with the world’s more important issues that affect each of us every day. Do you really think most people care how beautiful a flower is when they have many life issues to deal with on a daily basis? Many would argue that horticulture and gardening is a welcome distraction from life’s worries. That may be true, but I think horticulture and gardening can play a large and significant role in some of the issues I outlined at the beginning of this article.

For instance, horticulture can play an important role in solving global warming. First, all of the industry players can do a full audit of their emissions and then strive to reduce these emissions. Second, nurseries need to be certified as USDA Organic. Right now, most plant nurseries are conventional, meaning they spray many chemicals on plants during production. It’s the industry’s dirty little secret. Most of those chemicals are derived from petroleum and many of them release chemicals into the air, water, and soil, most certainly increasing emissions. Third, nurseries make many deliveries with diesel trucks and ship their plants all over the US and the world. Here, biodiesel options, increased shipping efficiencies, and carbon offsetting need to be the norm.

There are other serious issues, such as environmental destruction, endangered plant and animal species, habitat loss, invasive plant species, human overpopulation, and so on. And here the profession of horticulture can play key roles too. The horticultural industry and professionals can align and work with environmental and social change groups to find solutions to many of these issues. (1)

Regarding environmental destruction and habitat loss; is it okay for nurseries, garden centers, and contractors to simply sell and install plants, and landscape designers to design gardens for new homeowners of houses that were built where a forest or other natural habitat used to be, knowing that they will usually just plant a few token plants as foundation plantings around their house and their properties will consist mostly of ecologically dead lawns? No, we can do better to educate and inform the public and take a leadership role in ensuring that natural habitats are protected, restored, and never destroyed.

Human overpopulation is an important topic for all of us to discuss openly in order to learn about it and eventually to take action in some way. If we don’t talk about it, society’s problems will get worse and our resources will become more finite. Do we want to leave that kind of a deprived world for our grandchildren? Certainly this issue affects everyone and therefore everyone, especially professionals, need to be talking about it. 

I feel invasive species in this country are often a direct result of the horticultural industry’s ignorance or greed. Many of the plants currently considered invasive pests were brought to this country by horticulturists or plant breeders purely for aesthetic enjoyment without much or any prior testing to determine what the level of invasiveness would be. This practice continues today with new plants being brought into the US without any testing or requirements for likelihood to invade. And, incredibly many plants defined as invasive pests by the federal government are still being sold by nurseries and garden centers and are commonly placed in planting designs by designers and installed by landscape contractors. From what I have seen, hardly any one of these professionals are giving a second thought about invasive plants. This needs to change if we want to leave the world better for our children. In many wild landscapes around our country you will find invasive plants to a massive degree, choking out our native plants which have largely disappeared.  And, credit must go to our forebears who cut down most of our forests and tilled most of the meadows, decimating many native plants. Today, when I hike in my local park, I don’t see many herbaceous plants in the forests. I mostly see invasives on the ground floor like Japanese honeysuckle, English ivy, barberry, garlic mustard, porcelainberry, Oriental bittersweet, burning bush, privet, and multiflora rose to name just a few. (2) The forest feels dead to me; there is virtually no life, no flowers, no sound, and no animals. I sense its sense of loss and sorrow.

Let’s hope a fresh new breath of consciousness will awaken and enlighten the horticultural industry to deal with society’s large issues. Simply talking about the merits of plants based on flower color or the attractiveness of variegated leaves, akin to the ostrich sticking his head in the ground, will not make our problems go away. I dream of the day that I attend a horticultural conference and the speakers are passionately talking about how they can help solve the big issues like global warming, environmental destruction, endangered plant and animal species, habitat loss, invasive plant species, human overpopulation, and so on. After all, we all have a stake in our planet’s health and only by working together can we thrive.

Article Sources:
Non-governmental organization types (1):

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ending Fossil Fuels Is Not Enough to Save the Planet!


I really liked the article in the Baltimore Sun Feb 6 titled, "Forecast calls for pain", by Mike Tidwell. I truly believe in phasing out the carbon fuels and relying more on renewable energy. Putting a price on carbon is a great way to force out fossil fuels; an idea I had heard about first from as a Green Economy or Green Tax idea. A Green Economy is based upon taxing the "sin" companies and giving benefits to the green companies.

Having lived and traveled extensively in Germany I know that the US is way behind in truly living green and sustainably. In Germany renewable energy is booming, many people commute via mass transit, trains are a viable option to go anywhere in Europe, bicycling is very popular, organic stores are everywhere, extensive pedestrian walking zones in their cities, public parks make cities beautiful, recycling everything is very common, and people don't consume as much. Us Americans drive our cars way too much, we consume way too much, we waste way too much, we eat too much fast food, we don't exercise enough, all leading to an unhealthy population and a failing planet. However, as a whole, western societies are way too consuming and wasteful.

However, I think while most people in the US believe that humans are causing global warming, and that our abundant consumption of fossil fuels is largely to blame for this, most people don't know how to change and may be afraid of change, especially if it means a lower standard of living. Perhaps, environmentalists need to talk more about what life will really be like living without fossil fuels, since I think few people can imagine what this really means.

Also, I believe I had read an article Mike Tidwell had written a few years ago, extolling the virtues of becoming vegetarian or vegan, since these diets lower a person's carbon footprint tremendously. There was no mention of this idea in this recent article.

And, what about the massive consumerist lifestyle that many people live here in the US, whose psychology of all consuming without thinking about the repercussions is also a major contributor to the planet's demise?

It would be great if environmental thinkers would write more about the other issues affecting the health of our world than just the evils of fossil fuels.

I really appreciate Mike Tidwell's and his group's, the Chespeake Climate Action Network, efforts to make positive changes for our planet. Keep up the great work!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Create a National Bicycling Trail Over Pipelines

I have an idea of creating bicycling and walking trails mostly located within the right of ways of pipelines that travel throughout the US. Utility companies have installed many pipelines across the US that are maintained as tree free right of ways of various widths. Some are gas pipelines, some are for telecommunications, or a combination of various uses. 

These treeless landscapes are ideal for using as transport venues. All it takes is just adding an asphalt or gravel pathway and that is it. 

Of course, there are issues to deal with. Deals would have to be made with all of the utility companies. It would have to be determined if each right of way is safe to have pedestrians. The pipelines do cross highways and roads, so ways around these obstructions will have to be found. And, these projects would need to be funded and maintained by someone. Otherwise utility pipelines are a great resource that could be used for creating a national trail system.

If this idea is put into practice somewhere, please feel free to give me credit for the idea. Thank you!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sustainable Gardens Take Root in Japan

Community vegetable gardens in Saitama (northern Tokyo), Japan.

Farmers' photos and info who grow the produce sold at Bio Marche organic food stores in Japan.

JAS is the symbol for organic in Japan.

By Roland Oehme
May 18, 2012
TOKYO — Tokyo may seem like a technology-obsessed city running as efficiently as a clock with its gleaming skyscrapers, punctual subway system, and well-dressed people who are constantly in a hurry. Go just outside the city however, and you will see a more agrarian picture. There are many lovingly-tended community vegetable gardens and allotment gardens in the Tokyo suburbs. While on a recent visit to Saitama, a city about one hour north of Tokyo, I saw these community gardens up close.

Gardens are scattered all over Saitama, usually within walking or biking distance of their caretakers. I did not see any parking lots near the gardens. There were also larger vegetable gardens located along the river park that people walked, biked, or drove to. Here they grew rice in addition to veggies. Even in mid-March, there were many vegetable crops sprouting including winter-hardy plants like onions, peas, and mustard, as well as plants from the cabbage family like brocolli, kale, and collard.

Since the tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima last year, many people in Japan are concerned about eating radiation-free produce. Many grocery stores in Japan will state where their produce is grown. Organic food stores will even have photos and descriptions of the farmers who grew the produce. Japanese people prefer to buy produce grown in the western part of Japan, and shun produce from the disaster area. Strangely enough, radiation awareness has not fully translated into widespread demand for chemical-free, organic produce, although interest in sustainable agriculture is growing.

There are also German-style “kleingaerten,” or allotment gardens, in Japan. ...

To read the entire article on SCGH's website, click here:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Environmentally Friendly Tokyo Vacation

Wintersweet in flower.

April 24, 2012 

TOKYO — Tokyo may be known as a worldwide culture and technology capital, but it has also been quietly making strides to embrace green and sustainable living. If you are visiting Tokyo, Sierra Club Green Home has some suggestions for how to have a green vacation in this fast-paced megalopolis of 35 million.

Let’s say you have just arrived at Narita Airport, and want to be whisked away to a beautiful green hotel. One of the greenest hotels is Hotel Grand Fresa Akasaka. This three-star hotel holds a Green Globe Certification, and offers modern amenities, a restaurant, and a full service spa. It is centrally located in the Akasaka neighborhood near Tokyo Tower, within walking distance of many sites. The hotel even rents out bicycles to guests.

For other green hotels in Tokyo, try a Web site like Travelocity, and select the “Green/EcoFriendly” option under “Accommodation Type.” The first hotel on the list, Hotel New Otani Tokyo, underwent a major renovation in 2004 to bring up its modern safety and comfort standards. The owners also added many green features like a roof garden, a water recycling plant, a composting plant, and local organic produce.

For the nature enthusiast, take a trip far away from the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo and stay instead at the Farm City Hotel. This green spa hotel is located on a hilltop overlooking Chichibu, a small city about a two hour train ride northwest of Tokyo. This hotel serves its own organic produce grown on its nearby farm, while the hotel’s restaurants also serve locally-grown produce. The main dining room serves a tantalizing blend of Japanese and Western cuisines buffet-style. Leftover produce is composted. The highlight of this hotel is its natural hot springs spa, or Onsen, where you can go to relax in the warm waters. Traditional Japanese style rooms with tatami (rice fiber) mats and Western-style rooms are available. There are many nature-oriented activities in the area, including visiting massive flower gardens in bloom, picking your own strawberries or peaches, or hiking in the hills. You can also take the train to Nagatoro, where you can take a cable car up the mountain to visit the Wintersweet and Ume Plum Trees and hike down to the village, or rent a bike, or go white water rafting.

Back in central Tokyo, there are plenty of places to do some green shopping. The interest in organic products has skyrocketed since the nuclear accident a year ago that spurred the Japanese public’s awareness about the toxins in what they consume. This means that organic options, especially baby products, clothing, and foods, are growing quickly in Japan, making it easy to be an environmentally friendly traveler.

First up is the Yoyogi Village, a new environmentally-focused shopping mall with restaurants, shops, clubs, and more, all located around a central garden courtyard. There is a clothing shop, One Mile Wear, which sells organic cotton from India. Also, there is the affordable Code Kurkku, an organic Italian restaurant.

People Tree manufactures fair trade, organic clothing in Bangladesh and organic chocolate which is available in various stores in Tokyo, such as the Mosaic Ginza Hankyu Department Store located in the central Ginza area.

There are three Bio Marche stores in the greater Tokyo area: two in the Tokyo suburbs of Saitama and Omiya, and one in Chiba, east of Tokyo. They sell primarily organic foods, but also some organic clothing, cosmetics, toiletries, and baby supplies.

By now you must have worked up an appetite. Luckily, there are many choices for healthy dining in Tokyo. One of my favorite cafes is the Brown Rice Café, a well-designed, serene, Zen-like restaurant with delicious organic, vegan, and macrobiotic Japanese foods. Located near the Harajuku train station, this café is hidden in a sunken level with indoor and outdoor seating and also sells organic groceries. ...

To read the entire article on SCGH's website, click here: 

Bike Maryland's Director on the Future of Bicycling

Last month, Bike Maryland hosted its 15th Annual Maryland State Bicycle Symposium. The symposium gathered bike enthusiasts, public policy makers, and various organizations together to evaluate the state’s “bikeability,” and where better bicycle policies are needed.

Here Carol Silldorff, executive director of Bike Maryland, answers some questions about the future of bicycling in Maryland and the United States.

1) Explain the Maryland State Bicycle Symposium and its purpose. Has the symposium met its goals?

The state symposium is an opportunity to bring together decision makers, business leaders, legislators, off-road, and on-road bicyclists to learn more about bicycle initiatives and opportunities in Maryland.

It’s been hugely successful! This year about 150 people attended. It’s an educational opportunity for all of them. And the more people know about the environment or green homes or alternative transportation or bicycling, the more opportunities will exist for those things to be enhanced.

2) Tell me about your organization, Bike Maryland.

Bike Maryland is a nonprofit organization and our goal is to increase the number of cyclists, to enhance infrastructure, to support a pro bike agenda on the state and county level (meaning advocating for pro-bike legislation), and to be a voice for all bicyclists in Maryland.

We have a number of different programs. One is our Bike Friendly Maryland program. The other one is our Bike Minded program where we host free youth workshops and adult commuter classes to make sure that those who are on the road are cycling safely. And, we have lots of initiatives throughout a variety of counties to promote and advocate for bikeability.

Our annual fundraiser is Baltimore’s premier bike event and it is called Tour du Port. And, that is going to be held on September 30. 2,000 cyclists get the opportunity to tour the waterfront areas, historic neighborhoods, and parks.

3) How would you compare bicycling conditions between Washington, DC, Baltimore, and New York City?

New York has taken off substantially in its bikeability and bike friendliness, and DC is moving ahead quickly. They have Capital Bikeshare, the largest bike share program in the country. So, tourists can rent bikes to get around town for hardly anything.

Baltimore is moving up the ladder. I think Baltimore might have been rated 11th in the country, and Maryland was rated 10th in the country out of all of the states.

When you talk about green homes, just having an environment that is bikeable is important. The best places to bike are the best places to live, meaning the best places to live are the best places to bike. It just enhances the quality of life.

4) What are the major challenges facing bicycling in Maryland and nationally?

There needs to be more awareness campaigns, both for the cyclist and the motorist. There is not as much as you would like to see taking place by the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Maryland Department of Transportation, and some of these other groups that really regulate drivers.

We would like there to be more education, more signage, more of an awareness campaign. While I think we are doing great legislatively, we just don’t have enough enforcement or education programs that are really taking place in Maryland. So, there are a lot of pluses, but there are definitely areas where improvements can be made.

5) What progress has been made in Maryland and nationally?

There has been a tremendous amount of progress in just the last 3 years or so. There have been six bills that have passed on the state level to really enhance bikeability. There have also been a lot of things happening throughout the state on the county level.

Baltimore City has fines now, so if a car is blocking the bike lane, there is a $75 fine. We are seeing these things pop up in other areas of the state, too. Baltimore City now has bike racks on all of its buses. Bike Maryland was the organization that made that happen, and now other cities are following suit with that.

Universities and businesses want to learn how to be more bike-friendly, and now there is a program through Bike Maryland where we can teach them to do that.

There are more bike lanes, a lot more bike facilities, more pro-bike laws, and more educational campaigns for the bicyclists.

6) What do you want to see happen in the future with bicycling?

Well, I would like to see organizations like Bike Maryland really get a lot of support and increased membership. ...

To read the entire article on SCGH's website, click here: