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Library Matters

Library Matters is a podcast by Montgomery County Public Libraries exploring the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning.
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Library Matters is a podcast of Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) in Montgomery County, MD. Each episode we explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. Library Matters is hosted by Julie Dina, Outreach Associate, Lauren Martino, Children's Librarian at our Silver Spring branch, and David Payne, Branch Manager of our Davis branch and Acting Branch Manager of our Potomac branch.  

Apr 25, 2018

Listen to the audio

David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters with your host David Payne.

Julie Dina: And I'm Julie Dina.

David Payne: And today we’re going to take you outside in a matter of speaking to the garden. I think it's safe to say that spring is finally here. I hope it is and in spring it's always a time when many of us start thinking about our gardens. So what better than to invite one of our green thumb librarians, Beth Chandler, avid gardener to join us today and talk about her garden and her passion for gardening. So Beth, welcome.

Beth Chandler: Thank you, David. I’m glad to be here. And I've already gotten started on my garden with some cool season items such as spinach.

David Payne: Very good, very good I'm actually glad to see you back. Listeners may remember Beth from her previous appearance talking about sci-fi and I know you enjoyed it so much you’ve come back.

Beth Chandler: I have many interests and as one of the selectors I buy our garden books for the library and landscaping books.

David Payne: All right, that sounds like fun.

Beth Chandler: It is. I enjoy that.

Julie Dina: So Beth, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and actually what got you interested in gardening?

Beth Chandler: Well, I grew up on the outskirts of a small town and my dad had grown up on a farm so we had gardens growing up. I like to play in the dirt, including practical things like digging up the dirt and planting cucumber seeds, which were one of my favorites. And my grandmother had a truck farm so I got to see something more extensive operation when I visited her. And that's what got me interested and then as an adult I started getting interested in eating organic foods and I missed the fresh foods that I could get growing up.

David Payne: So Beth you obviously have a very great passion for gardening. What do you particularly enjoy about it?

Beth Chandler: There are many things. I find it – it makes me feel very serene. I love working in the Earth and with the Earth making things grow as satisfying. It's something that I can enjoy and that I and also my husband and anyone else I might share things with gets the bounty of everything from strawberries to lettuces and baby carrots. Also I like it because it gets me out of the house in relaxing and it more or less coincides with Formula One season which my husband will be watching on TV so he doesn't feel like a gardening widower and I don't feel like a Formula One widow.

David Payne: So you leave him in the house and you go out and do.

Beth Chandler: Yes, I do.

David Payne: Sounds like a good comprise.

Beth Chandler: Then I come in and say look fresh baby carrots for dinner.

David Payne: So Beth there are many different kinds of gardening activities we can do with flowers, with vegetables, with herbs, what do you most enjoy do you do a bit of everything or do you prefer specializing in one or the other?

Beth Chandler: I prefer everything. I grow fruit for flowers, vegetables, herbs we also had some wonderful plantings already in our yard when we moved into our home. So I do some pruning too.

David Payne: And are there any particular kind of herbs that you particularly enjoy?

Beth Chandler: I like some of the easier to grow herbs such as parsley and oregano. So my absolute favorite is lilacs and year after we moved in I was determined I was going to buy and plant a lilac tree and I did. Seem to have a bit of a problem with powdery mildew last year but I'm hopeful for this year and every year I get more of those wonderful fragrant blossoms.

David Payne: You almost smell the fragrance.

Beth Chandler: Oh, yes.

Julie Dina: Smelling it now.

Beth Chandler: Yes, they’re in leaf.

Julie Dina: One thing for sure is for the plants and the herbs for them to grow they need water. Thus, the popular phrase April showers brings May flowers. So can you share with us tips on how to get the best garden in the block.

Beth Chandler: Well, water as you said is very important and watering when we have dry seasons which we often do in the summer here in Maryland. Having good soil is important. You can buy pretty cheap pH test to see what the acid or base level of your garden soil is. If you have really bad soil which I did you might prefer to do container pots and fill them with materials you buy from a garden store, at least at the beginning. I've also done some composting and put compost in. You can also amend the soil which is another word for putting in fertilizer or digging in mulch or manure whatever your particular plant needs. But pay attention to what it says your plant needs on the little piece that’s stuck into the pot or if you buy seeds on the back of the seed packet it’s really helpful.

Julie Dina: I never knew that that’s the first thing I tossed out.

David Payne: Not anymore.

Julie Dina: No wonder they don’t live.

Beth Chandler: You need to be careful is it full sun, part sun, part shade or full shade.

Julie Dina: And you hear that folks.

David Payne: So do you have any particularly favorite flowers or plants?

Beth Chandler: Well I mentioned the lilacs.

David Payne: Yeah.

Beth Chandler: And I was also happy when we moved in to find out that we had beautiful pink climbing roses which are scented. They only bloom for a few weeks but I think they're worth it. And then of course I plant other things around them such as morning glories, which bloom later in the year. So that part of the garden is colorful for a good portion of the growing season.

David Payne: Let me just ask a follow-up to that. Do you obviously some people for perennial, some people for annuals, their advantages, disadvantages to both how do you feel about the perennial, annual question?

Beth Chandler: I love to have both. And since I grow vegetables and herbs many of them are annuals. Although there are some perennials, I'm convinced you just can't kill chives. And oregano is just as sturdy so I like to have some perennials but then I also can't resist annuals. I recently bought a geranium which I'm coddling indoors until it’s warm enough to put it out. And I love pansies here in Maryland we can keep them growing at least till November and if you're lucky they’ll come back in the spring.

Julie Dina: Now if you could grow anything in your garden that doesn't already grow on a plant such as money, candy what exactly would you pick to plant?

Beth Chandler: Well, money is always good because you can buy just about anything with which. But you know, already fully formed chocolates since I can’t really grow my own the cacao trees around here would be good. And of course there is books.

Julie Dina: Have you ever thought about doing any of those?

Beth Chandler: It is tempting. I just found a wonderful I love for Pinterest for Garden Ideas and I just found one which showed a little bookcase with books in it and I thought maybe my favorite garden needs some books in it.

Julie Dina: That will make it unique.

David Payne: So almost the business question since you’re a selector in our collection management department, what's new in gardening books that you’re really excited about?

Beth Chandler: Well, there has been contain in gardening things for a while and I've noticed recently there is real surge in the last couple of years in butterfly and be friendly plants to help keep our pollinators fed and healthy. Also I recently bought a new book on permaculture it just came into the branches, The Minimalist Gardener which is from England, but still has a lot of ideas that are relevant to our Mid-Atlantic climate here in Maryland.

Julie Dina: David, you should know about that particular book since you’re from England.

David Payne: I have to check it out, yeah.

Beth Chandler: And I should explain permaculture is something that will go on long-term. Usually it's also a very diverse sort of garden and the minimalist ideas that you plant things that are either native to the area or that can do with very little assistance in which since so many of us are very busy and stressed these days it is nice to plant a garden that you only have to do a little bit of work and doesn't require hours every weekend.

David Payne: Well, keeping with the books theme, are there any particular books that you have read that have really helped you or formed you as a gardener?

Beth Chandler: I've read more all across from things on the internet, you can't trust everything on the internet but you really can just about trust just about anything you get from a cooperative extension website, Maryland Cooperative Extension has some good things and does Maryland Master Gardeners. And also there is a book I referred to regularly it's called What's Wrong with My Plant by Deardorff and Wadsworth.

We do have several copies in the library. It's wonderful because it shows pictures of the various kinds of spots in the way bits and other things you might find on your plant leaves or stems or in the fruit. So it's very helpful for finding out what you need to do and it leans towards organic resources and it tells you that the safest and then going to conventional things when you need to kill off a really nasty pest.

David Payne: Sounds very useful.

Beth Chandler: Yeah.

Julie Dina: So Beth we do know there are lots of books that are actually in our library system for adults who enjoy gardening. Would you say we have plenty of books for children who are actually interested in gardening and would like to check any of these books out?

Beth Chandler: We do have a new series for children. The titles are Super Simple Butterfly Gardens and then other thing Super Simple I think there is Indoor Gardens and so on. So if you just type in super simple you should come up with a list and see what kind of a garden you and your child or children want to grow.

Julie Dina: And so what you're saying these books are really simple.

Beth Chandler: They're really easy, yes. And so they also might be good for adults who want to start from the very beginning or who decide it might be better if they have a child help them. Yeah, they can really help with the digging I'm sure a lot of children.

Julie Dina: That's the one I'll be checking out. Now to be successful in gardening do you really need the gift of the green thumb?

Beth Chandler: Not really. My mother, for example, has a rather black thumb. And she would be the first to admit herself and if you get plants that are fairly unkillable and just manage to water them and if you’re fortunate enough to either have good soil or to be able to buy some you can do fine. There are some very easy to grow plants marigolds are pretty easy and you can buy them just about anywhere, including off in the grocery store and just pop them in your yard. Cucumbers actually grow in really bad soil so they're pretty easy. And the aforementioned pansies are easy. It's just about impossible as I said to kill parsley or oregano or chives. So those are some I’d recommend for people who really feel they have a black thumb. And as long as you water them when it gets a bit dry outside you should do okay.

Julie Dina: I’m going to go out and purchase those.

David Payne: There you go. We’ll check back and see how you’re doing.

Julie Dina: Yeah, a successful gardener.

David Payne: So having said that what recommendations do you have for anybody who is just starting out in gardening and may be a bit overwhelmed or find it intimidating or has no experience. How would you get them started? What advice would you give or any particular books you might suggest for them?

Beth Chandler: I would say start with some of the herbs I mentioned that are easy to grow or maybe marigolds, pansies, zinnias are fairly easy to grow also. Our flower, state flower, the Blackeyed Susan is also very easy to grow and does well in our hot dry summers. One of the recent books we got would be pretty good. It's called The New Small Garden and since we do live in an area on the very edge of a major city a lot of people don't have much room. So that one again caught The New Small Garden would be helpful to most people. We also have a wonderful book Mid-Atlantic Getting Started Garden Guide. It's a few years old but it's specifically targeted at our area. So if you're doubtful about your ability to pick plants or to do the things that fit this climate that's where to go.

Julie Dina: And now a brief message about MCPL services and resources.

Lisa Navidi: Love to garden but have a brown thumb or a problem with a specific plant or a flower MCPL can help. Our dedicated Master Gardeners visit several Montgomery County branches from April through September and are there to answer your questions and calm your fears. You can find more information about our Master Gardener Program and are many other gardening resources in this episode show notes.

Julie Dina: Now back to our program. What would be your recommendation for those who say you know, I don't really have much time, I'm busy but I'll like to plant my own herbs or my own plants?

Beth Chandler: I would say you start with a window garden or just a couple of pots on your front or back porch. And herbs the seeds or seedlings are pretty cheap and you can get a lot of return for your money and you won’t have to run out to buy parsley if you want some for the dinner that you have planned.

Julie Dina: Any other ones?

Beth Chandler: We have all kinds of books. If you want to just try a little terrarium and you can build them so they are mostly self-sustaining and will go on with maybe a drop of water. There is also growing perfect vegetables, which I don't know how perfect one can actually get them but does give a lot of assistance. And there is one or two books on particularly growing things in the shade such as Glorious Shade.

So if you have a little shady backyard that might be a good book to pick up to find out what will grow well. And I can tell you again one of my favorites parsley does grow well in the shade, and so do salad greens if you want to stop buying those packaged salad greens all the time and spending all that money for the cost of one you could get maybe two packets of mixed greens to plant in your yard.

Julie Dina: And where will I get the seeds for those because I'm always buying packets of salads that would be me.

Beth Chandler: Home & Garden shop, some larger grocery stores, health food stores, garden and nursery shops, lot of different places.

David Payne: Now talking about vegetables I mean, I've always found it fairly easy to grow tomatoes well varying success. But amongst the different kinds of tomato are there ones that you suggest the easier perhaps to grow, perhaps with the new gardener you might just want to plunk them in there and keep watering or they both all about the same as far as the work involved in the maintenance.

Beth Chandler: Oh, I have a confession. I have no luck in growing tomatoes on my own. I don't know why. I would say that for cucumbers, which as I mentioned are easy and grow in soil that’s not very high quality. Straight Eight's brand comes up pretty well. They don't have those scary curves that make them hard to peel. And Spacemaster which is probably a brand name but any bush type cucumbers you could even grow in a large-size planter pot if you just have an apartment and no access to an actual plot of land.

Julie Dina: You've given us a lot of recommendations and I know there are people who would say you know I don't really have enough space. I only have a balcony or a windowsill that I will like to maximize its use. Do you have any recommendations for such people?

Beth Chandler: Again, definitely a little windowsill garden with herbs and it doesn't have to be windowsill, your sill might not be large enough. If you have a table reasonably near the sun you can put a few small pots or maybe even one or two. I have a friend who does that she always keeps catnip for her cats in one of the windowsill gardens.

Julie Dina: Any particular ones that grow easily?

Beth Chandler: The catnip and most mints aren't too bad and it’s the usual for. Also if you remember the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Thyme can be a little tricky, but the other three aren’t too bad.

Julie Dina: Okay, I'll give it some thyme.

Beth Chandler: Actually excuse me it’s rosemary that's a bit tricky.

Julie Dina: And rosemary too.

David Payne: I was waiting for a follow-up with that.

Julie Dina: Well, you got it.

Beth Chandler: But the parts parsley, the sage if anyone needs oregano you can come to my place. I always have more than I need that's how well it grows. I attempted to use it as a groundcover.

David Payne: Well, MCPL has a lot of resources for the gardener. Any particular resources that you can particularly recommend such as the Master Gardening Program?

Beth Chandler: Well, I notice that currently the Master Gardeners in the Davis area are holding plant workshops. You can bring your plant and find out how to take care of it or perhaps cure it. There are Master Gardeners all over and I fondly remember the ones at Aspen Hill who kept up the beautiful flowers at the entryway to Aspen Hill and actually identified one of the flowers that was doing particularly well in the middle of a hot summer so I’ll pass that on. Coreopsis is a perennial, you can buy it plant it once. And as long as you don't let it get totally waterless when we have a drought, it will pretty much keep on blooming for a couple of months at least.

But definitely the Master Gardeners since they pop up various places and the Master Gardeners, there is as I had mentioned there is a Maryland organization and they’re smaller chapters. There is usually at least one in every town, sometimes multiple ones. And if you go on your local email discussion list or patch and then of course for your library website you can get help from the Master Gardeners who are people who know a lot about plants and gardening and get together and learn even more about it.

Julie Dina: So since we’re still talking about the Master Gardeners I remember when I worked at the Wheaton branch we had a lot of customers who would come in Saturday morning because the Master Gardeners would have workshops at the Wheaton Library. Now do they offer these workshops at all of our branches or only specific ones?

Beth Chandler: Specific ones at different times. You can check our events section to find out who is offering it. Just put in the word gardening and you will find what they're doing.

Julie Dina: And does it cost anything?

Beth Chandler: No programs at the library are free so that would not cost anything. So if you want to learn to become a Master Gardener you don't need to already be good. You can just find out when they’re meeting and go to a meeting and often they use library meeting rooms.

Julie Dina: Do you know how often they offer that?

Beth Chandler: I think meetings are usually monthly but it depends on the group.

David Payne: Now being an expert with a green thumb do you plan on attending the Montgomery County GreenFest on May 5?

Beth Chandler: Well, I have to take a look because I think that might be the same weekend as something related to another one of my hobbies the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival since I’m a crocheter. So I could have a conflict of hobbies. [Multiple Speakers]

Julie Dina: Watch out the next episode.

David Payne: So Beth now that you’ve made gardeners out of all of us as you know from your previous appearance we usually end our podcast by asking you what you’re reading now. So anything that you have read recently or reading now that you care to tell us about.

Beth Chandler: As I mentioned before, I just started The Minimalist Gardener to find out how I can have a wonderful garden for less and hopefully take up more of the backyard, which means less mowing the lawn. And in other areas speaking of my crocheting and that I have other hobbies I am reading Crafting for Cat Ladies.

Julie Dina: Sounds good.

Beth Chandler: Yes.

Julie Dina: I guess you’re a cat lady then.

Beth Chandler: Oh, I’m a totally crazy cat lady. I have one cat and that's all it took. So I might even be making something in his colors, silver gray and jade green.

Julie Dina: Well, that's been very enlightening. Thank you so much Beth for joining us today. Let's keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the new Apple podcast app, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on Apple podcast. We’ll love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.

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