By Andrea Alban-Davies, Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee

I love the Winter Olympics, especially the enchanting snowscapes that fill the screen during televised outdoor events. It’s hard, though, as an enthusiastic follower of the events – and a weekend skier myself – to wholeheartedly revel in the athleticism and beauty and happiness. Because, for me, there’s a tinge of sadness to each of the events, just as there is to each ski day. There’s the undeniable question hanging over our snow-induced joy: How much longer can this last?

Skiers, boarders, and jumpers have watched the weather closely since the dawn of winter sports, but it’s no possible for them to ignore the elephant in the room. Every rainy February day in the Rockies demands the question: How widespread can most of these sports remain with our planet warming up at an unprecedented clip? As average global temperatures rise, not only do we have to wonder how many possible host locations will exist (many prior Winter Olympic cities will soon be too warm to host the event again), but we also have to wonder where the future athletes will come from. According to one reputable publication, some ski locations in the U.S. are forecast to see seasons 50% shorter by 2050 and 80% shorter by 2090.

At a recent Garden Club meeting, the principal founder of C-Change Conversations walked us through the plain, scientific, (and deeply terrifying) facts about how the deluge of greenhouse gases mankind has released into the atmosphere has already affected us, and some of the future scenarios that exist for us even if we cut emissions to zero tomorrow.

Climate change and global warming have always been part of the planet’s geological history, but never as fast as this man-made version that we’ve created; never so fast that we can see the change from generation to generation. Needless to say, rapid, man-made climate change has far greater humanitarian and economic implications than the loss of winter sports, but it’s a loss nonetheless. And it’s one that’s easy for every friend of winter to connect to, and be motivated by. Potential catastrophic refugee crises seem very remote and difficult to imagine. A 65-degree January afternoon in the Catskills? *Not so much. Can we live without snow? Of course we can, but wouldn’t we prefer to live with it?

The cold, hard facts – just like the prospect of snowless winters – can lead us to two very different conclusions. The first, and easiest, is that nothing we do matters. That what we face is an impossible task; with so much damage already done, so many unwilling to make tough personal choices, and so few national politicians with the will to mitigate future damage. But I prefer the other possible conclusion: that everything we do matters, that as we stand peering over a precipice, every single act taken or foregone matters.

*With climate data, it’s important to focus on the averages rather than short-lived cold snaps or heat waves; and the averages say it all: steadily rising temperatures over the past few decades, and the last three years as the warmest on NOAA record.

While this summer was kind to gardeners in our area — with sufficient rain and cooler average temperatures — I was surprisingly unproductive in my own green space. One of the casualties was my vegetable garden.  For the first time in many summers, I didn’t plant a single vegetable. Now that the warm weather is coming to an end, I am, of course, filled with gardener’s remorse. While friends are harvesting many of their best vegetables, my kids and I are busy weeding our <empty> vegetable beds. And watching squirrels eat clean a single self-sown tomato plant that sprung up in one of our flower borders; a remnant from my homemade compost, I think.   

So, we decided to learn — and hopefully get excited about — planting some fall crops. Pumpkins were the first vegetables that came to mind when I thought of harvesting in the fall. But it turns out that you actually have to plant those seeds in late spring/early summer. It was kind of a relief to me. Not that I have anything against pumpkins, but we wanted to grow something that we would actually eat, and how many pumpkin pies can one family take down? However, a quick Internet search revealed that there is an abundance of leafy, green vegetables that are actually supposed to be planted at the end of the summer. Enter the brassica.

The genus Brassica is large and diverse. Some of its widely distributed species, which include <Brassica oleracea> and <Brassic rapa>, were cultivated over generations to give us some of our most celebrated greens today: bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, turnips, Napa cabbage... and, yes, kale. We love kale! Who doesn’t love kale, now that we know it can cure everything from the common cold to cancer? Okay, not really. And we love it not only because it’s a “superfood”, but also because we love the taste and texture. So we decided to grow all the brassicas we wanted, which is all the easier because we don’t have any space constraints (see above for current state of vegetable beds).

If you, too, want to try your hand at brassicas for the first time, here’s what we learned... 

* Get started as soon as you can because we're at the tail end of the planting season (mid- to late-summer). 

* Choose short-season greens (30-50 days), which are also easiest to grow. These include baby kale, mustard greens, and bok choy, among others. If you’re determined to try longer-season (50-95 days) crops like broccoli, kale, or cauliflower, just know there’s a fair chance that the frost will steal them from you before they are ready to pick.  

* Sow seeds directly into your beds, at a depth of about 1/4 inch. 

* Water regularly. It’s essential to water generously during late-season temperature spikes to promote healthy growth and keep the plants from drying out, which can result in a strong, bitter flavor and early bolting.  

* Keep an eye out for pests, and use floating row covers where necessary.  

* Check the crop daily so that you can be sure to harvest brassicas young and fresh, as they don’t hold well in the field.

Enjoy, and let’s compare notes this winter!

— Andrea Alban-Davies, Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee


By Andrea Alban-Davies, Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee

Westchester County legislators and other concerned parties have made admirable efforts to educate all of us on the benefits of embracing the Leaves: Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em campaign. I have written on numerous occasions about the huge benefits of keeping your leaves in your garden, rather than hauling them away. Leaves are part of the natural carbon cycle of any green area, and are just about solid gold when it comes to maintaining the health and vitality of your soil. Healthy soil yields systemic garden health – trees, bushes, flowers, and grass are all thrive when your soil is alive with nutrients and microbes.

All of that is well understood by most gardeners; however, embracing the actual practices that are best for our soil (and for the birds that winter here!) is not as easy to do. While these practices cut down hugely on garden work, the tough part is tolerating the messy (or only relatively clean) look. Some gardeners have also told me that they worry what their neighbors – all with immaculate lawns – will think of their leaf-strewn gardens. After all, we live in a beautiful community, where most everyone takes great care of their property. Who wants to be the only house on the block with dried out perennials hanging around all winter, and leaves massed in beds or left on lawns?

This is where signaling comes in. Think of an old, threadbare upholstered chair… now think of that same chair with a sign in front of it that says, “Early 19th century American Federal chair, original upholstery.” Aside from the fact that such a sign changes that chair from something you couldn’t give away into a Christie’s auction item, it also lets everyone know that the threadbare look is by design. The same goes for your garden. If you are adhering to sustainable, natural gardening practices, and inviting birds, butterflies, insects, and other wildlife into your garden, the mulched leaves on your grass or plant beds take on a new meaning. As do the dried stalks and flower heads of your native plants. They are there by design; they are the product of a holistic, nature-driven approach to your green space.

Luckily, in Rye, we don’t have to go searching for an effective way to signal such a philosophy. We have two programs – complete with explanatory signage – that have already been widely adopted in our town.

The first is the Rye Healthy Yard Program run by the Rye Sustainability Committee. Residents can sign a pledge to espouse natural landscaping practices that include, but are not limited to, eliminating the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, using native plants, adopting responsible watering practices, leaving grass clippings in place, mowing high, composting, and mulching leaves. Once you sign the pledge, you’ll get a sign to place at the front of your garden stating that “This Is a Rye Healthy Yard”.

The other is the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Certified Wildlife Habitat program. It requires that properties embrace sustainable gardening and landscaping practices and provide adequate “habitat” – food, plants, water, shelter, and nesting sites – for butterflies, birds, frogs, and other beautiful and beneficial wildlife. (Native plants meet the criteria for food, plants, shelter, and nesting sites, and a simple birdbath meets the requirement for a water source.)

Because Friends of Rye Nature Center hopes to make our town an NWF-certified “Community Wildlife Habitat”, someone from the Nature Center will even come to your house to help you determine if your property qualifies for certification. Once you get it, you are provided with a sign that you can display right beside your healthy yard sign.

So, go ahead and embrace those beneficial gardening practices, and let everyone know that you’re doing so. One or two simple signs turn a somewhat “messy” garden into something else entirely – a chemical-free, vibrant, sustainable, living sanctuary for creatures great and small.

Pullquote: Just think of your property as a sanctuary — for people, plants, and wildlife.

There are different ways to think of the greenery that surrounds your house. Some of the most familiar are <lawn, yard, or garden>. While each of these words has positive associations for most of us, and connotes a certain level of functionality, what if we started to think of the greenery that surrounds our homes in other terms — <habitat, ecosystem, or sanctuary?> How would those words change the way that we conceptualize, plan, and care for that space?

Many of us moved out to the suburbs looking for more space, but not all space is created equal. A little more indoor space is nice, sure, but it’s the verdant outdoor landscapes that tend to draw us away from the cities. Countless studies have been conducted on – and literature written about – the deep and basic need of every human being to connect with nature. Even the science shows that the sights, smells, sounds, and feel of greenery – from a 100-year-old oak tree towering above, to a single blade of grass underfoot – fill us with a unique brand of joy and tranquility.

Nature is often thought of as wilderness on a grand scale, not a small outdoor space with a patio. But, I believe that such an all-or-nothing approach alienates us from the very accessible nature that is available every time we open our back door. Connecting with the proximate soil, plants, birds, and insects links us to the land and beneficial wildlife the world over; it grounds us in our history and imbues us with the importance of protecting our future.

So, how do we create sanctuaries to surround our homes? While every person’s vision will yield something different, there is one rule of thumb that can make the process pretty easy: work with nature, not against it. Try to use the systems that nature already has in place, rather than dismantling them and artificially reconstructing them. A good example of this is how we use our fallen leaves in the autumn. Leaves are nature’s compost, good enough to feed the most spectacular forests in our country. So, rather than having someone come in to blow, gather, and dump them in the fall, and then cart in and spread mulch in the spring, just shred the leaves and put them on your beds, or leave them in a thin layer on your grass. As an added benefit, many important insects like to live in leaf litter.

Another wonderful example of working with nature is using plant material native to our area. Native plants are naturally pest-resistant, support a vast array of insects – and, in turn, the birds that eat them. They have adapted over millennia to fare well in our soil and water conditions. When deciding where to add native plants, it’s key to remember that layers matter. So, think in terms of groundcover, shrubs, taller shrubs, smaller canopy trees, and then towering canopy trees.

Aside from saving yourself the hassle of caring for a non-native plant, by planting native species of plants you also are advertising to every songbird, butterfly, caterpillar, bee, and ladybug, that your garden is a friendly place for them eat, shelter, and nest. (Just make sure you have a birdbath to provide water to the grateful wildlife.)

So, no matter how big or small each property is, let’s forget about trying to make a perfect <lawn> – that flat, huge expanse of immaculate grass. Let’s aspire to something far loftier. Consider turning it into a <sanctuary> – for beneficial wildlife, for our community, and for you. And add a birdbath

<— Andrea Alban-Davies, Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee >


Pullquote: American and British children today spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did.

It’s always a pleasure to see people being honored for contributions to their communities. Never is this truer than when it comes to those people working to create, grow, and preserve our green spaces in and around town. Their contributions can be felt, shared, and appreciated by every single member of a community, and are very long-lived. So, when the Osborn Foundation recently held a luncheon to honor three women and present them with the Miriam A. Osborn Foundress award – with an event aptly called “Women Who Make a Difference” –, I was delighted to hear that the honorees were selected based on their professional and volunteer work in the areas of wellness and nature conservancy. I was even more delighted to learn that Rye’s very own Angel Morris was one of the honorees! Angel has contributed in ways big (as president of the Rye Garden Club and Rye Nature Center), and small (countless) to the living, green beauty of our town.

But before you think that such contributions are only about beautifying our town, I need to share with you what the event speaker, Florence Williams, shared with the attendees. Williams traveled the world to explore the impact that spending time in nature has on our health and well-being, and then wrote about it in a book entitled “The Nature Fix, Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative. In short, she tells us this: spending time in nature isn’t a luxury, it’s part of who we are and what we need to remain functioning, happy individuals. In fact, we are hard-wired to be happiest when outside.

Williams shared countless scientific case studies across different cultures to underscore the amazing fact that spending time in nature has been shown to increase well-being, improve cognition, dramatically reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), reduce blood pressure, narrow the income-related mental health divide, alleviate symptoms of PTSD, boost self-esteem and confidence in children (and especially in girls), increase empathy, and make us more likely to engage with the world and each other, among many other things. Of course, you have to keep returning to nature to enjoy these effects over the long term, but as little as five hours a month (30-40 minutes twice weekly) should do it.

This may seem like a difficult goal to meet, but Williams shows us that it’s not; you don’t have to go the Yosemite National Park to experience these benefits. In fact, science supports the notion that all nature counts toward this total – time spent gazing up at the canopy of a large tree in your garden or a walk through a city park. Of course, we denizens of Rye don’t have to settle for that. We’ve got much larger-scale nature within walking distance. Rye Nature Center, Edith Read Sanctuary, and the Marshlands Conservancy allow us to access nature and feel completely immersed in it as we walk through the woods.

All of this science is particularly important because we are in the midst of what Williams calls “the largest migration in history”…to the indoors. She shares with us alarming statistics about how little time we spend in nature today, and how much time is spent, instead, on screens or in highly structed activities. For example, American and British children today spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did.

When I look around a town even as idyllic as ours, the statistics ring true. But we can change that, and, given where we live, we can change it tomorrow. So, let’s walk through our wooded areas, let’s support their volunteer days, and let’s say a silent thank you to all of the Angels out there that work tirelessly to conserve these places for all of us to enjoy.

— Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee

Sometimes it feels like it’s just all bad news when it comes to our environment. Climate change seems to be upon us – with daily reports of glaciers melting, ice sheets breaking off, oceans warming, and ecological systems breaking down – and it’s promised to only get worse from here. That’s why finding stories of inspiration is particularly important right now. While it’s true that we’ve already surpassed certain key metrics pertaining to greenhouse gas and other pollution levels from which there’s no turning back, hope is the key element to preserving what can still be a bright future. It’s what will motivate us to make the often-difficult changes necessary to minimize the severity of our environmental fate. And there’s nothing that fills us with hope quite like tangible examples of individuals that have committed to making a difference, their way.

That’s why I was so pleased when the Wellspring Program at The Osborn — a program designed to inspire the members of The Osborn community to enjoy life to the fullest by embracing the seven dimensions of wellness that enrich life at every stage — partnered with Friends of Rye Nature Center to bring just such an example to our community. They invited Top to Top to speak about their global climate expedition, because connecting with nature and working to conserve it satisfies some of the goals of both of these organizations. As a happy byproduct, Rye residents got an up-close and personal look at one family’s approach to making the world a better place.

Top to Top is a Swiss nonprofit volunteer organization that aspires to sail around the world and climb the highest peak on each continent (hence “Top to Top”). It promotes outdoor sports as a key element to getting children and older people alike interested and invested in the fate of environment, which makes a lot of sense. Surfers, after all, usually care deeply about the health of our oceans; skiers about mitigating global warming, which is making mountainous regions more temperate; and hikers about the protecting our forests. The expedition is led by Dario Schworer and his family. Throughout their travels, they also visit with the communities most affected by climate change, work with schoolchildren on developing ideas for an environmentally sound future, and undertake efforts to clean up natural settings around the world. They rely on wind, solar, and human energy to propel all of their travels and initiatives.

Each person in attendance surely found his or her own source of inspiration from the presentation. For me, the most encouraging thing was to see an intergenerational gathering of people eager to hear someone talk about his personal efforts to address our climate crisis. Not even a torrential rainstorm was able to stop them from coming.

It wasn’t your usual Q&A session — questions were fielded from elementary school children and octogenarians in turn — and it filled me with hope that many people of all ages in our community care deeply about conservation. While education efforts often focus on children, who we think of as the inherent nature-lovers and conservationists, why not include everyone in the conversation? We all have a stake in the future of our planet. Everyone, from young children to the eldest among us. And the latter act as an important bridge from the what was and what is to what will be when it comes to the health of our planet and the viability of the human race on it. By linking everyone into the conversation, we can come up with better habits and maybe even better solutions.

— The Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee

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