As some of you know I teach a program in conversational English in Rzeszow Poland during part of the summer. I work with people of many ages from Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine. We have in common books, movies, music, and of course gardening. I had the privilege of revisiting old friends. I of course visited their garden and tasted red raspberries, blackberries, and tree plums. I looked at the cucumbers, lettuces, tomato plants, and squash. We spoke of digging garlic, using compost to improve the soil, and the continual need to weed. We complained about the weather. I looked at the castor bean plants, marigolds, lavender, and sweet potato vines. Delightful!

Some questions facing all gardeners include whether or not to produce their own compost, finding local sources for improving the quality of the soil, dividing up garden tasks, finding and taking care of gardening tools, finding the time to garden, and gardening without hurting oneself! I found that we all make similar garden mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes is simply having too much garden to take care of. Another problem for some younger city people who no longer share the heritage of the soil with parents and grandparents, is not preparing the soil properly before putting in the plants. Folks also confessed that they bought some plants because of the pretty pictures but did not realize that they had special needs. The example I remember best is planting blueberries in soil unprepared for an acid loving plant. How many times have I heard that here in Western New York State?

Container planting is common in Poland with interesting combinations such as castorbean and marigolds, cucumbers and beans, zinnias and parsley. Home gardens are largely informal but bursting with a mix of perennials, annuals, vegetables, and herbs.

I learned that orchid growing is a common fancy among indoor gardeners. The friend I visited was proud to display a purple Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) that I had given her two years ago. It rebloomed just in time for my visit. What a thrill for both of us!

Have I found differences? Yes. Flowers seem more integrated into everyday life in Poland. Bouquets of flowers are a common gift to one's hostess or as a welcoming gift to someone arriving at a final destination. Each time we have been greeted at the airport in Rzeszow (the city where we teach) by a bouquet of flowers from the city representative. This year I received yellow roses. It is not unusual to see people riding buses and holding a bouquet of flowers for the person they are to visit. My husband Jim and I have also visited a number of Polish cemeteries in our quest for his relatives. Fresh flowers in containers or lying on a grave are a common sight. There are flowers as far as the eye can see. Exquisite!

To some degree everyone seems to garden in Poland. Farms look like the pictures you probably imagine from books. As yet family farms are the norm. Flower gardens still exist around farm houses but they tend to be small as these folks have a lot of farm work to do. One seldom sees just evergreens and most certainly not evergreens planted in a straight line by the foundation anywhere in Poland. Flower boxes often filled with alpine geraniums are a common sight as they are throughout much of Europe. A goal of mine is to obtain some alpine geraniums for my own flower boxes next year. It is not legal to bring in cuttings so I plan to find a source in the United States. I will share with you any information I find for growing them here in western New York state. I plan to search either for the plants or the seeds. The reason they are used so widely overseas is that the alpine geraniums do not mind intense heat and will keep on producing flowers when zonal and ivy geraniums fail.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Forever Young Magazine - September 2010