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Green Expo, Part II. Czech Republic

I long to travel, but circumstances to actually do so are limiting these days, so traveling vicariously with U of M Professor Neil Anderson to the Czech Republic for an hour at the Green Expo was a wonderful trip.  Neil lived there for a year while on sabbatical doing research on the invasiveness of Phalaris (Ribbon Grass) and blogging about his experiences and findings at http://blog.lib.umn.edu/ander044/fulbright/

Neil's talk at Green Expo was not about the Phalaris findings, which he covered in the blog, but about the country itself and some neat Horticultural practices he observed there.  Here are the highlights of note to me from his talk, in my random cobweb-brain order:

The Czech Republic has the highest per capita consumption of beer of any country in the world (I thought that would be Germany, or perhaps the U.S. since I live here, but no).  Well, that's all I need to know; the Czech Republic is cool and must be visited someday.  And so my bucket list gets longer.

The Czech Republic is similar to us in climate and ranges Zone 4, 5 and some 6 if compared to our USDA climate map zones. 

The Czech Republic has a rich history, which I won't claim to fully understand or attempt to describe here.  I did find some nice background info from the U.S. State Department website:  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3237.htm.  Neil explained there are two main regions of the Czech Republic: Bavaria and Moravia.  Bavaria, incidentally, is known for its beer and Moravia for its wine.  In Moravia, most every family has a private winery and makes a house wine.  Many towns have communal grape and apple presses in the town square for everyone to use.




Pretty much all fruit trees are sold in espalier form in the nurseries, compatible with gardening in tight urban spaces.  Considered an exotic form here, espalier is commonplace there. 

Another common pruning practice there is pollarding, a pruning technique used to keep otherwise large trees a more manageable size in urban areas.  Neil observed it commonly done on maples, catalpas and other usually large statured shade trees.  Here is a domestic article about the practice, along with some freaky cool photos on the UC-Berkeley campus:  http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2011/12/14/campus-tree-pollarding/.

They have varieties of plums and peaches that produce delicious fruit there in September and October!  If our climates aren't all that different, imagine if we could get our hands on those and increase the length of our fresh fruit season in our own backyards. 

In some rural areas outside big cities, fruit trees are planted parallel to the roadsides which not only look beautiful when in spring bloom, but are rented by city families who do not have the space to grow a fruit tree in the city.  As I understand it, a family who rents a tree is responsible for all pruning, fertilizing, watering and harvesting from their own tree.  I believe the rental fees are paid to the city.  Should rural farmers and garden centers here be offering this for city farmers?  Do they already?  I've never seen it in the Midwest but I find it a really interesting idea.

Speaking of trees along roads, when choosing trees for roadsides, the Czechs often put in birch or other white-barked trees for reflective purposes during night driving.  A very practical and cool idea to do here on poorly lit roads or along your own long driveway (if those types of trees would be happy in the soil/water conditions you have). 

Summer cottages are common there, but not the 'weekend cabin on wooded land a two-hour drive up north' as we think of them.  Their cottages are on small rented tracts of land just outside the city, where folks can go with their family to grow veggie gardens and have outdoor parties.  Neil showed photos of some examples of these plots, which are adorably small and crammed together like funny little miniature city neighborhoods. My impression was of each being a tiny rectangle of land that holds a cottage maybe the size of a typical U.S. backyard garden shed, and perhaps a tiny patio surrounded with abundant veggies and flowers.  And what more do you need really to accommodate a fun, day trip getaway to your own green space?  No room for lawns or anything; every square inch is used for gardening and creating a unique personal family sanctuary.  These family cottages are passed from generation to generation. 

All parks and reserves in the Czech Republic are owned by the public.  You can forage and pick mushrooms, blueberries, or whatever else you find for free, anytime, without anyone giving you crap.  Why isn't this true in more places?  Sure, you can pick wild blueberries on county land up in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, but you have to know where you are and what you're doing so you don't accidentally trespass onto some gun-toting kook's land.  Why don't more cities, large and small, take the initiative to plant food producing plants in their parks so people could enjoy the experience and the nourishment of picking a fresh handful of berries on their walk to work?  Because of maintenance issues?  Because of animal issues?  Because someone with an actual brain and a Horticulture degree might have to be on the maintenance staff to know how to properly prune out the old raspberry canes?  Heaven forbid!  My cousin in Oregon posted an article on facebook just today about an 'urban food forest' being planned in Seattle:  http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/02/29/147668557/seattles-first-urban-food-forest-will-be-free-to-forage  The planners of this garden admit they don't have the logistics completely ironed out yet, like how to deal with overzealous pickers who hog it all.  But what a totally cool idea.

A few other miscellaneous tidbits Neil mentioned:
- they always have their Christmas trees in pots and plant them outside later
- Ivy and Martha Washington Geraniums are commonly used instead of Violas in spring b/c they're so cold tolerant
- Miniature conifers as window box plants
- They have hundreds of cultivars of apples we don't grow here
- They have tons of native roses we don't know about here
- Many people grow and eat their own mushrooms as a hobby, sounds like as commonly as we grow tomatoes here

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