The Mountain Gardener: The Gardens of Poland: Part 1
by Jan Nelson
Aug 30, 2012 | 1770 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Gardens of Poland
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This open-air market in Zloty sold everything from fruit and vegetables to oil cloth, leather shoes, clothes, knives -- everything that the local residents could ever need. Courtesy photo

In Poland, you greet someone by saying “dzien dobry,” which means hello or good day. You hear it at every restaurant and market, and even high on a mountain trail. I had a hard time trying to pronounce the Slavic words with so many consonants, but I used this phrase daily. So began my adventures to visit the gardens and natural landscapes in Poland earlier this month.

The first thing I noticed in Poland was the flowers. Although winters are harsh, spring starts suddenly in April after the snow melts. The climate in eastern Poland, where I visited, is influenced by the interior of the continent towards Russia, so it receives summer rain. The wildflowers, vegetable gardens, perennial and annual flowers love the moisture and were in full bloom during my visit.

That part of Poland is protected from any industry, and a primeval forest and several national parks are found there. Agriculture makes up 50 percent of land use in the country.

Even during communist control, a farmer was allowed to keep 3 hectares (7.41 acres) of land for himself. Land ownership provided some freedom, and to this day, little land goes up for sale.

Driving north from Warsaw, I saw miles of round hay bales in harvested fields of grain. Lots of farmers were out working their land, some on tractors, some raking the hay into rows by hand. A farmer behind a horse-drawn plow worked one field along with his wife. Wheat, rye, barley, potatoes and sugar beets are grown, as well as corn for winter silage for cows.

Did you know that Belarusian red cattle can graze in fields with low-nutrient sedges like those found in marshes, but Dutch black-and-white ones won't survive on the same diet?

I couldn't help but fall in love with the neat farmhouses made of brick, local multicolored granite, wood and brightly painted stucco, most with a red roof and surrounded by a flower garden, a vegetable garden and always a fence. I've never seem so many kinds of fencing — ornamental iron, willow branches woven together, fancy picket fences, concrete cast to look like wooden bed posts.

The region’s sandy soil was deposited by glaciers, the last one only 10,000 years ago, and is rich with sediment and nutrients. Sunflowers grow tall between fields. Rudbeckia, aka black-eyed Susan, grows wild, covering the hillsides with gold.

Every garden has hydrangea, petunia, geranium, yellow mullein, scabiosa, canna lily, dahlia, chicory, hollyhock, marigold, sweet pea, grapes and apple and plum trees.

I was amazed at the number of annuals the people grow there. Marigolds and petunias of all colors and styles are very popular and probably started from seed, as I never saw a nursery of any type, even in the outdoor markets. Tender perennials are overwintered inside or regrown from cuttings taken in the fall.

A typical vegetable garden has rows of cabbage, of course, as well as red beets, several types of potatoes, lettuce, carrots, onions, cauliflower, cucumbers and leeks. Tomatoes are very popular but grown in greenhouses. Even short-season, cold-tolerant tomatoes, like Early Girl and Stupice, are grown inside.

A fun thing I saw was the white storks that nest on rooftops and electrical poles. The power company has started to build platforms on top of the poles for the storks to build their nests. Before they started doing so, storks would short out the lines as they added to their heavy nests each year.

Poland is home to 25 percent of the world's storks. These large birds winter in Africa and leave Poland at the end of August, but during my visit, I saw many hundreds of the 40,000 pairs that are said to nest in the country.

Next week, I'll tell you about the gardens in southeastern Poland, what to grow around a castle and how to protect vegetables from wild boar.

- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at, or visit to view past columns and pictures.

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