Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category
February 21, 2017 @ 8:39 pm | Filed under: Gardening, Nature Study
I lost my voice for a week, and with it my mojo. I’m better now but still tired and feeling (here at the end of the day) low in spirits, probably because I just caught up on the news. I’m not accustomed to this feeling and I don’t wear it well.
The morning was nice, though: warm sun after yet more rain (so much rain! it’s been years since I could say that!), and thyme seedlings feathering up near a volunteer pumpkin sprout. That self-sown arugula I found last month up and bolted on me, and now it’s flowering: starry white flowers, petals veined like insect wings, tangled with the yellow marguerites. I’m not complaining. I’m not sure I’ve ever grown a leafy edible that didn’t bolt. Some years back, I realized my favorite flowers of that summer were my gone-to-seed cilantro. The leaves had turned bitter but oh how lovely those small lacy blossoms all along the back fence. Maybe now that we’ve had some rain, I’ll plant a packet of cilantro seeds and let most of it run away with itself.
I was revisiting a favorite gardening book recently, Eleanor Perenyi’s Green Thoughts. For some reason I had it in my head that she was a garden writer (among whose number are some of my lifetime favorite writers, like Elizabeth Lawrence and Katharine S. White). But a rabbit trail enlightened me: Perenyi was actually a novelist and memoirist. Green Thoughts was her only garden book!
Her obituary in the New York Times describes her as a “writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener,” which struck me as an epitaph worth having. Why, I’m a writer and an opinionated amateur gardener, I thought. Whether or not those opinions are delicious must be determined by each reader, I suppose. But the description made me laugh and I experienced one of those little mental kaleidoscope twists after which new patterns reveal themselves to you. Until now I’ve more or less rolled my eyes at my own gardening idiosyncracies: I seldom do anything by the book. I grow things in odd places and wrong seasons. I ignore what I ought to tend, and I fuss over what wants to be left alone. I’ve got lettuce and herbs and flowers all growing in the same big pot, because it sits on the front steps and I know I’m most likely to notice it wants watering, after this burst of weather is past and the baking days return.
It’s funny that while I have no qualms whatsoever about tweaking and adapting some educational resource to suit my own preferences, when I make the same kind of tweaks to proper garden methods I do so with a measure of chagrin, an internal acknowledgement that I’m ‘doing it all wrong but oh well.’ It’s possible, now I think of it, this inner critic (it isn’t a loud one) is the voice of our neighbor back in Virginia, who was positively tormented by my unconventional approach. He’d see me on our sloping lot across the street from his house, painstakingly grubbing out weeds that were absolutely going to rebound with vigor the following week, and he’d holler “helpful” recommendations of Round-Up across the road. “Can’t!” I’d yell back. “It’ll kill the milkweed!” That I planted milkweed on purpose made him sputter. We drove each other crazy, Tom and I, but only during the summer. I planted forsythia, redbuds, and dogwoods at the top of that slope, which means he had me to thank for his lovely spring view. Not to mention the enormous throng of monarch butterflies that mobbed my asters in the fall.
(That’s a big sprig of chicory behind the asters. I left a huge patch of it wild in our yard, intermingled with Russian thistle. Both are wonderful plants for a butterfly garden, but they aren’t exactly lookers. Not by conventional standards, at least. The chicory was glorious in the mornings, like a sheet of fallen sky, but by noon the flowers had closed up and all you had was a patch of scrub. This is why Tom found me trying as a neighbor. And let’s face it: if there is one place I have never belonged, it’s a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association.)
(Well, that and high school gym class.)
Anyway, I’ve decided that being remembered as a “writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener” would be a fine thing.
Speaking of idiosyncratic gardeners, here’s another thing that made me smile this morning. I discovered that Rilla had added a little pot to our container garden under the front window. It’s the yellow pot in the photo below—full of weeds. The grass (which is mostly weeds; see above re: no Round-Up) has turned meadowy with all this rain. Rilla knew I was going to mow soon and (she explained) she was afraid all the “beautiful weeds” would be shorn. So she dug some up and gave them a safe new home.
February 16, 2015 @ 3:01 pm | Filed under: Art, Butterflies, Gardening
Remember those pumpkins I said might be ripe in time for Christmas? More like Valentine’s Day. We gave most of them away to a neighbor (who thanked us with pumpkin bread, so we came out ahead) but kept a couple to perpetuate the cycle. We’ll ignore these and let Nature do her thing, and maybe we’ll have some seeds sprouting earlier in the season this time around. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the jarring contrast of spring flowers and fall harvest.
Spotted two tiny caterpillars on the milkweed! Sadly, however, we also found a withered monarch chrysalis hanging on the fence with a pinprick hole in it. It looks like we’re raising caterpillars for something’s lunch. Not cool, Nature. Monarchs have enough to contend with these days.
1. Leaving the house early yesterday morning, I spotted a pair of goldfinches feasting on the seeds of my basil—yes, another herb I forgot to pinch back, and now I’m glad
2. Pink milk and candy hearts
3. Saturday night ritual: art time with Rilla while the older girls watch TV with Scott (after the early-to-bed boys have conked out). This week, we binged on Cathy Johnson videos. Oh, I just love her, murmurs my girl.
4. Weeded the front-yard flower beds. Began, at any rate, and made good headway. After I mowed the other day, I discovered just how much is in bloom. Nasturtiums, coreopsis, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, viola, milkweed…Ellie said it’s okay to talk about my flowers, hope you don’t mind. 😉
5. Set up a new palette and spent a good while testing colors with Rilla.
6. This one’s a Big Happy: today I finished the last empty page in my very first complete sketchbook. I started it on August 30. Have drawn or painted almost every day since (even if only for a few minutes). Feeling pretty chuffed.
November 25, 2014 @ 3:23 pm | Filed under: Gardening
Faded: the sunflowers. They’re drooping in sad-Charlie-Brown fashion all along the side wall. They amuse me.
In bloom: yellow daisies, masses of them. Pink geraniums, always. Orange zinnias, still going strong. Sweet alyssum and snapdragons, recently added. (The summer alyssum crop, grown from seed, carpeted a corner of the yard all summer, then went brown and weedy. We missed them and put in a few nursery plants to tide us over until the next batch of seeds comes up.) Bougainvillea, small but promising. Lavender, keeping the bees busy. Basil, because I forgot to pinch it off.
In fruit: Tomatoes! Hurrah! I moved them to the front yard this year and voila, they are producing abundantly.
But overshadowing all of these by a mile: the renegade pumpkins. Last year (Halloween 2013) we had one jack-o-lantern and two smaller uncarved pumpkins. These got left alone when we tossed the melting jack-o-lantern. (That’s what carved pumpkins do in Southern California. They dissolve on the stoop.)
The two little pumpkins became a quiet science experiment during the course of the year. One was partly under a bush and retained its integrity for months. The other, in full sun, decomposed rapidly. All of us enjoyed comparing their progress during our comings and goings from driveway to front door.
By July, the shaded pumpkin had joined its mate in the circle of life: its skin crisped and cracked like old, brittle paper. Seeds spilled out everywhere. Did I pay them any mind? I did not.
In August, we noticed sprouts. Not only at the site of the departed pumpkins, but also along the side wall near the sidewalk.
By October, we had vines. Big sprawling vines with huge leaves, trailing all across the lawn and beyond. We had to keep kicking them off the sidewalk back onto the grass lest they trip up passersby.
And now, two days before the final pumpkin holiday of the year, we have (at last count) a crop of six young pumpkins of modest size in various shades of green and yellow. Not orange. No, not quite orange yet.
I figure they’ll be ripe in time for Christmas.
March 11, 2014 @ 5:23 pm | Filed under: Books, Gardening
As soon as spring is in the air Mr. Krippendorf and I begin an antiphonal chorus, like two frogs in neighboring ponds: What have you in bloom, I ask, and he answers from Ohio that there are hellebores in the woods, and crocuses and snowdrops and winter aconite. Then I tell him that in North Carolina the early daffodils are out but that the aconites are gone and the crocuses past their best..”
—Elizabeth Lawrence, The Little Bulbs
The photo is not of my garden; this lovely sight of a neighbor’s front yard left me breathless last April. I haven’t been down that street lately to see what may be in bloom, but the daisies and poppies are coming up in other yards around town. My own poppies are all leaf, not quite ready to set buds yet. But soon. And some of these small daisies have popped up quite unexpectedly in a large planter by my front steps, along with some adorable johnny-jumpups. Either they jumped up indeed, right into the pot, or it’s possible Rilla planted some seeds…she’s always finding an old half-full packet in a drawer somewhere (why do I only ever plant half the seeds in a packet?) and taking it upon herself to do a bit of Mary Lennoxing. Today it was freesia seeds, inherited from a friend, and some sweet peas and sweet william. I grow freesia from bulbs, not seed, so I’m eager to see if these come up. It’s turning wonderland out there, already…the lavender has gone supersized this year, the bees are quite drunk.
It’s the season when I have no choice, I must read gardening books. The Little Bulbs is mandatory at this time of year, when the freesia are tumbling everywhere. I could live on the scent of freesia. This bit to Miss Lawrence from her horticultural pen-pal, Mr. Krippendorf, one February day, made me laugh:
“I was surprised to hear of the paucity of bloom in your garden, as I once read a book by an Elizabeth Lawrence who listed quantities of plants that bloomed in February or even January in her garden (which she alleged was in Raleigh, North Carolina). We have quite a few snowdrops now, and some eranthis, in spite of the fact that the pool on the terrace freezes every night.” And later: “I have your letter dated Fourth Sunday in Lent but not mailed until Tuesday. You say you might as well have lived in Ohio this winter—that sounds almost scornful. Yesterday was a wonderful day, not too warm, and sunshine off and on. I have tens of thousands of winter aconites in the woods—bold groups repeating themselves into the distance, also the spring snowflakes, and Adonis amurensis.”
All this sudden color is the result of the few days of rain we had the other week, after a crispy, crackling, waterless winter. And I know so many of you in other parts of the U.S. have had a really dreadful time of it these past few months. I wouldn’t dare to ask Miss Lawrence’s question, above, but I’m starting to see hints on Facebook and Twitter of a crocus here, a narcissus there, and Mr. Krippendorf’s tens of thousands of winter aconites gave me courage.
Henry Hikes to Fitchburg (ahhh, deep delight)
Grace for President
Here Comes Destructosaurus (coming out soon, quite funny, wonderful Jeremy Tankard art)
Finished Where Angels Fear to Tread. Forster is tearing me up, lately. I had to read Howards End because of the Susan Hill book, and it wrung me inside out, and Angels hung me out to dry. In a good way, you understand.
December 1, 2013 @ 10:41 am | Filed under: Family, Gardening
Me: I need to buy some seeds to fill in the places where the drought killed everything off.
Me: I mean, I’m going to need a LOT of seeds.
Scott: Dude. Like you have tell me that. I haven’t read Miss Rumphius 7,685 times for nothing.
March 15, 2013 @ 8:09 pm | Filed under: Gardening
Narcissus by Nishimura Hodo, c. 1930
Our daffodils are mostly finished; now comes the freesia time. Oh, they smell heavenly. And the pink jasmine has opened its stars all over the garden wall.
The butterfly garden is rebounding, now that the neighbor’s pepper trees have been hacked back to stubs. The tiny lilac and the young manzanita bush are in bloom, and the tree mallow is all pink blossoms and bees. The nasturtiums have sprung up from last year’s seeds, but the flowers seldom last long: Rilla and Huck keep eating them all.
I planted dahlias last fall, a gift from a close friend, but they haven’t yet made an appearance aboveground. Oh, but there’s a lone iris, slender leaves, rich purple-blue flower, that streak of gold down the middle. I carried irises in my wedding bouquet, so they always make me think of us.
The milkweed is just beginning to open, and all the roadsides are thick with gazanias and grape-soda lupine. Our crows are building a nest in the schoolyard fig tree just beyond our back fence. When I water the lettuces, tiny alligator lizards dart out from under the spray, indignant every time. They run up the wall and freeze in plain sight.
The front-yard tulips, those crazy gold-and-scarlet marvels, are about to drop their petals. Last week they were stunners, turning the head of every passerby. This week they’re haggard and overbright, still commanding attention in their garish decline, the Norma Desmonds of the garden.
Our roses are blooming, and a big clump of daffodils is coming up right under one of the rosebushes. Tricksy plants, growing all the time. The freesia and rain lilies we planted are well up now (but weeks from blooming), and the nasturtium and cosmos seeds are coming in nicely. One plump grapefruit ripening on the tree. Just the one.
The neighborhood parrots visited the other day. They travel in a raucous swirl of green and chaos. I tried to get pictures, but they hid in the trees and then swirled up and away faster than I could focus. Which is a pretty apt metaphor for my life, these days. Bright, noisy, swirling past in a blur.
There’s a parrot there somewhere; can you see it? Blink and it’s gone.
October 28, 2012 @ 1:27 pm | Filed under: Gardening
Trying to work this afternoon, but it’s hard not to stay glued to the hurricane feeds. Hope you weather it well, all my East Coast friends…
Rilla and I did a lot of garden work this week: cleared bermuda grass out of the butterfly garden, planted some freesia bulbs I’d forgotten about. We have our sunflower seeds ready to sow, maybe this evening. Oh, and it’s pansy weather…almost. Midday sun still a bit harsh.
Time to start thinking of sowing our winter greens. The seasons are upside-down here; six years and I’m still not used to it.
In bloom: Mexican bush sage (salvia leucantha), cleome (one last floweret left), geraniums (always), gazania, red salvia, blue plumbago, lantana, milkweed, lavender, and chrysanthemums—pink and white. Oh, and the cape honeysuckle, beloved of hummingbirds. And sweet alyssum everywhere.
The nasturtiums are starting to reappear: leaves only, no buds yet, but they move fast.
Lots of roses around the neighborhood; a single giant flower on ours.
Something is eating up the lamb’s-ear.
Our big nature sighting of the week was a gulf fritillary caterpillar on the passionflower vine! We had to rush off to dance class, though, and he was gone when we returned. Big guy, probably pupating by now.
Alarming photos starting to roll in from New Jersey. Stay safe, friends…