Dad

My dad’s birthday is June 20th, so every year, in the middle of June I make my pilgrimage to the card shop to find birthday and Father’s Day cards for him.  Just the proximity of the two special days makes it hard to choose cards that don’t mirror one another or exceed my schmaltzy limit (I know it when I reach it).  Often, I would select a more sentimental card for Father’s Day and something a little humorous for his birthday.  To add more difficulty to this process, my dad and I have always had a challenging relationship.  He grew up in a boy’s boarding school because of the situation within his own family and because of that experience he was more comfortable with schedules and rules and discipline than he was with the interpersonal parts of family life.   That’s the dad I came to know most directly and it was a rocky road for both of us a lot of the time.   So the card picking has never been easy, particularly during the years when I was darn sure NOT going to give him a card that said anything more than what I actually felt.  One of my methods was to choose cards that wished him lots of good things, which I could sincerely do, rather than those that listed all the things the kid was grateful for – a lot of stuff that didn’t happen.  As I’ve gotten older and had my own parenting experiences, I’ve mellowed and relaxed my attitude about the cards and allow them to say the things that will make my dad smile and warm his heart.  A wise friend said to me a few years ago, “If my dad has a bad day, it won’t be because of me.”

As I’ve grown and moved further away from our parent-child interactions, I’ve been able to see more clearly what he really did contribute to the person I’ve become.  Yes, he taught me to ride a two wheel bike and drive a car, but other influences were more subtle and more profound.   They also show me that there was a lot more to my dad than rules and rigidity.

I remember mornings as a very young child, when Mom would wake me up saying, “Come on, get up, we’re going to the shore.”  It was a weekday but my dad was in sales, basically self-employed, setting his own schedule.  I learned later, and sensed even then, that my mother wasn’t 100% in favor of this way of living.  Sales work on straight commission doesn’t lead to the security of steady income.  It’s either feast or famine and, as my dad would always say, it’s all about the law of averages.  If you knock on enough doors, you’ll get enough sales – not evenly spread through the weeks, but overall.  He worked long evenings and weekends when necessary and took breaks during the day when he felt he could afford to.   Those early mornings packing the car happened as a result of a good sales week.

What this gave me was a love of spontaneity and an appreciation for the freedom, rewards, and responsibilities of the entrepreneurial life style.

There was only a two year period in my childhood during which my dad had to work a specific schedule.  This was when he was promoted to a management position in the home office of the company for whom he had the sales job.  He was not a happy man during that time; later when I read The Peter Principle, which stated “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”, I recognized him in it.   I’d say we rise to the level of our discontent which is sure to lead to incompetence if we stay too long in the job.  He hated his corporate gig; it was a spirit killer for him, being tied down in a small office, among many other small offices, dealing with politics and structure, and no interaction with customers.

This gave me a bit of a phobia about working in great big buildings with lots of little rooms.

My dad brought home a beautiful, two piece Magnavox stereo console set one day.   This was our first introduction to the technology of stereo sound.   A speaker in each cabinet, one also held a turntable and the other offered storage for LPs; they opened from the top.  The two pieces were made of a beautiful wood, pecan or something similar in color.  I remember him placing the two cabinets carefully to maximize the separation of sound.  We spent the evening listening to symphonic music, as my very excited dad pointed out the sounds of different instruments coming out of separate speakers.   It was impressive!   After that, I remember many occasions when my dad was relaxing in his favorite chair with his eyes closed, listening to his favorite records.  Every now and then I’d see a tear on his cheek.

This gave me the awareness necessary to really hear music and to experience it as a multi-layered, multidimensional living entity.  It proved very useful in my future appreciation of rock and roll, but what it also gave me was a level of comfort with other types of music – classical, opera, traditional folk, and swing – because of the records he introduced me to at home.

One of my favorite games to play when I was a kid was desk clerk.  Mostly it consisted of me handing keys across a table to pretend customers.  Motels were a significant part of my childhood – we moved a lot and always stayed in motels along the way, we took vacations, and long weekends.  Lots of miles on turnpikes and interstates through the diverse topography and scenery from New York to Colorado, lots of HoJos, lots of “Fill ‘er up!”, and lots of desk clerks, lobbies, ice machines, pools – all fodder for my developing imagination.  I particularly loved the motels with themes, like cowboys or Mexican adobe casas or island bungalows.

My dad also traveled for his work, sometimes for weeks at a time.  He’d call home regularly but what was most special to me was my growing collection of post cards he’d send me from the towns he stayed in and the scenic areas he passed through.  I would lay them out in a grid on my bed and pore over them, rereading the messages but mostly imagining what it would be like to be in the pictures.

These experiences gave me a curiosity about places outside of my experience and a love for travel and the freedom of the road.  One of my first adult jobs was as a desk clerk and, to this day, I’m always ready for a road trip, the more spontaneous, the better!

From one trip, Dad brought home a book called Folk Medicine by D.C. Jarvis, MD.  It was first published in 1958 and is all about the benefits of apple cider vinegar and honey, which became a permanent part of our pantry and breakfast table condiments.  Recently, I was reminded of this book while researching remedies for ear infections in dogs.  Those smelly, icky, shake-the-head conditions are often yeast-based and easily resolved by cleaning the ears and putting a few drops of apple cider vinegar into the ear canal.  It can also be added to their food to increase acidity in the dog’s system.  I’ve always been interested in herbal and homeopathic medicine, not to the exclusion of conventional medicine, but often as a first stop or a last resort.

My dad’s introduction of these new, but old ways of being well into my consciousness was so valuable to my eventual life as a gardener.   The belief that nature holds the keys to all our maladies and dis-eases has become completely integrated into how I view life, health, my gardening and my career in horticulture and design.

I doubt my dad planned to teach me any of these things, although I know he was aware of the importance of setting a good example.   Of course, I appreciate all the typical dad lessons he taught me, but the most valuable gift he gave me was the curiosity to explore places, experiences and ideas.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!  Thank you.

 

Posted in Dad, Father's Day, Folk Medicine, Garden, Herbs, Homeopathy, Honey, Magnavox, Self-Employment, Spontaneity, Stereo, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Wordless Wednesday

It’s Nature Photography Day – grab your camera and get outside!  See what loveliness you can capture – here’s what I found this morning – I hope it makes you smile:

Posted in Coneflowers, Photography | 1 Comment

Threesome

………….as in my garden, my camera and myself.  We are a love connection.   I love taking pictures; I always have, but now that I have a good digital SLR camera, I’m an addict.   I’ve taken photographs of everything from mountains to rainbows to the pollen stuck to a honeybee’s legs, and plants, always plants.  I’ve taken pictures so obsessively on trips that I’ve been forced to wonder if it is actually impairing my ability to enjoy an outing or a vacation or a holiday or a visit with a friend.   Sometimes, I have little memory of the day save for the images in the folders on my computer.  My camera should be a tool; sometimes it IS my eyes.   My only other MO seems to be to take no pictures whatsoever; no middle ground for me.

Now that digital photography is widely used, all of us photographer wannabes get to feel like the real deal, and not go broke doing it.  I know there are purists who disapprove of digital and still use film.  That’s fine, and I have no argument with them; I’m not qualified to argue with them.  This is just fun for me – serious, obsessive, compulsive FUN.   Other than my dogs, it’s my most perfect relationship.

Last year, I was without my camera for almost a month while it was in the shop for a malfunction of the shutter mechanism.  I was depressed.  I had my Droid, but that just didn’t work for me.  It’s small and not altogether predictable, terrible for inside shots and besides, it didn’t provide the weight of a camera in my hand.  It felt wrong.   Now, if my camera ever even hesitates, I visualize dark and dreary days ahead without the light and life of fresh images………as if I were losing my own eyes.   I know, I’m a sicko and should be separated from my camera, cold turkey, right now, for both our sakes!

As a gardener, photographs allow me to chronicle the changes in my garden.  Some of the changes are just about growth and maturity (of the plants, not the photographer!) and some are about the renovating and editing and tweaking that I seem genetically predisposed to do.  That’s another addiction, perhaps for another post.  Sometimes I wonder if I garden just so I have something close at hand to photograph…….I do love gardening but I’m not sure it would be as much fun if I couldn’t take pictures of it.

Some of my photographs are really beautiful; I’m not a highly skilled photographer by any definition, but I do take lots and lots of pictures.  With hundreds of shots, some are bound to be good.

Add an Image

I love being able to look at the body of a butterfly in a photo and have my curiosity piqued to look something up and learn more about those captivating creatures.  I’ve taken many photos that reveal something my eyes didn’t catch.   A photo holds the subject still for me to examine the details of its appearance.

Obviously, photos have always served the purpose of preserving our history and stirring memories of significant events in our lives.  As memories fade, a photo will often bring back a flood of feelings no longer residing in our conscious minds.  Even in the course of a day, a photo will aid me remembering the details of a plant’s habit or an insect’s coloration.  Was the edge of the leaf serrated or smooth?  Were there two or three black spots on the caterpillar’s back?

Now that I’m blogging, the importance of photographs is even greater.   The freedom we have in illustrating our points and our stories is limited only by the images we can produce ourselves or obtain without copyright infringement.  I sometimes find that I tailor the words in a blog post to the available shots I have to support them.  I’m not sure that’s the way I should be doing it, but it’s what happens.   Nobody wants to just read five paragraphs of opinion in a garden blog.   This is not the New York Times editorial page; this is me telling you about my experience, my thoughts, my garden.   And just think, with one good picture, I’m sparing you 1,000 more words!

Last summer, I was out in my front yard when I noticed four goldfinches sitting on top of a fence, evenly spaced and all facing the same direction.  Something alerted them and, in unison, all four flew up a few feet and then undulated downward and up again until they were gone from my sight.  It was a gorgeous sight, a treasure, a treat.  Of course, I immediately bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have my camera with me, but just as quickly realized that I wouldn’t have had time to catch them all together anyway and what were the chances that I would have gotten a clear shot?  Pretty much nil.   So, I have the memory instead of the shot.

This year, it’s goldfinches again that are challenging me and the circumstances are such that SURELY I can get a great shot of them this time!  I’ve been planning and plotting for a few weeks now about how to get that shot, because they’re just asking for it!

I’ve got new windows this year, including a picture window in the dining room chosen specifically for birdwatching, a fortuitously placed Verbena Bonariensis about fifteen feet from the window, with no obstructions, and a fairly regular supply of goldfinches in that Verbena between 3pm and dusk.  I’ve seen one, two, three and four of them at a time, both male and female.   Their diminutive bodies are light enough to just tip the branches down a few inches.

I’ve had to learn how to take photos through my new double-paned windows.  I have to disable the flash, which activates automatically when needed; otherwise I get a shadow of myself clouding the shot.  So far, I’ve only been able to catch photos of two finches at a time through the window – and they’re not great shots – but I’m not giving up.

I’ve tried sitting on my front porch with the camera on a tripod and the screened porch door propped open, just waiting.  I’ve tried sneaking out my side door and walking around to the front to surprise them, but invariably they are startled by me or people walking by with their dogs.

One evening last week, I pulled up to my house just before seven o’clock and saw FIVE goldfinches perched in the Verbena, just waiting for me……..or were they taunting me?!?  It was such a sight, with their brilliant yellow feathers against the green foliage and purple blooms, that I didn’t want to breathe.  Of course at the same time, I was kicking myself for not having my good camera with me and for parking in such a way that my winter honeysuckle was right between me and a good shot.  I had my Droid, and I did take a picture, but it was a dud.

In his book, Garden Photography, a Professional Guide, Tony Cooper says, “Last winter, the seeds on a clump of Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ in my garden were visited regularly by goldfinches, and to have them feeding for up to a quarter of an hour not 15ft from the kitchen window was a great opportunity.”

Thank you, Tony Cooper!  I’ve got a lot of ‘Goldsturm’, and I can be very patient.

 

Posted in Birds, Cameras, Digital Photography, Goldfinches, Photography, Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm', Tony Cooper, Verbena bonariensis, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wordless Wednesday

A year ago this week, I toured the New York Botanical Garden with my cousins.  Here are some shots taken in the gorgeous Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, which contains more than 3500 plants and over 600 varieties of roses.

Posted in Garden, New York Botanical Garden, Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, Roses | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Bird Feeders in the Chicken Yard – Who Knew?

I’ve solved a long standing, very annoying problem in my landscape.  I’m in an old urban neighborhood with lots of mature trees.  With those trees, of course, come squirrels.

Yes, I know they’re cute and I know they’re one of God’s creatures.   I wouldn’t harm one; I just want them to keep their distance from parts of my property.

They dig in plant pots looking for food, yanking out the rightful inhabitants by their roots; they overturn, steal from, and break bird feeders regularly.   They chew their way into the attic and throw parties early in the morning.  I’m no fan, not at all.

On the other hand, I enjoy attracting birds into my gardens.  I’ve earned the designation of Certified Wildlife Habitat issued by the National Wildlife Federation by creating a wildlife-friendly environment.  I supplement the food the birds find on their own with seeds in feeders, year round.  Many feeders are hyped as squirrel proof; few really are.  The little devils find a way, knocking them to the ground if all else fails.

Now that I have chickens, most of my squirrel problems are solved, with some side benefits to boot.  In addition to the coop, I’ve given the hens grazing rights to about a quarter of my fenced in edible garden.

In utter frustration, after picking up yet another spilled feeder a month or so ago, I put a few shepherd’s hooks in the chicken’s area and hung the bird feeders there to see what would happen.

 

Well, that has turned out to be the magic bullet!  The birds are comfortable with the chickens and their feeders stay more reliably filled.  The squirrels stay away because of the chickens.  The chickens love to snack on the seeds/shells that fall on the ground and because they do, I get none of the weedy sprouting that normally takes place under the feeders.  

With no waste, I save a lot on bird seed, a little on chicken feed, and most of what the hens eat, of course, ends up nourishing next year’s garden by way of the compost I make with their manure.

That’s what’s called stacking functions, which simply means using one thing to serve more than one purpose.  I couldn’t be happier.

A win for everybody.   Well, almost everybody……

 

Posted in Bird Feeders, Bird Seed, Birds, Chickens, Garden, Squirrels, Stacking Functions, Tree | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Coup in the Coop

I didn’t think it ever happened.  Everything I’ve read says that if the members of the flock stay the same, the pecking order stays the same.  I’ve been observing something that causes me to question that…..

It’s been well over two months now but the two most recent additions to my flock are Sweet Thing and Jewel.  Sweet Thing is an Ameraucana with gold, cream, and silver feathers.  Jewel is a Welsummer with dark russet, orange, black, and gold feathers  – both beautiful birds with fun personalities.

The other five were here a month before that.  The new kids were both the brunt of some bullying in their first weeks here, but Jewel is bigger and automatically ranked higher.

Sweet Thing had to sneak food, scurry past a couple of the older girls to get to the yard, sleep below the roost on a shelf, and generally stay out of the way.  She adjusted to her position and got along okay.  Being the underdog, of course she was my favorite.

A little over a week ago, I was picking strawberries in the garden just over the fence from the area where the hens hang out.  I made a rookie mistake and tossed them berries that didn’t make the grade.  They loved them and the next day, Sweet Thing flew over the fence right into the strawberries!  Then two others followed her!  I dropped what I was doing and got down there fast to roust them out.  They are devil birds who love to make momma chase!

That night, I got out to the coop to lock up after it was already dark.  I flipped a light on for a second to take roll and Miss Sweet Thang was up on the roost with the others AND on the left side with the Buff Orpingtons, Buffy and Pushy, and the Dominique, Ripley.   She got up into the VIP section and they were letting her stay!  I wondered what was going on but then I remembered what she did that day and thought maybe she’d passed a test, proven herself worthy – a rite of passage into serious hen-hood, a flock initiation?  That couldn’t be a coincidence, could it?

Since then, I’ve made it a point to go out there after it’s dark so that I can find them already settled in to where they’re going to sleep.  She’s still up on the roost, sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right, often in the middle, like this.

During the day, I rarely see her picked on anymore.  She seems to do her own thing and isn’t bothered by pecking any more than the others are.

She jumped into another part of the garden yesterday, so I’ve had to add some chicken wire to the top of the fence.  She will not defeat me!

I did a little research and read that pecking order generally stays the same because the one on the low end is too afraid to challenge the status quo.  I don’t know that it was about bravery for Sweet Thing; likely just inability to resist strawberries (she is not alone there), but she did it!  I think I see a little spring in her step now; I really do.

 

Posted in Chickens, Garden | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Through fresh eyes – ‘Husker Red’ Penstemon

The first one I saw stood quietly outside an office where I worked several years ago.  I noticed its tall, graceful form and the colors of the foliage and the stem.  Then as Spring progressed, it budded and bloomed; I was hooked.   I’d always been attracted to green/purple/burgundy combinations but it was the lovely flowers that sealed the deal.  I wasn’t sure what it was and felt very fortunate to happen upon it at a garden center shortly thereafter.

I admired it from afar for a few years, then bought one for myself about three years ago.  Since my yard is always in a state of flux, ‘Husker Red’ lived in several different areas from full on afternoon sun to partial shade.  No matter where I put it, it performed beautifully!

Last year, my clump was getting pretty big, so I divided it into about a dozen separate plants.  Some I put in the ground immediately, some in pots, and a few were given away to a couple of neighbors and my good friend, Joyce.   She didn’t seem all that excited about the pot of burgundy sticks I gave her with limp leaves hanging off them.  I asked her to trust me.

This Spring, Joyce has done a lot in her garden, too – adding, moving, rearranging.  She told me a few weeks ago that her favorite plant to look at in her garden was that one I gave her last year.  She loves the form, the silhouette, the color, the leaves and the flowers.  All the same things I love about it, too.

So I took another look at my old favorite and began taking pictures.  I’ve always loved Husker Red, but it did become like part of the background.  Joyce’s appreciation made me remember the things I’ve always loved about it:

  • It’s tall.
  • It’s drought tolerant.
  • It’s deer and rabbit resistant.
  • It’s colorful, even without flowers.
  • It grows and blooms well from full sun to part shade.
  • It looks great and behaves well with many other plants.
  • It attracts hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and birds.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ was developed at the University of Nebraska (home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers) and was named the Perennial Plant of the Year for 1996.

If you haven’t yet given ‘Husker Red’ a try, go get one now!   Give it well drained soil and you won’t be disappointed!

Posted in Garden, Penstemon, Penstemon 'Husker Red' | 8 Comments

Honey Bees and I love Poppies

I’ve always been a fan of the seed pod that poppies leave after they flower.  Tall, architectural, exotic looking – and you don’t have to wait until late in the season!  As soon as the one day blooms finish, there they are.

Besides the seed pods, I’m smitten with the nodding bud and the fragile crepe-like petals.  What I didn’t expect were the honey bees!  My plan for next year is to start my own colony, so this is a great preview of coming attractions.   I love watching them work a flower!

A couple of days after the poppies started blooming a week or so ago, the bees started showing up every morning, buzzing from bloom to bloom picking up the translucent pollen on their legs.  They can’t seem to get enough.  Then about 10 o’clock, they’re gone.

Don’t you love the old botanical prints?  I’ve managed to collect a few of them at thrift and antique shops.  I’d love to have this one……

People have told me they’ve tried to plant poppies and failed.  First of all, there’s no failure in gardening!   Just the first of possibly several attempts, right? 😉   I couldn’t find seeds locally, so I ordered an assortment from One Stop Poppy Shoppe and followed their directions, which were very simple.  Sow the seeds in the fall (Here in NC, I did it in November) and cover lightly.  Poppy seeds need light to germinate.  I also mixed in some Larkspur and Nigella seeds which all germinated.

So, if you’ve tried before and not had any luck, give it another go.

It’s worth it!
Posted in Botanical Prints, Garden, Honey Bees, Larkspur, Nigella, Poppies | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Mother

Growing up with my mom was like having a single parent; my dad traveled extensively for his work.  There were periods here and there during which he was with us day to day, but for large chunks of time and for most of our ordinary days, she was my only constant in the parent department.

Mom was born in 1919 in New York City, the first of four girls, the child of German immigrants who came through Ellis Island just like millions of others in the early 20th century.

In the early twenties, the family moved out to Long Island where my grandfather built them a house.

A wistful smile would cross Mom’s face whenever she spoke of her mother, as if she were describing an angel, a true saint.

These were happy times in a house full of love.  The happy times didn’t last, though, and the Great Depression caused them to lose my grandfather’s income, the house and ultimately, all their security.

My grandmother worked very hard and always managed to provide her family with enough food and holidays that felt special in spite of their poverty.  Mom would simply say to me, “We were so poor” with emphasis on the “so”.  But Christmas morning, each girl would find a stack of gifts on a table, just as delightful and precious to them as my Patty Playpal doll or bicycle was to me, probably more so.  There might be a pair of s0x, hand-knitted of course, some special baked confection, a homemade toy of some kind and an orange.   Rare treats, all.

In 1933, when Mom was 14, her mother died of tuberculosis and later that same year, her father died of an infection.  After that, all four daughters lived and finished school with the Catholic nuns in Tarrytown, NY.  My mother bonded with the nuns and their way of life to such an extent that she seriously considered joining the convent.  Fortunately for me, she decided on a nursing career instead.

I always loved the stories she would tell me about her childhood and her years as a young woman in New York City during World War II when she was with the USO, the dances in the canteens, about the Air Force flyer she almost married, and the handsome sailor she did marry, my father.

Mom always advised me to keep learning, to develop skills so I would have something “to fall back on”.  When I was a child, all the moms were at home, cooking and cleaning.  The women’s movement was still a few years away.  I don’t think my mother was an early feminist or a woman ahead of her time.  She just knew life could throw you a curve and it’s best to be prepared.

As I grew up, she taught me to bake, to sew, and to garden.  Making clothes for me together was one of our favorite things to do.   Mom believed holidays are for celebration and Christmas is for spoiling children and one another.   Each year, she started weeks ahead making batches of several different German Christmas cookies, just like she’d watched her mother do years before.

She taught me the importance of family.  We moved around a lot when I was growing up and by the time I was 9 years old, the contact between us and my aunts, uncles and cousins became more sporadic.  Maintaining close ties with her sisters was very important to my mother and she did what she could with letters and phone calls but I know losing that physical proximity was difficult for her.  I’d always attributed that to her merely missing her sisters, but I’ve since realized that she understood, from her own experience and her own losses, how important those ties would be for me, in filling my life with family love and shared history.  She made sure I heard all the news about my cousins that she heard from her sisters, even though we rarely had any contact ourselves.

Much of what she wanted for herself didn’t happen, but she concentrated on what she did have.   She was my best friend and most trusted ally.  I was the pride of her life.  I wish I had been more conscious of things she was going through when they happened.  I wish I had spent more time with her in her last years.

Mom passed away four years ago, after a four week hospitalization.  We were lucky in that we had some time to talk, to say all the things on our minds.  She knew she was at the end of her life and she told me the only thing she feared was missing me.  I told her she’d be with me every day, following all the happenings in my life.  I told her how proud I was to be her daughter and that I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

It’s hard to lose a mom.  Several people told me at the time, “No one loves you like your mom.”  I remember thinking that it is such an ordinary tragedy, losing one’s mother to old age, yet what a life-changing event it is for that son or daughter.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like to lose her at the age she lost her mother.

My mother wasn’t perfect and she knew I spent some time in therapy learning how to process things my parents did and said, things that really had little to do with me, but with their own struggles to find their way.  What I know is that she did the best she knew to do. She gave me all she had; all the skills, the stories that made up my heritage, all the preparation for life, and all the love she had, but mostly what she gave me was her presence.

Ironically, it was Mom’s death that brought to me the gift of family once again.  Two of her sisters and several of my cousins came to her funeral and I have now reconnected with them.  I’ve visited my cousins three times and am planning another trip this summer.  We’ve all been through our own separate  adventures in life but when we’re together, it is as comfortable as if we’d never lost touch.  We never will again; it’s all up to us now.

You’re with me today, Mom, and every day.  I love you.

Happy Mothers Day to you all!



 

Posted in Garden | Tagged | 8 Comments

The Zen of Weeding


I love weeding.

I know what you’re thinking.  I didn’t always feel that way.  Hang with me a few minutes; let me explain.

Several years ago, while I was a Horticulture student, I worked as a summer intern at the JC Raulston Arboretum.   The interns were responsible for the daily care of the eight acre garden, along with the Head Gardener, his assistant and the many, many volunteers who keep the place thriving beautifully.  We dug, planted, mulched, mowed, propagated, cleaned, fertilized, watered, and watered some more.  There was a severe drought that year.  It was a very tough summer and we were fighting thirst every day – I’m not sure if we or the plants sucked up more water.   The heat was relentless.   Overall though, I’m pretty sure we spent the largest chunk of our time weeding.  Sometimes we would be assigned a specific garden area – the White Garden, the Conifer Collection, the Geophyte Border, but the real killer was weeding the Annual Bedding Plant Trial Beds.  It was big and out in the sun, only doable first thing in the morning during a summer like that one.  Row after row of low growing plants were there – all different varieties of petunias, geraniums, portulaca, zinnias, and many other annuals being evaluated for the market.

In the trial beds, we knelt or sat to do our work.  Some of us used only our hands; some used tools.  Being close to the ground, it was possible to view the whole plant as well as the soil around it.  The plants in the Arboretum trial beds weren’t likely to have disease or insect infestations because they were so closely monitored, but occasionally something will flare up in my garden.  If I’m getting close to my plants by weeding around them by hand, I’ll see problems before they take hold.

One of the things I came to appreciate about weeding that summer was how it taught me to notice subtle differences in foliage shape, texture, and color.  It was an important lesson in seeing, and seeing detail.  It’s been with me ever since.

Why do people say they hate weeding?  I think it depends on how you think about it.  The physical act of pulling a plant out of the ground by its roots is a very simple thing, but admittedly not a lot of fun.  Part of the fun comes in the cleaner look, the definition of the individual plants, the assurance that you’ve seen your plants at ground level and know how they’re doing.

You’ll notice the condition of the soil and the plants themselves.  As you extricate henbit and chickweed from around your desired plants, you’ll notice the strength of the crown, the color and tone of the top and underside of the leaves, the first flower buds.

Every now and then, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a plant growing.  Yes, that’s right and you’ll never convince me otherwise.  It’s like a quick snap – I’m never sure exactly what it is, but I know it when it happens.  It might be the tip of a petal reflexing.  It might be the turning of a leaf.

Wildlife is the second, but equally important, reason I like to get down with the plants and quietly weed.   The bees, birds and butterflies get used to me being in their midst.  I can take my camera with me and get some amazing shots.  They’re my favorite part of gardening and one of the greatest rewards for weeding.  I don’t make much noise, don’t move too fast and the critters get more and more comfortable with my presence.   And what a wonderful feeling it is to realize one’s own garden is a welcoming environment, not just to plants but animals as well!  Wildlife is honest.  If wildlife is in your garden, you’re doing something right.

Embrace the task.  Be there in the moment, completely mindful of the experience you’re living.  Let the rest of the world fall away from your consciousness.  Use all your senses to engage with the life that surrounds you.  The sights, the sounds and the smells all inform you of your garden’s health.  You’ll feel part of your garden as you never have before.

It’s this intimacy that makes the garden yours, just as you know your partner or your child or your parent or pet.  Your labor and attention give proprietorship in a way that a financial transaction never can.  If you garden mindfully, you know what I mean.

I find weeding to be one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening.   If you try looking at it in a new way, I bet you’ll find it more pleasant than you used to.  Here are some suggestions to make weeding easier and less daunting:

  • Weed frequently for short blocks of time/stay with it if the mood grabs you.
  • Pick a comfortable time of day for the area you will weed – sunny spots in the morning, shadier spots when the sun burns hottest.
  • Take advantage of the softer soil after a rain, being careful to keep your feet on paths or stepping stones to avoid compacting the moist soil.
  • Pull weeds before they flower – no flower = no seed to create more weeds!
  • Compost your weeds, keeping in mind that this is next year’s soil and your garden’s food that you won’t need to buy.
  • Use 3-4 inches of mulch to block weeds.  Newspaper is also a very effective weed block – if you use it, you can get by on a bit less mulch.   NEVER use landscape fabric.

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” – Thich Nhat Hanh


 

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