Friday, October 27, 2017

What's In A Name?

I planted Cardinal Flower for the hummingbirds, thinking nothing more of the name than that the flower was bound to be flaming red, which it is.

The hummingbirds did love it, and I was delighted by seeing the little dudes make their rounds through the garden all summer long. But the hummingbirds made their way South a few weeks ago, and the Cardinal Flower vine has been slowly wrapping up, flowering more slowly and using what energy it has left for setting seed.

This morning I found a line of Cardinal Flower seed pods on the porch railing, torn open, and a female cardinal pecking away at them. She flew off when she saw me and her husband swooped in and took over the feast. There is a whole feeding station set up along the porch rail where they must have been bringing the pods to break open and eat.

I am delighted by this, by my assumption that a flower was named for a bird's color, a surface level nod to the wild world, only to find that it was named for the bird that eats it, a much deeper connection between people, the plants we grow, and the wildlife that flit between the wild and the cultivated.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Old Ben Davis

How many years have I grown apples without ever eating one? I hope this year breaks the curse. I have been watching this apple, from a Ben Davis tree in the espalier around the vegetable garden, for many months. There were two, the only two apples from the new trees, and I picked the first much too early. I have high hopes for its more mature twin.

Other things are blooming in early October: a wonderful perennial sunflower and an unexpected Salvia brought home from an herb fair, labeled simply "sage."

There are lavender and sedum and roses and cosmos too, of course. I forget that October is so full of flowers. I am always focused on the spring, and yet fall has such beauty.

Monday, January 2, 2017

I Finally Find Birds

It isn't like I never liked birds, before. I just didn't find them worth watching, unlike, say, a slowly developing flower bud. But things change. A madman is elected president and I take up bird watching. Perhaps the two are related.

What really started me looking at birds was this new window.

After over a dozen years in our little house we are finally fixing it up - literally fixing the bits that were falling apart, and also making the changes I've dreamed of making but never thought we'd get to. Like having an enormous bay window in an open airy main room. We still need to have dry wall and ceilings put in, but those are details. The important part is sitting in that rocking chair and looking out at the birds as the sun rises each morning.

We've gone through bag after bag of birdseed, and for the trouble we have fed a legion of starlings, a flurry of squirrels, and eight other species of birds that I know of - cardinals, blue jays, tufted titmice, house finches, sparrows, mourning doves, hairy woodpeckers, Carolina wrens. And one rat.

I'm not sure how to think about finding a love of bird watching from the comfort of my rocking chair. If I had found a love of ornithology and field biology I'd be a bit less embarrassed. But perhaps its just that older people know stuff that younger people don't, like that sitting by a window staring out at little creatures with a cup of coffee by your elbow does something good to your brain. So I'm not going to fight it. If I become an eccentric old bird lady, so be it. I could do worse.

Friday, September 9, 2016


The summer has been hot. Too hot. As I drove home from work yesterday my car's dashboard kindly informed me that it was 104 degrees outside. I'm pretty sure the car exaggerated, but I understand the impulse. It was hot.

The poor garden has been hot, too, and dry. Of all the garden chores in the world watering is my least favorite, but also the chore my garden would most like me to do regularly. Poor garden - dependent on a person who loves it deeply, but cannot provide what it most needs. Tough love, garden, tough love. It seems to be surviving despite me.

I added espalier apples around the vegetable garden this spring. I finally got my Cox's Orange Pippin and a couple other heirloom apples that I've been reading about and wanting for years. I am hoping that they will help add a little structure and screening to the veggie garden, which looks nice in the early spring when the currants bloom and the kale comes up, but then declines into messiness and weeds come summer. I also just like to espalier things.
Milo doesn't seem to mind the heat too much, despite being a bulldog.

But I still blame all the garden destruction - decapitated lilies, yellowed lawn, and dog wallows in the flower beds - on him.

We have another creature I can blame some of the destruction on, perhaps. We have been seeing a rat in the garden, a beautiful sleek creature that frequents the back porch and the ground-level window of Grant's office. I asked Grant if he had seen the rat, and added "And did you notice? He has the most enormous -" and Grant cut in "balls. Yes, I know. Huge." What does it say about us, I wonder, that we both notice rat genitalia? To be fair, it was pretty hard to ignore. So while our well endowed rat is beautiful and I have no real problem with garden rats (aside from plague, of course) I'm not sure our neighbors feel the same, so I'll be working on new, screened compost bins this fall.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Escape into the Garden

It seems there is no end to the ugliness in the news this summer. Police brutalizing and killing black people, crazies murdering police, young men full of hate committing murder with guns on a massive scale, a political season that leaves me wondering how we got to this ugly place, and how we can possibly find our way to a more hopeful, more just country.

I escape the radio and newspapers in the garden. There is plenty of death, destruction, violence, and uncouth behavior in the garden, but at least we humans aren't to blame for it.

One day in June:

One day in July:

New Paths

One warm-ish day in February I decided that what we really needed was a gravel path between the driveway and the front path. The grass was trampled and thin from all of us cutting across rather than going around, and I have been eying the area bound by the house, the driveway, the sidewalk, and the front path for years as potential garden bed. But digging out grass and building paths is no easy task, so I procrastinated. Until that warm-ish day in February.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wandering Eye

I’ve been looking at houses online. It feels transgressive, a betrayal of my solid and unexciting little house. We’ve been together for so many years, you see, and it really was a perfect match all those years ago, but now I look at other houses and think about what might have been. Or could be.

There is one house for sale I keep looking up. The house itself is nothing special, aside from its spectacular 1960’s ranch house mojo. If we bought it I would spend months ripping out dirty carpet and pink toilets. But it backs up to the Patuxent river, with a half acre of land running down into the parkland at the river’s edge. I can imagine a garden tumbling down that hill, meeting the forest in a shrubby verge, and continuing along a mysterious path through the woods to the river at the bottom of the valley. I imagine Noah spending afternoons playing by the creek with his dogs, rather than playing Minecraft on the iPad.

But I keep circling around the idea that this little house of ours, with all its flaws, is somehow alive. I feel tender toward it, sorry for its hurts and insults, and I would grieve to leave it alone in the neighborhood without us. All of this is ridiculous. And yet I can’t help but feel that the lives lived in a house are connected to that house, that severing the link to a place severs the link to those lives. Maybe I feel this more keenly as someone with a terrible memory. I need the place to trigger the memory of things that happened there. I don’t want to lose the wedding rehearsal dinner in the backyard, the Thanksgivings with now-gone family, the sound of rain on the tree by our bedroom window, the feel of Noah’s skin as I rubbed his back at bedtime. I want to keep the lives I have lived in this house close to me, safe from time.

That nothing is safe from time, especially not a house or a memory, should be clear to me by now. And yet I am reluctant to willfully leave my past selves alone in a discarded house. I hope that when the time comes to go, as it inevitably will someday in the next fifty years, those past selves hold on tight and come along for the ride.