Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

It is Christmas Eve, and I spent two hours outside, pulling weeds, shoveling compost, and piling random detritus into yard waste bags for the city to carry away.  I needed it: sadness for Julia's family, missing my own parents on this holiday, and overwork at work has made me cranky and short with the people I love.  I realized, as my back creaked and protested at the labor, that the reason I garden is not The Garden.  My garden isn't much to look at.  I spend little time looking at it, so I don't mind much.  It is a garden to work in, to tinker with - it is not a noun to me, but a verb.

As I was out there pulling weeds I remembered that this morning Noah asked me what was so special about Jesus.  On the Eve of Christmas that is a good and valid question.  I gave him some pablum about Jesus being God's child, and teaching us how to love people.  But those answers don't satisfy me, and they shouldn't satisfy Noah - we are all God's children, and a whole host of saints (religious and secular) have taught us how to love.  And I realized: Jesus is the verb in God.  Just as my garden is nothing to me without gardening, God is nothing without entering into our lives, and that is what Jesus did, or at least showed some of us that God does.

Maybe Jesus is part of the answer to the age-old of question of why we suffer if God is so loving and good.  Maybe God said, with Jesus, that life is not real life - it looses its verb-ness - if the world does not contain both suffering and joy.  Even so, even with the suffering, God threw in with us, with our lot, incarnated, for the privilege and pain of living, as a quiet way of saying: it is worth it, my sad, loving, joyful, frail people - life is worth it.

So that, Noah, is the meaning of Christmas to me.  That, and the look on your face when you find the electric train set under the tree tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sleep in heavenly peace, Julia Grace.  I will remember you.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Winding Down

 Last year, just after Thanksgiving, I made a little pergola out of pruned branches.  This year I took it down and rebuilt it, this time as a line of arches.  All this shows is that I am not a builder, or a garden designer, but a putterer.  A tinkerer.

I do think it looks better this way, though, providing a line of vertical elements rather than just one block.  And it does make more sense for the plants beneath the old pergola, which seemed to resent the shade, and I resented having to step around the posts as I picked strawberries or weeded the asparagus.

More tinkering, this time with lilies.  These huge monsters were living under the magnolia and crepe myrtle trees on the east side fence.  They had to be held up with suspenders tied to the tree branches each year, and their blooms were hidden.  So I pried them out and planted them around the garden, some here along the vegetable garden fence and others at the base of Noah's swing set, along with some phlox that were crowded and shaded and unhappy up by the house.

Leeks, the last crop standing, aside from the woody herbs.  I think last year I used the last garden leeks deep in the winter for a leek and bacon tart, which was wonderful.  These may meet the same fate.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

First Frost

We woke up this morning to frost, and tomorrow holds snow.  The cosmos survived the frost.  They are resilient things.

In the next room I hear my equally resilient child roughhousing with his best friend.  This past week we were all touched by frost, and like any living thing we have been changed by it, and life won't ever be quite the same.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Unintended Hydroponics

Found this growing under the dish drainer in the sink.  Huh.  Apparently I'm not much of a housekeeper, but I have a knack for growing things indoors...hydroponically....hmmmm.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Blooming Fall

Proof that dahlias do, indeed, grow from seed.  They are not the colors I would have chosen, and they are not five feet tall like my mom's, but here they are, bright and blooming, and I had to do was poke the seeds in the ground.  I'll do this again next year, plus overwintering the bulbs from these youngsters.

And here is proof that there are beautiful things as rampant as bindweed (or almost):
Below all the purple hyacinth bean is the little pergola I built last Thanksgiving out of limbs trimmed from the Bradford pear, as well as the garden gate.  I'd rather see the beans than the gate.

And finally, proof that a new coat of paint can work wonders:
We painted the back deck to match the front porch, and it looks so much better - it goes with the house now, in a way it didn't before.  I think we had attached a 1970's ranch-house style deck to our 1950's cape.  Just didn't work, and it seemed to hang awkwardly off the back door, not really a part of the house or the garden.  Now it looks like it belongs.

It is fall.  The temperature has fallen, and Noah has started school.  I am the mother of an elementary school child.  Seasons.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two Good Hours

These days, what with the job and the kid and all, I count my garden time in precious hours, not chunks of day, as in: "Oh, I spent the morning in the garden."  Yesterday Noah and I arrived home from visiting my parents in Providence.  I hauled home in my carry on a dozen divisions of day lilies, the gorgeous ones from Kingston.  We walked in the door, I kissed Grant, handed him the parenting duties, and grabbed my gloves and a shovel.  It began to pour, and I spent a glorious hour in the front garden bed, grubbing out grass and putting in lilies.

This morning I sent my kiddo off to his first day of pre kindergarten.  After dropping him off, I was supposed to join the other parents for breakfast and chat...I tried, but the crowd of very friendly people freaked me out and I ran home to my garden, where I spent another hour in the rain, moving my 8 foot tall oriental lilies out of one bed and into another.

My personal gardening pendulum, the one that swings between my ornamental beds and my vegetable and fruit garden, seems to have taken a swing toward useless beauty.  I am again finding myself reading "The English Garden" and contemplating color combinations in my dreams.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I am proved a solid shipwright.  Two small boys rode out a 5.9 magnitude earthquake in the crow's nest of the new pirate bed.

I am tempted to rename myself Cassandra, but of course she had no power to prepare for the worst, only to fortell.  And all I have learned from my freak prediction is to always use four inch lag screws, because maybe you'll actually need them.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What I Did Instead of Gardening

Vacation.  One would think there would be much gardening.  But no.  Instead, at the insistence of one small boy I have spent practically every waking hour building a bunk bed.

If you use your imagination you can see that it is actually a pirate ship, and the top bunk is the crow's nest.  You will need to use your imagination less next week, when the captain's wheel, telescope, and rope ladder arrive in the mail.  I am thinking of rigging up a sail, but can't quite figure out where it would go.  I suppose it could be the curtain?

I have spent countless hours mulling this bed, and how to make it solid.  I was amused to realize that if I had bought a cheapo bunk bed at Ikea I would not have thought for a moment about its safety.  But this bed, which I have built by hand, I wonder about.  I tied the two-by-four that holds up the wall-end of the bed to the studs with four four-inch lag screws, and both screwed and glued the beams to the two-by-four.  The beams are held up by a book case made as solid as I know how, held together with screws and glue and a backing of half inch plywood.  This is one weighty piece of furniture, as a pirate ship should be.  And yet I lie on the bottom bunk, looking up at those beams, and imagine the whole crashing down in an earthquake with Noah below.  But that would involve the whole house falling down, probably, so we'd all be in trouble anyway.

This is life, I suppose.  I fear going to Nigeria, because I could be killed in a car crash.  I fear Noah sleeping under a bunk bed, because it could fall on him.  I seem to be unable to either stop fearing, or to stop courting the fear by doing these things.  Maybe it reminds me of how much I love the things I could lose?

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Unexpected Harvest

I got home from Nigeria on Saturday evening, and almost immediately (after hugging my boys and being licked by the dog, of course) went out to check on the Concord grapes that were ripening as I left a week before.  The birds have been eating them, picking off the individual grapes as they ripen, so that the clusters look exactly the same now as they did before - each cluster a mix of green and almost purple - but there are fewer of them.  Very sad.

Yesterday I was whacking back weeds against the chain link fence, doing battle with the bindweed.  And as I pulled the wicked stuff off the fence and grape vines...I found a gift.  Pounds and pounds of beautiful clusters of grapes, the fruit of a vine I abandoned last year after it has refused to produce since its planting.  I must have been putting too much pressure on the poor thing, because left to its own devices it climbed into the neighbor's evergreen hedge and flourished.  In order to harvest the grapes I simply tugged on the vines and cut them off the plant, and hauled armfulls of vines and fruit into the house.

A few clusters I've saved for eating - they are sweet-tart and grapey and quite seedy - but most of them I crushed and strained for jelly.  I haven't heard tell of white grape jelly, but I'll try it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Garden Blahs

There are times I just don't care about the damned garden.  There, I've said it.  It sits out there, all needy and weedy and parched, and I'd rather sit inside, in the air conditioning, and read about anything other than plants.  There are raspberries ripening, and I haven't picked them.  The tomato is succumbing to blight and stink bugs, and I have not ridden to its rescue.  The cukes for pickes and relish are hanging there waiting for me, and I just don't care to do the work they want me to do. 

The garden in January is all fantasy and longing.  The garden in July can be a pain in the ass.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Don't Blink

I was away for a week, and my garden behaved like a teenager with an empty house, throwing a party in the beds, inviting all the undesirables in, and catching all manner of bugs.  It also (like a child one doesn't see for a short time) grew.  And bore fruit, which is certainly a thing one hopes teens won't do while unobserved.

Alas, there was also a death in the garden.  I was growing a Red Kuri squash on Noah's swing set, and it was smashing.  Huge, umbrella-like leaves and teardrop shaped fruit smothering the structure, with a couple of purple hyacinth beans climbing up through the greenery in preparation for fall blooming.  In the week I was gone squash borers must have gotten to it, because when I returned it was mostly a drooping tangle of limp vines.  I didn't cry, but I wanted to.

In other news...

The lilies bloomed!  All at once, while I was elsewhere.  Here is the bed against the house out back, full of phlox and lilies and the crab apple tree, with herbs at their feet.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nice Night on the Farm

Friends, a few interesting bugs for the boys to look at, lots and lots of greens to harvest...and two mason jars of sangria.  Life was good last night.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


My first experiment with onions.  I think I'll do it again - easy, inexpensive, and somehow very satisfying.  There must be some part of the human soul that gets deep pleasure and reassurance from these staple crops.  There is nothing else to explain my delight in a handful of onions and a few heads of garlic pulled from my garden this week.

They were tasty, the onions sauteed and then caramelized with balsamic vinegar, and the garlic thrown into a warm broccoli salad with feta.  Yes, maybe it was the balsamic vinegar and the feta that made those meals delicious - or maybe it was the taste of human satisfaction.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Hot Harvest

It is hot.  Too hot for June.  Despite the heat, spent a couple of hours eating, drinking, harvesting, and washing produce with friends at the Cedar Ridge farm.  I hope some folks who don't usually get fresh greens eat well tonight.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Small Fruits

The berries are in.  Yesterday we picked the first blueberries, and the first currant.  Noah ate three of the four blueberries, and I had to restrain him from picking off the green ones and gobbling those, too.  I saved the currant for myself - it was sweet and tart and broke open under my teeth with a little pop. 

Strawberries are wonderful this year - about a quart a day, now.  Yesterday I made strawberry ice cream for a Memorial Day get together yesterday, and another guest brought serviceberries he had gleaned, and they were wonderful together.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ancestoral Gardening

My greatgrandmother's primroses.  They grew in the garden in Little Compton, Rhode Island, where she lived with my grandparents for a while.  I called her Wrinkly Granny, and she taught me how to wiggle my ears.  She is still one of the most fabulous women I've ever known.  And here she is, bright yellow, growing in my garden.  They came to me via my dad and mom's garden, where they treasured them in the same way I do now.

The primroses are the only really antique plants I have - but I have plants from my parent's garden in Kingston - day lillies and peonies and perennial sweet peas.  There are other plants that are from the people I love in spirit only: hellebore, lillies of the valley, lilac.

I wondered recently why the hydrangeas out front seemed special to me, when they are really very common plants.  And I remembered a huge, wonderful hydrangea in my parent's back yard, and how when my grandmother lay dying I cut a huge bouquet of them for her room, and how glad I was to have those flowers so near to her at her passing.

I can't imagine a garden without memory.  It would be a sterile thing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rose Bower (and other sundry notes)

The front porch, overhung with roses.  Or at least screened by roses - the over hanging part may take another couple of years.

These are New Dawn, which for the time being are the only roses allowed in my garden.  Early this spring I pulled out an Alba that I loved because it got sick every single year, and by July it was hideous. 

Garden goings-on:
  • Planted some nicotiana in the front garden bed.  That bed is slowly being infiltrated by the very aggressive risomatic grass out front.  May need nasty chemicals to deal with it.
  • Peas have bloomed and set fruit!  Another week or so till pea time.
  • Let the asparagus go about a week and a half ago.  It is already six feet high.
  • Full crop of strawberries is coming in.  Yum.  Not so many rotten or moldy as last year, so maybe last year's trouble was the weather.
  • Breba crop of figs did indeed go the way of the dodo.
  • Planted a bunch of nasturtiums along the edge of the lilac bed and beneath the new fig, and they are up and growing like wildfire.
  • Dahlia seeds turned into seedlings, indeed, and they have taken hold in the garden and look to be doing fine.  Nothing like a dahlia planted from overwintered bulbs (or are they corms or roots?) but growing.  Must remember to lift the bulbs in the fall.
  • The old raspberries (the survivors of the Great Raspberry Plague of 2010) have set fruit, and we should have berries in another few weeks.  The new plants are slow.
  • CSA doesn't start for another few weeks, and the asparagus is over.  Must think of some green things for this period next year.  Lettuce?  Spinach?  Broccoli never seems to do well for me, and it is still a couple weeks from edible, anyway.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Simply Pretty

Sometimes there is deep meaning in gardening.  And sometimes there is just beauty.  Peonies are just about the beauty, with nothing deeper going on.  Kind of a relief.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seeing the Berry as Half Edible

The first strawberry of spring:

Only someone else got to it first.

Whether bird or bug or bunny, I don't know.  Cut off the nibbled bit and gave it to the small boy, who asked for more.  Maybe the nibble added flavor?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

An Emptied Nest

Below this nest, on the grass, were two tiny birds with eyes that had never opened, featherless, fresh from the egg, dead.  We had watched this nest for weeks, I had held Noah up to see the robin sitting on the eggs.  And now the babies are gone, and the parents have flown, and they will start again with a new clutch of eggs later in the season.

Who knows what happened?  My guess is the wind shook the branches too hard, and the nest tipped.  If it had been a cat it would have carried away the babies, but maybe there were more, and it did.

I don't know what to make of all the death in life.  The more I garden the more I am aware of death, and how much it is a part of our lives, even if we choose not to see it.  Noah came in to the kitchen today when I was taking the meat off a chicken carcass and said "Oh, I don't want to eat that!  Poor chicken."  I told him he didn't have to, and he doesn't.  But I will make sure he understands (later) if he wants to be a vegetarian that eating plants does not absolve us of causing death, because animals die under the plow, too.  How much can we handle seeing the death in our every day lives?  I would prefer to see less, I know.  There is too much in the headlines already, and I'd rather not understand how close it is to the people I love, simply because all that lives can die.

But back to those baby birds.  I don't know what point their lives had.  Maybe none, beyond the biological imperative to pass on genes.  I do hope, though, that in whatever time they had out of the egg, that it was good.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Front Garden

For years the front yard was a rectangle of grass with one small spruce in the corner.  Now Otis oversees a much prettier domain:

Oh, Guano

I've worked hard to create a bird-friendly garden, and this is what I get?  Bird poop.  Everywhere.  It covers the cars, fouls the bird bath, drips onto the green strawberries on their way to ripening.  There has never been such a bird shitty year.  It is very strange.

I have been noticing birds more, in general.  Driving to work yesterday I saw two crows attack and drive off a huge hawk.  And the other night I lay in the garden and watched two hawks circle their way over the neighborhood, moving slowly up the street as their tight circles took them gradually to the West.  I wanted to see one dive, but never did.  I have seen one of that pair sitting on my fence post outside the kitchen window, perhaps eyeing the bird feeder, and wishing he could find some unsuspecting lunch perched on it.  It think it was a coopers hawk, but I can't be sure.

 There are two regular sounds in this neighborhood - the sirens of emergency personnel headed to disasters on Rt. 95, and the birds.  Strange that they should coexist, the very urban sound of human catastrophe and the rural twitter and song that I associate with utter well being.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May Flowers

Iris, the quintisential May flower.  Somehow I have yellow ones, but no purple.  These flower spikes are over four feet tall, and just glorious.  They also resist turning to mush in the rain, unlike the yellow and brown ones further down the bed.  I should replace those with purple, and then May would be something to see.

The shade garden I put in last year, under the kitchen window, is a great pleasure, particularly because that space was so ugly for so long - beauty that has alway been beautiful can be boring, but beauty that was once ugly never is.
The shrub I planted has surprised me. It was labled as a Calycanthus something-or-other "white."  I expected white flowers.  Nope.  Wine red.  You can see them above, just a bit, along with some heleabores, sweet woordruf, and hostas.  Really, the surprises are the best.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Yet More Cake

This one with chocolate mint and lavender.

I don't know who ate this cake, or whether they enjoyed it.  I made it for the church bake sale.

The irony of this bake sale was that it was held on mother's day, and the congregation was encouraged to buy something for the mom in their life.  Mothers baked treats for the sale, and fathers bought those treats to present to the mothers on their special day. I short circuited that loop by simply making two cakes, one for the sale and one for myself.  Tasty.