Friday, May 30, 2008

Garden Bloggers Book Club

I am excited to participate in my first Garden Bloggers Bookclub. This month, one of my favorite gardeners is the focus of our reading. Elizabeth Lawrence was a wonderful gardener and writer. Well-known in the mid-twentieth century, she was an expert in her field. Most inspiring to me is the ability Elizabeth had to reach out to others. She is a symbol for the camaraderie gardeners achieve.

Lawrence corresponded with gardeners all over the country and encouraged others to send her information about what bloomed in her garden when. Her book The Little Bulbs focuses on one special relationship she had with a gardener who lived half a country away. In her preface, Lawrence state, "There are other gardens and gardeners that must enter into this tale. Some I have seen, and some I know only from letters or books, but all these gardens are as real to me as my own." She believed that, "Gardening, reading about gardening, and writing about gardening are all one; no one can garden alone."

My first exposure to Lawrence was through the recently published book Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters edited by Emily Herring Wilson. Through their personal correspondence, the book reveals the relationship of Lawrence and Katharine S. White who was the wife of famed Charlotte' Web author E.B White. (Mr. White is well-known to me and is a favorite of my daughter through this book, The Trumpet of the Swan and Stewart Little. All of his stories encourage children to respect nature, which is especially attractive to me.) As an archivist who has spent a good portion of her adult life handling original historical materials, I am especially excited by the format of Two Gardeners. Next to a diary, personal correspondence digs deepest into the psyche of the writer. It offers the reader an honest look at a person. through original documents we can form our own opinions about those we study, rather than relying on the observations of another writer.

Two Gardeners provides valuable information about the history of gardening, gardening methods, well-known gardeners from the mid twentieth century, and the book is a valuable resource for women's studies.

Here is one of my favorite excerpts. I love it for despite being acknowledged by others as an authority, Lawrence is humble. She encourages White's gardening efforts by playing down her own expertise. and states in a letter from 1959, "I can't answer your questions because I don't know the answers. Far from being an expert, I am the most causal gardener. I don't even own a spray. When things get sick I destroy them. I haven't divided daffodils for years. I just put out things and let htem take their chances. When I write about the way things should be done, I quote an expert. I am a writer. In my garden everything grows on top of everything else and I let them fight it out...I have never found any ground cover that is satisfactory for little bulbs." It gives me hope that I can be a "gardener" too. This statement encourages me to experiment and try my best. (I should also note that White too was an experienced gardener. She is best knownby gardners for her column in the New Yorker called "Onward and Upward.")

I must end this by explaining that Ms. White was a typical northern "Yankee," while Lawrence was a southerner. This divide made their relationship even more special. It shows how a garden camaraderie can bridge gaps, making geography and other incidentals irrelevant. Gardening makes our differences something to cherish and explore. I have learned this from the camaraderie I am developing with my own international garden friends on blotanical

Kids in the Garden

It's been over a month since my last installment of "Kids in the Garden." Here are some new ideas for the month:

Turn on the sprinkler! Do you remember running through the sprinkler as a kid? (Are you from the "Slip-and-Slide" generation like me?) Well, encourage your kids to get in touch with the simple life. But, don't just run...discuss the feeling of the grass between your toes. Encourage kids to catch water on their tongues like a flower catches the rain. Look for rainbows. Talk about the warm sun. A good old-fashioned romp through the sprinkler is a great opportunity to experience nature.

(These plants were spotted in our latest garden survey)

As the flowers are popping, my daughter and I have been "surveying the property." I remember doing this as a kid with my dad. He would announce, "it's time to survey the property!" And I would follow him out of the house to see how things were growing. It was a great opportunity for parent-child bonding, as well as a good way to develop my nature observation skills. Today my daughter and I walked the yard and then stopped for some wonderful swing time and some baseball practice. (The kid is developing a great batting stance. Like mother like daughter...she throws like me too. I think we need to get dad out to help her with that.)

A few weeks ago we planted sunflowers in a square. The goal is to create a sunflower house, where my daughter says she will play "Little House on the Prairie" once the sunflowers are full grown.

Our herb garden is in full swing and I'm encouraging the little one to sample. Last month I talked about her passion for onions. She will graze on them straight from the garden, so we planted a second onion patch near her swing set. This month we planted new perennials and also put in our tender annual herbs. Basil is a personal favorite. After putting ours in, we created a pot full of basil for granddad. He will use it to make tomato, mozarella and basil with oil for himself. Not only is my daughter learning to appreciate diverse flavors herself, she is learning to share with others AND is learning that plants are something to be cherished. They make great gifts!

We've visited many garden centers this month. I am letting her help me pick plants. While strolling through Home Depot, she announced "I want to make a sign." Last year I started a "reading garden" in the shade for her in an attempt to make a space of her own. She has renamed the garden the "princess garden." We picked out a concrete stone for her sign (cost = $2.69.) She had me write "If you are a fairy princess, please come in." We painted the words with "Once Upon a Time" (hot pink) Disney paint, which was leftover from painting her room earlier in the month. The sign as at the entrance of her garden. She's got plans for more signs in the works. One she mentioned is, "Princes are welcome too."

As always, I encourage you to go with the flow. Follow your child's whims and learn what aspects of nature excite him. The more you teach, the more your child will pick up on your ideas and run with them. Nature offers an unlimited playground and a parent need only open a child's eyes to some of the possibilities.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why Do You Blog?

Blogging offers one a forum for communication -- a chance to make your voice heard. A blog also allows the writer to gather her thoughts and try out ideas on others to see how they are received. Blogging allows us to become part of a wider community, to seek out the expertise of others who know more than we and to offer our own advice. Friendships are made through blogging. Sensitive topics can be discussed in a tell the whole world kind of anonymous way. Afterall, there is the possibility that everyone is listening, but how many of our readers really know us personally? Blogging allows us to keep a diary easily, remembering changes in our lives from day-to-day and year to year. We are encouraged in our efforts by responses from others and therefore the diary goes on. It is easier to avoid the journal sitting near my bedside than the computer I use every day anyway and our fans. (Hello? Is there anyone out there?) If you are fairly new to blogging, as I am, blogging can become like a game. How many people can you get to read your words? You can even gain some notoriety or kudos.

Alternately, blogging takes a lot of time. I could be gardening right now instead of writing. Or, I could be working on my next book, looking for my next client, exercising or planning my lunch...(hmmm, I am getting hungry.) Yet, this idea hit me and here I sit.

I view myself as an idea person. I have lots of ideas coming at me all day long. There are too many for me to attend to. When I was getting to know my now significant other twenty years ago, I told him that I wish I had a typewriter in my brain to record my thoughts. (Now I want to say a computer chip instead of a typewriter, but I'm afraid that raises an image of a sci-fi computers taking over humans kind of thing.) Blogging allows me to get out thoughts, like this one, in short bursts. I do not need to make the idea into a major project, yet all my little ideas are working into this wonderful little blog that seems like a worthwhile large project when put all together. Little ideas can make big things...

I convinced a friend of mine to start her own blog the other day and she told me this morning that she began her writing yesterday.. Her husband doesn't understand why she is doing it. (Is he afraid she will say something about him?) Though I have not yet seen her blog, I know it will be very different from mine. In time, she will find her own community of bloggers. It will make her feel good. Her husband doesn't have to understand. She won't need me to read it to think it is worthwhile to do it. We are great friends, but I'm sure our blogging relationships will take different paths.

I would love for you to share the reasons why you blog. Here are some other things for you to possibly share if you respond. How much time does it take you each day? Do you think about your blog even when you are not actually blogging? How do you plan what you will write each day? Do you keep other blogs? If so, what are they about? Where do you see your blog heading in the future? Do you keep a personal diary? What emotional satisfaction do you think you get from blogging? Is anyone disturbed by your blogging? Have you ever blogged about something you regretted later on? Who do you think reads your blog and does it matter to you if anyone reads it at all?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An Herb by Any Other Name...

I am fascinated by herbs. In my mid-twenties, I first visited an herbalist to help me with PMS related symptoms. It was an eye opening experience for never before had I deeply considered the medicinal properties of the plants around me. And soon, I realized the diversity of the smells and tastes of herbs could enhance my life to a great degree. Before this time, I thought of herbs as dried and sprinkled on chicken. Occasionally, fresh herbs were used for making fabulous mozzarella and tomato appetizers. After my herb conversion, I began using herbs on a regular basis for cooking, aromatherapy, pain relief, and beauty.

A couple of my closest friends are naturopathic doctors. From them I have learned about herbal poultices, herbal teas, and other herbal remedies. The other day I had the pleasure of walking through my neighborhood with one of these friends and was delightfully surprised when she began pointing out herbs on our local tour. Growing along the side of the road we saw burdock, wild carrot and other generally overlooked, but precious, plants. I have learned over the years that herbs extended beyond rosemary, parsley and thyme. Botanically speaking, an herb is any plant with a non woody stem. However, we generally call only the plants that have some practical benefit to man "herbs." It is amazing how many plants along the side of the road fit the bill.

When I arrived home from my walk, I offered to dig up one of my favorite wild flowers for my friend. My jack-in the pulpits have spread through my front yard over the past year. Their unusual flower and unique trefoil leaf seemed a fair trade for the jacob's ladder that my friend Sara dug from her woods for me the week earlier. While researching herbs online this evening, I learned that jackin the pulpit too is considered an herb with a wide variety of medicinal uses. This realization rings bells in my head. I think of all the land clearing that we humans perform. We have been warned of the dangers of losing flora that may benefit us by such practices. My walk in the neighborhood really brought this issue closer to home.

My favorite use of herbs is for aromatherapy. As others put on a pot of coffee in the morning, I plug in my aromatherapy burner. I usually warm lavender, but sometimes add rose, jasmine, chamomile, patchouli and a number of other favorites from my collection. The scents can change my mood and even fix ailments such as headaches. My favorite accessory is a Tisserand essential oil warmer and I highly recommend one for anyone who is interested in aromatherapy. Throw out your Glade Plugins and other scents. Once you use an aromatherapy warmer and your favorite fragrance you will be hooked. The natural smells permeate the house and can overpower the toughest unwanted odors. (I had a friend last week ask me why my house always smells so good.)

This year, one of my gardening goals is to expand my herb garden as much as I can and to learn about various uses of herbs. Many years ago, I purchased what I thought was my first herb. This St. Johnswort is a beautiful little bush with yellow flowers. After ten years and three St. Johnswort plants I have still not tried to make use of the plant, but just knowing that I have this common depression fighter cheers me for some reason. This year, I am learning that I have many more herbs than I realized and they are among the best growers in my garden. These gems include yarrow, evening primrose and bee balm. Their newly discovered status elevates them in my mind somehow. An herb by any other name is still an herb...I am anxious to discover which ones hide under pseudonyms.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Shaker Gardens

Today my family visited the Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire. The Shakers were a religious sect practicing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Shakers lived among 19 villages in the United States. They believed in devoting their lives to God and hard work. They are best known for their furniture making skills, but were also innovative inventors. For example, they invented the flat broom to which we are accustomed today. The downfall of the Shakers was their practice of celibacy. The grounds of the Canterbury Shakers is beautiful and it was an extremely enjoyable day.

Most interesting to me was the variety of plantings on the site. The Shakers were self sufficient and therefore incorporated large gardens into their landscape. The gardens are maintained today and I've included photos of them here. The Shakers also were seasoned herbalist, using a wide variety of herbs regularly in their infirmary and some for cooking. I purchased three varieties of sage, a variety of oregano I had never before seen, and lemon verbena. This year, one of my goals in my own garden is to collect as many new perennials herbs as I can. This trip helped launch me toward achieving this goal. The gift shop in Canterbury also sells seeds and here I picked up some hollyhock, a plant I admired in a new friend's garden last summer.

The trees in the landscape were amazing. What a treat to catch the spring blossoms of lilac, apple, dogwood and others. The large trees leading to the Shaker meeting house were particularly noteworthy. They were aged trees with rough bark leading one through a grass and dandelion strewn field. My daughter played here and picked yellow flowers as our tour guide introduced us to the Shaker lifestyle.

A visit to the Shakers village is well worth any gardener's time. I highly recommend it. See the Boston Globe article The Last Ones Standing for an interesting article about the four Shakers remaining. See for information about Shaker sites to visit.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Garden Visitors

When we think of little creatures in the garden, we sometimes focus on the bad not the good. Birds, butterflies, bees, ladybugs, praying mantis are the highlights we gardeners seek. While I have had my share of moles, japanese beetles and the like, I can sit back and enjoy this early period without them. Birds are on my mind today.

I mentioned a little while ago that I had cardinals building a nest in my cypress bush. I have been trying to avoid gardening in that area for fear of disturbing them. The bush sits out my sunroom window and this is where I do the majority of my writing. The birds keep me company. Papa bird was out all week, flitting about with food in his mouth. Mama came out for the first time in awhile yesterday. AH! And here she is again today! I wonder what is going on in that tree. Are the babies here yet? When does mom bird feel comfortable leaving the nest? Would the mom leave the dad to sit on the eggs? I haven't heard any little chirps yet, so I don't think the babies are here. ("What's Inside Amy's Head" provides interesting information about bird gestation. I need to do more research to answer all my questions though. Or, I would appreciate comments from anyone knowledgeable about the subject.)

How do birds pick their nesting sites? My friend Sara has a bird's nest above her kitchen door. The door leads toward her car port. She lives on a wooded property, which seems like it would be a better choice to me, but perhaps the birds are safe from predators in the carport.

Yesterday I visited a local garden center and found this little lady with her baby (whose beak is visible behind mama's head.) My friend Regina thought the bird was a sculpture. She sat so still on the same table as the merchandise. Regina reached out to touch her and jumped back when the morning dove blinked. I took a fast picture, but didn't want to disturb her. Was this spot less busy when the morning doves chose this home? Do they regret their choice of nesting location now?

One of my favorite children's book is "The Best Nest" by P.D. Eastman. I love all of P.D. Eastman's books, so if you haven't had the please of reading "Go, Dog, Go" and "Are You My Mama?" (another birdy classic) trot yourself to the library right now. Every grown-up and child should be acquainted with these. In "The Best Nest," mama bird testily wishes to leave their busy home. She's pregnant, so she has a right to be grumpy! Papa bird looks everywhere for the perfect place for his new family, but they end up back where they started. They learn that despite its flaws, they really do have the best nest. So, perhaps the birds know something we don't and choose their locations wisely despite the absurdity of some of the places we find them.

Daddy cardinal swooped out of the cypress with a wave of song. Mama is tucked safe inside the tree again. My cypress is too big for the spot where the previous owners planted it. I think I complained about this a few days ago, but I will never take it down. Last year, a family of bluejays had a nest here. I think I truly do have the best nesting site around.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What's Inside Your Head?

The other day I had the honor of judging the art work of students from the Manchester, New Hampshire area. My local art association offers a scholarship each year to the student we deem the most talented, who plans to go to college with a major in the fine arts. I was blown away by this year's winner. Her use of color, composition, and medium were superb, but all of the judges agreed that what put her over the top was her subject matter. She has the ability to take a central idea, manipulate it, and let her imagination run wild to realize a fully developed story in a single image in every single one of her paintings. She got me thinking about fully realized creativity...

I am fascinated by human creativity. Whether the outlet for our creative efforts is the fine arts, gardening, dramatic arts, music, or writing, human expression is a wonder. How amazing it is to me that we can take what is in our heads, use an appropriate medium to get it out, and allow others to see our thoughts. Effective communication can help others see things in a new light. Our creative efforts can even make people feel our emotions.

One student showed a picture of her version of heaven. The painting was done in all golds. We saw the back of a girl's head, looking over a stone fence at an expansive castle-like building. This image was done for a class assignment. The object was to paint something that could not be expressed with words. From the painting I garnered a feeling of wonder and beauty before the artist identified the subject. Very effectively, she communicated her vision of something larger than herself, something that brings her peace and happiness. Immediately, I felt her emotions when looking at her painting.

In my garden photography, I aim to point out the beauty and wonder I feel while in a garden. There is no place I feel more at peace with myself and my place in the universe. My husband (who is not a gardener) once told me that I make flowers more beautiful than they really are. I don't think that is true because I see the beauty that is in my photographs when I look at flowers, but I'm glad he feels that way. I know that he looks at flowers twice now because he sees something that he didn't notice before I took up garden photography. I have helped make my vision his. I have helped him feel my sense of wonder and my happiness in the garden.

Though I am usually showing a beauty that is there, sometimes in my imagery I try to show things that are not there. One of my favorite things is to visit a field of flowers and imagine a newly formed landscape. It is a form of meditation for me I suppose. I'll sandwich fields of photos together to show my alternate vision of the landscape. The images that begin this post show samples of this type of work and creativity.

While choosing the landscape and appropriate planting for my own garden, I am out to accomplish the same thing. I have a vision of my yard. In my mind's eye, I know what the finished product of my gardening efforts will be. One day, I will realize the vision and finally get it out of my head for all to see the true potential of my landscape and the comfort I gain from it. And with this realized final product one will also be able to see a part of me, melded with with nature, at its my most peaceful self. This is what I have deemed "The Gardener's Soul." It is the creativity inside a person or a person's inner self achieving a melding with the world around her and expressing itself in the garden.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Hey! Who are you calling a WEED!"

I've been thinking a lot about weeds lately.

Over the winter, I bought my daughter a wildflower book. I have lovely memories of picking wildflowers with my mom. We went for long walks, picked lovely flowers and pressed them. I remember putting the flowers between sheets of paper and placing them into our huge unabridged dictionary and Encyclopedia Britannicas to flatten them. We decorated photo albums with the flowers. (As an archivist, I now know that decorating paper-based materials with living things hastens the demise of one's creations, but this isn't important to the story. I just thought I should mention it.) As a kid, I also loved searching for four leaf clovers. For the past two years, my daughter and I have sought a four-leaf clover for good luck. My album as a kid was full of them, but today I can't find a single one on my lawn, the lawns of my friends, or a public lawn. I'm sure my friends think I'm strange when I get down on hands and knees picking through clover, but one must remain forever childlike when playing in nature. I just don't care what others think about my exploits!

My wildflowers and clover are surely considered "weeds," but I love them just the same. A weed is a plant in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there are right times and places for them and we must consider their use wisely. Weeds should not be eradicated without thought. (By the way, why do we sometimes call weeds "wildflowers" and call wildflowers "weeds?")'s a plant that most Americans would surely agree is a weed, but I have a new found love for it. The dandelion is a bane to every American lawn. In my effort to go organic, I used corn gluten on the lawn to eradicate weeds early in the season. Dandelions remain on the edges of my property. What luck! A green lawn and happy peripheral weeds. My daughter and I collected the dandelions we found and made dandelion tea with a little Melissa Officianilis (a lemony herb) mixed in. It was yummy. My daughter asked for more the next day. (To make dandelion tea, use the leaves and steep in boiling water a top on - a tea pot works great - for ten minutes.) I have read that dandelion leaves are super nutritious and lovely in salads. I will have to try this after our dandelions replenish themselves.

I am currently reading "Secrets of the Soil," which talks about the importance of weeds for aerating soil. The right weeds can even help your more favored plants thrive with one plant feeding another's needs side-by-side. This is something I plan to look into a little more. I am also reading "The Organic Lawn Care Manual" by Paul Tukey. He devotes a whole chapter to weeds and discusses how the type of weed you have on your lawn can tell you what treatment your lawn needs. (The chickweed on my lawn indicates a lack of calcium.)

So the next time you see a weed, don't pull it right away. Give it a little consideration and recognize that the weed is just another part of nature from which we can garner information and a little beauty.
I purchased this 'Dark Dancer' clover at the garden center last week. It is surely a weed in someone's book, but it is a treasure to me. It is full of four leaf clovers!

I found this lovely little 'weed' on the corner of my street and brought it home. It looks very much like the Brunnera flowers I paid good money for last year and I think it is a forget-me-not, another flower for which I paid a nice penny.

This chickory 'weed' tells me that my lawn needs calcium. Thanks chickory!

This 'Jacob's Ladder plant was dug out of a friend's woods. The local nursery charges $14 for it.

Monday, May 19, 2008


I visited five garden centers last week. Only one was a planned visit. I spent money at each place I visited. Okay, I'll give myself that it is early in the season. I'm excited. My gardens are crying for attention. I'm yearning for bare spots to be filled. The garden centers entice with flowers already in bloom. My garden is still in its last stages of dozing. (Wait...none of the things I bought last week are in bloom yet.Let's change that thought...) The pictures on the labels promising what particular plants will look like when in bloom cried out to me. I've developed a thing for chartreuse too. I noticed that in my garden only my three eunonymous plants have chartreuse, so of course I had to buy the chartreuse sedum that excited me when I saw it. Then I had a thing going and had to buy the chartreuse artemesia to balance the yard. After all, artemesia is one of my favorite plants and I have never seen it in this color! I visited the Bedford Garden Club's annual plant sale and I have to support the local garden club right? My daughter and I always enjoy their plantings downtown and at the library. We want them to keep up the good work. I had to be fair and buy my daughter a plant too, for her new reading garden. She really liked the bleeding heart at the plant sale. How could I say "no"? And the new garden center that my friend Sara introduced me to this weekend? Well, the prices were too good to pass up! I bought a 'Dark Dancer' clover. I have never seen anything like it. It was loaded with four leaf clovers and I've been telling my daughter for two years that I will find her a four leaf clover for good luck , but our searches have been to no avail. Since this was loaded with them, I took it as a sign that I had to get it and it was only $4! They also had a yellow rose bush that supposedly smells like licorice. Considering that yellow roses are my absolute favorite and I am a fanatic for licorice, I couldn't let that one go either...It was another sign.

Well, it's too early in the season to declare that I have a problem. But I do need to rein it in now. I have some specific plans that need attention. I'm on the lookout for unusual herbs for my herb garden this year. I am also looking for a lovely smelling ground cover for my daughter's reading garden path. (I'm leaning toward creeping thyme, but need to watch the light to make sure it is enough for this plant.) Finally, I need a little ground cover for an area leading to my back yard. Otherwise, I'm done... At least for a few weeks... Oh yes, and I only need 20 more points at my favorite garden center to get $25 worth of plants free - I'm so excited that they carry over points from last year. Not every place does that - So of course I need to go there soon too...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Garden Portraits

This is what "Garden Portraits" is all about.

While working in the garden today, my daughter sat and ate her snack on a rock near me. The sun had not yet risen above the tall trees in that part of the yard. The tree behind her (I'm not sure what it is) is in full bloom. She chose her own outfit today and it was certainly fit for a portrait. I looked up from trimming the yew and said "May I take your portrait? You look beautiful!" The light, my daughter, the setting...everything came together. These times make the best pictures - serendipity in the garden. My husband came out right after I had retrieved my camera. He and I were not dressed for the occasion, otherwise I would have run to get the tripod for a perfect family portrait too. I snapped a quick pic. of him with our daughter and handed the camera to him to do the same for me. We may not look our best, but the memory of our unexpected portrait session will last - funny faces and all!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Highlights from My Garden

As promised, here are some highlights from my garden. It is early in the season for New England, so I have mostly green. I also tend to purchase plants for a late summer garden and need to refocus efforts on getting more color this time of year. The gardens are most vibrant at the end of August into September and October. So, I will take more picture to share then. Our house is a little over twenty years old. When we moved in three years ago, there was a lot of mature/established plantings. They were very spread out and it has been my task over the past few years to try to pull things together. I have also put some time into moving and removing plantings, but some are so oversized that they cannot be removed without some major effort now. I am always floored when people don't plan ahead.

For example, why did previous owners put a fifteen foot cypress right in front of the kitchen window so you can't see the rest of the backyard while looking out? I'm sure it was quite cute when it was a baby. It is gorgeous now, but definitely misplaced.
These beautiful raised bed in my backyard have been one of my biggest projects. It is home to some of my favorite plants, most notably my rosebushes, St. Johnswort and Artemesia. Since it is near my back door, the beds also house my herb garden and some vegetables that don't fit in our "vegetable" garden. Following the raised beds along the back of the house, are granite steps that lead to the backyard. The yard houses our vegetable garden.

Out in front of the house a a brick pathway with a new garden that I started last year. Hydrangea, digitalis, sedum, wygelia and other select plants have been added by me. Established hollies, rhododendron, azalea and other foundation plantings form the backbone of the garden. Below the pathway is my most complete garden with rocks forming a backdrop to daisies, coreopsis and other summer favorites.

Around the shady side of the house is a newly established "reading garden" with a brook running alongside it. I put this in last year for my daughter and have added Brunela, Jacob's Ladder, hostas and other shade lovers. I have a very long driveway and lots of woods. Halfway down the driveway is a little sitting area that I'm still trying to figure out. It too is very shaded. I've tried strewing "shady" wildflowers this year. Daisies seem to do well based on last year's experience...we'll see what happens. I have found lots of wild Jack-in-the-pulpit plants here that throughly delight me.

I hope that I didn't bore you, but at least I've documented my spring garden. Thanks for taking the tour with me!

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Healthy Garden is a Happy Garden

The true state of my garden is revealing itself. On April 27th I posted about my Jack-in-the-pulpits, wondering if they were to return to me this year. Whereas last year there were only a couple, I counted at least four in my garden today! This is a wonderful sign!

Everything looks lush and healthy. I've been pruning more heavily than ever before, pulling out shrubs and moving them. My plants seem to be breathing a sigh of relief. They have room to blossom. Old dead leaves that have accumulated over the years under overgrown branches are being dug out. The previous owners of my house had landscapers. I do all my own work and have learned a lot over the past year. My new found knowledge is reflected in the garden's health.

In addition to pruning I am also adding manure to every garden. I've removed layers of mulch and plan to rely mostly on compost instead. I have begun fertilizing with a fish based fertilizer and to do so regularly. I'm weeding regularly and hoeing, with a goal of putting in at least 1/2 hour into gardening a day. So far, I think that the average has worked out to more.

Here are some snags I've run into:
1. I have piles of pulled up grass, branches and other cuttings that need a home. They are accumulating in my woods and I don't know how to get rid of them. The piles are so big I envision days of work and possible exposure to poison ivy, etc. to do the work. Any suggestions about how to get rid of this rather than just heading to the dump with it?

2. Though I have vowed to go organic and have gotten rid of all chemicals except one bottle of Roundup, I haven't found a way to get rid of poison ivy without the chemical. I haven't researched it yet either, but I'm open to suggestions from my gardening friends.

Everything else is going well. I hope to get out tomorrow to take pictures of the yard. i don't think I've ever posted pictures of my own gardens.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Spreading the Love

I took my dear friend Regina to Uncannonuc Mt. Perennials today. I love our girl field trips! Her son Leo accompanied us and was content to play in the sandboxes that are so thoughtfully provided so mommies can spend more time looking. Our girls were in school. I controlled myself today. I bought two sedum that I eventually planted in a place for which they were not intended. So, I need to return soon to pick more plants to fill the spots that were meant to be filled. But the golden color of Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' is striking and the plant requested that I place it at the top of our very long driveway for everyone to see when they drove up. The plant did not want to be placed next to last year's "very boring" (the sedum's words not mine) green sedums I planted last year. Sedum is another new found passion. It threatens to get out of control like my new hydrangea passion, but I digress...

How much fun is it to shop for plants with someone else? And even more selfishly fun for me, my dearest Regina is not yet a true gardener. (See May 4 posting for what makes a true gardener.) How much more fun is it to shop with someone who knows little about plants so asks for your opinions on what to get? It is starting with a blank slate. It was pretending that I don't already have ten rose bushes, ten azeleas, six hydrangea, two St. Johnsworts...well you get the picture. I didn't need an excuse to pick out more of my favorites. I now have Regina as my blank pallette. I shall live vicariously through her!

Yesterday I went to Lowe's with Sara, another super close friend. I'm shopping with goals in mind and sticking to them so far this year. My goal was to buy a trellis to cover up the ugly pipe that allows my leachfield to breath. I plan to grow morning glories over it. I also purchased some zucchini seeds. I know I bought some earlier this spring, but they are lost in the shuffle somewhere. Sara was on a mission for plants, but she knew what she wanted - Some kind of annual that they didn't have. An annual? Come on Sara! That's no fun! How about the lovely hydrangea here in the corner? On the good side, when we got back to Sara house, she dug some plants out of the garden for me to take home! Oh boy, I felt like I won the lottery.

Well, it's nice to spread the gardening love. Regina doesn't have plants to share yet, but she will one day because I am determined to make her love manure and rocks. Enjoy the rest of your day everyone. I'm heading out to dig up some Melissa Officianalis and rosemary to drop at Regina's house on the way to pick the little one up from school.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Heavenly Blooms

For two years I've been trying to catch the apple blossoms in bloom...too late. Last week, I noticed the trees in my neighborhood blossoming. "It's time! It must be time!" I dropped my daughter off at school this morning and hightailed it to the highway, driving half hour to the orchard in my former town of residence. Londonderry, New Hampshire is best known for it's apples. As the town grows and grows, the apple orchards remain fixed and retain this area's rural feeling. I moved from this lovely area three years ago as they built ten (yes, TEN) soccer fields on my street, knocked down the woods next to my house (on a slip of land so small we were told when we moved in seven years earlier that it could never be developed), and then built a power plant right in the landing pattern of Manchester airport (even though the townspeople voted it down.) I miss the orchards. They were once in running distance from my home. Until this morning, it was the apples that struck a chord in my heart. In late September, I still head for the orchards for mornings of apple picking and autumn sunshine. Today, I experienced the other end -- an apple's beginnings -- for the first time. I hope that I've captured the feeling of my walk in these photos, but the intense floral smell was intoxicating and unfortunately cannot be translated through a photo. I only hope that if you have experienced the fragrance that these photos will help bring the memory back.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Great Mother's Day Gift

Walking down a city street with my daughter yesterday she suddenly stops and yells, "Look Mom. Nature!" She pointed to a tree growing in the sidewalk and wanted me to note the small green shoots coming out of its side. I was thrilled that she has learned to spot nature at work, even amidst concrete and brick.


I've been inspired by a woman who told me, "Our aim is to have no garbage leave our property." While this may conjure images of Shel Silverstein's "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout," what the gardener was really trying to convey is that she recycles just about everything! I've been composting half-heartedly for two years. What I have is two years worth of table scraps in a garbage bin -- smelly and sloppy. So, I have been reading up. I went out and bought three rectangular rubber maid barrels. I poked air holes in each. (Something I neglected to do in my original bin.) The bins are small enough so that I can easily turn the compost and large enough to fit in a few months of scraps. This time, I also plan to add newspaper and any other garbage that can take it. I added compost starter. As the material decomposes in the first barrel, I will move it to the second and the third barrel will be for nearly finished product. This time I will treat it as a learning process, observing the results each day and changing the technique as necessary. My daughter is fascinated. She even held her nose to help throw scraps in today - a process in which she never before took an interest. I assured her that if we can learn to do this properly it will not smell and that our plants will be a whole lot happier.

Cindy stands in front of her beautiful clerodenrum and her inspiring composting center

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Picture Time!

Picture season is coming into full swing now. The tulips lead the way. Time for garden portraits!

I planted my seedlings in the ground today after a week of hardening them off. I hope that they make it through the night.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Inspired by Erick's magnolia trivia, I thought I would post about an interesting flower a florist inroduced to me two years ago. Erick discussed how the magnolia is an "ancient remnant" and doesn't have the usual parts that more modern flowers have. The protea is another ancient species. Its ancestors thrived 300 million years ago.

Though I would love to grow these in my own garden, my region is too humid and especially too cold to do this. In the United States, it seems from my reading that protea grow most happily in Southern California and Hawaii.
I found these useful sites for more information: The Protea Atlas Project and Dave's Garden

Though there are over a thousand different species of protea, I have read that only about 150 are available commercially. They are wonderful blossoms for still-lifes, but my local florist has trouble finding more than four varieties for me to play with.

I am attracted to the primitiveness of the blossom. Though I generally prefer soft petals, the contrast that the protea makes to my favored rose is impressive. When I "discovered" the flowers, I first used them in a still-life for my sister who lives in Africa. They corresponded with my vision of the place and indeed that is one place where protea happily grow.

Clean Up

I have been making a concerted effort to clean up my yard this year. I have vowed to go out at least half an hour every day to perform my cleanup, but am finding that I am out for longer periods more often than not. Usually in the spring time, I run out to the garden center to get something to plant before the clean up is complete. Then , the cleanup is never completed. This year, I have focused on raking leaves and amending soil before I allow myself the indulgence of planting. It feels nice. After a decade of gardening, I finally feel like I have a big picture sense of the activity. Every part of the yard has been swept. Every plant has been examined and pruned. Each separate part of the garden is a separate room, waiting for its turn to be cleaned.

I planted pansies today. It was a present for all of the hard work. The final "room" outdoors was cleaned. The shaded space out my back door is a brick patio, generally covered with dirt, pine needles, weeds and moss. It felt lost and hopeless for a couple of years. Today, I set on it to scrub it clean. I raked the small spaces of dead dirt surrounding the brick, hardened by the time I neglected it. I even added manure and by the time I was through, the space felt new - a special find like when one scrubs a gray floor to find a white sparkling shine beneath. I have a vision of a real garden surrounding the patio now. The pansies I planted felt like decoration, as the flowers do when I place tulips on the counter. I feel like my gardens are cheering me on. I am ready to make the rounds again, starting with garden one and working my way around the yard.

I have new gardening friends to thank for showing me the way. The interviews from "The Gardener's Soul" breathed life into my own gardening habits. We gardeners learn a lot from each other. Gardeners are such generous people, willing to share their tips. There is so much to learn. There is always the opportunity to rethink our gardening styles and habits. And as we change, our gardens bend. How many times does a gardener have a breakthrough in a lifetime? How many times have you changed or refined your habits? What has led to YOUR breakthrough moments?

Monday, May 5, 2008

On the Head of a Buddha

"Salutations!" it said. "I'm up here."
"So am I," said another tiny voice.
"So am I," said a third voice. "Three of us are staying. We like this place and we like you."
Wilbur looked up. At the top of the doorway three small webs were being constructed. On each web, working busily was one of Charlotte's daughters." (-Charlotte's Web by E.B. White)

Someone brought us our own baby spider "friends" today. (Perhaps one of Charlotte's relatives?) Three children, ages 22 months to 4 years crouched down and stared intently at the head of the Buddha statue in the garden. "They're babieees," said the sister, imploring her little brother not to touch.

The hopscotch, jump rope, and bubbles were still on the driveway while we stopped to view a little bit of spring magic. It was quiet, except for the sound of the frogs up the hill. The sun had its late afternoon glow, preparing for our part of the world to begin its night time wind down. As the cycle continues, all seemed right with the world.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Ten Ways to Recognize a "Real" Gardener

1. Can't pass a garden center without stopping
2. Can't go to a place that sells plants without buying something
3. Asks for plants for Mother's Day / Father's Day
4. Can list the bloom times of different flowers and identifies each month by the flowers that bloom during that time
5. Has a favorite gardening tool
6. Doesn't mind the smell of manure
7. Can find at least 5 uses for a large stone and rejoices when one is dug up while gardening
8. Desires to plant enough berry bushes to share fruit with the birds
9. Tells everyone on a rainy spring day that the plants can use the water
10. Loves the feel of worms between the fingers

Please add more to this list! I'd love to hear what characteristics you think make a "real" gardener...

Melanie's post today just gave me an idea for #11 - Can't go to a garden center without saying 'got it, got it, got it...'

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Nim's Island

I wanted to share a movie my family thoroughly enjoyed today that I think other nature lovers may enjoy too.

My daughter has been waiting for Nim's Island to come to the theater for months now. She read a book about the movie earlier this year. Charmed with the story, she convinced my husband and me to take her to see the movie version. All three of us were entertained and my husband an I agreed that Nim's Island is the best movie we've seen in awhile (including those for older age groups.)

Short Summary: A girl named Nim (Abigail Breslin) settles with her marine biologist father on an "off-the-map" island in the Pacific. The two live in an upscale tree house like home, surviving primarily off the land. One day, the father gets lost at sea. Now on her own (at least temporarily,) Nim reaches out to her favorite author who is a writer of adventure stories. Presuming the author to be the heroic adventurer in the stories she loves, Nim asks the author to come find and help her. The author (Jodi Foster) is really a woman who is fearful of everything. Overcoming her fears, she leaves her apartment in California to find the girl and assist her.

The story emphasizes the family living with nature. Nim raises and cooks her own food. She explores a volcano; Hunkers down during a monsoon; Fixes solar panels on her home so she can use her computer; befriends animals. The lessons are wonderful, emphasizing respect for nature, bravery and kindness. I already know that we plan to buy this one when it is available on DVD. Enjoy!

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Sense of Place

Emily's gardens are enhanced by a backdrop of ruins. Contoured greenery rolls from her house, down the hill, to where the old hotel once stood. Her gardens lace her backyard with waves of yellow. We looked out together at the scene. As an historian, I was entranced with the place. I pictured train loads of city dwellers traveling up to rural Lyndeborough for weekend get-aways. As the United States left the Victorian era, heading toward World War One, flappers, and Depression, Americans sought comfort in the New Hampshire mountainous regions.

I interviewed Emily last year for my book, "The Gardener's Soul." I spent this morning working on a small footnote for the book related to her hotel ruin. At the Manchester City Library I found two local history books referencing the old place. I also read that many of Lyndeborough's records have been lost to time. Typical. Fire, neglect, and misplacement often create great gaps in the historical record. As an archivist, I spent many years trying to fill the gaps to assist my patrons with their historical searches. As a writer, I know enough to expect the gaps, but am disappointed nonetheless. I shall call the town offices in Lyndeborough and the NH Historical Society on Monday to see if they have additional information, but I am not hopeful.

I know who built the hotel and when it burned down based on the local history books, but do any original records about this place exist? How much of our sense of place is based on historical fact? How much is based on legend? Emily told me what she knew, but where did she get her information? How much of our sense of place is based on what we feel when we stand there and what we see with our own eyes? Why should a gardener care about the history of their landscape?

In "A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community," Robert Archibald discusses how history is a unifying discipline that can help us understand who we are and how we got here.
He states:
"So, there is a point to history, for history is a process of facilitating conversations in which we consider what we have done well, what we have done poorly, and how we can do better, conversations that are a prelude to action. If the past has enduring meaning and implications, then we as historians must become active conservators: of artifacts and stories and community, of life on this earth and thus implicitly of this earth that sustains life. As we face the past, we are also facing the future." (p.24-25)

So, my two seemingly disparate interests in history and gardening come together naturally as I learn other people's gardening stories and read about the gardening practiced by our ancestors. Though gardening is easily recognized as a scientific discipline and often as an artistic one, and though all gardeners can relate that gardening makes them feel "good," the history of the landscape is overlooked. It should not be. Recognizing that mankind's history is tied to his surroundings makes the cycle of life and nature more poignant. Science, art, history, and the ethereal all play a part in the gardening experience to bring alive a sense of place. We should recognize the benefit of combining all the disciplines. Together they help us make sense of our surroundings and round out the gardening experience. A place like Emily's where history smacks you in the fact with the historical remnants of buildings is magical, but we should see that all landscapes have a historical past to be valued.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My Chemical Free Life

On my road toward finishing "Silent Spring" and moving on to a funny book (as so ordered by handsome husband), I'm still getting more intense. Anyone who reads my blog regularly (hi mom and Gail!) knows that I was startled by the chemicals in our environment that Rachel Carson first wrote about in the 60s. I am very health conscious. As a person with celiac disease and extensive food intolerances who must watch her diet intensely, I am very aware of what is in my food. What I didn't pay as much attention to was what chemicals were surrounding me.

I gardened organically, but sporadically added chemical fertilizer in addition to organics. (Doesn't make much sense does it?) I spent a good portion of last summer getting rid of an invasive weed using Roundup. I hoped that it didn't affect the surrounding trees, but I didn't really give much thought to what I was really doing. I have skin trouble and tried every product on the market, EXCEPT the organic ones. I have used chemical laden makeup all my life, dye my hair, and use mass market soap. I have one foot in the natural world and one foot where it doesn't make sense for me to be. For example, I love aromatherapy with essential oils. I use my essential oil warmer every day. As others plug in their coffee, I plug in the essential oils. But I also use Glad plug-ins. I use natural cleaners, but haven't made a complete switch yet. I started using them about two years ago. Why didn't I get rid of the Comet in the process? I use natural hand soap in the downstairs bathroom, but not upstairs. My daughter's hair conditioner is organic, but not the shampoo. What was going on with me?!

So I am making the switch. The Comet is gone and I'm slowly cleaning out the other chemicals in my closet. My naturopathic doctor referred me to the cosmetics database to find more appropriate products for my new "chemical free" life. I've started using a natural face wash and my skin is already much clearer. (I don't know if it will stay this way because honestly my face tends to do okay and then get worse, but this has got to be better on so many levels anyway.) I'm switching over all the soap and even bought new laundry detergent.

For the most part, I am not yet driving my husband crazy. (Hi Kevin!) He doesn't know about the complete switcheroo. It hasn't hit him fully yet, but I'm sure he has an inkling of what's going on since I ordered the cancellation of the lawn service. I'll leave his personal things for last. What is driving him a little crazy is that I complain every time a commercial or media promo comes on tv. For example, "Do you have [insert medical condition here] then talk to your doctor about [insert chemical here.]" If you are American, that line is very familiar. This morning I heard this new promo, "10 vaccines adults NEED to get. No. They are not just for kids" I propose this blanket statement. "Need to eat? Eat our crap..." My darling husband now holds the controller and fast forwards over the commercials as fast as he can.

(After my recent postings I have to add this caveat - On the good side, there are a lot more "alternative" products out there too and I come across at least something every day promoting green living, but my husband is afraid of those other commercials and my reaction to them. Our view of our products is changing, but it is a slow process. Someone needs to get a foot in the door and push it way open.)

When I first came to NH to attend the University here, I looked strangely at the "crunchy" people in Birkenstocks. Now I know better. I still don't jive with the fashion sense (sorry if you wear Birkenstocks, they are just not my taste,) but I do jive with the message. I also want to point out that I have not lost a sense of reality. There is a need for chemicals... sometimes. I just don't need them in every nook and cranny of my house. I have found that cleaning my floor with vinegar and water works better than the chemical stuff. When there is a need for a chemical to do a job, I am not totally opposed to it, but I plan to think long and hard about its place in my life and will work to find alternatives. (The hair dye might have to stay for example! I haven't found a suitable substitute yet and as more grays pop out every day...gray doesn't suit me. I don't even wear gray clothing.)

Long live planet earth and cheers for a major step toward helping myself live a Cancer free life.