Coo-Coo

The Mourning Doves have returned to my yard and I now know it is time to get in the swing of the warmer months. The Cherry Blossom Festival has come and gone, as have many early spring flowers (with more blooms, and chores, to come) but for me, it’s only when the Mourning Doves return that I know it’s time to adjust to the rhythm of life for summer to approach.

Outside the kitchen windows in the house we bought almost 30 years ago, I have lovely views of the front and back yard. Often, sitting at the table, I glance all around me and take in the view. Over one shoulder is the “Green Bed” with a dry stream bed running through the mixture of predominantly green plantings and over the other way, I see the perennial bed and a few older trees and shrubs inherited when we purchased the house.

Opposite the “Green Bed” is a Juniper tree as tall as the neighboring house it leans against and within the perennial bed are some hollies I’ve tried to shape, or hide, in an attempt to blend them with the overall feel of the garden(s). I’ll admit I haven’t been too successful when it comes to the aesthetics of these older, established plantings but over time, I’ve come to appreciate them for other reasons.  

 

The Juniper is top heavy and although I appreciate the screen of its evergreen bluish-green branches, it’s not a “people friendly” tree when it comes to texture. When my twins were young, the prickly branches got in the way of their backyard games, limbs broke during storms and required significant effort to prune and collect (inevitably requiring protective gear for the most simple clean up) and recently, in one of the heavy snows, the tree toppled off the wall.

Maybe it would have been easier simply to take advantage of this event and remove the tree – surely I could find a nice way to plant on that side of the path and complement the Green Bed. But I just couldn’t and I never will do anything but treasure the Juniper tree. I now love the tree – not for the aesthetics, but for its purpose. That Juniper has been home to innumerable Mourning Dove nests and in decades, only one nest has fallen prey to predators.  

Moreover, the kitchen table is in the addition we put on our kitchen and it allows me, pardon the pun, a “bird’s eye view” directly into the tree. When I see the Mourning Doves gathering nesting materials in their beaks and fluttering into the prickly branches, resting deep within the thick branches, I know it’s only a matter of time before I get out the binoculars, keep the camera close at hand and begin nest watching.

I’ve learned to keep my distance rather than spending time outside and glaring into the tree in hopes of spotting the nest and getting the Perfect Picture. Predators follow a human’s movements and inadvertently, we can clue them into the location of their meal(s). The pictures I’ve been able to take have been what I refer to a Dumb Luck Shots. For the most part, I’ve been able to get these pictures simply because we built an addition with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the garden and we didn’t remove the Juniper. I’ve watched the eggs hatch, one at a time, and have observed them mature into fledglings.   

 

 

 

 

 

Every single nest is built the same way and every nesting cycle is the same. And yet? They are all unique, beautiful, exciting and emotional. Adult Mourning Dove, male and female, look after the to the nest, taking turns caring for the hatchlings. Once the eggs have hatched and the adult leaves the nest in search of food, the other adult stands guard nearby to alert the other adult of danger. That “coo” is a screech, not the gentle cooing I hear at dawn and dusk.

The flimsy nests somehow withstand D.C.’s violent summer storms, the normal activity in trees (including squirrels running across branches), hatching eggs, their growth and the weight of an adult tending to those vulnerable newborns.

As time passes, the young doves stay close to the nest and gradually; the adults leave them to fend for themselves. Maybe they’re still unsure of their independence – I don’t know – but it’s somewhat reassuring to see them in the yard and watch them develop. Last summer, during one particularly wet week full of strong summer storms, I worried about those doves and thought they couldn’t possibly withstand the elements. But when I looked out the window, I saw a young dove in the dry stream bed calmly sitting on one of the boulders. It looked like a decoy.  

 

 

The next day, when the storms had stopped, the dove was quietly situated in a clay pot of herbs.

A few weeks ago I was having lunch with my friend Kelly and we noticed the Mourning Doves hopping around the yard gathering nesting materials. They were particularly enamored of the dried lavender stems and it was comical watching them tugging at the stems to get a long enough strand to weave into their nests. Now is a good time to watch the birds activities – as they gather nesting materials in their beaks you can follow them: they might as well have a neon sign on their back saying “NEST BEING BUILT THIS WAY” because by following their movements, they might lead you to a nest being built.

Surprisingly, we watched a nest being built in a new location – the holly bushes. As of right now, I have two active Mourning Dove nests (that I know of) –and both can be watched safely from a distance.  

 

As I was planting a few new additions to the bed below the hollies, I casually looked up and could easily see the nest had two eggs. That flimsy nest might withstand the elements, activity and some weight, but they do not hide the eggs. If you look straight up into the slapdash gathering of dried twigs and leaves you can easily see what’s happening in the nest.  

 

Now I know my days will begin with a quick check to see if the nests are still there and as I sit at the kitchen table, I’ll watch for signs of life in those trees. Soon I hope to hear the sweet, quieter and lovely gentle coos from the nestlings and hatchlings and eventually watch them test their wings.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to identify birds, and/or would like to participate in Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology’s Citizen Scientist program by becoming an official Nest Watcher, please go on their website – www.NestWatch.org. I promise you it doesn’t take much time (only a little data gathered via casual observations every few days, taking a minute or two to take notes) and you can be the eyes and ears for the scientists. Your input helps them keep track of the increasing and declining bird populations and you’ll be surprised by all you learn.  Meanwhile, you can find me at my kitchen table with binoculars and camera in hand, glancing to each tree in hopes of movement and growth.

Please take a moment to look around your yard and/or neighborhood and learn more about what’s happening. Seasons aren’t always about the weather or what’s growing in a garden – sometimes it’s about what is actually happening, often benefitting, from that garden’s growth.

To learn more about nest watching, go to www.NestWatch.org

Tell them a Mourning Dove sent you.

“Saw It Written and I Saw It Say . . . Pink Moon Is On Its Way”

As the last of winter melts slowly away, the Pink Moon, April’s full moon, rises on the 4th and with it comes promises of new growth, of burgeoning and becoming.  Named for the creeping phlox, and other pinkish early Spring flowers that add color to the slowly greening landscape, its rosy name sounds especially sweet and dreamy right now with snow here, still covering much of the ground.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I picture it hanging in the cold spring sky, I hear, in my head, Nick Drake’s beautiful album of the same name, and it seems like it will be a moon both full of promise, yet tinged with the last remnants of winter’s melancholy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sQv04CFSdE) – take a listen.   

 But that is how the season feels to me right now.  Spring is clearly swelling in the wet ground and the still bare branches.  I know that the waxing moon is literally pulling green shoots up and out into the daylight but winter remains, evident everywhere, blanketing us in white, and shading things with blue.  

In the first hours of April 5th there will be a rare total eclipse, turning the Pink moon into a blood moon and lasting about 5 minutes.  This eclipse is part of an even more rare lunar tetrad where four lunar eclipses happen in a row. As this intense and unusual astrological moment approaches, I feel a budding within me too: tender but persistent, just as I know it is happening in the earth.  

The longer sunlit days are coaxing me upward and outward, but slowly.  I have to admit that the short days of winter have perfectly suited me this year.  I have wanted to curl up with my son at 8:00, reading to him, letting the day draw to a natural close. I resented daylight saving’s time, unwilling to stop hibernating. It has been cozy. Cozy even to spend late nights alone in my usually light and laughter filled studio.   Serenaded by Drake’s haunting voice and gentle guitar the not always intelligible words of Pink Moon so soothing after all these listenings.  The big, night blackened windows reflecting back my six paper lantern moons, turning my 4th floor into a glowing corner in the Massachusetts night.  I’ve ben comfortable in the dark but I am now ready for the light.

This slow dance into Spring is happening, accompanied by single guitar and an achingly beautiful song, like a bulb sending up its heart.  You might find your feet moving to the rhythm as you sway under the big full moon.   

Submitted by returning Guest Blogger, Emily Rosenfeld. Readers will recall her previous blog (“Oh, Happy Earth Day”) which included, among other things, the inspiration she receives from nature and incorporates into her beautiful line of jewelry and other gifts. To see more of Emily’s work, visit her newly designed website: www.emilyrosenfeld.com – I know you will be inspired.

Worm Moon

As I write this post I’m well aware that you might be reading it on a beautiful, late winter/early spring day with melting snow, hints of spring bulbs emerging and noticeably later sunsets. Maybe the clocks have sprung forward and you’ve enjoyed a few rare, treasured pops of spring color.  

 

 

On the other hand, it could be snowing. Our late February snow provided some beautiful scenes, slight disruptions and a not too subtle reminder that it is still winter. We might not be suffering from the record breaking snowfall others are experiencing across the country, but the most recent measurable snow did show us a lovely side of winter.  

 

As difficult as it is to get aboard natures swinging pendulum, it’s not difficult to be affected. For many of us, the unpredictability is difficult – when I see the fuzzy buds on a magnolia tree my mind easily wanders to the vision of saucer magnolias only months away. It’s hard to know whether to keep all the wool clothing at hand or break out the lighter weight gear. Maybe the best approach is to just assume you won’t know from one day to the next much less from morning to evening.  

 

Within days after February’s snowfall as the sun started to melt the snow in earnest, I noticed, and heard, the distinct sound of Robins gathering in the yard. They looked like they were dancing on the few remaining patches of crusty snow beneath my Juniper tree, home to many nests. Later, as I got ready for bed, I noticed a bright light through the small, high window in our bathroom and thought a light was left on by mistake.

Annoyed, I got out of the warm bed to turn off the light and noticed the source of the bluish tinged illumination wasn’t from a light – it was a beautiful, brilliant crescent moon hanging low in the sky and accompanied by two planets.

The sight reminded me of a few treasured books we read to the twins when they were young. Many of our favorites (in addition to “Goodnight Moon”) had something to do with the moon: Eric Carle’s “Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me” and “Thirteen Moons on Turtles Back” by Joseph Brucha. It’s not difficult to understand why so many of us are enchanted with the sight, and emotions, of a beautiful moon.

The last Full Moon (in February) was, appropriately, referred to as the Snow Moon. We didn’t need the Farmer’s Almanac to guide us on that one. Whether the moon’s origins reside in folklore (Wolf Moon), seasons (Harvest Moon) and/or any other numerous origins, a full moon can be inspirational and insightful.   

The next Full Moon, on March 5th, is known as the Worm Moon. Not exactly romantic or poetic but quite apt because it reflects exactly what we are experiencing in nature.

 

No matter what the weather is as you read this, the ground is beginning to warm and as a result, the earthworms begin to make an appearance. Their heads and castings come close to the earth’s surface – the birds know it and that’s why we’re seeing Robins, among others, gathering and pecking at the earth.

Although some of us might be tempted to call this month unpredictable and want to insert “Pot Hole” for “Worm” Moon, if you do see the full Moon in the coming week, try to read what is written in the sky. Warming temperatures named this Full Moon but if you’re not satisfied, maybe you’ll enjoy next month’s Pink Moon (think creeping phlox) and when all else fails? The Full Moon in May is known as The Flower Moon.

Gardening With Heart

With Valentine’s Day approaching, it’s hard not to see, hear or think about hearts, flowers, cards and/or chocolate. But isn’t it always a good time to give/receive flowers (and chocolate)? Don’t many people garden with their heart(s) – emotions and meaning, (not only aerobic) – to achieve a landscape they fall in love with? I know I’ve blogged before about being an emotional gardener but maybe this is a good time to revisit the concept and renew the effort.

Gardening with heart has as many different interpretations as there are flowers. Sometimes it’s gardening in your mind’s eye (catalogues, photographs and nature inspired decor, especially visible courtesy of social media) and this past week was a great example of that. While looking at a possible Valentine’s gift, I was amazed by a few offerings sold on Etsy (below). Many options are beautiful combinations of artistic talent with an appreciation for nature and a nod towards love. (Intentionally, I’ve excluded jewelry, some made by family and friends, for the purposes of this blog to shift focus to other, less traditional, options):

 Courtesy of FancyKnittles

https://www.etsy.com/shop/FancyKnittles?ref=l2-shopheader-name

Courtesy of DanasPaperFlowers

https://www.etsy.com/search/handmade?q=danas%20paper%20flowers&order=most_relevant&ref=auto2&explicit_scope=1

The paper flowers intrigue me – there are over a hundred varieties and can be customized with names, dates, personal messages and even, with photographs (below), to commemorate special events and milestones.   

 

 

 

 

 

Roots in Reality’s Facebook page often highlights beautiful, unique and diverse “finds” inspired by nature. The same diverse supply also applies when selecting flowers and plants – there are many wonderful florists and plant catalogues, making a selection can be overwhelming.

One source that simplifies sending flowers and offers a streamlined, unique on-line process is www.bloompop.com. Just take a look at a few selections from their gallery and I think you’ll want to search their site.  

 

 

Bloompop prides itself on partnering only with quality florists offering artisan arrangements. Whether you live in Colorado, Ohio, Illinois, California, Maine, Utah or South Dakota (and more), Bloompop has a partner. I’ve sent flowers to New Hampshire, Cleveland and in the Washington D.C. area – all with spectacular results. They also offer a subscription service that, in my opinion, is a real gift of love (hint hint).  

 

 

 

 

Some of the most beautiful gardens are those that evolve: through trial and error, with additions and development of new plantings, spending some resources on the hard-scaping and, importantly, via the simple process of maturation, adjustments, naturalizing and good basic gardening techniques. Collecting flowers from your own garden either for your own enjoyment or as a gift is a bouquet from your heart, not just your garden’s beds.  

 

 

 

 

 

Gardens evolved with plants that mean something to the gardener are landscapes of love. Corny but true. The apple mint my son and I discovered at a festival last year became one of the most coveted items in our edible garden and the development of the woodland area in my yard reminds me of childhood walks through Cleveland’s beautiful natural parks.

Plantings given as a gift for a special occasion and others commemorating life events are more than beautiful, they are visual reminders of life events and fill the beds with meaning. Daffodils and other spring plantings remind me of my mother’s love for signs of spring and the hens and chicks were planted in memory of a dear friend, Sandy, and her beloved chicken coop at her home in Austin, Texas. The area in front of the trellises is being altered to house a White Chiffon Rose of Sharon my father gave me for my birthday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many people garden with love and there are gardens across the world, residential and commercial, filled with meaning. Roots in Reality encourages everyone to incorporate the beauty, and meaning, of nature into your lives – Valentine’s Day is an obvious and beautiful way to think about the gift of nature – please think of every day as an opportunity to love nature.  

 

 

Making Sense of Winter

My grandfather was very well known (in our family) for his lack of the sense of smell. We didn’t give it a lot of thought and, embarrassingly, I don’t remember ever asking if it altered his sense of taste (perhaps he was being polite – my grandmother was not exactly known for her prowess in the kitchen). My grandfather’s lack of smell was an accepted Stashower Family Fact. It was accepted, not discussed, questioned, mourned, researched or viewed as anything more than an existing state of being. My grandfather had no sense of smell.

In fact, we thought of it as more than a novelty. His inability to smell was put to good use when it came to chopping onions and doing other chores those of us with sensitive noses rebuked. There was no crying over chopped onions and he was particularly popular during Passover when it came to grinding horseradish. No one was better suited for the job than my grandfather. We handed him a large horseradish root and within minutes, he grated and ground it for homemade, strong, sinus clearing (for the majority of us) horseradish.

Late in life, as my grandfather’s health declined and required increasingly strong steroids, miraculously his sense of smell returned (albeit temporarily). I don’t remember him being overjoyed or making a big deal about it. It was handled much in the same way as his lack of smell was – for a long time he couldn’t smell and then suddenly, he could. I assume my grandmother purchased the horseradish for Passover after that but I don’t know for sure.

This memory randomly came to mind the other day when we experienced the first snow of the season. The sight of the first snow, particularly if it is light, fluffy, fresh and doesn’t pose too many inconveniences, is (for me) beautiful. Snow makes the landscape look different and I begin to appreciate some plants I either don’t notice in other seasons or don’t appreciate.  

 

 

 

As I watched the snow slowly accumulate, I began to remember all of the storms I’ve experienced: Cleveland, Iowa and D.C. And with those storms come many diverse memories and feelings. Cleveland storms were constant and, over time, tedious. The slushy gray tire tracks and accumulations of dirty snow lining the wide streets made winter feel unending. But there was beauty, too. And not all of it was visual; driving through the parks in a snowstorm was quiet, mysterious and treacherous. Sledding on Cain Park’s Hill was a ritual as was (for those of us in generations past) ice-skating outside when they flooded Cumberland Pool’s parking lot. With each season comes a unique set of feelings and memories (as well as the opportunity to create new memories). To really enjoy the landscape around you, it’s important to be in touch with those unique sensory experiences associated with the time of the year.

The first snowdrop and other spring bulbs make me realize that winter’s coming to a close and with that, my garden will not only look different, it will also smell like each season and attract different visitors from nature.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I look at my solar lights, a few of which are sturdy enough to stay outside year round, I can see their reflection changing according to what Mother Nature has brought us. One of my favorite views is the pattern the solar votive makes on a layer of snow.

 

 

 

 

When winter ends and the sun sets a little later each day, I’m amazed by the difference in how our street is naturally lit. The color sets the mood and sunsets can be very dramatic. They “feel” different and help set the mood, or tone, of each season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This might be a difficult time of the year to envision some of the sights, sounds and feelings associated with warmer weather but until we listen to the songbirds returning and see the first firefly and before we collect the beautiful flowers of summer. . .

 . . . isn’t it still beautiful to look at how winter affects the landscape?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fellow Clevelanders, I’m sure it won’t be long until you hear the ice cream truck’s distinct bell and children are running out of the house yelling “Uncle Marty, Uncle Marty – Mom, can I have some money?”

RESOLUTE

Now is the time of resolutions and this blog would be remiss without a few suggestions for resolutions incorporating nature. Though not an exhaustive list, I hope it plants some ideas for growth and enjoyment in the New Year:

#1 – Add Nature to Your Health Resolutions.

Most likely, the majority of resolutions include something about “getting in shape” – those are the kind I assiduously avoid.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting in shape, losing weight if needed (gaining if you’re one of the lucky ones) and improving one’s health. It just seems too obvious to make that one of your resolutions so why not look at the fitness resolution through nature’s lens . . .

Do you like to run, bike or walk along a favorite route a few times each week? The same trees you pass along your route during one season do not necessarily look the same in subsequent seasons. Take the time to look at the landscape as you walk, ride or run along that favorite path.

Weeping Redbuds (“Ruby Falls”) is one of those beautiful trees that hold visual interest year round and if you’re lucky enough to either have one in your garden or pass one along your route, notice how the leaves change throughout the year while maintaining their distinct heart shape. In spring, the leaves appear in a shiny, deep maroon color and by fall, those hearts, green all summer, begin turning a pale yellow before dropping to the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weeping redbuds are beautiful with or without leaves and with or without the distinct redbuds (which last only a few weeks if the weather cooperates). When selecting trees for your garden, consider the shape, not just the bloom, and think about the profile it will add to your garden. In my opinion, no garden would be complete without a weeping shaped tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All you health nuts might run past trees without paying attention to the landscape much less glancing towards the trees to “get to know them.” With your healthy resolution, consider becoming more familiar with the landscape and pick a tree to observe throughout the year. The same tree that simply looked like every other tree covered in leaves in summer could turn out to be another unique, and fairly common, tree in this area – Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. Known for their corkscrew branches, this is one spectacular tree . .  . . . ..especially without its leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If this doesn’t appeal to you and all else fails? At least be smart enough to pick a nice, large, shaded tree as a place where you “need” to stop for just a second to take a sip of water, tie your shoelaces or adjust your Fit Bit. If you’re exercising with a group that looks askance when you stop by a tree, merely wave them off and say, “just making sure this tree’s fungus has cleared up and healthy buds are forming.”

#2 – Travel To Magnificent Locations n Your Home Town

Many resolutions include taking trips, some of which might be extravagant and, if you are fortunate enough, maybe 2015 will be the year when you are crossing something off your “bucket list.” Who am I to allow jealousy to rain on your parade? Enjoy!

Just don’t forget about the magnificent places you might overlook or take advantage of in your hometown. It has always surprised me how many people in D.C. have not been to the Tidal Basin during Cherry Blossom time (or other wonderful locations to view these spectacular blooms). You do not need to travel far, or spend hard earned resources, to enjoy all that nature has to offer.  

 

 

 

 

 

Take advantage of visiting the obvious and include a few others off the beaten path. Below are a few ideas for those readers living in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area but no matter where you live, finding local attractions is just a Google away:

  • Rock Creek Parkway

  • Billy Goat Trail
  • Locust Grove

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Canal Towpath

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Olmstead Falls
  • Dumbarton Oaks
  • McCrillis and Brookside Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Ladew Topiary Gardens
  • Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
  • Meridian Hill Park
  • Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens.

This list is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but it’s a sampling of how much diversity there is within a relatively small geographic area. Even if you’ve visited many of the parks in your area, there are more to find and if not? Take another look at the places you’ve already been – there is always something new to discover.

Don’t forget to visit Botanical Museums and Gardens, National Parks, Historical Sites and keep informed about special exhibits, tours and events. They provide everyone with the opportunity to see things you might ordinarily not have access to and teach more about something you’ve been curious about. Garden shows, home and garden tours, seasonal displays and classes also add to the list of potential opportunities.

If you want to elevate this resolution because you’ve taken the time to become familiar with the majority of parks in your area, why not consider becoming a volunteer or helping them with the many educational programs our parks offer? Better still, if you are planning a trip for work or other reasons, take a little time beforehand to learn about their parks and other sites.

#3 – Community Involvement

If one of your resolutions has anything to do with becoming more involved in your community or giving back to the community, please don’t forget about the many opportunities that exist using nature as a way to become more educated about, and involved in, your community.

Whether it’s giving time at an animal shelter, volunteering time for special events, taking part in garden tours, attending local fairs, supporting causes, planting in a community garden or any of the other numerous opportunities, it’s important to remember that nature plays an integral, important part of every community. Does your child’s school have a garden and if so, do they need your support? If not, maybe this could be your opportunity to become involved in the community by working with the school to develop a garden. Many educational institutions have extensive gardens which are incorporated into the curriculum . . . and in the cafeteria as well.

Go to the local farmer’s market and buy your produce from someone who grew what you are going to eat. Get to know them, learn more about what they do and explore new resources.

#4 – Add a Nature Book to Your Pile Of “To Read”Books

Are you in a book group and/or enjoy having a book on hand? Do you have a pile of books next to your bed so you can pick and choose depending on your mood and time? Think about adding some nature books to your list (as long as you always have a copy of “The Secret Garden” on hand, too).

There are as many diverse choices as there are readers. Here are just a few suggestions that I feel are ripe for exploring:

Amy Stewart’s “From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden”

Terry Tempest William’s “ When Women Were Birds”

Valerie Brown (Photography) and Barbara Glickman (Text) “Capitol Splendor: Gardens and Parks of Washington DC”

Elizabeth Lawrence’s “Through the Garden Gate”

Vita Sackville-West & Sarah Raven “Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden”

#5 – Fly

The world is full of ornithologists and I know many people who take their bird watching seriously. I admire them – all the more so when they can photograph and identify the birds. I still have a difficult time identifying the most common birds but that does not mean I’m not interested nor does it mean my observations aren’t helpful to those professionals.

If you have any interest in birds and notice nests in your yard, there are so many ways to a) learn more, b) encourage nests and new types and c) become a “Citizen Scientist,” providing ornithologists with your observations.  “Citizen Scientist” programs allow you to be the “eyes and ears” for professionals who ordinarily wouldn’t have access to what’s happening in your area.

For example, become a Citizen Scientist with the help of Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology and become an official Nest Watcher. I’ve blogged about it before and probably will again so for purposes of this post, just go to www.NestWatch.org for more information. I promise you – no previous experience necessary and it does not take much time to participate; just a few minutes every couple of days and jotting down some basic information. Your efforts will help the ornithologists keep track of increasing and declining bird populations (among other information). Visit the site and learn about the many programs they offer.

If you’re an educator, there are wonderful opportunities and educational packets to use in your classroom. With your students, take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, learn how to build a bird box and become involved in the world of ornithology.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether or not you take part in a formal program, consider a resolution on your own and pay attention to the sights and sounds in your yard. There are nests to observe, butterflies to attract and identify and so many other wonderful visitors from nature – all of which are right outside your window(s). If you are adding some plants to your garden, consider choices that attract butterflies. That first hummingbird sighting really is breathtaking and “butterfly bushes” really do attract butterflies.   

 

 

 

#6 – Have Fun

I can remember coveting a Venus Fly Trap when I was young. Who wouldn’t want a houseplant that actually DOES something – catching flies, at the time, seemed especially magnificent. There are so many wonderful plants that have unique characteristics and part of the fun in evolving a garden is in selecting a wide range of plants. Sure, it’s important to know what will grow in your zone and conditions and it’s also nice to have some sort of plan for the plantings (you know, the tall ones go in the back, try to plant for good color combinations and blooms throughout the seasons . . .). Equally important, I strongly recommend having fun when selecting plants.

If you’re looking for some new plantings and don’t want to spend a lot of time researching the specifics, go to the nursery, ask a friend and/or look in a catalogue not only for the aesthetics (and appropriateness for your planting conditions) and plant something that makes you laugh. It could be based on the common name (which typically describes a characteristic of the plant) or the growth pattern, color combinations . . . whatever tickles your fancy.

I added a skullcap plant during the High Holidays – the lovely little flowers don’t resemble a skullcap (yarmulke) in my opinion, but it turned out to be a really nice addition to the garden and the name tickles me.  

 

 

 

The corner of my perennial bed had a large bare spot last summer and need a shrub with a low, wide profile – that describes a lot of shrubs. I ended up selecting a smokebush not only because the characteristics were perfect for the location but also how could I resist? I can’t wait to see the “smoke” appear in season (the ‘blooms” are airy and fluffy, hovering over the leaves and shrub, thus resembling a layer of smoke).

Balloon Flowers, Obedient Plants, False Dragonhead, Ice Plants, Bleeding Heart, Wand Flowers, and Fairy Wings – the options are limitless and many of the time, they will work in your garden. Gardening can be laborious enough so you might as well have a chuckle while you are at it AND enjoy the beautiful results.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#7 – Grow Edibles

No matter how much space you have, grow something you can eat or use as a spice, herb or flavoring. There’s nothing like having fresh mint for iced tea or mojitos, tender lettuce and vegetables for a fresh salad. Beans, corn, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, root vegetables , berries – so many options and surely something will appeal to you. There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction in making a meal with the ingredients in your garden.

If you’re impatient to get things going in a vegetable bed, start the seeds inside and plant either when conditions are appropriate or invest in a cold cover to get a jump on things. I’ve been gardening with my twins since they were young and thankfully, one of them continues his love for gardening and is quite handy with the garden. He has built raised beds, trellises, put in a drip irrigation system and researches all kinds of possibilities for the future.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  #8 – Use Plants to Commemorate Moments

Some of the most important plants in my garden are there because they were either gifts to mark a life cycle event or I planted them to honor someone or something.

The Scotch Broom that blooms in May reminds me of my brother and sister in laws wedding in Scotland on May 18th.  

 

 

And the daffodils bursting into bloom in March are a tribute to my mother who passed away on March 8th. At first it was sad but now, in addition to the inevitable sadness, there’s joy that her memory lives on in a beautiful form and those daffodils help me continue my bond with my mother and her love of spring’s appearance.

 #9 – A Garden for All Seasons

Fall’s beauty is not found solely in the leaves changing color and a garden’s not complete unless there’s consideration paid to seasons. Annuals help round out the blooms but this year, think about investing in some varieties that will bring color, growth and change to your garden year round.

Hellebores, for me, are the most dependable blooms for the longest period of time. Best of all, I have varieties that begin growing in December. The sight of buds developing and then bursting open with color in the middle of winter is delightful and made even more beautiful if the blooms are set against the backdrop of snow. With just a few varieties timed for sequential bloom times, you can have a blooming garden beginning in winter.  

 

 

 

 

 

Witch Hazel trees are wonderful additions because they look like someone threw confetti all over your tree – the blooms are that unusual. Mine is yellow, a color I see a lot in the area, but there are many other colors and most begin their bloom time in late February and continue through March.

Consider planting plants that bloom in the spring and rebloom in the fall. I’ve not had as much success with that as I would like but I have had success in late summer and fall plants. Some good choices include Toad-lilies, Japanese Anemones, and several varieties of salvia, asters and fall crocuses.  

 

 

 

 

This year, instead of waiting for the first signs of spring and “ending” the gardening season with mums, consider some of this – and other – additions to your garden for year round visual interest. And don’t forget – there’s beauty in the form of plants that aren’t dormant under ground. During your fall clean up, consider leaving the remnants of some plants and see if you enjoy looking at their shapes during the cold months. I think you might be happily surprised.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#10 – GROW

Cliché though it is, by merely taking the time to smell the roses you will be surprised by how engaged you can become in nature’s activities. If nothing else appeals to you on this list and/or you don’t formalize resolutions, much less those with a nature aspect, just try to take a few minutes to look at those gardens you pass, the trees lining streets, listen to the songbirds signaling spring’s arrival, find some binoculars and look for birds and nests, observe the way plants change, smell and make you feel – try to embrace nature’s beauty and with it . . . grow.

24/7

A few nights ago, the local weatherman said a few things that got my attention and made me think about changing seasons with a new perspective.

He started with, “now that we’ve set our clocks back one hour, our days are getting shorter.” Excuse me? I thought every day was 24 hours. He probably meant to say something like “falling back” meant earlier sunsets and therefore, less daylight for the next few months. Because his pronouncement startled me, it made me pay more attention to how the changes change me. Sometimes this time of year feels cozy and my nesting instincts kick in but, for whatever reasons(s), this year I feel like things are “neither here nor there.” This feeling I blame on my garden rather than the weatherman.

This year the garden’s transition to winter dormancy seems extraordinarily drawn out. There are still remnants of summer, signs of fall and hints of winter in the garden. The landscape’s not vibrant and I don’t search through the beds for daily changes but it’s definitely not stagnant. However, when the weatherman continued and assuredly stated, “now that our days are getting shorter that means it’s the official end of the growing season” I stopped short.

Did he really just say that? Less sunlight is like a work stoppage and nature calls it quits? Nothing is growing? This isn’t true: fall is often referred to as the “root growing” season and although some think of this time as winter, I know there are roots still growing in my garden. Plants going dormant now aren’t visibly active but they will be when the conditions are right for them to return. The spring ephemerals were dormant during the summer and we didn’t think of that as the end of a growing season – it was a period of time in the cycle of growth. Most people are familiar with winter dormancy (perennials without evergreen foliage) but they’re not dead. Dormancy is not equated with death. Fewer hours of sunlight is not equated with the lack of growth.

My garden is a curious sight this year at this time. Last year, as we approached Thanksgiving, I would have been hard pressed to find blooms in the garden. Not true this year – my gardens are not void of color and evidence of growth is everywhere. Many plants are going dormant and some are withering but I know things are still growing. Just as each day has 24 hours, nature continues 365 days a year. I am a 24/7 gardener.

This year, with three seasons visible in my garden, I’m no longer getting fresh herbs from the garden or delighting in new blooms but I delight in the reluctance of some summer blooms to call it quits. I’m holding onto some of my warmer weather clothing before resigning to heavy sweaters and I haven’t started cooking typical winter meals yet, either. No clear delineation of seasons and certainly no official end to the growing season.

The garden is spotted with color from the pentas, coleus, several varieties of salvia and fuchsia. My garden, like me, is a little reluctant to completely let go of summer:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But we know it’s a new season – seedpods are beautiful, interesting and evidence of change. The fuchsia’s pips drip from the branches winding through the trellis, woodland peony seedpods decorate gardens, sedum’s fading and the Edgeworthia’s forming its pods which will slowly evolve into pom-pom-like, orange-white and deliciously fragrant blooms. It’s like taking baby steps towards another stage and/or season.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not long ago I had fall crocuses, asters, false dragonheads and obedient plants brimming with color. Those are gone now – they got the memo about dormancy but they’re not dead, just waiting until the time is right to jump into action.  

 

 

 

 

Did the weatherman mean to say that with the sun setting earlier and temperatures dropping, gone are the days of mowing the lawn, frequent trips to the nursery, endless planting and tending to the garden? To a certain extent, that’s true but even with the sun setting earlier and cooler temperatures, there’s growing and gardening to be done. Now begins the time to plant bulbs, divide certain plants, amend the soil, plan for next year, leaf mulch and plant certain trees and shrubs. Unlike the weatherman, I don’t see an end to the growing season no matter how his statement’s interpreted.

Although the days of overflowing window boxes full of color and the casual bouquets gathered in gardens are gone, it is still a time of color and enjoying nature’s growth. Bringing pots of summer blooms indoors keeps summer going even if it’s snowing outdoors. These lovely blooms have been thriving since spring and I brought it inside to watch it GROW all winter. There’s no official end of the growing season for this plant. This, too, is a change in my perspective as I usually let nature take its course when it comes to annuals. This year, I’m reluctant to let go.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If desired, enjoying nature’s growth is a year round sport without end. There’s no official end to the joy of watching things grow. Coaxing bulbs, watching the buds on a Christmas cactus slowly open and/or planting a terrarium brings life, change and growth into your home. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next month certain hellebores species begin to grow – there are enough varieties to plant them for sequential blooms beginning in December. I have a green and white variety that begins in December and enough other varieties to keep various hellebores colors opening until early summer. Their arrival is something I really look forward to as I continue to look for signs of growth.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The witch hazel blooming in February, often covered in snow, is evidence that growth is picking up the pace and soon, the early bulbs will make an appearance. I can’t wait to see the first fresh little green tips of foliage break ground. I won’t let go of the growing season and strongly disagree with the weatherman’s assessment that the growing season has ended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant now – even if you think the days are shorter and the growing season has ended. The work you do now makes entering the next major seasonal transition that much more lovely.

 

 

Backwards Day

Remember Backwards Day at camp? Clothes were turned around, dessert served before the main meal and the flag was lowered in the morning, raised at the end of the day. I loved those special days and embraced the challenge of reversal.

I think my garden had Backwards Day this summer and it has carried over into my personal life as well. As a camper, this was an eagerly anticipated fun day, in the garden it’s a curious anomaly and in my personal life, it’s a significant milestone (and adjustment). A day, a season and a period of time in life, Backwards Day is all about perspective. Literally and metaphorically.

My twins, now finished (or close to finishing) college, left home in 2008 and I slowly adjusted to an empty nest and all it entails. I let my Costco membership lapse, the dishwasher was full by the end of the week rather than at days’ end, the never-ending homework was no longer on our kitchen table and my internal carpool clock didn’t dictate my schedule.

Now they have returned and it is Backwards Day in my house. No more empty nest – it’s stuffed to the gills with two young adults and their aging parents previously accustomed to being alone.

As my twins transition to independence and stay with us until they’re financially prepared, it feels, at times, like high school days all over again. The refrigerator has more food, dishes pile up in the sink and our dishwasher runs nightly. The grocery list is longer, furniture occupied and the front door opens and closes at odd hours.

It used to be easy to take out the trash – containers were rarely full or heavy. Now, taking out the over-flowing trash bins takes effort every week. The quiet years have been replaced with streaming movies, binge watching, noisy smart phones, and unpredictability. During grade school years our house was always filled with the twins friends and sleepovers were a constant. During college years we would only see their friends periodically and now, many have reappeared. Frequently.

I’m feeling uncertain and think they share that feeling but are reticent to articulate those thoughts. I might be the mom around here but I would like for them to tell me when dinner’s ready and fill their cars with staples from Costco. How about if they ask me if I have some laundry to complete a load? Slowly things will be “righted” and adjustments made but for now, everything is topsy-turvy and backwards.

Inside and out, it’s a different landscape.

The garden celebrated Backwards Day this summer. Early blooming, predictable plants arrived late or not at all. Late spring/early summer plants became mid to late summer blooms and although we had a few hot spells, it wasn’t a particularly oppressive summer. Labor Day Weekend, the unofficial end of summer, could be the hottest string of days so far and predictions for the first week of September includes temperatures well over 90 degrees. As children return to school after summer vacation, the dog days of summer have appeared.

By summer’s end, my garden usually loses its vibrancy. Summer’s diverse, strong colors disappear, the lush feeling is lost and plants are withered. Dogwood leaves are typically tipped with red, there’s a hint of autumn in the garden and commercial spaces have replaced summer annuals with mums. Not true so far: my garden is full of color and summer blooming plants are either still blooming or have buds close to opening. Not yet for those shopping malls and professional office buildings, either. Not yet – remember, it is Backwards Day?

The tulips, daffodils, camass, allium and woodland plantings (among others) were at least a full month “later” than in previous years and their memory is still fresh in my mind at a time when I’m usually scouring catalogues for bulbs to plant in fall and dreaming of changes to the landscape.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It startled me to see White Flower Farm previewing their amaryllis selection. As much as I look forward to coaxing bulbs during winter, I’m just not in that mindset yet.

 

Many of the reliable early summer blossoms didn’t appear until mid to late summer (if at all). True, we had an usually cold, snowy winter with occasional, brief warm spells but all the same, it feels like my garden shares my feeling that things are a little out of synch.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This summer I added a few things to the Green Bed:

Because it’s one of the only areas with strong, full sun, most of the selections are in the succulent category. In addition to the traditional:  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted more color and textures:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Callirhoe involucrate (“Wine Cups”) was added for a strong color, working well against the varying shades of green. It met all the criteria: likes full sun, prefers dry soil, tolerates droughts, attracts butterflies and is a long blooming plant whose blooms look like a cup of wine. 

Wine Cups bloom in June and July. This week, I glanced into the Green Bed and was thrilled to see those lovely deep red cups appear. As anticipated, they disappeared mid July and I thought this is one plant that actually behaves as described. Until Backwards Day was announced – it’s blooming and loaded with buds for a fall treat of summer color. No complaints on this plant’s behavior.

Even the Oenothera (“Fireworks”) is embracing Backwards Day (again, no complaints – I’ll take colorful blossoms any time of the year from any plant). Many gardens are loaded with this ferocious spreading, brilliant yellow blossoming plant. In this area, they’re less dominant as summer comes to a close and I enjoyed seeing their cheerful blossoms in spring to early summer.  

 

 

 

Need I state the obvious? I looked out the window, thought the yellow blooms were the St. John’s Wort and wandered through the perennial bed. Although the St. John’s Wort had a particularly long and colorful blooming season, the yellow display I’m enjoying is courtesy of the Oenothera even though it’s late summer, early fall.

In my son’s vegetable garden, the tomatoes grew quickly and by late June, they starting turning red even though we weren’t expecting ripe tomatoes until much later in the summer.  

 

 

 

After the first few ripe, delicious red tomatoes the plants produced plenty of flowers and eventually, the tomatoes formed but none of them are ripe now, when red, garden fresh tomatoes are in every garden and available at all the roadside stands. The tomato plants look as we would expect in early summer: full of flowers and forming fruit.  

 

 

 

I’m used to a burned out garden in late August. I’m not accustomed to what I see this year . . . summer colors from summer blooming plants at the unofficial “end” of summer.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a good season for honeysuckle, day lilies, speedwell, pentas, liatris, Maltese cross and many others, some of which have been in the garden for a long time but never bloomed before. And it was a terrific season for the annuals used to fill in spaces here and there – especially the coleus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a fabulous year for Mourning Doves and visiting birds, but a lousy summer for butterflies. Rabbits, chipmunks and incredibly destructive squirrels definitely enjoyed the garden this summer – the sudden disappearance of new, tender plants was their calling card.

 

 

 

 

 

But it was not a good summer for the formerly predictable workhorses so plentiful I had bouquets to give away. What happened to my coreopsis, salvia, monarda, coneflowers, astilbe, lisianthus lavender and butterfly bush?  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer’s Backwards Day also meant more beautiful blooms indoors than I’m used to and occasionally, it was as colorful inside by a sunny window as it was outside in a flowerbed.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grocery store’s seasonal aisle may have school supplies and Halloween candy but in my garden, it is still Backwards Day with many summer blooms. This weekend I noticed the blooms are sharing space with some fall plants ready to take over. I’m not ready to think about ordering bulbs for the garden or looking through this year’s amaryllis selection – I’m still feeling topsy-turvy in my nest but I admire my garden’s ability to simply go with the flow.

For The Birds – Lessons Learned

Outside my kitchen window, in the large juniper tree we inherited when we moved into our home almost 27 years ago, I have watched numerous Mourning Doves nests. Flimsy and definitely not much to admire in their construction, I’ve always been stunned when that mish-mash of twigs, built without a distinctive or considered form, withstands the weight of nesting birds, protects the delicate eggs and, with luck, accommodates the growth cycle. 

 

The juniper has been home to countless nests – some successful and others, less so.  

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the beginning of July and already the juniper has housed two successful nests, the most recent of which has been especially delightful. Built high in the tree and hidden deep within a tangle of prickly, dense, drooping branches, watching the nest was a challenge but once I found a good vantage point from the kitchen windows, observing, and photographing, that nest became a natural part of my day.

Previous nests built low in the crook of the tree allowed me to casually glance into the nest while walking by but this premium view made nests especially vulnerable to predators. Each destroyed nest and/or evidence of missing eggs was heartbreaking. Yes, I know – Mourning Doves are not rare and they’re prolific breeders – but just as I don’t shun the most common blossom in the garden, I value each nest. I will be just as thrilled with the first hummingbird sighting, as I will be the next. And when the swallowtail parade begins later this month and my Buddleia is decorated with brilliant yellow and blue wings, I’ll franticly search for my camera in hopes of a “good” picture.

When the doves hatched sometime in late June I watched the adults fly to the nest to feed and protect their hatchlings. Only when I could see their furry little heads above the rim of the nest did I attempt a photo and clarity was difficult given the angle and very narrow window of opportunity (so to speak).  

When we experienced several strong storms, I thought about the nest. Would the juniper branch hold a flimsy, wet nest heavy with occupants? Was there an adult in the nest protecting the hatchlings? After the storms, when there was enough light, I would automatically go to the kitchen window to look for evidence of life and every day was surprised, and delighted, to see all was well.

Some mornings, just before sunrise when I was barely awake, my husband quietly got out of bed for an early work out and instead of mumbling “good morning” to him, I asked, “Are my birds ok?” Kind, supportive, interested or just resigned to my determination to find out about their well being, I don’t know but he was smart enough to know where and how to look for them and report back to me before leaving the house. Reassured, I usually fell back asleep.

Last week we had an exceptionally strong, summer D.C. thunderstorm. The torrential rain came down sideways and high winds caused us to lose power for close to 10 hours. It was hot, annoying, disruptive and destructive – and yet, when I looked out the kitchen window I saw the hatchling, now a fledgling, calmly sitting on a rock below the juniper tree by the dry stream bed. My son (using my daughter’s good camera instead of my point and shoot) went outside to take pictures of this goofy little bird perched on a rock, soaking wet and visible because there was so much lightning. When I posted some pictures of the bird on its rock, the comments were almost universal . . . “it looks like a decoy.”  

The next day, when I looked for it on the rock, I was and wasn’t surprised by its absence. After all, it was obviously strong and ready to begin its independence – I was disappointed and of course, a little worried something bad happened but all the same, that seemed like one tenacious little survivor. As I turned away from one kitchen window to look at the herb garden, I was absolutely delighted to see the dove in its new residence . . . It sat in those herbs for days and clearly was comfortable nestled into the oregano, chives and Thai basil. My family knew better than to make potentially funny threats about the dove’s future. They knew I would find it distasteful.

As it became clear the doves would soon leave the nest, I tried my luck at a few more pictures, hoping to capture in picture what connected me so strongly to this particular nest.

A bird just about to take flight is as ordinary a sight as it comes but for me, and maybe because it’s just outside my kitchen window, it was extraordinary.

Jumping Into June

Seriously? It’s June already and many stores have July 4th decorations in the “seasonal” aisles. It’s time for June brides, end of the school year activities, preparation for summer camp, storing winter clothing (and looking at bathing suits with dread) and for many, stepping up the on the daily gardening activities.

It’s time to Jump Into June and embrace early summer. Jumping into June means letting go of spring’s early excitement, discoveries, unique characteristics and embracing summer gardening – a blend of planting’s aesthetics and the routine of tedious chores.

As I look at the remnants of tulips, daffodils, camasses and other spring bulbs, I’m torn. The neat freak in me wants to tidy up the beds by cutting down unsightly greenery of spent blooms but I know that’s not good, or productive, gardening. The row of tulips in front of my trellises was spectacular. Now, without their vibrant colors, as the headless stems and withering foliage reach towards the sun they seem to dare me as if to say “you know you’ll be sorry if you cut us down now. Let my bulb get whatever nutrients are left and only then will we allow those pruning shears near us.”

 

 

The dense tulip foliage, however, is making it hard for me to enjoy the Siskiyou hidden between the stems and it’s impossible for me to plant anything in that area until they wither back completely. The pruning shears are calling but so far, I resist and tend to the tulip bulbs in hope of a repeat next spring.

 

 

 

 

 

The trellises are Jumping into June and are covered with clematis and cardinal flower vines. Spring’s last vestiges wilt away in front of June’s blooms. It’s the ying and yang of June.  

 

 

 

The white varieties of allium bloomed later than the purple. Side by side I see the shape of a purple globe allium, now a green ball, with the white ones still in bloom.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jumping into June means welcoming back perennials and marveling at their growth (one hopes). The peonies were prolific and spring’s color palette is slowly being replaced with the bright, strong colors I love. It was a pleasant jolt to see the first shock of brilliant orange from the Maltese Cross plant appear. Soon, the garden will be punctuated with strong colors, many of which will bloom for months.  

 

 

 

 

 

As in early spring, this is a time to take pleasure in hopeful “firsts.” The first tomato is formed, fresh lettuce can be picked for meals and the cucumber vine is producing flowers (this year it’s a pickling variety in hopes of figuring out how to cure and jar dill pickles).

 

 

Jumping into June means filling pots with colorful annuals,

reworking beds where perennials disappeared and sitting outside to admire one’s handiwork before it gets too hot, humid and buggy. In this area, because the window of opportunity for sitting outside comfortably is short, June’s a time to appreciate nature without being miserable.

The “Green Bed” is living up to its name and is relatively carefree for now. No deadheading waiting, weeds are manageable and plantings look fresh. Spring’s white allium mixed in with succulents, lamb’s ear, sedum and spruce once again illustrates the unique combinations in a transitional season of growth.

Before gardening chores become tedious and constant watering is the only way to keep a garden alive, June’s blooms are nothing but a pleasure and they decorate the garden beds just as much as a few cherished bouquets brighten the indoors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Songbirds are noisy and sunrise feels a bit early in June – but looking at the birds’ activities and discovering nests never gets old.  

 

 

 

 

I’ve Jumped into June with a few new plants and love welcoming returned growth. It’s a time filled with the continued hope of discovery, beauty, purpose and joy. I hope the same is true for you, too.