Picking Favorites

If you have siblings it’s likely that at some point, you questioned which was the “favored one” by a parent. When the question was posed (usually not at the best time), the typical response was “I love all of you equally. I don’t have a favorite child.” And as a parent – more challenging, the parent of twins – I’ve responded the same. But the truth really is that as a parent of more than one child, I don’t have a favorite. Honestly – I love my children equally. I’m hopeful the same is/was true for my parents.

As a gardener? I’m grateful my plants aren’t able to pose that question because the answer wouldn’t be “I love all of you the same. I don’t have a favorite.” Come on all of you gardeners and flower lovers – you have favorites, admit it! Most of us have seasonal favorites, preferences for bouquets and scents, or lack thereof, often attract admirers (think lilacs and peonies). Those who love flowers and appreciate gardens have favorites.

As August’s dog days of summer inch towards a new season and many gardeners grow weary of required daily maintenance (I confess), if my garden spoke to me and asked, “am I your favorite flower?” I would probably glare and say, “are you kidding me? At this point of the season, I don’t like most of you – it’s work. The deadheading, pruning, watering and maintenance is tedious, color is getting spare, formerly faithful perennials are AWOL and the enthusiasm of a growing, changing and exciting garden has waned.”

However, as challenging as a garden is at this point of the summer, I’ll admit to having a few favorites. So, with apologies to the rest of the garden, I hope you’ll understand when I say . . . here are a few of my late summer favorites:

Ligularia “Othello,” planted last summer (or was it the summer before?) stands beautifully in the “Woodland” section of my yard and I’ve always enjoyed the large leaves and deep burgundy colored stems. This year it decided to bloom – and what a show it has been (apologies, in advance, to professionals for my novice descriptors).  

Ligularia 'Othello'

Ligularia ‘Othello’

 

 

One morning, while touring the garden (my summer ritual after the first cup of coffee), I noticed “Othello” was forming what looked like spurts of new leaf growth – to my eye, it looked like tidy packages, shaped like a closed rosebud, wrapped with leaves. When I managed to get down to plant level and look, here’s what I saw:  

'Othello' Growing

‘Othello’ Growing

 

 

 

After a few days, and resisting the urge to Google images of the plant while in bloom (it’s a “thing” with me – I love a new flower’s surprise), Othello (an easier name reference) started changing dramatically. Tiny hints of color started to emerge:

Hints of Color

Hints of Color

 

 

 

Slowly, as growth began in earnest, the leaf blobs opened to reveal orange-yellow colored tube shaped blooms. Not yet flowers, it was clear something special was happening.

 

 

Tubes of flowers emerging from a package of leaves – intriguing! Soon the plant was covered with blooms – the burgundy stems rise high above the foliage and provide a stunning late summer display of color:  

Tube of Flowers

Tube of Flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best of all, weeks later, the plant is still in bloom.  

'Othello" in Full Bloom

‘Othello” in Full Bloom

 

 

Othello is definitely a favorite – a great garden plant without flowers, fascinating to watch bloom and long lasting blossoms – how could it not be a favorite?

 

 

The Native Bed’s natural planting feels refreshing right now – this is an area where I’m less preoccupied with borders and definition than the other beds. Past the Green Bed’s verdant plants following the dry stream bed, I love the way the Native Bed has a completely different feel:

Native Bed

Native Bed

 

 

Maple tree branches, trimmed out of necessity, are now arranged on the ground with native plants growing around them, creating a natural feeling landscape. As the bed matures, I hope the use of natural materials combined with mixed native plantings creates a meadow-like area.  

 

Planted with helenium, thalictrum, chelone, cardinal lobelia, amsonia, heuchera, asciepias, bluebells, phlox, fothergilla, pycnanthemum and more, the Native Bed welcomes nature’s visitors, adds a new aspect to my garden and blooms from early spring into late fall.    

Butterfly Weed

Butterfly Weed

Cardinal Lobelia

Cardinal Lobelia

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to pick a favorite in the Native Bed as it’s new, there are many blooms I haven’t seen and I usually like to live with a plant for a few seasons before I fall in love. Yet it’s not hard to pick the helenium’s (‘Mariachi Fuego’) magnificent colors and constant blooms (not to mention the descriptive name) as a beautiful addition to the garden.  

Helenium 'Mariachi Fuego'

Helenium ‘Mariachi Fuego’

 

 

 

The cardinal lobelia’s height and striking color brings my eye directly to the Native Bed but in truth, it’s the subtler pycnanthemum, AKA mountain mint, that’s a favorite this summer.

One of the first plants to show its staying power regardless of conditions, the mountain mint, like ‘Othello’, has been fun to watch for an extended time. The new growth is a lighter green than the base and they have a soft, refreshing look.

But it’s that subtle, concentric circled bloom on the top of each stem that really makes me appreciate this plant. What began as this:  

Mountain Mint

Mountain Mint

 

 

 

 

 

Blossomed like this:  

Mountain Mint

Mountain Mint

Although not an obvious or splashy style, I can’t help but respect this tenacious, understated, lovely addition to the garden.

The best part of having favorites in the garden is they don’t talk back, as they mature they won’t recount stories that exemplify all your parenting “mistakes” and you don’t have to worry about therapy expenses as they sort through the issues resulting from perceived issues resulting from NOT being the “favored” child.

With each season, I usually have a few favorites – and I don’t have to tip toe around the question if asked. For now, this late is the summer, I’m grateful for the pure enjoyment and display of these exceptional plants.

Written, obviously, by a Middle Child.

A Whiter Shade Of Pale

I crave color. I’ll even admit to sometimes overlooking the characteristics of a plant and its appropriateness for my zone much less garden’s conditions, just to grab that color and add it to the garden. Color can make me an impulsive shopper at the nursery.

So . . . for someone obsessed with color, for a gardener who absolutely lusts over magnificent hues, what’s happening to me? Suddenly I’m enchanted with white. I can’t get enough white into my garden and I find myself marveling at the detail, delicacy and yes, vibrancy of those white blooms.

I know that technically, white’s not a color – it’s the absence of pigment. White is a color without color – achromatic. If color brought me to gardening and I delight in unique hues and combinations, what’s going on?

Yes, I loved The White Album, look forward to seeing a show on The Great White Way and white fireworks exploding in the sky are my favorite type (you know, the ones that look like a dandelion before you blow away the seeds and make a wish).  

 

 

 

 

 

I love the way small trees look when wound with bright, twinkling little white lights, whether decorating a sidewalk café in the summer or signaling the onset of winter’s holiday season. A Midwesterner at heart, I’ll even own up to enjoying the occasional snowstorm – especially when it looks like frosting on an early, colorful bloom.  

 

 

 

 

When Spring arrives, it’s the early white blooms that so many of us find especially refreshing and hopeful – all the more so when following a harsh winter. My garden’s first hellebores are white and often are accompanied by snowdrops, white crocuses (and purple), a mixture of daffodils (I have one huge clump of “ghost daffodils – the whitest I could find) and later, other Spring Whites appear. Is it the “whiteness” we find so refreshing? How could that be if we’re sick and tired of winter’s relatively bland landscape and/or done with snow? Maybe this is one of those gardening things to simply appreciate and revel in rather than trying to make sense of it.

As early spring bloomers emerge in earnest, it’s hard not to get excited about seeing the ground covered with blossoms instead of snow, ice and remnants of winter. Galanthus, Polygonatum, Lily of the valley, white crocuses, Hellebores, Sanguinaria, Snowdrop Anemones, “Minature Snowflake” or Mock Orange, and if you’re lucky, white lilacs (and more)– a beautiful, colorless yet colorful – transition from one season to the next.

 

 

 

 

As I look at the garden now, midsummer, I’m delighted to see vibrant colors in the perennial bed and the “Green Bed’s” refreshing shades of green with many textures, growth patterns following the dry stream bed is accentuated by the occasional color from Maltese Cross, blooming succulents, skullcap plant, salvia and more. White Shasta daisies border the Green Bed – proving more credence to the clean, crisp and refreshing combination of a white bloom against green foliage. Whether it’s the white scape of a hosta or the Viburnum’s lovely white flowers floating above the long branch of green foliage, it’s that fresh white and green combination that seems so appropriate no matter what the setting or season.

 

 

But it’s the area we’ve been working on for a few years now that has really captured my attention and is now nicknamed The White Wall. It bears NO resemblance to tires and it is fueling my newfound respect for white as an important, treasured “color” in the garden.

What began as a trio of trellises covered in three different varieties of clematis has slowly evolved into a beautiful White Wall. The first step was extending the flagstone into a vertical, low, upright “edge” to a) define the area and b) retain the soil and plants. Here’s the “before” and “after.”

 

 

 

The next step, figuring out what to plant in the narrow, specific area using the trellises and existing boxwoods, proved a lot more difficult than I initially thought – especially using the bland brick as a background (I have no choice in the matter). Coral tones and reds clashed with the sand colored background (sand is putting it nicely) and making it even more complicated is the location – directly across from the patio where we grill and spend a lot of time in the summer. It also happens to be a wall that’s visible from the dining room. It would be ideal to have a wall with year round interest but for now it’s a work in progress.

I’m absolutely delighted with the summer view – it’s my White Wall and it’s making me look at the entire garden with an eye towards opportunities to add more white here and there. The White Wall holds my respect for achromatic blooms.

After considerable thought, we decided to let the trellises stay where they were, moving the boxwoods in between them to provide a static, vertical structure “outlining” whatever we selected to place on the trellises.

By using a combination of white plants, accented very strategically with color, the area has come to life and is now a treasured area of the garden. The Mandevilla vines, cleome and a magnificent White Chiffon Rose of Sharon provide the majority of colorless-color and their unique textures, bloom times, complementary foliage and visual interest makes this White Wall a thing of beauty (in my opinion). The entire area feels crisp, new, interesting, textured and incredibly unique:

 

 

 

 

The White Wall has made me take a look around at the other beds and appreciate the summer’s beautiful white blooms. The daisies, phlox, liatris, hydrangea, penstemon, astilbe and delightful buds on my new Little Gem Magnolia are lovely in and of themselves, but they also help accentuate brilliant colors throughout the garden. It’s unlikely I’ll ever turn away from the razzle-dazzle of colorful summer blooms, but I do have an appreciation for achromatic plants, now.

 

 

 

 

White blooms make me pay attention to so much more about a plant than just the color of the flower – I look at the plant’s characteristics: the stem’s color, height and girth, the way a bud unfolds, the textures it reveals, the growth pattern and so much more. Without looking for intense color, I notice a petal’s shape more than I did when I overlooked a simple white bloom. I like the movement in each petal on the phlox and see a little color bleeding into each flower. Little Gem’s flower opens to expose a lovely patterned center and the lacey astilbe waves in the slightest breeze. Could I (or should I) have appreciated and noticed these lovely nuances before the White Wall? Of course. I’m simply grateful for this added layer of interest resulting from a simple task – planting a wall with a trio of trellises.

Forget what they say about not wearing white clothing before Memorial Day and putting them away after Labor Day – in my opinion, white in the garden is beautiful year round. It’s almost like a chameleon with its ability to fit in to whatever the weather, landscape or mood.

And if nothing else, how about using a lovely white vase to display the dazzling colors so plentiful during these magnificent summer blooming times?

Months without an “R” No Oysters, Great Gardens

The other day, while searching for seafood to make a celebratory dinner, the saying pertaining to oysters came to mind– are you familiar with it? Basically, it says we shouldn’t expect fresh oysters during months that do not contain the letter R. Did this saying affect our menu? Of course not – there are plenty of ways to enjoy the flavors of the summer season. Yet it shouldn’t surprise you that as I was thinking about the “r-less months” – May through August – my thoughts wandered to how the saying might, or might not, apply to the landscape.

Let me say at the outset – I don’t happen to think the oyster saying really has any direct application to the world of gardening. The four “r-less” months of summer are delicious and that’s pretty much where the analogy stops and starts. But it certainly does make a gardener look at those precious months as a unique, changing color palette that is sure to appeal to anyone’s gastronomic palate. Maybe for a gardener, May – August is like a four course/monthly meal.

For starters, the first month without an “r”, May, is summer’s prelude – an appetizer. The beauty of May is found in the lovely flowers unique to the month. After the delightful, and somewhat “typical” spring landscape of crocuses, daffodils, tulips, snowdrops and flowering trees, May brings us special views of new, fresh starts. After all, what would May be without peonies?  

 

 

The exciting thing about May, however, is that peonies are not the only standouts – during this stage of the gardening season, the peonies, along with bluebells, allium, wisteria, camass, unfurling ferns, flowering shrubs, geum, amsonia and beautiful, developing greens, set the stage for the months to follow.

On my Facebook page, I try and post a Bouquet of the Day (no – they are NOT daily but somehow, the name stuck so I kept with it). In the r-less month of May, I transition from posting this kind of spring bouquet:  

 

 

To this – more descriptive of May’s blooms and colors:

 

As the r-less months progress, gardens seem to change before our eyes and with that, come so many extraordinary sights and smells. Whether it’s your own garden, a landscape you pass while walking somewhere and/or a public garden you visit, the four r-less months serve up a mouthwatering, sometimes unexpected and usually refreshing, beautiful sight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As summer leisurely moves forward, blooms continue, lawns are tended to, treasured perennials are welcomed and songbirds are a common sound. This is the time when we also appreciate the benefits of shade. The trees, now fully in leaf, form a canopy of shade as welcomed as an ice cream truck and/or shaved ice.

The cooling, calm relief of sitting beneath a densely shaded area is unique to these r-less months and it’s a feeling that for many, typifies summer and brings back memories. It reminds me of going to sleep away camp and staying in bunks cooled only by the occasional cross breeze through the opened, screened windows, playing sports in the relentless heat and looking forward to “letter writing time” in the afternoon, often under the shade of a large, old, protective tree.Now it’s officially summer and time to, in addition to the ongoing chores, enjoy our gardens. The palette of spring is changing as summer’s brilliant blooms begin to dominate the landscape. Lawns are still green, leaves are bright and it’s hard not to appreciate the spectrum of colors. Perennials appear and, if well planned, provide a display of colors over the remaining r-less months. Annuals help fill in pots and areas in the garden beds where a little oomph is needed and bright, cheerful bouquets –whether freshly picked and filled with wildflowers, herbs, perennials, greenery and/or any combination thereof – are available everywhere.  

 

 

Summer means blooms on the butterfly bush (I saw my first swallowtail this morning while writing this post). The yellow in a garden is no longer coming from crocuses and daffodils because you might have sundrops, St. John’s Wort, lilies and other vibrant flowers. Brilliant yellow might also appear as buds in your vegetable garden and/or the center of so many lovely multi colored flowers.

Who needs oysters when we can sit on the patio and enjoy a perennial garden filled with color and plants whose blooms are a month or so away? I’m just fine with this view:Sitting outside and enjoying a beautiful view is just about as delicious as the freshest oyster in my opinion.

The Balloon Flower’s bouquet helps celebrate summer’s colors and I really enjoy watching the process of this plant forming the balloon, seeing it “inflate,” deepen in color and then . . . POP! Beautiful balloons.  

This summer, as the four r-less months progress and nature has done a lot of the watering for us (so far), my garden is full of returning perennials and beautiful blossoms are plentiful. As a result, this summer I don’t feel like I’m robbing my garden of its purpose and beauty by cutting some colorful blooms to bring indoors – for some reason, the garden’s almost begging me to gather a brilliant bouquet and the diversity of colors, textures and scents is hard to resist.

The Bouquets of the Day, in my opinion, represent the vibrancy and diversity of summer. Picking the flowers is doing my garden a favor (so I tell myself) – I’m encouraging future growth! My most recent Bouquet of the Day represents early summer colors and diversity. I think they reflect what’s going on in nature. 

 

 

As summer continues, I enjoy watching the Mandevillea vines climb the trellises and can’t wait to see my new White Chiffon Rose of Sharon’s buds open.

 

The Monarda’s blooming and it’s only a matter of time before the hummingbirds drop by for a taste. The deep purple Speedwell’s spires next to the orange Agastache is a distinct summer palette I love. Cleome, butterfly weed, phlox, zinnias, lavender, ornamental oregano, coral bells, penstemon and coleus weave together, reminding me of my Aunt Cora’s beautiful crazy quilts I adore – no neat, perfectly lined and planned rows for me. I love the result of a seemingly unplanned pattern becoming a work of art – planned to be soft, irregular, interesting and artfully worked to blend together.

 

 

 

 

My garden’s planned with heights, blooms times, textures and colors but the goal has always been a garden of interest, relying less on mulch to highlight plants and using plants growing together to form the carpet of my landscape.  

 

 

 

 

When the four r-less months wind down, we will all notice changes: a later sunset, fading summer flowers, emerging fall hues and the hint of a crispness to the air. The dense foliage providing shade from the summer’s heat will be appreciated for other reasons as we enjoy watching the colorful changing leaves. When September arrives, we’ll embrace the “r” and who knows? Perhaps we’ll toast to the new season with champagne and oysters.

Seasons of Change

The past few weeks have been filled with several significant milestones: my twins turned 25, my husband celebrated his 65th birthday and June marks our 30th wedding anniversary. We could say “where have the years gone” or “my, haven’t the children grown so quickly” and/or other predictable, appropriate exclamations but, true to form, I look to the landscape as a way to measure the Seasons of Change.

 

 

 

 

 

For some parents, one way to mark Seasons of Change can be found on a wall with pencil lines and a date. Often, those treasured “growth charts” are an annual tradition and visible reminder of their children’s physical growth. For a while, through the sleep deprivation and struggle to make it through a day much less a year with twins, I marked their growth on a wall. But those lines were painted over when the twins decided their rooms needed a fresh coat of paint. It didn’t bother me – for some reason, I wasn’t sentimental about that growth chart.

Seasons of Change is a composite picture: growth charts, photographs, art projects, report cards, records of all those “firsts” and so much more. For me, especially as we celebrate the milestones in May and June, Seasons of Change, is strongly evidenced in our landscape. It’s the little maple tree in the backyard, planted by the previous owners, that is now a large tree providing much needed shade on a hot summer day and requiring serious pruning in spring. When we first moved into the house almost 30 years ago, the tree couldn’t have been taller than 6’ and it looked as sad as Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree before Linus lovingly put his blanket around it to encourage strength and show that tree some love.

It’s not just the maple tree that marks the Seasons of Change – it’s the yard’s transformation and the stories it could tell if able. Our yard began as a serviceable place, it was the hub for neighborhood children to gather and play games. What little grass grew was soon ruined under the wear and tear of childhood games, inflatable swimming pools, colorful plastic play equipment, an occasional sleep out and a plastic picnic table. The landscape was one of childhood games, birthday parties and a lot of antics I probably don’t want to know about.

Over time, as we developed one part of the yard into a Children’s Garden and the inflatable pool was retired in favor of a neighborhood pool, the landscape grew and we viewed the yard as more than utilitarian. The metaphoric pencil mark was drawn, indicating growth, but it wasn’t just the maple tree’s growth that survived toddlers. The change marked our yard’s slow movement to blend aesthetics with purpose. The first “real” garden bed was planted while the yard was still a neighborhood hang out. The trees were strong enough to support a hammock and I was carving out a few areas to begin my own garden – staking my claim for a colorful garden to satisfy my strong craving for colorful blooms and the hope of attracting winged creatures to my yard. While the children were gathering fireflies, I was looking for the first hummingbird.

The first “garden” I worked on was, what I thought, an ideal spot: sunny, out of foot traffic’s way, near the outdoor water spigot and in a location I could admire whether indoors or out on the patio. It was my first perennial bed. Plants were selected impulsively and there were more than a few weekend trips to local nurseries to buy whatever looked nice. I bought things in bloom – I needed “Instant Pretty” and didn’t think about bloom times, growth patterns, good planting practices, soil conditions, maintenance . . . or anything other than it looking pretty right then and there.

Always craving color, I selected plants I liked – I gave little or no thought to plants that might like my garden. But I learned a painful lesson when, after a few weeks, those beautiful blooms (previously tended to in ideal conditions) disappeared. How dare they? I remember buying my first daylily crown (at the time, I thought it was an extravagant price) and only knew I didn’t want the orange ones I saw growing in massive clumps along the streets. Thirty years later, the one lovely crown has divided into many and remains, sentimentally, one of my favorite summer blooms. It reminds me of having very little money to spend on decorative plants, knowing almost nothing about planting and yet somehow, after 30 years, the daylilies have multiplied, bloom reliably and make a lovely addition to the perennial bed.

After many Seasons of Change, a lot of trial and error and with the help of two experienced landscapers (Sam Nelson and Serena Masters Fossi), the landscape has now matured – it’s still on the growth chart and I know there will be a lot of change in the years to come – but it is now a more mature garden, based on good gardening principles, an overall plan for its structure and it is filled with the color, textures, interest, purpose and blooms I love.

What began as a bunch of plants crowded into a space and looked great for a few weeks has become my established perennial bed. With Serena’s guidance, and a considerable amount of impatience and doubt on my part, this is what it looked like in its infancy:

It still includes many of the plants I invested in, such as the daylilies, but it has now gone through enough seasons to grow up and become the beautiful sight I had always craved. Those Seasons of Change were a necessary part of maturing and I know there are more to come – nature will always evolve – but it’s clear my landscape has grown up. It’s getting closer to the top of the growth chart. Below are pictures of the perennial bed as it looks this week:  

 

 

 

Today, the perennial bed is filled with the colors I love, the spring’s bulbs emerge, are replaced with early summer’s green and fresh colors and soon will transition to more blooms, different colors and eventually, in the fall, I hope it will surprise me with the late season bloomers I impatiently look for even though I know it’s too early for signs of the toad lilies, asters and peacock lilies (among others). I love these Seasons of Change.

The Green Bed, formerly the Children’s Garden, taught me to appreciate the beauty of a monochromatic garden (with a few pops of color) and most importantly, I learned how to impatiently be patient and wait for the different greens to grow into each other, forming a map of green whose boundaries are marked with different shapes of green plants. Here’s the Green Bed “before” –

And, with more than a few years of “pencil marks on the wall” and quite a few planting seasons, here’s the Green Bed now:

It’s not just the growth of plantings in our landscape that remind me of our milestones and the Seasons of Change, though their growth and the lessons learned have been important and enlightening. There’s another piece of our landscape that, for me, is the most beautiful and obvious reminder of an earlier era. It is permanently imprinted in our home’s landscape (or at least for as long as we live here).

When the twins were 6, we spent a few very warm summer days painting the outside brick walls in our courtyard. They are a daily reminder of the passage of time and for me, no line on the wall indicating physical growth could replace these paint strokes.

The drawings are colorful and full of life. I remember when we stood in the unbearable heat as they carefully painted, delighted with the permission, and encouragement, to color our walls with whatever they wanted. Some are joyful scenes of trees with fruit, fish swimming in the ocean and birds flying high in the sky. Courtesy of my son’s obsession with history, a detailed scene of the doomed Titanic – complete with the distress fireworks high above the sinking ship in the ocean – takes up an entire section of the courtyard. I treasure each and every picture and cannot bear the thought of being in this house without them.

 

It has taken the better part of our 30 year marriage to reclaim the garden and slowly (very slowly) turn it into something that I love. I’ve treasured the process as much as I love what it looks like today. Our leaveslandscape has it’s own chalk marks indicating significant milestones: the Harry Lauder Walking Stick my parents bought us to honor a significant anniversary, the Scotch Broom we planted when my brother married his wife in Scotland, the azalea my friend Denise brought over to plant in the garden after my mother suddenly passed away, the lilies of the valley my other gardening friend, Denise, was kind enough to share with me and so many other generous additions to the garden.

I’m grateful for the milestones we’re celebrating and know we have been fortunate. Forever, nature’s growth and meaning helps me appreciate our Seasons of Change.

A Purposeful Garden

The last Mourning Dove fledged the other day, eliciting mixed emotions in me. My “growing season” begins before spring blooms, it starts when I see, and hear, birds in the yard. I start most days watching them preparing their nests and eventually, tending to their clutch. With binoculars and camera in hand, I check in on “my” nests (realizing all along they aren’t “mine”) and am thankful that the garden just happens to provide a good nesting location for certain species.

I noticed the last Mourning Dove nest was no longer active and went outside to start the other morning activity – wandering through the garden to see what’s growing and, I’ll admit, glancing up towards the likely nesting locations in hopes of spotting another active nest.

While watering the flowers just beginning to emerge along the backyard’s dry stream bed, I noticed a young dove hanging out near the rocks. Calmly, the dove sat towards the back, huddling under the sweeping limbs of the Scotch Broom.

 

Looking around the backyard’s dry stream bed, I realized it was only a matter of time before the butterfly bush would live up to its name and soon, it would be covered with purple blooms and the wings of butterflies and moths.  

 

 

 

The dry stream bed area, or “The Green Bed,” has taught me a lot about gardening: Appreciating the different colors, textures and growth of predominantly green plantings . . .  

 

 

 

 

 

 

. . . and how to incorporate my passion for color as well.

As the plantings ramble, and some flower, the Green Bed’s beauty deepens as does my appreciation for the aesthetics and purpose. It’s beautiful, easy to maintain and nature’s creatures visit it.

When the monarda’s in bloom, hummingbirds congregate long enough to enjoy the colorful blooms – I’ve yet to capture it well in a photograph but the image is engrained in my memory. for now, that’s enough.

As I look around, it dawns on me how drastically different my approach to gardening has evolved. What started as a yard for raising twins slowly became a garden filled with colorful blooms planted solely for my preference. Decorative plantings were guided either by aesthetics and/or emotions commemorating milestones.

Slowly, perennials replaced annuals, height, color, textures, bloom times and planting conditions came into play and overall, I enjoyed the vision of a long, interesting and colorful blooming season. I admit that very little thought was given to how my little piece of land fit into the bigger scheme of things. Helping the ecosystem and good planting practices seemed like things beyond my reach.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visions of Martha Stewart danced in my head as I pictured myself, basket and clipping shears in hand, gathering the day’s bounty of blooms for vases scattered around my home. Don’t get me wrong – I still plant and will continue to plant with aesthetics in mind. Should there be a lot of blooms to spare, I’ll cut a few stems to enjoy indoors and I’ve been known to post a “Bouquet of the Day” from time to time but last summer, I started to collect fewer bouquets and this summer, I think the same will be true.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Function and aesthetics can be the foundation for any garden, no matter where and regardless of size. If I restrain myself from cutting the blooms and am thoughtful about evolving the landscape, nature’s creatures benefit and become the most beautiful part of the landscape.

Planting with purpose takes time, research, trial and error and professional input (a huge thank you to Serena Masters Fossi who continues to patiently guide me with thoughtful planning and planting). The Native Garden we began this summer is a small beginning and no, it isn’t lush or dense with all the plantings and life I envision – but it’s planted with thought towards the bigger picture.

I hope Monarchs are encouraged by the Butterfly Weed and Goldfinches will be attracted to the Willow Leaf Sunflowers and Black-eyed Susan. I’m not pulling out the Violets wandering throughout the backyard because I’m hopeful Regal Fritillaries will find them and I love hearing the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers enjoying the many oaks in our neighborhood.

Continuing my ritual of wandering through the garden each morning . . . the first ladybug on the Viburnum was just as beautiful as any flower.  

 

In the perennial bed, the orange Geum blooms were plentiful but I resisted picking them – who knows what winged creature might enjoy the brilliant color? The Smokebush is lush, Coral Bells are shooting up stems of flowers and the St. John’s Wort bush will soon be covered in yellow blooms.

 

Instead of looking at this lovely sight as “bouquet potential” I wondered what birds and butterflies might be attracted – I look forward to that landscape because THAT is a complete scene of nature. The Centranthus ruber, Lavendar Towers, Dicentra, Bluebells, Fothergilla, Salvia and more are also putting on a show. I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy it.

As I walked past the climbing hydrangea, I noticed little sparrows darting in and out of the lower leaves. I passed the vine, careful not to disturb whatever those sparrows were doing and noticed a full, tiny nest with eggs no bigger than marbles.  

 

 

Case closed. Many should enjoy gardens – and when nature shares in your enthusiasm, everyone benefits.

 

 

 

Post Note – After this post was written, and as a NestWatcher for Cornell Lab of Ornithology (http://www.nestwatch.org/), I observed the nest and was fortunate enough to watch the first egg hatch:  

 

 

 

The remaining eggs hatched (including one Cowbird) over the course of several days. It was a beautiful site and the climbing hydrangea reinforced the joy of a Purposeful Garden.

When the last bird fledged the Song Sparrow nest, although thrilled the hatchlings were healthy and strong enough to fledge, I stared at that empty nest and hoped my nest watching days weren’t over for the summer.  The nest watching continues as a Mourning Dove has returned to a nest and is calmly tending to her clutch and recently, I discovered a beautiful Robin’s nest.

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?”