Re-Tweeting

The discovery of an active nest is one of those unexpected treasures you can’t possibly script. As observant as one may be, or as familiar as you are with your yard, a nest may appear in the most unexpected places and/or return to some of the predictable locations in your garden. I can’t remember a summer within the past five or so years when I haven’t had at least one nest in the juniper tree and another nestled in the hollies. The nests are strategically located behind a thick tangle of prickly leaves, using a brick wall to provide added support on one side with strong branches from mature trees as the nest’s “cradle.” Every spring I watch the birds in my yard and inevitably, they lead me to where they are building a nest. Especially in the initial days of summer, nests are being discovered all the time (and many birds lay another clutch of eggs in the fall) and the Internet is flooded with magnificent discoveries. Nests can be discovered on the ground, in bird houses, within the cavity of a tree, constructed in almost any discarded object, in chimneys . . . you name it: become aware of the possibilities and soon you, too, will start looking for nests.

Early in the morning, sometimes before we “Spring Forward” and change our clocks in preparation for the summer’s months, I wake to the gentle cooing of the Mourning Doves. Before I begin the summer routine of touring the garden to check in on plants, see what’s growing (or not) and making a “to do” list for cleaning, planting and summer maintenance, I start looking for nests. This year started a little different initially – the first Mourning Dove of the season was spotted in the holly tree, previously the first ones were in the juniper tree and almost all were successful (we had one unfortunate outcome, courtesy of a tenacious predator). In the following months, continuing into “official summer” I continue to find nests. It’s a little unusual to find some nests as summer’s heat begins in earnest but for me, it’s not about the science of ornithology – it’s about the thrill of the Retweet. Finding nests, summer after summer, is a form of gardening for me. As much as I despise the juniper tree – it’s ungainly, prickly (and we all know I’ve got a “thing” about texture) and it’s starting to encroach on the sunny spots in the yard, making it difficult to figure out how to plant in my beloved Green Bed. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay because it has been home to so many nests. Importantly, it was home to the first nest which got me hooked on finding nests in the yard. As I walk past the scratchy, ungainly tree, I mutter to the tree “your only saving grace is being home to the plentiful, magical, amazing nests.” Grr.

And yet? Summer after summer, in 98% of the mourning dove nests built in the garden, I’ve been treated to the following (and I never tire of it – each nest is special, new and unique):

Mourning Dove Nest With Eggs

Mourning Dove Nest With Eggs

Doves Beginning to Hatch

Doves Beginning to Hatch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last summer’s nest in the climbing hydrangea full of sparrows, was an unexpected treat. I found it only because, while sitting in the kitchen, I noticed a lot of sparrows diving in and out of the climbing vines and after a few days, when the activity began to slow down, I casually walked by the climbing hydrangea and glanced into the tangle of leaves. Sure enough, there it was – a sparrow’s nest. Each egg was the size of a marble and I couldn’t imagine how they would hatch, hold the weight of an adult and the hatchlings:

Song Sparrow Nest

Song Sparrow Nest

With Cornell’s NestWatch program, I not only got information about the occupants (notice how one egg is different – a Cowbird dropped an egg in there and was lucky enough to have it nurtured by the sparrow) but I registered the nest so they could get information about bird populations they ordinarily wouldn’t have access to. If you are at all interested in learning more about birds or want to participate in any of their “Citizen Scientist” programs, I strongly encourage you to visit NestWatch.org to learn more about their wonderful programs to become familiar with their Code of Conduct Guide so you can responsibly observe nests. By following their Code of Conduct not only do you enjoy the beauty of nature, you do so responsibly and have the opportunity to be the “eyes and ears” for Cornell’s ornithologists as they keep track of increasing and declining bird populations. They also have incredible programs for educators and offer an array of outreach, educational and fun programs. Learning about how nests are built and why locations are desired for different species, understanding the adult’s behaviors (such as turning the eggs so they develop evenly), following expected incubation times and becoming familiar with what to expect makes the entire experience that much more meaningful.

As I sat in the kitchen with the morning’s coffee, camera nearby, this is what I had a front row seat to (notice the cowbird – it’s the one with the wide, flat beak). I thought it was a nest hog:

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Four sparrows, one cowbird – all healthy, well fed and eventually, they fledged the nest. The nest is there but so far, although I’ve seen a lot of sparrow activity in the area, I haven’t seen another nest but I keep hoping. There’s nothing quite so wonderful as the surprise of a discovered nest – especially when it’s an active nest. That’s right, I’m waiting for a “Retweet.”

Just last week, as my early summer routine of touring the garden in the morning began, I was delighted to discover:

Robins Nest

Robins Nest

 

 

 
Sure, I’ve had plenty of robins nests previously and I know exactly what to expect. For now, I’m only checking, thanks to binoculars, on the nest from time to time to see if there’s a little more activity. A few summers ago, just as I was fortunate with the sparrow’s nest, I was able to watch robins hatch. I know it will go something like this:  IMG_0974

 

 

 

 

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But when/if it happens in the coming days, it will be like “Groundhog’s Day” as if I’ve never seen anything so remarkable before in my life. It is new and exhilarating every single time. Each nest, every nestling is a precious gift. I’m just fine with “re-tweeting” and welcome the hatchlings arrival. It’s not too late in the season – next time you are taking a walk, visiting gardens and/or working in your yard, take the time to carefully look at unexpected places to see if there are nests. You would be surprised at their location(s). On the Internet I’ve seen nests built in mailboxes, discarded shoes in the yard, built on the ground, found in the cavity of a tree, nestled in an unused outdoor fireplace and typically, in the eaves on a house. When friends tag me on Facebook to show me their nest (in Cleveland, Debbie’s mourning dove nest was in a hanging basket of flowers she recently purchased at the nursery. So excited, she neglected the flowers to give the doves their space and although the flowers looked pretty spent, Debbie couldn’t have been more delighted to see the mother dove nestling her newborns. Another friend in Texas, Laura, found a nest filled with blue speckled eggs in a ficus tree she placed on her porch) I’m thrilled and share in their excitement.

It’s not just flowers that are blooming this summer – as your garden welcomes pollinators and appreciates their hard, important work, please keep an eye out for the treasure of finding a nest. You’ll be surprised by how attached you become to that precious cargo and how invested you become in the process. Please be a responsible nest watcher by following the guidelines so carefully explained on www.nestwatch.org and enjoy the show!

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Here’s Hillwood

If you’re in the mood to step back in time and visit one of our area’s many amazing locations, please consider going to the Hillwood Estate: Museum & Gardens, the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post. In 1914, when Marjorie Merriweather Post was only 27 years old, she became the sole heiress to the Post Cereal Company and one of the wealthiest women in America. Marjorie’s passion for the arts and access to a world of prominent social figures, serious art collectors, connections to Hollywood, key business leaders, political leaders and more is evident throughout Hillwood. It’s unlikely for someone to visit Hillwood and not become immersed in some aspect of her incredible life.

In 1955, after her divorce from her third husband (Joseph Davies, the second ambassador to Russia), Marjorie Merriweather Post bought Hillwood and renovated the estate, including the massive gardens, with a vision: the 2 year project would be a museum and home to astonishing art collections (specifically known for the Imperial Russian Collection and French decorative arts) and she designed formal garden in the landscape specifically to highlight mature specimens.

The mansion and gardens are wonderful year round and there’s so much to discover, it’s hard to know where to start. If you’re planning a visit, I strongly suggest looking through the website to become familiar and map out your visit – http://www.hillwoodmuseum.org. There’s a calendar with events, hours, entrance fees, exhibits and what’s in bloom (some of the art exhibits change and there are special events) and I highly recommend, from personal experience, making a reservation for their special tea offered only on Sundays – wonderful food, exceptional setting.

Last week, on a rare sunny day, I met two friends at Hillwood to celebrate one friend’s birthday and to finally get outside and enjoy Spring which has been making infrequent appearances during this month. Tired of being inside, our focus was on the gardens and after spending a few hours there, I still feel like there was so much to explore. Here’s what we experienced and I can’t stress this enough – Hillwood is worth making time for and it’s the kind of place one wants to return to no matter what’s on display in the mansion nor what is in bloom in the gardens.

After parking the car and paying a small fee for admission, I walked to the “Motor Court” at Hillwood’s entrance. The Motor Court greeted guests at gates and was designed to allow people to drive around plantings to get an introduction to the Hillwood experience. A statute of Eros, the Greek god of love, welcomes visitors and it’s quite easy to imagine transportation stopping under the porte cochere (a covered drive) as the footmen scurried out of the house to escort guests indoors. Chauffeurs would then take the cars and park them where they would be out of sight. Think PBS and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’ll be seeing at Hillwood.

Hillwood's Motor Court

Hillwood’s Motor Court

 

My friends and I then decided to explore the Cutting Garden, made up of long, rectangular, very straight rows of flowers. This is the utilitarian part of the gardens as their purpose would be to decorate the mansion and other buildings on the estate with fresh cut flowers. The extensive Greenhouses are next to the cutting gardens and together, they provided more than enough natural decoration for the massive estate and buildings. The orchids in bloom in the Greenhouse were breathtaking.

Hillwood's Cutting Garden

Hillwood’s Cutting Garden

Hillwood's Cutting Garden

Hillwood’s Cutting Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenhouse Orchids

Greenhouse Orchids

Greenhouse Orchids

Greenhouse Orchids

 

 

 

 

 

Next to the cutting beds, in less structured rows but clearly defined planting beds, were tremendous blooms. The foxglove, peonies, catmint, heucheras irises and more blooms were lush, colorful, fragrant and plentiful. It was beautiful – like looking at an impressionist painting.

Hillwood in Bloom

Hillwood in Bloom

 

Peony

Peony

Hillwood in Bloom

Hillwood in Bloom

Hillwood in Bloom

Hillwood in Bloom

Hillwood in Bloom

Hillwood in Bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Rose Garden, though not in full bloom during our visit in mid-May, is an important area on the estate. Marjorie Post had, in 1956, hired Perry Wheeler to adapt the garden to better suit her taste. Perry Wheeler had assisted with the White House’s Rose Garden design and although I’ve no basis for comparison, it was clear that Ms. Post, knowledgeable about so many topics, knew how to seek the best and use that talent and expertise to reflect her interests and preferences. Wheeler worked on Hillwood’s Rose Garden to achieve an intricate balance between each bed and as such, each bed is planted with one variety of a summer blooming floribunda. The Rose Garden also includes early blooming tulips (they were no longer in bloom when we visited), boxwood surrounds the pergola and as white roses climb the pergola in early spring, it is mixed with white wisteria.

Hillwood's Roses

Hillwood’s Roses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rose Garden Pergola

Rose Garden Pergola

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was Hillwood’s Rose Garden where Marjorie selected to house her ashes. In the middle of the Rose Garden is a large monument with the Post family coat of arms, inscribed with the Latin phrase roughly translated as “All my hopes rest in me.” Many find this phrase only fitting for this intellectually curious, dynamic and self sufficient woman:

Rose Garden Monument with Marjorie Merriweather Post's Ashes

Rose Garden Monument with Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Ashes

Other areas I found particularly beautiful and fun to explore included the Pet Cemetery which welcomes visitors with limestone dogs (poodles, spaniels and hounds) at the entrance. The secluded site feels reverent and clearly shows how beloved Marjorie’s dogs where. Fragrant plants are carefully thought out and it’s a peaceful, beautifully fragrant and special area. I thought it only fitting to see dogtooth violets in bloom around the various graves:  IMG_2403

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Other beautiful sites within the grounds include a secluded Japanese Style Garden with a small mountain landscape and paths following the water as it flows through the terrain, ending in a peaceful, lower pond. This garden includes many native plants alongside Japanese maple, pines and cedars. There are many Japanese sculptural elements, fountains and lanterns. The turtle seemed pretty happy sunning itself on the rocks, too.

 

 

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Here are a few other photographs taken from my recent visit to Hillwood (including the unusual Dacha House in a heavily wooded area, surrounded by rhododendrons and azaleas which was built in 1969 during the Cold War. The Dacha takes a nostalgic view of Russian culture and the bright colors used to paint window carvings and the roof’s dome typify Russian churches) – whether it be the carefully selected plantings, the design of each garden vignette, the materials and styles selected for lights and decorations, it’s clear that by visiting Hillwood’s gardens, you are treated to a spectacular sight and you might even learn a little history. No matter what your reason(s) for visiting Hillwood, please consider visiting this, and the many other natural treasures our area offers, in every season as they change as quickly as the weather.

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Dacha House

Dacha House

Swing Into Spring – Hatchings & Spring Things

 

Spring can be an unpredictable season and these days, it feels like there’s a constant struggle between winter and summer with no clear winner declared (so far). It might seem like it’s hard to get into the Swing of Spring, especially with the temperature’s pendulum going from one extreme to another, but no matter what the weather, there are plenty of ways to Swing Into Spring:

Like thousands of others, I’ve become enchanted by the live cam on the eagle’s nest in the National Arboretum (http://dceaglecam.org). This “bird’s eye view” into the 5 foot wide nest high in a Tulip Poplar is a treat and beautiful sight. In addition, one can participate in (or simply read) the information in the “live chat” forum to learn more about the American Eagle Foundation, specifics about this nest and/or information about other nests (in this area and in other locations, too).

From the first signs of the piping process in the two eggs to watching the tiny grey fluffy eaglets mature and become independent, it’s easy to see why an active bird’s nest helps nature lovers get into the Swing of Spring. Just clicking on the website allows visitors to see lovely sights (day and night), such as the screenshot below of the adult feeding freshly caught fish from the Anacostia to the eaglets:

Eaglets

Eaglets

 

 

 

It’s likely that in your yard and/or neighborhood (perhaps right outside your office window), there are many active nests. Some are obvious, others a little less so. Predictably, the prolific Mourning Doves have returned to my yard, taking up residence in the juniper and holly trees. The first active nest was spotted in the holly tree, nestled carefully behind a thick veil of prickly green leaves and in a sturdy “v” at the top of the tree against a brick wall. Mourning Doves might be common birds and I hope my garden attracts more unusual nests over time but for now, as we’re trying to get into the Swing of Spring, nothing could be as much a hallmark of spring as the sight I was lucky to capture (below): the proud mother dove’s hatchling cuddled up with mom for warmth:

Mourning Dove - Mother & Child

Mourning Dove – Mother & Child

 

 

There are beautiful signs of spring in my garden and I enjoy seeing many of my favorites slowly return this year. For me, spring is like a treasure hunt – I search the garden and surrounding areas for signs of growth. When I spot something coming to life, it’s the same satisfaction as finding buried treasures. Finding spring’s treasures help me move forward with the new season, no matter what the weather. There are days when things seem to change within the course of a few hours but when the temperatures drop, it’s as if the garden stands still for a while – pressed on the “pause button” – waiting for warmer, sunnier days before the blooms really strut their stuff.

I’m a huge fritillary fan and this year, a new variety in the lavender bed has made for a spectacular sight. Watching it grow has been exciting and helped me get into the spirit of spring:

Fritillaria persica - Emerging

Fritillaria persica – Emerging

 

Fritillaria persica - Growing

Fritillaria persica – Growing

Fritillaria persica - Blooming

Fritillaria persica – Blooming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the garden, color is beginning to emerge and although the morning ritual of touring the beds is not yet a lengthy endeavor, it’s hard not to feel excited by the beautiful sights (and smells) of early spring:

Tulipa

Tulipa

 

Tulips

Tulips

Epimedium

Epimedium

 

Narcissus Oderata

Narcissus Oderata

Daffodils

Daffodils

One of the best ways to put both feet into this new season is to visit one of the many spectacular gardens open to the public. My personal favorite is McCrillis Gardens located on Greentree Road, right across from The Woods Academy. From its welcoming gates and lovely stone house at the entrance:

McCrillis' Gates

McCrillis’ Gates

 

McCrillis Stone House

McCrillis Stone House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McCrillis Garden is a beautiful garden no matter what the season. Paths meander through the property and the mature beds are filled with beauty. There are benches scattered along the property and it’s a peaceful, casual and always interesting setting. The camellias, bloodroot, hellebores, azaleas, witch hazel and more definitely help me get a whiff of the season and all the treasures to be discovered:

Corylopsis

Corylopsis

Hamamelis x Int. 'Primavera'

Hamamelis x Int. ‘Primavera’

Camellia

Camellia

Camellia japonica hybrid Crimson Candles

Camellia japonica hybrid Crimson Candles

Azaleas

Azaleas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

Japanese Skimmia

Japanese Skimmia

 

 

 

 

Whether it’s taking an interest in nesting birds, appreciating your own garden, exploring the nursery for things that might be fun to add to your yard, taking walks through the neighborhood and/or visiting any of the beautiful sights, especially the public gardens, in our area (even with a winter’s sweater on hand just in case the temperatures are a bit chillier than anticipated), these are terrific ways to get into The Swing of Spring.  IMG_1993

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A Dog’s Garden – Alice in Wonderland

On a hot summer day in 2006, my husband, children and I piled into the car to go “look at the dogs” at the shelter in Rockville. Many families raise children with dogs and/or their dogs precede a child but we are “late bloomers.” For reasons that now escape us, we thought it prudent to wait a while before taking on the responsibility of raising a dog AND twins. With years of sleep deprivation, milestones and more than a handful of emergency room visits, we just couldn’t imagine adding another member to our family – especially one with four paws. We were running on fumes and when/if we had a moment to ourselves, we ached for rest – if for nothing else, than to catch our breath. Caring for a dog, taking more walks, exploring another aisle in the grocery store and/or hightailing it to another doctor for a check up or emergency appointment seemed unimaginable. I admit it now, because hindsight really is 20/20, it was very unenlightened reasoning.

Yet, on that summer day it just felt like “taking a look at the dogs” would be OK. No harm in looking, right? The twins were learning to drive, babysitters were a thing of the past, independence was the focus of our family and we had settled into as much of a rhythm as any busy family possibly can. Going to “look at dogs” was a harmless afternoon’s event. But you know how that glance ended, how could it be otherwise?

Who were we fooling? Looking at dogs is the same thing as saying, “I’ll just have a bite” of a delicious dessert. Like Lays Potato Chips, there was no way we could stop at one bite. We returned to visit a certain dog at the shelter that captured our attention (and hearts) because she wasn’t a standout. She was not a beautiful lab, a yummy, small, fluffy dog with a sweet disposition nor was she a malleable puppy. The dog that we all – independently – fell in love with was a scrawny, white, quiet, skittish dog that looked more like a fox than a dog.

The sign on the cage said, “be careful of this dog. Skittish and afraid of people.” What were we thinking? How could we not think of her? After all, weren’t we there to find a dog in need? Malnourished and reluctant to be walked, we took a leash to lead her into the back and play. We filled out some forms, within days we had a home study and as they left, they said “you can come get your dog any time now.” So off we went to get Alice. Alice the malnourished, white, skittish, quiet dog in need of food, love, gentle understanding and acceptance.

Alice, it turns out, is a Jindo – an unusual breed in this part of the world. With a little research we found out the breed, known for their intense loyalty, bravery, intelligence and sweet personality were, in 1962, designated as the 53rd National Treasure in Korea.

In South Korea, the story of Baekgu, a Jindo, is so well known it has been the inspiration for movies, books and cartoons. In 1991, Baekgu was sold and taken almost 200 miles away from home but the dog was so determined to return to his original master, Baekgu traveled for seven months to reach home – appearing close to death but, finally, home to its devoted master.

Bringing Alice home and into our lives changed everything but at the same time, we were determined to continue with “life as usual.” We made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. We didn’t realize, at first, that she hated being in a closed room. There’s ample evidence of this in our house: chewed doorframes, deep claw marks in the walls and paint scraped off entranceways. Slowly, we began to learn her likes and dislikes and just like all other dog lovers, Alice became part of our every day activities. She joined me in the garden, we explored the neighborhood, loved taking her for walks along the canal and I often strolled through Locust Grove with her.  

Alice

Alice

 

  

 

 

 

In her first two weeks with us, Alice was quiet. She didn’t like the crate so we let her wander the house. After being so quiet for weeks, we weren’t sure she knew how to bark. One day, the letter carrier came to the house, opened our mailbox to deposit the mail and Alice let out a loud bark. We just happened to be there, heard her lively, healthy bark, looked at each other and said, “she’s a REAL dog!”

 When the twins emptied the house for college I had Alice and her presence to comfort me. She protected me, too. The breed’s loyalty and devotion to their “master” is evident with everyone in our family and in so many ways. Because I have orthopedic issues affecting my movements and gait, Alice observes my movement (and mood) and adapts accordingly. When I returned to the house after having spinal procedures, she sat at the top of the steps guarding me. On gloomy days, Alice would often curl up next to me or sit by my feet. She loves our family’s friends and with them, too, she will sit by their feet as if to keep them company and be part of the “action.” A recognizable face at the door was not a call for alarm – instead, Alice announces their arrival with a wag of her tail and an excited little jump at the window.

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Alice would come outside with me into the garden. Yes, she barked like crazy when people came to work in the yard and yes, it was annoying. But in a dog’s world I guess she was, just like with the stairs, guarding us. She didn’t think other people belonged in my garden and let me know strangers were there. She tried to protect my garden from the rabbits chewing on the greenery and destroying treasured blooms. My twins will happily tell you about the time I was livid with Alice for chasing a rabbit through my gorgeous, lush, red monarda in pursuit of a rabbit. My monarda was trampled, the rabbit escaped but Alice got my wrath. I’m sorry about that, Alice – flowers return, dogs pass away.  

Monarda

Monarda

 

 

 

Today, Alice is sick and dying. We found out a few days ago she has an aggressive, untreatable cancer and we’ve brought her home to spend as much time with her as possible. We need to adjust to the news and surround her with love. This adjustment, unlike the one ten years ago, is excruciating. She’s not trembling like a puppy – she’s lethargic and despondent. We don’t know if we have days, weeks or months but we do know we will not let her suffer.

For me personally, this is a conflicting and unsettling month. It has been five years since my mother passed away in March and nature is pushing us forward to a new season, a change in our clocks and reminding us there’s life emerging from what looked like a bare landscape. It’s a time many people embrace and anticipate with relief. As a gardener, I do, too, but as a daughter and dog lover, I’m reminded of life’s cycles – including inevitable pain. 

Alice won’t see the return of my spring ephemerals this year but in the past, she expressed some curiosity. I can’t attribute appreciation to her because that’s a human trait and I’m not that presumptuous. I will say that much in nature made her sneeze and together, we enjoyed cherry blossom time but paid for it at the end of the day with lots and lots of sneezing and wheezing. 

When I started my morning ritual of exploring the garden in warmer weather months, I would leave the door open for Alice just in case she wanted to join me. Unlike many other dogs, she wasn’t into going into the yard in lieu of a walk. She wanted her walks – that’s not what the yard is for (thank you, Alice). Alice knows the neighborhood and has her preferred places and routes. With her, I began finding out about the neighbors’ gardens. Even in snow, Alice wanted/needed her walks and together, we explored. It took a little prodding as she has an aversion to water but there were more than a few memorable snowstorms with Alice – this year we had to shovel a path (and carry her a little) just to find an area where she could walk.  

Alice in Snowzilla

Alice in Snowzilla

 

 

Thanks to Alice I know where there are lovely bunches of snowdrops – we see them on different routes throughout the neighborhood and over the years, we’ve become so familiar with their location and when they’ll appear that I’ll take Alice out for a walk just to look for them. When it’s close to the time I know they’ll be in bloom (the ones in my yard aren’t always a good predictor), I’ll bring my camera with me and Alice waits impatiently for me to snap some shots. If/when it snows, I want a “Snowdrops in Snow” picture but typically, Alice isn’t terribly cooperative about that trek. After all, it’s wet, cold and requires her to stop yanking on the leash so I can try to focus.  

Neighborhood Snowdrops

Neighborhood Snowdrops

 

 

 

Alice and I know which homeowners have taken a lot of time and thought to plant vignettes in the small patch of land by the path to their front doors. I know who has which hellebores, where the first tulips will appear, what color clematis will climb around a neighbor’s wood gate and we watch people fill containers with annuals when the weather settles into summer. Had it not been for Alice, I would never have found a house behind our development on a dead-end street with a front yard full of fig trees.  

Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth

 

Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alice loves to wander through the wooded area in our neighborhood that will soon be covered with daffodils. When we first moved in, there were a few daffodils scattered in the woods but over the years, as the daffodils spread, it has become a carpet of yellow and new varieties have been added.

Neighborhood Daffodils

Neighborhood Daffodils

With Alice, I watch the change of seasons and notice things I probably wouldn’t bother to investigate on my own. Walking a dog is more than a task, caretaking chore and exercise. It has opened my eyes to the eyes to the beauty I might otherwise walk right by and merely note rather than anticipate and deliberately seek. As Alice sniffs her way through the shrubs I check on the pretty camellias planted decades ago and now are hidden by taller trees. I’ve smelled glorious lilacs in someone’s backyard, not visible from the street but I now know they are there. They’re on one of Alice’s favorite routes – near a school where the children, outside during recess, run over to pet our gentle, soft, loving dog.

Lilacs

Lilacs

 

Camellia

Camellia

      

 

  

 

 

There are many beautiful quotes about dogs and for those who love dogs, they hold meaning. When people ask me why I named her Alice (and the name was my selection – not the twins), all I can think of is two associations: a favorite poem by A.A. Milne “Buckingham Palace” (says Alice) and the story “Through the Looking Glass.” Alice and I explored nature’s Wonderland.

 

This is not a unique story and I know there are millions of other dog lovers who have experienced loss . . . and joy. Maybe my twins will, eventually, have dogs in their own homes but it’s unlikely I will ever have the heart to have another dog. It never occurred to me that a dog would introduce me to gardening from a unique perspective but Alice has done exactly that and I hope to somehow honor her in the garden with a fitting planting. Something white, soft, strong and a little exotic. It will be our family’s treasure. For now, my newly acquired weeping pussy willow seems to fit the bill.  

Weeping Pussy Willow

Weeping Pussy Willow

 Sweet, sweet Alice, we will miss you. Thank you for loving us. We could never have loved a dog more than you.  

Alice - 3/4/16

Alice – 3/4/16

A Garden’s “Welcome Mat” – The Textures of Plants

The other day while strolling through a nursery looking for signs of spring and inspiration, I saw a lot of pussy willow branches, a sure sign of spring’s approach, and chuckled to myself. Always fascinated by the texture of plants (almost as much as color), I’ve consistently been attracted to plants with “people friendly” textures and shunned those less kind to the human touch.

Pussywillows

Pussywillows

 

 

 

As a very young child, the soft, velvety texture of a pussy willow attracted me much in the same way as babies form an attachment to a soft, cuddly “blankie” and it becomes a child’s cherished, comforting object. Intrigued by pussy willows, I would rub the soft, white, fuzzy buds between my fingers, loving the velvety texture and the way it felt to stroke the softness – rub it any direction and it became softer and more soothing. The advent of spring, for me, was the bunch of pussy willow branches my mother would place in a vase and seeing forsythia line the street.

My admiration for forsythia wasn’t terrible strong (still not a favorite of mine) but those pussy willows? Joy. Pure joy. I still love them and look forward to having a few sprigs in the house as a way to transition to spring from winter. As a child, however, my admiration for the pussy willow didn’t stop with a simple touch or a glance at the artfully placed branches in a vase. Stashower Lore will happily tell you that I, obsessed with caressing those pussy willow buds, took it one step further . . . and as I held a single pussy willow bud in my hand, feeling the deliciously soft texture, I just couldn’t help myself and I brought that bud up to my face to feel the velvety texture against my skin. Somehow – I just don’t “remember exactly how” that bud ended up . . . in my nostril. As in LODGED in my nose. Panicked, I ran to my mother who clearly was horrified and knew that any attempt to remove it would probably make the situation worse. So, off we went to the pediatrician who, with a scary looking instrument, extracted it.

That experience has kept me from shoving pussy willows up my nose but it hasn’t diminished my love for soft textures and an appreciation for plants that, in my definition, are “people friendly.” At the same time, I’ve also developed a strong dislike for plants that are sharp, prickly and to my touch, aren’t welcoming, comforting or soothing. Yes, it’s just another thing to add to my persnickety selection of plants: it’s about color, fragrance, growth pattern, interest and . . . texture.

My preference(s) for certain textures and dislike for others always comes into play when planting, selecting stems for bouquets and/or merely enjoying the scenery. I despise plants with sharp edges because if I can’t enjoy touching them or they discourage exploration, they are banished from my yard. The first to fall victim to my less than rational attitude was removing a Pyracantha (AKA “Firethorn” which I feel is particularly apt) near the entrance to our garden. The orange berries were delightful, I loved the way birds were attracted to it and it took up enough real estate in a not yet developed garden to warrant its placement – it really wasn’t doing any harm. But when I got near it and was pierced by the thorns and found it impossible to prune without “gearing up” I knew it had to go. Those lovely orange berries would have been delightful in a vase near the window, particularly against a backdrop of snow, but those sharp thorns and rigid branches were too big a deterrent so, with help, I was perfectly fine removing it from the garden.

Pyracantha

Pyracantha

 

 

 

In its place are my beloved Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (no berries but that corkscrew silhouette during winter more than makes up for the lack of color) and an Edgeworthia chrysantha (providing the brilliant color in warmer months).

Corylus avellana

Corylus avellana

 

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha

 

 

 

 

 

To be fair, I appreciate the aesthetics of many plants and landscapes that are strictly “hands off” and when, years ago, we enjoyed the unique, spectacular sights of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson (https://www.desertmuseum.org), I developed newfound appreciation for that magnificent landscape. The shape of the saguaro cactus with white flowers in spring and covered with red fruit in summer is magnificent and a hallmark of the Sonoran Desert. I appreciate their history and ability to adapt to a specific climate but all the same, those spines definitely kept me at arm’s length. The incredible variety of cacti were lovely to observe and learn about – I would love to see the desert in bloom and it is a photographer’s dream any time of the year but when texture comes into play, my preference is to admire these plants through a lens and from a distance. I would love to see the desert in bloom but have no desire to try my hand at growing cacti no matter where I live.

Fish Hook Barre - Sonoran Desert

Fish Hook Barre – Sonoran Desert

 

Cactus Garden - Sonoran Desert Museum

Cactus Garden – Sonoran Desert Museum

I wasn’t crazy about learning about ‘the jumping cholla cactus” and discovering how this plant’s common name came to be. While in Albuquerque one summer for a family bar mitzvah, my husband and I spent an afternoon exploring a shopping district, wandering into cafes, looking at the shops and enjoying a quirky neighborhood. The streets, lined with lovely landscapes of native plantings, seemed removed from foot traffic yet I managed to lose my footing, tripped and fell right into a tiny patch of native plantings – including one of those jumping cholla cacti. I think every single thorn jumped off their cactus and landed directly into my sunburned, already sensitive skin. Hours later, after suffering the indignity of it all and painstakingly (literally and figuratively) pulling out those prickers one by one with a tweezers, I once again vowed to steer clear from plants that couldn’t welcome someone’s skin without protection. It might not be an enlightened gardener’s view or very practical – it might limit my inventory – but at least I won’t feel the pain of gardening merely by walking past a plant!

Jumping Cholla Cactus

Jumping Cholla Cactus

In my own yard in Maryland, the previous owners lined the walls defining our yard with hollies. You guessed it – not a favorite. I appreciate the year round color, I like the berries and the birds they attract and yes, they mask the ugly walls I despise in our yard but slowly, I’m trying to replace those hollies with other choices – leaves that don’t get stuck in bare feet and welcome people into the garden. So far I’ve removed quite a few and found suitable replacements but this is going to be a long, expensive process.

Holly in my Garden

Holly in my Garden

If I could fill my yard with plants that encourage touch, I would. Even if touch isn’t the goal, I would be satisfied with plants that, at the very least, don’t discourage people from appreciating their beauty. I’ve added a smokebush because the fluffy “smoke” hovering above the bush is both beautiful and doesn’t repel someone who might brush up against it and many other shrubs add interest, height, texture and color, helping to evolve the landscape. The succulents I’ve added might not be the sort one would spend a long time touching but they’re not going to harm anyone and I enjoy them all the more when they bloom.

I love lamb’s ears, multi-hued, velvety violets, rows of edibles, exuberant sundrops, feathery amsonia and the way many plants sway in the wind. The lush, almost jelly-like filled succulents, stonecrop, fescue, nepeta, scotch broom, sedum, lady’s mantle and spring ephemerals in the Green Bed add color, pattern and yes, acceptable texture. You won’t find any plants with thorns or stiff textures in my landscape if I can help it. Slowly, over time, I hope to be surrounded with color, interesting, varied, welcoming and people friendly plants that encourage exploration with no fear of injury. I’d like my garden to say, “Please, Touch Me!” It’s OK with me to touch the puffy globe of allium and walk through the native bed to gather phlox, cardinal lobelia, bluebells, daisies, lily of the valley, mountain mint, helenium, camass and more. The fothergill, nine bark, hydrangea, viburnum, witch hazel and little gem magnolia have replaced many hollies and I’m trying to figure out what shrubs and/or trees will be added this year. Like everyone else’s garden, mine is a work in progress and there are so many variables as well as seasons of trial and error. But what you won’t find in my garden will be new plantings that intentionally discourage visitors from touching, smelling and experiencing (safely) the landscape.

Lamb's Ear

Lamb’s Ear

Soft Green Bed

Soft Green Bed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soft Green Path

Soft Green Path

 

Phlox

Phlox

 

 

 

 

 

 

As spring approaches and the beautiful beginning of a new season emerges, I hope to soon begin my morning ritual of exploring the garden and delighting in whatever nature brings. No shoes required.

Colorful & Soft

Colorful & Soft

Unwrapping Gifts After The Holidays

Amaryllis Bouquet

Amaryllis Bouquet

I don’t know about you, but even though many of the traditional winter holidays are over, I’m still opening presents. In fact, it seems like every day I discover new “packages.”

These gifts, enveloped in nature’s wrapping paper, are a treat. Sometimes they’re a surprise and catch me off guard, a few develop over time and others have been anticipated after careful planning. Enjoying these gifts isn’t temporary and the delight can last for a long time. The gifts I’ve been opening won’t be returned to a store: they’ll return to bloom next year (I hope).

Typically, it’s not until the warmer months of spring before I begin my morning ritual of walking through the garden to explore what exciting changes developed while I wasn’t looking but with December’s unusually warm temperatures, assisted with a copious amount of rain, people were flooding (pun sort of intended) the Internet with unusual blooming sights. The saucer magnolias, flowering quince and camellias in full bloom in South Carolina, cherry blossoms in D.C., forsythia in numerous zones and countless observations of the telltale green tips of spring bulbs breaking the earth’s surface are photographed and shared all over social media.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

The last of the winter blooming camellias in our neighborhood are fading but I’ve seen more hellebores than I can recall from previous winters. In my garden, Ivory Prince is a delightful holiday gift – especially admired because they begin as lovely white blossoms and within just a matter of a few days, they begin to develop into a gorgeous, unusual shade of green. I have three lush plants lining the entrance to the garden and it still startles me to walk to our front door and see bright, healthy, colorful blooms outdoors even though it’s cold enough to see my breath in the cold night’s air.

Hellebores

Hellebores

Hellebores - Prince Ivory

Hellebores – Ivory Prince

 

Hellbores - Prince Ivory

Hellbores – Ivory Prince

 

 

 

 

What I wasn’t expecting was the number of treasures I discovered in the garden’s beds. I see the daffodils are about an inch above the ground’s surface; the camass, allium, tulips, snowdrops, scillia, anemones and others are not far behind. Little green dots, like tiny gifts tossed out into the garden’s beds, are strewn everywhere . . .

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just seeing the green packages are a gift in and of themselves – when they burst open, revealing their identity and displaying their lovely characteristics, it’s like unwrapping a gift all over again. They are gifts that keep on giving. Yesterday’s garden stroll did not disappoint – it was like being on a treasure hunt and I was intrigued, curious, surprised, excited and simply delighted when I saw signs of change and the beginning of new growth.

One of the most unexpected and exciting gifts was in the Green Bed where I saw violet shaped distinct dark green leaves with white highlights. I’ve had a lot of cyclamen plants indoors, especially at this time of the year and I know asarum splendens/ginger and cyclamen coum were planted in the Green Bed and Native Beds but I wasn’t sure, without a flower, if I could identify the plant. When I looked under those lush, healthy leaves and looked closely, I saw gorgeous bright pink flowers beginning to emerge and knew the cyclamen plants were about to bloom. What an exciting, precious gift!

Cyclamen

Cyclamen

Cyclamen Blossoms

Cyclamen Blossoms

Osteospermum are blossoming, pansies are still vivid and the green of plants which typically are gone by now still dot many landscapes. It’s a different view, especially in comparison to last year at this time – instead of seeing the shapes of plants frozen in position from chilly temperatures and a flat, winter dormant landscape, I’m surprised by the pops of color in unexpected places.  

Osteospermum

Osteospermum

 

 

Indoors, things are also fun and I’ve enjoyed “unwrapping nature’s gifts” for weeks – no specific date on the calendar necessary. The paperwhites continue to blossom and scent the air, orchids have returned to bloom, my waxed amaryllis bulbs have produced a dizzying display of brilliant red blooms and my traditional amaryllis, “Caprice” is growing so quickly it seems like it doubles in size daily.

Waxed Amaryllis Blooms

Waxed Amaryllis Blooms

 

Amaryllis Caprice

Amaryllis Caprice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until we’re blanketed in white and most of nature’s gifts will be unwrapped indoors, I think I’ll keep exploring the outdoors in hopes of more presents waiting to be discovered . . .  

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

The Gift of Nature – An Annual Amaryllis Tradition

 

It has been over a year since my first post as a Guest Blogger for Behnkes: Grateful and honored for the opportunity to be an honorary member of the Behnkes writing family, I think it only appropriate to return to the same theme from my introductory post – family, traditions and nature.

Guest blogging for a family owned business rich with history is fortuitous because many of my posts reflect my personal history and traditions with nature. Last year I wrote about my family’s annual holiday tradition of sending an amaryllis bulb as a gift (“Sally’s Amaryllis”) . . . and it’s that time again.

In December, when a box arrives at my house marked “Caution. Live Plant Inside” I know it’s officially the holidays. The tradition started so long ago I honestly can not remember those initial years but it has continued – for which we are all grateful – and that bulb is eagerly anticipated.

Many (if not most) have personal and meaningful ways to mark milestones and celebrate holidays – for me, it’s reassuring to know the Annual Amaryllis Tradition continues no matter how geographically scattered we are or how much time passes. The amaryllis’s arrival officially begins our family’s holiday season – it’s not on any calendar, it arrives on the doorstep and continues in a sunny, warm window.

Amaryllis Bulb

Amaryllis Bulb

Amaryllis Beginning Growth

Amaryllis Beginning Growth

 

 

 

 

 

There have been too many amaryllis varieties to recall yet all have been unique and treasured. I know the annual selection process is one of careful review, weighing the pro’s and con’s of each variety, before making the final selection. Last year was Sao Paulo, before that it was Lemon Star and I can recall Apple Blossom, Matterhorn, Candy Stripe and Stargazer. But there have been more . . . and best of all? We look forward to continuing the tradition of an Annual Amaryllis far into the future.

IMG_4129

IMG_6364

 

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IMG_4160  IMG_8873

In truth, it’s not really an amaryllis that makes this a meaningful tradition – it could be anything. But knowing how important it is to see something grow, to bring the beauty of nature indoors during cold weather months, that’s what this is about. My mother used to force paper whites – they sat in the window overlooking mounds of snow, sometimes framed by the icicle daggers forming on the gutters – because she needed the joy of seeing something thrive during the non traditional growing months and it is an easy, often dramatic, way to “garden” in winter.

I purchased paper whites bulbs and placed them in a terracotta bowl on a bed of pebbles (below) – they’ve grown beautifully and the fragrance reminds me of my mother, especially at this time of the year. In the past, I’ve also used bulb vases to bring a single bulb to flower (below on right):

Paper white bulbs

Paper white bulbs

Single Paperwhite Bulbs in Forcing Vases

Single Paperwhite Bulbs in Forcing Vases

 

 

 

 

 

Paper whites in Bloom

Paper whites in Bloom

Gardening doesn’t stop merely because we’re not tending to a garden outdoors during the cooler weather– it might be more challenging, but it doesn’t mean you can’t experience the joy, and reap the rewards, of growing things indoors. The options are limitless – a few herbs grown in a pot in a sunny kitchen window is the winter’s substitute for an herb garden and if you crave some of the delightful colors often found in annuals, just put some seeds in a container and watch them grow. One of my favorite annuals is the zinnia so I decided to put some seeds in a little burlap sack just to see if I could enjoy the beauty of zinnias in winter.

Zinnia Seeds in Burlap Sack

Zinnia Seeds in Burlap Sack

 

 

My mother, Sally, passed away in March 2011 and my father has carried on the tradition of sending the Annual Amaryllis to loved ones. Likely, he made the amaryllis selections every year with my mother but I have to believe it was my mother’s insistence for evidence of life – through nature’s growth – during dreary Cleveland winters that started the tradition. As my father enjoys continuing the process, we also know it brings up memories so it’s a nostalgic time, too. As the winter holidays approach and my family begins to celebrate Hanukah, we’re excited to see what my father’s selection is for this year’s Annual Amaryllis and will enjoy the process of seeing it grow – likely, a subsequent Guest Blog will have some pictures of this year’s lovely blooms.

Under my first Guest Blog, “Sally’s Amaryllis” was a comment from a reader named Lucy. After reading the blog and seeing the photographs chronicling the amaryllis’s growth, she said, “ Your efforts to plant Amaryllis and the way you care for the plant’s growth and maintenance is really appreciable. I am very lazy in growing flower bulbs or any other plant, but after reading your blog I am thinking to grow some beautiful bulbs of probably Amaryllis. I too want to experience the joy of seeing lovely plants grow. Will share my experience with you for sure.” Was another tradition established? We hope to hear from Lucy and perhaps she, too, has started a tradition. We hope we DO hear from readers about ways in which nature plays a role in your family’s traditions.

Thank you, Behnkes, for welcoming me into your family as a Guest Blogger and thank you to my parents for instilling the love of traditions and nature in our family.

My Parents

My Parents

A Gardener’s Twelve Days of Christmas

On the First Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

A Partridge in a Pear Tree 

Partridge in Pear Tree

Partridge in Pear Tree

On the Second Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Two Mourning Doves

Two Mourning Doves

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the Third Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Three Bird-Seed Wreaths

Three Bird Seed Wreaths

Three Bird Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me

Four Nesting Birds

Four Nesting Birds

Four Nesting Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Five Waxed Amaryllis Bulbs

Five Waxed Amaryllis Bulbs

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Six Twinkling Trees

Six Twinkling Trees

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Eighth day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Ninth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Nine Nature Books

Nine Nature Books

Nine Nature Books

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Tenth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Ten Tiny Nests

Ten Tiny Nests

Ten Tiny Nests

Nine Nature Books

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Eleven Spotted Toadstools 

Eleven Spotted Toadstools

Eleven Spotted Toadstools

Ten Tiny Nests

Nine Nature Books

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

12 Blooming Bulbs

Twelve Blooming Bulbs

Twelve Blooming Bulbs

Twelve Blooming Bulbs

Twelve Blooming Bulbs

Eleven Spotted Toadstools

Ten Tiny Nests

Nine Nature Books

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Falling Into Focus

In the vivid, glorious display of summer, it’s easy to become enchanted and overwhelmed by the plethora of colors, textures, blooms, scents and options. A well-planned garden can be interesting and colorful in autumn but in general, the majority of gardens are becoming less varied and lush. A lot of us look to the changing leaves for our “color fix” and it takes more time and patience to appreciate the detail and unique characteristics of fall.

St. Michaels Maritime Museum

St. Michaels Maritime Museum

In late September, we were lucky enough to attend a wedding in St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore. Held at the Maritime Museum, the wedding embraced the area’s natural beauty, history and atmosphere into every element of the wedding. A wedding in St. Michaels would be beautiful any month of the year – but I had to wonder, if the town’s inherent beauty had been swathed in the brilliance of summer blooms would I have taken the time to notice and appreciate the subtle, unique, seasonal details?

St. Michaels, MD.

St. Michaels, MD.

In some ways, I think it would have been easier to decorate the rustic museum with grand floral displays rather than allowing the setting’s beauty speak for itself. Using carefully selected, subtle flowers incorporating nautical elements, the autumnal wedding embraced the time of year and setting. The wedding was warm, personal, elegant and beautiful.

Wedding Flowers

Wedding Flowers

With a cocktail hour in the Maritime Museum and dinner in a clear-sided tent overlooking the water, it was easy to see how a season (and setting) influences and accentuates the beauty of such a happy event.

Wedding Cake Made by Bride's Sister

Wedding Cake Made by Bride’s Sister

Wedding Flowers

Wedding Flowers

 

 

 

 

 

Table Setting

Table Setting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weekend in St. Michaels continued through my birthday and we enjoyed a memorable evening with dinner at the Inn at Perry Cabin, watching the Harvest Moon rise early in the sky, climbing above the boats in the harbor:

Harvest Moon Rising - Inn at Perry's Cabin

Harvest Moon Rising – Inn at Perry’s Cabin

As the sun set, the Harvest Moon’s brilliance outlined the boats and made a pattern on the water’s surface. The evening concluded with a front row seat for the total lunar eclipse from our hotel room’s balcony. The beauty, and scent, of a moonflower vine was the evening’s punctuation mark.  Harvest Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moonflower

Moonflower

 

 

 

 

When we returned home to real life in Bethesda, I looked at my parched, tired garden and sighed. Wasn’t it only a few days ago when I was so flush with blooms I had bouquets to spare and didn’t notice the blossoms’ absence in the garden?

After some rain, and with a few additions selected and planted by Serena Masters Fossi, I went into the yard armed with pruning shears, yard trash bag, my camera and a lot of hope. I was delighted to post a few pictures of the garden in early October – the Native Bed had a few blooms, some annuals were holding on and every bed had interesting shapes, textures and shades of green.

Artemesia

Artemesia

 

Creeping Succulent

Creeping Succulent

 

After posting a few pictures of the dwindling number of blooms in my garden, my friend Kelly said, “the close-up is a spent garden’s best friend.” She’s right – by taking time in the garden and focusing – literally – on what was present, I noticed beautiful things that might have been lost during those lush months.

Easily, I would have missed the delicate blossoms on the succulents in a terra cotta pot near the entrance to the yard. They are tiny – really, really tiny – and if the astilbe, Lady’s Mantle, hellebores and ligularia had been blooming, I would have missed these little treasures:

Blossoming Succulent

Blossoming Succulent

If I were still obsessing about The White Wall with the White Chiffon Rose of Sharon, Cleome, Mandevilla and clematis vines, would I have bothered to take the time to look at the pot of Hens & Chicks (as I referred to them on Facebook – they are “Hens & Chicks Gone Wild”) on a table? They’ve thrived on neglect and the pot is chock-full of purple tinged succulents with baby chicks dangling over the side of the pot.

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Hens & Chicks

Hens & Chicks

As I went through the yard picking up the branches, pruning and bringing in things that shouldn’t stay in the yard during cold weather, I once again tried to focus on signs of life and the current garden’s view. Heavy rains brought down acorns – they sounded like grenades hitting our roof. Annoying in the middle of the night (and scaring our dog, Alice) but in the light of day – I thought they were lovely. I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to clear the yard of them – they really do cover the entire backyard – but for now, I think the shiny brown nuts and goofy looking “hats” are fun:

My "New Groundcover"

My “New Groundcover”

Scattered throughout the different beds are dots of color. Instead of being lost in the cacophony of color during summer, they now stand out and make a statement, as if they are asking for the spotlight. I think they deserve the focus:

Helianthus "First Light"

Helianthus “First Light”

Anemone - "September Charm"

Anemone – “September Charm”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tricytris sinonome

Tricytris sinonome

Physostegia

Physostegia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week, we spent the afternoon in Middleburg VA and, just as St. Michaels showed autumn in its full glory and I’ve discovered a newfound appreciation for the way autumn is appearing in my own garden, Middleburg put on a beautiful seasonal show. The streets were lined with lovely shapes and colors typical of autumn, several gardens showed clever blends of herbs and blossoms and window boxes decorated historic buildings. Remaining summer blooms blended easily with autumnal additions and together, they adorned a lovely town with unique seasonal characteristics.

Middleburg - Window Boxes

Middleburg – Window Boxes

Window Boxes

Window Boxes

 

Window Boxes

Window Boxes

 

 

 

 

What would autumn be without the Fall Trademark – pumpkins and gourds? Just as previous Behnkes blogs have beautifully described and photographed the many varieties of pumpkins, I was happy to see the unique characteristics of different pumpkins and gourds casually placed on the stoops of many buildings.  IMG_8089

Pumpkins, gourds, fall blooms and changing leaves are, to me, “Autumn’s Anthem.” This is the time to shift our focus and embrace the nuances so specific to this period of time on nature’s calendar. “You can see a lot by just looking” (Yogi Berra) is exactly what autumn is all about. Whether you’re walking through your neighborhood, exploring a town, taking a drive to see autumn’s landscape and/or tending to your own garden, I hope you, too, appreciate the distinct flavor of the season.  IMG_8085

Turning Over A New Leaf

Some people look at this time of the year as an ending and although it does mark summer’s conclusion, this is also a season of new beginnings. Autumn is a fresh start and I look forward to the changing landscape. Last week’s autumnal equinox was a sure sign that we’re entering a new time of the year and with that, it presents us all an opportunity to “Turn Over a New Leaf.”

Fall starts a new academic year and whether a student, parent and/or educator, who can’t relate to that mixture of emotions? The academic calendar presents a promise of new beginnings, exciting thoughts about different experiences and academic pursuits all laced with the anxiety about learning the ropes for an entire new year. It’s getting supplies, preparing a classroom, handing in the summer’s assignments, organizing binders, adjusting to a new schedule, meeting new people and reconnecting with some you might not have seen over summer.

This is the time of Friday Night Lights, Homecoming, fall athletics, bonfires, Back to School Night, Parents Weekend, new housing for college students and all the related activities that are brand new with the start of an academic year. Fall is full of orientations, continuing traditions and starting things anew. Some parents have gatherings to celebrate the beginning of the new academic year while others cling, with tears in their eyes, to their maturing offspring, reluctant to let go. I’ll admit to glancing backwards more than a few times when dropping our daughter off at college.  

Wittenberg University

Wittenberg University

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall’s Jewish holidays – the Jewish New Year – began with Rosh Hashanah (literally translated as “Head of the Year”), continued through the Days of Awe and concluded with the shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur.  

Shofar

Shofar 

The shofar, made from a ram’s horn, is one symbol (of many) reinforcing the important relationship between traditions and nature. The sound of a shofar’s blast at concluding services on Yom Kippur marks the conclusion of the High Holidays.

Soon, we will be observing Succouth. Interestingly, this year Succouth begins at sundown on September 27th – the first night of a Full Moon – the Harvest Moon, a Super Moon, made only more spectacular with a lunar eclipse. Succouth celebrates the harvest, expresses gratitude to those healthy enough to tend the fields and shows appreciation for the conditions allowing Israelites to harvest. In modern times, many Jewish homes build their own Sukkah (a “holiday hut”) with materials representing nature’s bounty and decorated with symbols of the harvest. The sukkah’s open roof allows meals to be eaten, for eight consecutive days, under an open sky, surrounded with symbols of the harvest. Like in so many religions and traditions, this, too, is a beautiful example of the significant and beautiful connection between nature and various observations. For me personally, it’s one of my favorite holidays.  

Sukkah

Sukkah

This is a time of reflection, deep meanings, atonement and thoughts about how to proceed with a fulfilling and promising New Year (the Jewish Year is 5776). I am proud to wear my “Torah Fund” pin to services (pictured below), in support of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism’s Torah Fund Campaign. What could possibly be more apt than the pin’s beautiful, botanical interpretation of a Proverb (Proverbs 37:1) expressing appreciation for the family-oriented, productive, hard-working, creative woman who “plants a vineyard by her own labors” with devotion to a hopeful future?  

Torah Fund Pin

Torah Fund Pin

The tradition of dipping an apple in honey and wishing everyone a “sweet New Year” is observed in many Jewish homes. Not surprisingly, a modern visual interpretation was all over social media this year (with an Apple device in a bowl of honey):  The weather is changing and soon, so, too, will the leaves. It’s starting to feel like autumn and although I love a summer of exciting, beautiful blooms, this is my favorite time of the year. Yes, it’s the end of summer but with that, I look forward to all the beginnings and opportunities of this season.

Fall is a time that allows us to “turn over a new leaf.”

This can be a sentimental time while remembering previous “fresh starts” and thinking about how “time flies.” Transitions and adapting to new routines, earlier sunsets, cooler weather’s activities and accompanying moods contribute to the atmosphere so specific to this time of year. Often, I feel nostalgic remembering the excitement of starting a new academic calendar as a student (promising myself this would be the year studying, good grades and fabulous projects) and the thrill, mixed with jitters, when I was a teacher early in my professional life.

It’s not hard to recall the years at Coventry Elementary School – it seemed so big and with that, the grandeur of an old, stately building made beginning those early grade school years even more anxiety producing. It was a time when we walked home for lunch and then returned for an afternoon of classes. “Box Lunch Day” was a highly anticipated special event when various grades stayed at school, were given lunch and we assembled in the auditorium to watch cartoons during the lunch hour.  

Coventry’s playground, divided into an “upper” and “lower” playground (I assume each section had age appropriate equipment but with dread, no matter what, we had to pass by the dreaded dodge-ball court), marked a student’s progression for “kindergarten babies” to upper grades, possibly 4 – 6th grade, because it meant we were finally allowed to enjoy recess on the “upper, grown up” playground level. All these memories, though decades too numerable to admit, are as vivid today as they were back then. Beginning a new grade was as thrilling and new as starting anything else for the first time.

Entering Middle School (Roxboro Middle School was grades 7, 8 and 9 “back in the day”) and this, too, was an opportunity to start something new, turning over a new leaf and working hard in these important grades to establish us as hard working, dedicated and involved students. Roxboro’s grand, brick exterior and front entrance flanked by seemingly endless columns felt very grown up. It was a time of changing classes for every subject, learning the location of our lockers (and figuring out how to remember the lock’s code for access) and most importantly, deciphering the unwritten code of social acceptance and involvement of educational and extracurricular activities. Making, not buying, covers for our textbooks and following a syllabus was an important, new beginning to the academic year.  

Roxboro Middle School

Roxboro Middle School

 

High School, the biggest transition of all, was more than a long day, athletics, an extensive curriculum and learning our way around a new building – Cleveland Heights High School was HUGE, in every interpretation. A grand, old, regal building (now under construction) with long standing traditions, Heights High personifies the meaning of reaching the last community based grade school in that area.

My parents met at Heights High School and it’s not uncommon for many generations to be among the Heights High community. It’s a school of many generations, reflects diverse demographics and within those walls, holds the broadest range of educational opportunities, athletics, social opportunities, traditions and novel initiatives. Entering Cleveland Heights High School was yet another opportunity to “turn over a new leaf” and establish myself as a good, hard working student and I took advantage of the numerous athletic opportunities, enjoyed most traditions and made friendships with wonderful people, many I still keep in contact with today, 40 years later.   

Cleveland Heights High

Cleveland Heights High

 

 

Personally, it’s also a time of meaning and celebrations as my siblings and I, and one of my nephews, all have birthdays in September. As we say Happy Birthday to each other and give wishes for many more to come, it is impossible to ignore the significance of acknowledging another year has passed and hoping the one ahead is filled with happiness, good health and meaning. And yes, sometimes the September birthday just makes me feel old.

This is the time when my morning garden- tour ritual not only starts later but it’s doesn’t take me as long. I’m thrilled to see what is blooming but it’s different. I don’t search through the garden looking for hints of the green emerging from the ground and guessing what will bloom but I am grateful and excited to see the blooms emerging, re-blooming and/or lasting until this time of the year. With the sun setting earlier each day, it also makes me long for a Night Garden. Maybe next year. Blooms that open at night and fill the air with intoxicating scents and other plantings reflecting the moon’s unique spotlight entice me. The shadows, “colors” and atmosphere are so unique to this time of year and it’s a good reminder that Fall is not just for watching leaves turn color (as beautiful and important as that is), it’s also a time to continue the garden’s unique aspects and plan for successive seasons.

Fall is full of beautiful, quiet moments in the garden and time to appreciate what is happening. I love the autumn crocuses, sedum, peacock orchids, toad lilies and perennials blooming during these cooler temperatures . . .

Peacock Orchid

Peacock Orchid

 

Autumn Crocus

Autumn Crocus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet as exciting as these blooms are, I’m also thrilled to see the seeds forming, soon to be dispersed, anticipating what magnificent things will emerge when the temperatures encourage them. The signs of dormancy beginning are all around but in no way does that mean it’s “the end” – many plantings are sleeping, restoring their energy for next spring’s excitement, not dead.  

Seed Pod

Seed Pod

 

  

 

Seed Pod

Seed Pod

 

 

 

 

As the sun sets earlier and the leaves begin to droop and fall off some trees, this is a special time of the year when we can walk to the end of our cul-de-sac and be treated, on many nights, to a spectacular sight that might have been hidden behind the thick foliage of summer.

 

 

It IS hard to say good-bye the summer’s warmth and lifestyle.

Cape Cod Sunset

Cape Cod Sunset

But it’s easy to welcome the start of something as beautiful and promising as a new season – particularly Fall.  

 

Autumn Gold

The quote “Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons” (Jim Bishop) resonates strongly with me and perhaps with you, too?