Backwards Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside and out, it’s a different landscape.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted more color and textures:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

For The Birds – Lessons Learned

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jumping Into June

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Jumping into June means filling pots with colorful annuals,

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Out Of The Woods?

The woodland-wildflower area near the garden’s entrance is starting to come together beautifully, no thanks to me. Much of the atmosphere results from the passage of time, infrequent bursts of productive work and a great deal of luck. As with all gardens, this area requires attention and adjustments but I think this bed’s development has taught me important lessons and I’ll be honest – the educational process has been painful, requiring patience and introspection. So let’s just say it didn’t play to my strengths.  

 

 

I was so bound and determined to develop a woodland-wildflower area incorporating native plantings and wildflowers reminiscent from childhood that I made several impulsive, expensive purchases to build the plant inventory. Knowing me, I probably drove home with those plants neatly tucked into the seat next to me rather than placing them in the trunk. Who knows? I might have secured them with a seat belt – they were that important to me.

Within moments of pulling into the driveway and locating my trowel, I stuck those new plants in the ground without any thought to amending the soil, sun exposure, aesthetics and/or whether or not they were, or are, appropriate for the location. All I knew was I bought them, I wanted to develop a woodland and wildflower area and darn it, that area was going to include these plants.  

 

 

 

 

This is the second spring for my impulse buys and much to my surprise they are thriving. Are they well placed? Absolutely not – in fact, the area needs a small guide to locate my treasures. I kind of “forgot” about planting small, short plants behind taller objects. Lesson learned.

In early spring when those beautiful green plant tips began breaking the surface I feverishly dug through the leaves, muck and winter’s remnants in hopes of locating the telltale trio of leaves on my coveted trillium. I think my heart stopped when I found them. I’m enjoying watching them unfold and they are providing a beautiful show. The three sepals have appeared and the stamens in the flower’s center will (I hope) reveal the trillium’s color (Please note that in some areas, it is illegal to pick trillium and rare varieties are threatened or endangered so please check before picking them in the wild).

In addition to trillium, I think I bought the most expensive Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) but as I watch it grow and see the deep maroon stripes darken, making for a dramatic, unique and unmistakable plant, the price is a distant memory.  

 

 

As with many other plants, I think the Jack in the Pulpit would have benefitted from a small “time out” before planting. What was I thinking? The “front” of the plant is facing the back wall so to see the plant in all its glory one has to carefully traipse through the woods to see the lovely Jack in the Pulpit. Maybe that’s the beauty of having this style of bed. The plant’s lobed leaves hide a lot of the stem but my hope is it, too, will multiply (naturally or with purchased additions). When the flower fades, a cluster of red berries take over and lasts for a good part of the summer’s months. The stem is tall enough to be seen without too much effort and I hope will add to the area’s quirky colors, textures and characteristics.

As the weather begins to resemble D.C.’s typical late spring, I am watching the woodland-wildflower area mature and as my gardening skills improve, I’m discovering an ability to enjoy what might be, in a professional’s handbook, the “mistakes” in my garden. If gardens taken on their own personality and incorporate other variables, such as the gardener’s preferences, planting zones, the garden’s architecture and a yard’s potential purpose(s) (e.g. attracting nature), then part of enjoying what is there is being at peace with what is growing.

I’m learning to enjoy the shocking color of the azalea bush we inherited close to 30 years ago when we purchased this house. It’s not a color I would choose but now it seems to blend with other plantings and showcases other colors, notably the incredibly beautiful blue-violet camass.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pieris japonica’s new reddish leaves add color, height, interest and, importantly, the signs of a maturing garden. Mixed up with other plants, curly branches of the Harry Lauder Walking Stick (Corylus avellana) and the Edgeworthia’s fragrant, delicate pom-poms and, amazingly, I’m developing an intensely personal, and in my view, beautiful woodland-wildflower garden.  

 

The blue pulmoneria and ajuga need to be tamed (eventually) but for now, I’m grateful for their appearance, particularly after our harsh winter, and I love the way they drip into the dry stream bed and naturally weave into the other plantings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the redbuds fade and in their place, beautiful heart shaped leaves form in a deep maroon color, I look at this area and know that nature, with a little human help, developed what is now one of the most interesting, warm, inviting and always unexpected areas of the garden.

For me, it’s been as instructive as it is beautiful.

 

 

An Emotional Gardener

When the weather turned cold last fall and it was time to plant for spring, I couldn’t possibly have known then how treasured those plantings would be this spring. Of course their appearance would signal hope and life, awakening our senses numbed by winter. But this year, spring’s bulbs and plantings brought out the emotional, not rational or technical, gardener in me like no other spring experienced so far.  

 

 

 

Spring began with a resounding thud: a Cherry Blossom Festival void of blossoms yet brimming with cold temperatures, strong winds, torrential rain and unexpected hail. The sight of the floats, the Cherry Blossom Princess gamely waving while perched on a convertible car’s seat, throngs of tourists posing in front of bare trees and days of canceled events rang hollow. The long, difficult winter has schools scrambling to make up an overage in snow days (10 snow days versus 4 budgeted). The beauty and excitement of winter’s Fist Snow lost its luster and evidence of an interminable, depressing winter dearth of color other than white (technically not a color) was everywhere. Early bloomers became late bloomers or no-shows and colorful crocuses were quickly tamped down with snow.

The long winter gave me plenty of time to think about all those bulbs, shrubs and trees so carefully planted last fall and eagerly anticipated for spring. I couldn’t help but wonder about their fate – we selected several unfamiliar (to me) varieties and my confidence level was shaky. The emotional gardener in me has been trying to develop a woodland area near the entrance to our garden.  

 

 

 

The catalyst? Wonderful childhood memories of hikes, picnics, field trips and adventures through a string of parks in Cleveland known as “The Emerald Necklace.” Even as a forced educational march in middle school, the parks were fun to explore (now that should tell you something). I remember we were given a sheet with pictures of native plants and animals and instructed to check them off when observed. We walked on the paths searching high and low for May apples, Goatsbeard, Turtleheads, Skunk Cabbage, Milkweed and Flying Dutchman Breeches. The names alone were inspiring. I love it when a common name actually makes identification a “eureka” moment.

An experienced, professional landscaper and gardener might have scoffed at the paltry wildflower section at Landon School’s annual Azalea Festival – as an emotional gardener, I coveted the slim pickings. Surely others would have snubbed a Jack in the Pulpit for $10.00 and two varieties of trillium but visions of checklists danced in my head.

Much of my garden is planted with emotion; plants awaken the senses and help stir memories, gardens augmented with cuttings and transplants from friends’ gardens encourage shared nature. Plants marking milestones and life cycle events enhance their aesthetics – the meaning that goes into those treasured additions help us to remember, celebrate and honor life’s occasions: whether joyful or difficult.

It would have been easy enough for me to purchase a flat of Lily of the Valley for my backyard but it means so much more to me to see them finally taking hold this spring because they were transplanted from my friend Denise Ulisney’s beautiful garden. Bountiful it is not – yet – but I’ll just wait for them to grow so dense I’ll actually need to thin them. They’re so much more beautiful because Denise was kind enough to dig them out of her garden and share them with me.  

 

 

 

Suffice it to say if a plant is calling to me, I easily become attached. The Ruby Falls Cercis canadensus (Redbud Tree) and Corylus avelana “Contorta” are in the woodland area not only to welcome visitors into our yard but because a) from inside the house, they are “framed” by the front windows and I can see them no matter what the weather, b) the Corylus was a 25th wedding anniversary gift from my parents and c) my mother always expressed love and appreciation for the weeping shape. I look at those trees and their beauty, significance and meaning fills my heart.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seems fitting to develop the “woodland entrance” by complementing the trees with some of the native plants I remember from childhood. Warm, welcoming, diverse, interesting, informal and not fussy – that’s how I envision the area and it’s how my vocabulary, as an emotional gardener, expresses the desired outcome. Many gardeners could be frustrated trying to translate those general descriptors into potential plantings – but not so for Serena Fossi (Gardening and Gentle Redesign – a professional landscaper). We’re off to a good start and the woodland area is starting to reflect a natural, unique and welcoming area.

Serena added beautiful woodland plantings that helped ease the transition from a barren winter to a surprising and colorful spring:  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The area is softened with dozens of dwarf daffodils and tulips dotting the area below the old tree in the corner, reminding me of the fun we had walking through the woods and finding a blooming plant of interest:

Of all the additions to the woodland area, it is those 3 treasures I impulsively bought at the Landon Azalea Festival last spring I’ve been most eager to see this spring. Maybe I’ve ascribed more meaning to them than necessary but for emotional reasons based on memories, the Jack in the Pulpit and Trillium help establish that area as personal and significant.

Did I take my time to plan for their placement or factor in sun exposure, neighboring plants and soil conditions? Of course not! I found what I thought was a perfect location in the nascent woodland area and with that, I dug three holes, planted my expensive, scrawny, past-their-prime plants and hoped for the best.

Maybe it’s true – good things come to those who wait. Last I looked (moments ago – patience is not one of my virtues), Jack’s in the Pulpit and the Trillium should bloom in the coming weeks.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m emotionally entwined with this parcel of land and I could not possibly ask for more . . . until next weekend when I peruse the wildflower section at Landon’s Azalea Festival.

Oh, Happy Earth Day!

Oh, Happy Earth Day!

It’s my pleasure to introduce artist Emily Rosenfeld’s first, but not last, blog on www.rootsinreality.com. The timing with Earth Day is not coincidental – after reading her blog, you will understand and appreciate her work’s inspiration and influence(s). In addition, there is a special opportunity to win a piece of her jewelry – a unique, personal locket to be treasured and kept close to your heart.

“I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they like it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do.” John Muir

I hear my garden talking to me again. I have been looking for signs of green since the beginning of March when the snow began to recede, only to pile up again before finally and definitively disappearing towards the month’s fickle end.

My variegated tulips were the first to shout, “have faith, we are coming” by sending their purple veined green through the brown leaf cover .   .   .  

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now my scilla are blooming, “we are here,” their bowed purple heads cry and in a week’s time might there be a hellebores elegantly elaborating on the coming of spring?


 

 

 

 

 

Oh Happy Earth Day, I want to sing back to these first arrivals.

I am not the only one who hears our garden talking. “Mama, Mama, Mama,“ I hear my 9 year old son, Jasper, calling urgently and out of breath.  As I steel myself for what could possibly have happened in the minutes I trailed him out the door, he runs back to the porch, eyes shining, “Your tree has buds, its covered with buds on every branch.”  He has not broken an arm or a window.  He has simply been filled completely and is bursting with the magic that comes with spring.

 

We stand together, in front of my formerly beleaguered Stewartia.  Severely pruned at the tree’s top after a harsh, snowless winter a few years back, what a beautiful, unfamiliar sight it is to see my little tree now covered with furry silver leaf buds.    

What deep and utter happiness we both feel at this sign of indomitability, of life sprouting up and out.  Buds so subtle we could have walked right by them on the way to the grocery store.  Buds that instead, called out and brought out such a burst of happiness that we feel our own kind of sap, running and vital. And here in my little postage stamp yard, my tiny tree is suddenly the archetypal Tree.  The tree that Jasper and I have been reading about in every book we pick up:  Narnia’s protective Tree of Life laden with magic apples; Lakota Chief Black Elk’s sprouting branch of living in harmony and peace.  It is the great tree that Pippi Longstocking and her friends met inside and the enormous pine Sterling North slept under with Rascal, his pet raccoon.

It is a miracle, an inspiration, a survivor and a humble little sprout.  Happy Earth Day. It is the voice of nature that informs my work as well.  Whether it is a sterling branch paired with sparkly gems to wear around your neck . . .

 

 

 

. . . or a Songbird Mezuzot for your home, the grounded and joyful images of the natural world are where I turn for inspiration.      

 

 

 

As a way to introduce you to what I make and to say Happy Earth Day (the other Mother’s Day) I want to send a Pewter Tree locket (picture below) to a randomly selected name. The winner will be announced on Mother’s Day (May 11th, 2014). There are several ways you can enter your name for this opportunity:

With a stylized Tree of Life on the front and a songbird on the back, this contemporary locket can hold two pictures and is an artful way to hold those you love close to your heart. I hope that in this deep heart of springtime, as the earth sends out its billions upon billions of tiny green shoots and its million upon millions of brilliantly colored blossoms, that you can stop for a minute and hear what your garden is saying to you. I’d love to know what you hear.  Happy Earth Day!   I look forward to staying in touch!

Sincerely,

Emily Rosenfeld

Emily’s work can be seen, and purchased, on her website (www.emilyrosenfeld.com) and on www.Etsy.com (https://www.etsy.com/shop/emilyrosenfeld?ref=search_shop_redirect)

Mysteries of March

As much as I love my summer ritual of walking around the garden to see what’s growing, I also relish early spring’s routine; hunting for signs of life. Just as I’m thrilled when blossoms burst open, I love spring’s purple carpet of crocuses covering the backyard and finding tender foliage tips strong enough to break through the hardened ground after a cold, icy and snowy winter.

 

 

 

 

 

No matter the season, or plant’s growth stage, the ritual’s motivation is simple and consistent; nature is engrossing. The fleeting, fresh exuberance of spring flowers sets the stage for summer’s color parade, fragrances, continuous change and in some gardens, harvests. And just when summer’s glory (and work) begins to fade, in walks fall with its own color palette and signs of change.

I don’t think I could live somewhere without distinct seasons, though I’m told that even in areas where the temperature is relatively consistent year round, there are subtle differences between seasons.  I just have a hard time imagining spring without associating it with the excitement of finding fresh buds on trees and/or discovering the treasures planted in late fall. Crocuses, daffodils, tulips, wisteria and alliums announce that it’s only a matter of weeks before it’s safe to put out pansies, geraniums, impatiens, primrose and annuals.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Springing forward signals it’s time to anticipate the Cherry Blossom Festival. The trees look dormant to my uneducated eye but the experts say blooms are only weeks away with the peak occurring somewhere around the second week of April.  With Cherry Blossom time comes brilliant quince bushes, Scotch Broom, clematis climbing over everything from mailboxes to trellises, dramatic saucer magnolias, redbuds (I can’t wait to see my new weeping redbud), the delicious smell of lilacs, ants doing their duty on peony buds and azaleas . . . to name a few. Azalea festival dates will soon be advertised – an annual event I rarely miss.  

 

 

 

The sounds of early spring are as unique and special to this time as changes in the landscape. Without as many leaves to hide behind, brilliant red cardinals are easy to spot and their coloring is a beautiful contrast to whatever snow remains. I’m not facile with birdcalls but I think I hear songbirds and the Mourning Doves distinct lament. My garden ritual includes listening for new sounds and quietly watching for nesting behavior.

Late spring is a perfect time to find nests as birds carry nesting materials in their beaks; they unwittingly lead you to their nest(s). Just be sure to watch from afar and take note of their behavior rather than inspecting, up close, the nest’s progress.  If possible, walk quickly past the nest to catch a glimpse or else you might give a potential predator all the details they need.   

 

 

 

Last November, nothing would do but to refresh the spring garden by planting new varieties of bulbs for color, height and a dash of drama. As much as I would like to do the planting myself, my spine has other ideas and I need help with many gardening tasks. With my gardener (Serena) we laid out a general plan for the new bulbs knowing that it’s especially important for me to be able to see growth from the tall kitchen windows — the truth is, when I’m having a bad “pain day” it’s really difficult for me to get shoes on my feet much less traipse through the soggy, sometimes slippery, garden path. Serena said she knew exactly what she wanted to plant along the meandering banks of the dry stream bed – something tall, colorful and new to my garden. She didn’t reveal more and I didn’t want to know. I wanted, and want, to watch the mystery unfold. I’m pretty sure I know what she planted but the foliage is new to my garden and I’m excited to see what emerges.

Growing plants can be a great surprise and I enjoy watching the story unfold.  Many of the new bulbs are a mystery and although some foliage provides a reliable clue, it doesn’t mean the mystery’s solved in its entirety – sure, I know what a daffodil looks like when it’s only an inch out of the ground but I don’t know what kind of daffodil it is.  And I can wait – that’s part of the fun.  

 

 

 

 

So far, March is coming in like a lamb (not a lion) and signs of garden growth surround me.  The beautiful green foliage dotting the landscape is a yard littered with mysteries. Much of what grows in March is a mystery to me. What is it about the appearance of those green tips that gets this gardener’s heart racing? Is it the appreciation for another season’s encore performance? The anticipation of what will emerge in the coming weeks? The delight in finding life?  Or is it all of the above?

This morning I solved a few more mysteries; snowdrops, hellebores and a few grape hyacinths opened in today’s sunny, moderate temperatures. I noticed more bulbs beginning to shoot up leaves – one is in the area where I planted the coveted trillium last year. Could it be? Am I going to be that lucky? Why is there no sign of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit or is it too early?  What are these other lovely green clues?  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, don’t tell me the answer. I’d rather read the story cover to cover and hope for a terrific revelation that, I hope, will repeat next spring.  

 

 

 

 

 

A Winter of Discontent

This winter I have a case of the dreaded “winter blues.” I’m pretty sure the unrelenting pain in my spine has a lot to do with it but then again, it probably is more complicated than that. I feel at odds about so many things, like I have one foot in the waters of being an active parent with my time structured by an academic calendar and events and another foot cautiously entering the waters of the life of an empty nester (so why do I bother with looking at the cancellations due to bad weather? Not like I’m driving carpool).

I don’t have a solution for handling this Winter of Discontent. All I’ve figured out, so far, is that it’s probably transient and typical of many others in my demographic.  With that, I hope to keep moving forward, trying new things and discarding things weighing me down. I’ve been thinking a lot about where I would like to be in a few years and what makes me happy just as much as I’ve mulled over what makes me feel so out of sorts right now.

The constant in my life is finding solace in nature. It’s not just taking a walk in a garden, although that is definitely a way to lift spirits, it’s bringing nature close to awaken the senses dulled in winter months.  

 

 

 

 

 

I keep a candle near my bed; Nest’s “Narcissus” – a smell that, for me, is reminiscent of winter holidays with family. My mother always had lovely paper whites blooming in shallow, pebble filled dishes set on the coffee table in the living room over the winter months. In Cleveland, any aroma of the earth, other than snow, was refreshing and welcomed (though my own family doesn’t like the smell). The candle is poured into a beautiful porcelain container etched with narcissus and is as lovely lit as it is unlit.

In addition to the candle, I like coaxing narcissus bulbs but this year I tried doing them individually in hourglass shaped glass containers tied with a gold wire-edged ribbon. They looked festive, I enjoyed watching the roots grow and they quickly popped open to expose the fragrant flower.  

 

 

 

But I also had to get a few bunches of paper whites for a vase – for me, they fit with the season, I love their smell and I feel nostalgic for their flower during the winter holidays.  I needed more than just a few sparse blooms.  

 

 

Tulips, my favorite flower, are usually easy to find in any store this time of year and I’ve been fortunate, and grateful, to receive on two occasions beautiful bunches of vibrant, long lasting tulips. They brought color to my room after recuperating from some spinal procedures and definitely brightened my mood. Nature’s beauty, and the generosity and thought of my husband and a close friend, lifted my mood considerably.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just when I think this area’s gardens are dull, I’m reminded by Elizabeth Lawrence’s “Through the Garden Gate” (edited by Bill Neal) that gardens are always alive and, if you are willing to be a student, full of lessons. The book, a recent gift from my very close, insightful and fellow gardening friend serves as a good reminder and is the perfect addition to my bedside library. The bedside library is simply a stack of books I like to – or need to – grab when I’m in dire need of awakening the senses that are obvious in warm months and more hidden in these cold, winter months.

As is the Stashower Custom, we receive amaryllis bulbs for a holiday gift. The tradition began long ago and like clockwork, a bulb from White Flower Farm arrives in December and for several months, we enjoy watching them grow from bulb to blossom.

 

Past blogs have talked about the importance of this gift and how grateful I am that my father continues the tradition though it has been a few years since my mother passed away.  Her aesthetics, joy in selecting the bulbs and delight in keeping track of their progress is as clear today as it was decades ago when she first started sending the bulbs.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There have been years of spectacular blooms and this year’s choice, Amaryllis Matterhorn, continues the streak. The bulb has two stalks; one has already blossomed and is past its prime, the second stalk is about to bloom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s mid February and I’ve received several notices marking the anniversary of my mother’s passing is only a few weeks away. I know that contributes to the Winter of my Discontent. I miss my mother just as I miss the years when our family gathered in Cleveland.  Maybe when I feel like I’m floundering and unsure about things, I should look to the constants in life and hold them close to my heart.

I miss you, mom. 

Just a Juniper?

Last month’s ice storm glazed the garden with a shiny layer of ice.  For the most part, it was beautiful (easy for me to say, I was warm and comfortable inside the house) – the curly willow’s limbs were encased in ice formed ringlets on each branch, the Edgeworthia’s dangling seed pods glistened and the weeping redbud’s limbs looked graceful wrapped in ice. After a quick inspection to make sure nothing had been damaged, I was able to look around the yard and admire the new Ice Garden.

 

 

 

 

As I was about to breath a sigh of relief, I noticed that the huge juniper, home to many mourning doves and other nests, broke away from the bolts holding it upright against the brick wall and was laying prostrate across the Green Bed in the backyard. I’ve never been a huge fan of this evergreen and it wouldn’t be there had I not inherited it when I moved into this house but removing it wasn’t a priority (fixing things like the ever leaking flat roof took precedence). Over time, I didn’t grow to love the juniper but I accepted it.  The juniper gained favor when I discovered it was a nest magnet. Year after year, reliably I have at least three successful cycles of mourning dove nests. Their nests are flimsy and unsophisticated but the juniper is a wonderful deterrent to predators. The doves nestle deep within the branches and are barely visible – I can’t tell you the number of times I walked by the juniper oblivious to a nest with eggs or fledglings. The few times I was able to watch and document a nest probably represents only a fraction of the number of successful nests hidden in the limbs.  

I was unreasonably upset when I saw the fallen juniper. I wasn’t worried about the garden under the weight of the juniper because almost everything is dormant – it just looked so wrong. How could something that had been so sturdy and dependable for decades fall under the weight of a little ice? We’ve had plenty of huge snowstorms and ice in previous winters. But this was not about rational explanations like worn out bolts, rusted wire or a top-heavy tree.  Unreasonably and irrationally, I just kept thinking, “this shouldn’t have happened. This is wrong!”

In one of my really irrational moments, I related to the tree on a personal level (it should not be said that I’m a completely rational gardener at all times). Until recently I, like the juniper, was reliable and upright. But, after years of surgery and complications, my spine has become less reliable and I am no longer steady. I have difficulty maintaining my balance and need more assistance doing ordinary tasks. On a really bad day of pain, I’ll say to my husband “it just feels like my spine can no longer hold me up – it’s like I need supports to get, and stay, upright”. I guess the juniper felt that way when weighed down by ice.

I looked at the prostrate evergreen and thought through the options; trim some of the weight off and hope it would right itself, cut it down completely or call someone to make a new, strong support. I may not love the tree, but I know how much I, and the doves, would miss it.

The juniper, thanks to new supports, is now upright. Me? Not so much. It’s unlikely such a simple solution can be replicated for a human spine. Until then, I’ll enjoy the evergreen and look forward to the doves returning to their home.  

Sunrise on Squam

I woke up at 6:45 AM and almost went back to bed. I was enjoying a Columbus Day Weekend spent in my grandparents’ house on the shore of Squam Lake, and I wanted nothing more than to sleep in, to do what I had been aching to do ever since the hectic schedule of my senior year of high school had started up at the beginning of the fall. But I dragged myself out of my warm bed, threw on every layer I could find, grabbed my new camera, and shuffled outside to meet my parents and sister, who were awake for the same reason I was. I hoped this would be worth it.  

We slipped into life jackets, dusted off our paddles, and slid our kayaks into the water. A summer spent paddling down white rivers had made me forget the sensation of cutting through placid, glassy, early morning water. I circled through a small inlet like a knife through butter. But after snapping some awesome shots of my family through the golden fog, my teenage impatience began to resurface. I considered pointing my bow back at the tiny dock at the edge of the inlet.

 

 

 

Then came that classic, cliché moment, where something seen out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I had spotted a loon – special, but not too exciting. Despite much worry about their declining numbers, loons were not an uncommon sight on Squam. Yet then there were two, then, three, and by the time I had paddled closer, seven had surfaced. I kept moving towards them, inch by inch, trying my best to quiet the rustle of water that came with each delicate stroke. My paddle’s movements took on a quality of careful precision as I abandoned my typical intent for greater power. I had never been so close to a single loon, let alone to such a remarkable group.  

 

 

 

 

 

I followed them around from cove to cove with my camera constantly clicking. Long after the rest of my family had turned in, I was still amazed that these birds trusted me enough to not instantly run away. Bit by bit, though, it came to feel like a prolonged chase. I wanted to keep my distance, but if I got too close to one, it would tuck its head into the water below, and with a flick of its upturned feet, its whole body would quickly disappear, leaving only rings of rippling sliver on the surface. Then another would follow, and within seconds I would be forced to hold still, waiting for all seven missing figures to finally poke through the top of the lake somewhere a little ways away. My camera could no longer capture the same close-up shots as before with the birds keeping farther and farther away, and I didn’t want to play the role of a potential predator in their minds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I turned in and made my way back toward the dock, reverting back once again to a standard, confident stroke. My mind, though, was giddy, humming with excitement over the snapshots of those surreal moments. And my once-weary body and once-groggy eyes were now more than thankful to have been along for the ride.

Roots in Reality is proud to introduce Guest Blogger, Jesse Metzger, a high school senior from Newton, Massachusetts.  His blog and photographs clearly voice his respect and appreciation for nature.  When not being nudged by his cousin for a guest blog, Jesse is hard at work applying to colleges and pursuing his many talents and interests.