Flower Power – Feeling Groovy

A long time ago (in my misspent youth), probably around the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, I had a brilliant idea. Looking around at the sparsely decorated white walls of my teenaged bedroom, I thought nothing would do but that I decorate those painted walls with brightly colored, very groovy, mod, abstract flower-power stickers. Think about the decorations of a VW or perhaps a Peter Max poster and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what those stickers looked like. In fact, they are widely available and they bring a smile to my face whenever I see them. The hippie in me will never fade, I guess. Do these look familiar to anyone?

I was particularly attracted to the most vivid, brilliantly colored ones: bright pink petals and an orange center! Chartreuse circular centers surrounded by shocking yellow and, just to tame it a bit, purple and blue stickers were scattered in between those really big, bright, colorful ones. I’m pretty sure I added a peace sign or two but it was the flowers that made it a masterpiece. Did I mention how sticky they were? This was in the day before removable stickers that could be repositioned were sold – once one of these stickers was placed on a wall, there they stayed. I gave absolutely no thought to peeling off the paper backing and sticking them all over my room. I stepped back, looked at my artistic mastery and immediately smiled. It was so happy, so much fun and lively!

My mother thought otherwise and, years later, when it came time to transform my room into one for guests, I think my parents spent hours painstakingly removing them (if I look really closely at the wall, I think I can still see where one had to be chipped out and there’s some spackle and paint as evidence). Now, as an empty nester myself, I understand their displeasure but at the time, all I can recall is the feeling of pure joy. I was feeling groovy.

I think about those days and the joy Flower Power stickers brought me and wonder if some of that exuberance and desire to be surrounded in color hasn’t, in some way, carried over into adulthood. Although I’ve always loved – actually, I crave – color, it hasn’t been until the last decade or so that that passion for strong color combinations has been channeled into gardening and the types of plants I am consistently attracted to. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why in these months when it’s harder to get my “color fix” just by wandering around a garden outdoors, it’s even more important to me to continue coaxing bulbs in the colder months. I need the colors growing throughout winter: bulbs, blooming plants and the occasional indulgence of a bright bouquet (there’s nothing quite so satisfying as a bright bunch of tulips in a vase during these cold, winter months). Now, as I look around my house, it’s pretty easy to see hints of the teenager in me:

I’m NOT an orchid person and yet? The sunny, floor to ceiling window in my dining room is filled with blooming plants. It’s actually become somewhat of a joke because, despite my protests, I take withering, half dead orchids from my friend, Kelly, and somehow – despite my lackadaisical approach and complete lack of orchid education – they thrive. The stronger the color, the more delighted I am. The plants with what I consider unusual color combinations (e.g. purple and chartreuse) are personal favorites and when I see buds forming on a plant I had long ago give up for dead, I can’t help but be excited to see what will unfold. Sure, I have a few standards and solid colored orchids and I love them – they are reliable bloomers and bring a sense of calm to the cacophony of color – but when these “Kelly Orphans” were recently revived? As Jimmy Cliff sang, “Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for . . . it’s gonna be a bright (bright) sunshiny day.”

 

 

 

 

 

Starting in December, it is, for our family, Amaryllis Time. Previously I’ve written about my family’s tradition of selecting a traditional amaryllis to give to family and friends as a holiday gift. It’s a process my mother started years ago and has continued, thanks to my father, despite her passing almost six years ago. I know he carefully reviews the choices, makes sure we’re not repeating varieties and I like to think that he tries to incorporate my mother’s aesthetics into the year’s selection. Last year’s “Caprice” was a stunner and some of us are trying to bring it back to flower this year.

While waiting for the traditional amaryllis to bloom, I enjoy coaxing other bulbs to bring color and life into the house. The waxed amaryllis are lovely not only for their colorful wax but for their reliable, brilliant flowers and ability to grow without any maintenance (though they are controversial as they are “one and done”) and I’ve enjoyed watching their progress. They bring the same vibrancy and exuberance as those stickers did long ago without the permanence and aggravation In addition, when I’ve sent one to a friend, the progress is excitedly chronicled via Facebook and they, too, are embracing nature’s beauty:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper whites, cut flowers and assembling greens from the yard mixed in with herbs, seasonal vegetables (I especially love using unusually shaped fruits mixed with different colored artichokes) also bring life indoors and I find myself drawn to using whatever plates and dining accessories I have that represent nature when setting a holiday table. Obviously the teenager who once decorated her room in groovy flower power stickers has matured but she’s not gone.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the bulbs I have growing was selected because it’s one of the few that produces a striped flower. Instead of the more predictable, single petal (and quite lovely) red flower, this copper bulb promises to produce at least two stalks of brightly red striped white flowers. Of all the waxed amaryllis I’ve been coaxing this winter, it is this one that has proven to be the most anticipated and the most stubborn. I inquired and was told that yes, the striped variety is slower to start but assuming the bulb stays in tact, the results are well worth it. I’m now in the stages – I’ll admit it – of expecting a magnificent show any minute now. There are three stalks on this amaryllis and now, late in January, they are beginning to put on a show – yes, it’s worth the wait:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amaryllis ‘terra mystica’ (my father’s Annual Amaryllis selection this year) has also been slow to start and I’ve placed these bulbs together in a warm spot by a sunny window in my bedroom. They are one of the last things I see before going to bed and one of the first things I see when I wake in the morning. Watching their growth has been delightful and the color adds so much to the “view” during these cold weather months. The traditional amaryllis began slowly but it’s now beginning to produce blossoms in earnest. This year’s selection did not disappoint and the beautiful earthy color is rich and unique:Now things seem to bloom daily and it’s almost as exciting as my summer ritual of touring the garden to seek growth and change. No doubt about it – I’m feeling pretty groovy with Flower Power.

Absence Makes The Garden Grow . . .

Fonder? I’m not sure. More untamed, full of weeds and needing maintenance? Definitely. August has been a month when I’ve abandoned my usual morning routine of walking through the garden to check in on things and, as weather, mood and conditions allow, tend to the summer’s landscape. This summer has been an unusual one and for personal reasons (including a tonsillectomy at the ripe old age of 58 – an excruciatingly painful surgery I encourage anyone over the age of 8 to avoid) I haven’t been able to visit my garden and appreciate it as much as in summers before.
It’s August – the Dog Days are definitely upon us, oppressive heat discourages me from doing much of anything and as I slowly recuperate from the surgery (popsicles are definitely not a fabulous source of energy and for now, ice cream seems to makes things worse), I am finding myself a little more curious (and guilty) about what’s going on in the garden. Was it just a month ago when things looked so lush and full of optimism? Perennials were plentiful, annuals still fresh and adding summer color, trees and shrubs were blooming, there was enough rain to make watering less of a chore and sitting on the patio in the evening was genuinely enjoyable.

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Just a month ago, the White Chiffon Rose of Sharon was loaded with blooms, the day lilies, sundrops, St. John’s Wort and other perennials filled every square inch of the bed, Green Bed’s layers of different green tones and textures were punctuated by “winecups” – full and flowing like never before and at every turn, there was something colorful, blooming and/or lush. At that time, I was fighting back chronic tonsil pain and figured it would eventually go away – just as it had done for the majority of my life. But I couldn’t ignore it any more and after more than six doses of antibiotics, I knew it was time to take more decisive action and seek a permanent solution to my nagging tonsillitis. What better time to schedule it than summer? Knowing it meant eating cold foods and living life at a slower pace, it seemed only fitting to have the surgery during August’s “Dog Days.” I looked at the status of my garden in late July, felt it was in pretty good shape and bid it a fond, but temporary, good-bye so I could focus on surgery and recuperation. I’d seen the glory of Spring, filled the glazed pots with summer’s annuals and knew that August was the month when gardening, like so many other things, might just have to take a back seat to other priorities.

After the first few horrible days were behind me, I could only glance out the two story window and take a mild, almost disconnected, interest in the Pollinator Parade happily taking place right in front of me. I didn’t even have to get out of bed to see the brilliant yellow and dark blue swallowtails bending the branches on the Butterfly Bush. In a brief, and I mean brief, burst of energy I snapped a couple of pictures from the kitchen window. It took a lot to get me moving and I’ll admit my interest wasn’t infectious or more than cursory.

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Looking out the window into the backyard, I could also pretend to be interested in the Native Bed and again, with fleeting interest I snapped a few pictures of the Cardinal Lobelia, Mountain Mint, Rudbeckia, Helenium, Butterfly Weed & other “standbys.” It was nice to see the plants return, it makes for a lovely view and I’m glad the garden has good enough “bones” to move forward even when I’m standing still and almost deliberately ignoring the joy, and work, of gardening. When I saw branches in need of trimming, daisies in sore need of deadheading and weeds winning the continuous battle for precious real estate, I glared at the garden, decided I really wasn’t feeling well enough to be bothered, looked at the skies in hope of rain and returned to bed. It pains me to admit this but I almost became resentful towards the garden. How dare it need me? Wasn’t it supposed to cheer me up and be a source of inspiration and solace? I just felt annoyed and all I could see was work, areas that needed attention and really dry garden beds. Yes, even turning on the hose seemed like too much of an imposition.   181cbcc9-8d54-4296-9d10-dfde37d938a3

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0efed347-bc7a-4994-a33a-b68723852c26My absence from the garden came at a time when summer’s relentless heat and sparse amounts of rains couldn’t have come at worse time (in terms of gardening as well as enjoying the summer and all related activities). Yes, a tonsillectomy – that “kid’s procedure” – stopped me in my tracks and kept me from engaging in much of anything, especially gardening. I let friends know I would be “out of commission for a few weeks” and read up on what my limitations would be: at least a week of intense pain, limitations on what I could eat, possible complications, intense fatigue and lethargy, difficulty sleeping, discomfort and did I mention horrific pain? Think “swallowing shards of glass for two weeks” and you’ll have an idea of what it is like to have a tonsillectomy. No, it’s not about milkshakes and delicious, creamy ice cream heaped in bowls during the sweltering heat. The cream made me choke and the area has been so swollen I’ve been lucky to get ice chips down there to prevent dehydration and taking any medication at all has taken heroic efforts. If it ravaged my body this much, imagine what it has done to my garden?

What has concerned me the most about this recent medical incident has been how it affects my mood. It kept me from my morning ritual of touring the garden, exploring the various beds, checking on the status of my favorites, excitedly looking for nests, anticipating blooms and taking pictures. Days have passed when I simply could not rouse myself out of bed, down the stairs and into the garden. It wasn’t just the physical activity, it was the initiative and interest – my garden didn’t beckon me and I scoffed at well meaning suggestions to “get some fresh air – it will make you feel better!” Pshaw. At 100 degrees outside and knowing my garden went largely untended (other than my kind husband doing some watering), I just couldn’t work up the interest or enthusiasm to see what was going on in the garden and even if I did, what would I do? Would I be frustrated by the amount of work to be done? Probably and there was nothing I could do about it because I’m still under restrictions for physical activity. In addition, although the garden has evolved over time and carefully planted to provide year round interest with an emphasis on low maintenance, there is no such thing as a “no maintenance” garden and even with “good bones,” my garden needs an assist throughout the year. Annuals are added in areas needing color, glazed colored pots need replenishing as the months go on and at the height of summer, it is especially nice to refresh the garden with some serious work, whether it’s additions, thinning things out (much as I love my Mountain Mint, it’s taking up a lot of real estate), adding some “instant pretty” with pre-planted, blooming pots scattered throughout the beds or planting a few plants that will come to bloom in the coming month.

Things started to change one morning, just a few days ago, when I was starting to feel a little better and decided to take a look out back in the Native Bed. Just by glancing out the windows I could see some color and knew, from previous summers, there would be some visual interest and a few new things had been added in Spring so perhaps there would be a few surprises. With a pretty lousy attitude and definite lack of enthusiasm, I dragged myself out to the garden. As I glanced around and saw the “regulars,” something grabbed my eye – it wasn’t a familiar flower, I know it wasn’t there last year and it was definitely an usual sight in the bed. It captured my attention enough to keep luring me into the garden for the next few days.  ed9b06f6-4321-459e-b745-b2d217753a47

Over the last few days, this lovely flower – a spectacular, tall dahlia with chocolate colored, unusual foliage – brought me back to the garden. Sure, I have dahlias elsewhere in the garden but this one? This is a beauty and it’s so unique, unexpected and incredibly interesting, it grabbed my curiosity, got the better of me and helped me return to the garden with love and interest. Watching this dahlia grow, and photographing it’s beautiful progression, has helped me return to my summer’s routine of touring the garden every morning. I know there are healing gardens and no, I’m not comparing my garden to those magnificent gardens. But in its own small way, this new addition to my landscape has been my healing garden and for that, I’m grateful because now, each morning, I can not wait to go check on the status of this beautiful dahlia.

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There’s more to this story and in some ways, it’s even more special than returning to my morning routine of wandering through the garden. For the last few summers I’ve tried to grow moon-vines because I’ve always been intrigued by flowers that bloom at night. In my dreams (pun intended), I have a “Night Garden” with interest, blooms, fragrance and a magical, almost mysterious feeling, enticing me outdoors in the evening. I view that garden as a bonus – I already have something to start each day, how nice it would be to have something luring me outdoors to wander through the garden each night (other than the watering chores). In years past, however, for many reasons I’ve not had much success with moon-vines. This year, I decided to plant a vine in the front of the house, climbing up the wall next to the garage. I put it there because it would be hard to ignore and if successful, it would great guests to the house if they visited in the evening (silly though it may seem, it appealed to me thinking about welcoming evening visitors with open blooms at the door’s entrance). Yesterday, as we pulled out of the driveway on our way to a doctor’s appointment, I noticed a peculiar growth on the moon-vine. Was it possible? Was it about to flower? You know the answer – yes. Last night I was treated to my first flower opening at night on the moon-vine.    img_2966

Although I still have a little ways to go in terms of recuperating from the tonsillectomy, I think I’m just about there in terms of re-uniting with the garden. I’m now much more interested in going out each morning to check on the garden and look at the dahlia’s progress. My bonus track? In the evening, I’m looking forward to going outside to see the beautiful blooms on my moonflower vine. Absence definitely made my garden grow (somewhat out of control) and it also made my heart grow fonder.

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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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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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?  

My Roots

While visiting my hometown, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, this summer, I was struck by its beauty. Yes, you read that right. All you cynics who remember when the Cuyahoga River was on fire and imagine Cleveland like this:

Cuyahoga River Burning

Need to reframe your image to something a little more like this:

Cleveland's Lit & Functioning Bridges

Cleveland’s Lit & Functioning Bridges

 

 

Cleveland’s Metroparks (Tom Jones, Photographer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I returned from July’s visit, I posted a few pictures on Facebook and received many comments from Cleveland friends. Some friends are scattered across the country and others have remained in the area yet regardless of current residence, the response was universal — there was pride (not surprise) in our hometown and genuine appreciation for its history, reincarnation, tenacity and beauty. 

Most comments were nostalgic, proudly recounted shared childhood experiences and some ratted me out about antics we had, until now, kept under wraps. I was struck by how many friends remembered exploring the numerous parks and recalled field trips to historic sites in Cuyahoga County.

We traded messages about “Pioneer Days” at an area camp (Red Raider) where we learned how to navigate with a compass, tell time with a sundial, build and cook over a fire, live for a week without electricity and identify native species. Many science classes were held in Cleveland’s Metroparks (www.clevelandmetroparks.com), teaching us about geology, botany and biology. On March 15th, some classes traveled to the Hinckley Reservation (part of Cleveland Metroparks –also referred to as the “Emerald Necklace”) to watch the buzzards return to “Buzzards Roost,” a natural phenomena that has occurred every March 15th since 1957.

The reactions to the photographs and ensuing comment string (which continues to this day) brought one central theme and message home: nature’s accessibility (formal, informal, educational and recreational) was an important part of our childhood and has influenced me (and I’m sure many others) as an adult. The memories are precious, often humorous, the lessons have endured and some of the feelings elicited are now reflected in my own garden and appreciation for nature.

One friend’s comment struck a deep, strong chord – after looking at the photographs and thinking about her own childhood in Cleveland, Tipler, said “ . . . after more than a decade in CA it amazes me to remember how gloriously green summer is in Cleveland” – that’s it. She’s right – many of us have attachments to childhood locations and/or preferences for various landscapes but for a lot of us, it’s those childhood memories so intricately tied to nature that captures our hearts and stirs emotions. Cleveland was (and still is) gloriously green.

As my interest in gardening strengthens and reworking our garden is an ongoing project, I think my insistence for certain “vignettes” and preferences for specific plantings is a way of recreating some of the Cleveland feeling(s) and memories that resonate so strongly with me.

My grandparents lived in a lovely white Victorian home within walking distance of our house. With a deep wrap around porch and distinct turret, the house was welcoming, warm and beautiful.  

My Grandparents Home

My Grandparents Home

Without much of a yard, the landscape had a lot of wild violets as groundcover and the walkways were lined with lush, deep beds of hostas – all with purple blooms on their scapes. For reasons that escape me, my siblings and I would approach our grandparents’ home and delighted in “popping” the purple buds before they opened. What were we thinking? Moreover, it was like a contest for us and we rushed up the path, popping as many purple buds as possible. It was like bursting bubble wrap – we couldn’t help ourselves and yet, we were harming the lovely plants so precious to my grandparents’ landscape! I’m pretty sure my grandmother, as patient and loving as she was with us, was none too pleased. Maybe my way of correcting this childish behavior has been to include hostas with purple scapes in my garden. No – I don’t pop them. But when I see them upright and blooming, I smile because it reminds me of my beloved grandparents.

Hosta

Hosta

 

 

 

During one of our many field trips through the “Emerald Necklace” I distinctly remember identifying plants with our teacher, Mr. McDaniels. He presented the lesson as a kind of nature scavenger hunt, arming each student with a clipboard and papers describing what we were looking for while walking through the park.

 

Looking for some of the plants (I have no recollection of the animals – probably I’ve managed to suppress those memories) was a lot of fun and I’ll never forget the delight in seeing Dutchman’s Breeches in bloom (I figured out why it was named as such), the May Apples were more delicate and subtle than expected and I was intrigued by the Jack in the Pulpit. When a plant’s common name aptly describes its’ bloom, it’s hard to forget those lessons.  

Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman’s Breeches

We loved finding the brown, rough, pliable covering of a buckeye and when not throwing them at each other, we would peel off the covering to discover a shiny, rich brown buckeye – Ohio’s State Tree. Mr. McDaniels said the name was derived from the way the nut looked like a deer’s eye. That I remember. The “real” name – Aesculus glabra – took a little more time.  

Buckeyes

Buckeyes

 

 

 

 

 

Those memories have prompted me to develop a “Woodland” section in the garden. As I watch the Jack in the Pulpit seeds ripen, I think about that clipboard and remember the delight in finding the plant – the same is true as I watch many other plants come to life.  

Jack in the Pulpit Seeds Forming

Jack in the Pulpit Seeds Forming

Ripening Seeds

Ripening Seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

 

 

Jack in the Pulpit

Jack in the Pulpit

The fields of trillium, turtleheads, butterfly weed, St. Johns Wort, sedum, bee balm, wild geranium and more were intoxicating (as is defined through a 7th grader’s eyes) and I’m pretty sure some of my enthusiasm and preference for these plants is rooted (couldn’t help myself) in the informal and formal education received by taking advantage of the magnificent Cleveland Metroparks. I notice how many of the plants I remember identifying in Cleveland’s parks now are incorporated into my landscape:  

Trillium

Trillium

 

            

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium

            

 

 

 

 

 

A few months ago, as I sat on the patio with my father and looked at his garden, I remembered moving into that house and skeptically looking at scrawny trees planted in mud wondering if it would ever feel like home. It was NOT the home of my dreams – where was the big lawn? How could those puny trees ever provide shade on a hot summer day and what were my parents thinking when they left our first house with its deep porch and long backyard filled with fruit bearing shrubs and trees and plenty of area to explore?  

Our First Home

Our First Home

But as we sat there enjoying the morning’s cup of coffee and leisurely reading the paper together, I couldn’t help but enjoy the peaceful setting and look out at the lawn to admire how those scrawny trees and a yard full of mud transformed into a gorgeous, tranquil view:  

My Father's Front Yard

My Father’s Front Yard

My Father's Front Yard

My Father’s Garden

 

 I was lucky enough to grow up on a unique piece of property blending old and new, using elements of a century old estate to enhance the “new” house, built in the 1960’s. It’s easy to wander around the property and understand how big a role nature played for original owners and my family was fortunate enough to see it, daily, and create our own memories.

A century ago, the property had horse stables and bridal paths. Now those stables are used for storage but with the stone horse head clearly identifying its original use, it’s fun to imagine going into the yard, taking out a horse and spending the day riding around the property:  

Old Horse Stable

Old Horse Stable

 

 

 

Old walls and ornamental structures, whenever possible, have been integrated and maintained. The landscaping, much of which has probably grown around the structures to accommodate the architectural details, seamlessly blend nature, history and physical structures.  

Old Wall, Decorative Urn & Plantings

Old Wall, Decorative Urn & Plantings

No longer using plywood over mud to walk through the property, paths are now established and beautifully planted. Mature trees bring warmth and the walks were established to accommodate their placement:  

Property Path

Property Path

 

 


 

 

 

 

This sweet two-story house looks like something straight out of a childhood fable but I imagine that long ago, it was used as a play house for the children living on the property. We refer to it as the “doll’s house” – note the purple martin house in front:  

"Doll House" & Purple Martin House

“Doll House” & Purple Martin House

These were the stone structures, original to the property, where I would go and “hide” when I stormed out of the house in an adolescent hissy fit. Originally they may have edged formal gardens:  

Original Stone Wall

Original Stone Wall

One of my favorite things on the property is this wrought iron arch, probably hand lit at night:  

Wrought Iron Gate

Wrought Iron Gate 

My roots are firmly planted in Cleveland although Bethesda, Maryland has been my home for much longer than I lived in Cleveland. Yet whenever I return to Cleveland, and I continue to work on my garden in Bethesda, I realize – you CAN go home again (or at least bring some of it with you). The very things I treasured in nature as a child are the same I embrace as an adult.

No doubt about it . . . Cleveland Rocks

Cleveland Rock & Roll Museum and Hall of Fame

Cleveland Rock & Roll Museum and Hall of Fame