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.



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





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.

A Dog’s Garden – Alice in Wonderland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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








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

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


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






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

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

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

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

Alice in Snowzilla

Alice in Snowzilla



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

Neighborhood Snowdrops

Neighborhood Snowdrops




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

Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth


Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth







Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth










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

Neighborhood Daffodils

Neighborhood Daffodils

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











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


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

Weeping Pussy Willow

Weeping Pussy Willow

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

Alice - 3/4/16

Alice – 3/4/16

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 - 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 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.  





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 . . .  





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.  



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.  



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?  

Gardening With Heart

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

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

 Courtesy of FancyKnittles


Courtesy of DanasPaperFlowers


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






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

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



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





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






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

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











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



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.

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.

Gardening While On The Disabled List

As I recuperate from knee surgery and spend less time in the garden than usual, my imagination runs away from me. I’m trying to train myself to tamp down internal discussions about garden chores and nurture the creative vision. Instead of worrying about never ending garden chores, I’m trying to envision next spring’s Green Bed and possible additions to the Crazy Quilt perennial bed.

Surgery has definitely put a damper on this summer’s gardening and, unfortunately, there are going to be limitations for quite some time. When my surgeon said “no more kneeling. . .” I looked at him and said “but I’m a gardener. I have a garden blog – how am I supposed to garden if I can’t work in the garden?” It’s ridiculous I’ll admit it.

I know things could be far worse but it’s the joy of working in the garden and being responsible for what it looks like (good, bad and indifferent) I miss. Although I’m not a Polly-Anna by nature, I’m wondering if this is an opportunity to hone some other skills. I’m learning how to ask for help and instead of cruising the nursery for something to plant in an area sorely needing a touch up, I’m training myself to look at what’s doing well rather than focusing on flaws.

Before surgery, I found the number of catalogues jammed into the mailbox overwhelming and only casually glanced through the few dependable ones; my “go-to” selections. Now, a pile of magnificent catalogues and magazines is next to me and I take the time to look through them and visualize the possibilities. It feeds my imagination and I’m using a lot of post-it notes in hopes of selecting a few new plants.

To resist my usual impulsivity and rush out to snap pictures of a beautiful scene in the garden, I’ve put my camera on a shelf. Now, I think about what I want to photograph and plan my time accordingly.  I’ve been watching the hostas outside the living room window.  It’s been fun looking at the scapes – they’re slow to change this year and, though I’ve never been a hosta fan, I think they’re interesting to see unfold. I like the few pictures I managed to take – physical limitations and all.  I’m learning how to be OK with what I can do and spending less time trying to get things “just right” (whatever that is).









Sitting at the kitchen table I look at my sparse perennial bed – so much for the Crazy Quilt planting I eagerly embraced months ago.  I wanted colors like the jewel tones in a box of crayons. Evidently, so did the rabbits.  Many cherished, rich colors have faded, someone has eaten the toad lilies and I don’t see any buds on the Japanese Anemones I love so much.  On the other hand, the gazanias, zinnias, coreopsis, St. John’s Wort, Phlox and wandflower have provided the constant color I crave.







As I look towards the backyard I can see the Maltese Cross’ brilliant color peaking through the daisies and many shades of purple on the butterfly bush. Color makes me happy and the success of this addition made for a beautiful corner to the Green Bed. The pink nepeta made a rare appearance in the lavender bed this summer, bringing a mixture of pinks and purples close to the window.  Nature’s window coverings.









This month, I’m enjoying a vision provided by readers of this blog.  So far, the entries in the You-Pick-The-Plant-Contest have been wonderful and there are a lot of options to think about.

The entries have been spot-on and I hope you keep the suggestions coming.  I’ve been imagining many of the suggestions and welcome more entries.  This is the perfect time to celebrate the blog’s first anniversary, imagine the possibilities for an area of the garden in sore need of help and select the best option (again, winners will be announced in September and the award will be a colorful solar lantern in the winning entrant’s choice).

Here are a few of the entries I’ve been imagining on the trellises outside my dining room window:

Hardy Passionflower – a perennial vine with a reputation as an easy grower.  Unlike the clematis currently planted under those trellises, the passionflower’s vine makes a late spring appearance (perhaps the vines will be able to co-habitat nicely) and then quickly grows late spring, flowering in the summer. If it’s a good location, these vines produce numerous intricate purple flowers and they attract butterflies.  A host plant for certain butterflies, caterpillars eat the foliage and weeks later, butterflies decorate the vines.

Akebia – sometimes referred to as “chocolate vine” was entered by several readers because the foliage is so attractive; leaves are divided into deep blue-green leaflets and the overall appearance is soft.  Vines produce purple or white flowers, some with a fragrance similar to chocolate, hidden within the leaves.  








Cardinal Flower Vine (Ipomea x multifida) – an annual, beautiful vine, is another contender. These vines have a reputation as easy, fast growers and the lacy green foliage decorates, without overwhelming, the trellises and brick wall. These vines produce small, plentiful red flowers and attract hummingbirds. Although an annual, seed heads remain – providing interest through winter.  


Pyracantha, – has been suggested by a few people suggesting the advantages of color variations, the ability to shape branches, evergreen color and textural interest. I’m wondering about the thorns – but the white and green combination on the trellis in between a climbing hydrangea and ilex would be a natural “blend” of plants against the sand colored brick walls of the garden.











As I imagine the garden in its present form and potential changes, I’m enjoying the Swallowtail Parade outside the windows, a different summer of blooms, unusual weather and the “permission” to linger over catalogues.  I’ve got Post-It notes on the fritillaria meleagris, galanthus and scilla siberica for spring.  








Somehow things will get planted, beds maintained and good pictures snapped. For now, however, I’m going to try and enjoy the garden that grows beautifully in my imagination.  Being on the “Disabled List” does have certain advantages.  





Please keep those entries coming!

Friends Are Flowers In The Garden Of Life

Relationships that grow over time and establish strong roots are often able to withstand inevitable changes and challenges. Like hardy perennials, they naturalize and become part of the landscape – not overlooked or taken for granted, but appreciated, particularly when they return with vigor and strength in subsequent seasons. The handful of daffodils and crocuses sparsely scattered when we first moved into the neighborhood over 25 years ago are now the first brilliant dots of cheerful color in the spring, enduring the heavy, wet spring snows we occasionally experience.





Over 20 years ago, a handful of friends and I planted our roots in a literature garden; long before popularized by television talk show book groups, neighborhood book clubs and literature meetings. Decades ago, as individuals who love to read, we decided to meet as a group, on a regular basis, to talk about a book we selected.  Very few “rules” were established other than the implicit understanding that the evening’s purpose was to talk about the book – not to gossip or relate a storyline to our current lives.  We wanted to learn from each other by discussing the selection; we didn’t need to agree (often we don’t) and choices always have, and always will, run the gamut from classics to current literature and includes short stories, long sagas, essays, fiction, nonfiction and collections. Never poetry or plays, no boys are invited to join the group and bodice ripping books are banned.  We have some standards.

Every member of our Book Group brings a unique history, perspective, preference, reaction, interpretation and opinion. Our traits make the group colorful, thought provoking, challenging, satisfying, enlightening and engaging.  Our literature garden is a cultivated landscape of unique plantings; together it forms a lush, complementary, beautiful, textured and bright garden.

We trade books and titles just as gardeners exchange plants and cuttings.  It’s pretty difficult to pick my top books after 20 years of reading with this group but here are some of the books we read and have stayed with me – I think about them, they made a strong impression and a few, I’ve read again;

Berg                                      Lindbergh

Cather                                   My Antonia

Chang                                   Wild Swans

Collins                                   The Moonstone

Cunningham                          The Hours

Faulkner                                 The Sound and the Fury

Gaines                                    A Lesson Before Dying

Hammett                                The Maltese Falcon

Irving                                      A Prayer for Owen Meany

Markham                                West With the Night

McCullers                               The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Robinson                                Gilead

Sackville-West                       No Signposts in the Sea

Tey                                         Brat Farrar

Trollope                                  Barchester Towers.

Three of us are original members: Deborah Stashower Missal, Kelly Day Rubenstein and me. Over time, members have been added, a few dropped out and our Book Group, and the relationships within the Group, has thrived. We return to each other’s homes to talk about books and relish the opportunity to catch up. Book Group is an important part of my life and I am grateful to share literature with these women. Most of us have been together a long time and we’ve experienced life’s ups and downs together — we are always there for each other. No questions asked.  Our roots are planted and strong.

In addition to books, Kelly and I share a love of gardens so we also talk Garden Talk. Kelly’s not only a passionate, aesthetic, talented and thoughtful gardener but she’s also so damned smart. Kelly and I are passionate gardeners – we love to visit gardens, talk about our own gardens, point out ideas in catalogues and on line (we’ll send a link to each other for feedback), we seek advice from each other and share transplants from our gardens.

Kelly’s garden is a blend of aesthetics and science mixed with personal preference.  Kelly thinks about how well plants will work with the house’s architecture and current landscape just as much as she thinks about the plant’s fragrance, color, height and other traits.  For Kelly, however, the plant needs to make sense for her garden and once planted, it looks as though that plant belongs. It looks that way because Kelly is able to think through the garden adjustments in a personal way – resulting in a welcoming, stunning, individual garden developed with purpose, intelligence, passion and thought. Kelly’s attributes are reflected in her garden.

As rootsinreality.com reaches its first year anniversary, I wanted to make special mention of Kelly’s contributions to this blog.  Her posts have made this blog so much better; by bringing her perspective to the posts, Kelly’s thoughts are accessible to a large demographic. Her love/hate relationship with David Austin roses can be read in “David and Me” (February 13, 2013): a post that taught me a lot about roses and Kelly. Kelly’s access to azaleas few of us will ever be fortunate enough to see much less have in our yards is beautifully photographed and written about in “Gorgeous Enough To Make An Angel’s Heart Run Wild” (May 24, 2013).

“Around the World” (March 4, 20130) tours her garden, showing us that although we may live in a time when globe trotting is increasingly popular and possible, sometimes all it takes is walking through one’s own garden to get a flavor of the world around us. As Kelly said “even a suburban yard has roots all over earth.”

“Wrong Place, Right Time” (January 28, 2013) written in winter allowed Kelly to talk about the structure of a garden, how it can be seen in the winter differently than during summer months, but it also highlights decisions that might be ignored during blooming seasons. Readers saw their gardens through a different lens courtesy of Kelly’s skillful writing and keen observations.

What touches me most about Kelly’s contributions to this blog is she didn’t have to do it. When I struggle with personal issues, Kelly has stepped in to write a blog. Why? Because she knows me and understands my anxiety when circumstances make it difficult to post a blog. I didn’t start a blog to just post whenever I feel like it – I am committed, care about the posts and want to keep current. Kelly could easily have her own blog – but instead, at least for now, Kelly is showing her support and respect by helping me out.

Other contributions to rootsinreality.com are numerous and important. In the coming month(s), I hope to do justice by thanking you for ideas, written contributions and suggestions (I hope not to leave anyone out). You’ve been generous with your patience as I learn the ropes and I know it’s hard to sustain interest in some of the topics – thank you for hiding the yawns.

As www.rootsinreality.com approaches its first anniversary, I want to thank my Literature Garden, our Book Group; Deborah Missal, Denise Pernick, Gail Gaspar, Yve Dinte, Alison Snow and Kelly Rubenstein. You’ve been encouraging, patient and supportive – your enthusiasm about looking at all possibilities helps me grow and take risks.  “Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.” (James Russell Lowell)

Thank you.

This blog’s for you, Kelly.

Chim Chimney Chim Chimney Chim-Chim-Cheree – Chimney Swifts

For some reason, I’ve become drawn into – GASP – reality television. Don’t get me wrong, I have standards; Bravo’s Real Housewives is not beneath me but the plethora of talent shows wears thin. Reality, for me, is reassuring (yes, I know – these television shows are questionably “real” but all the same . . .) and maybe that’s what draws me to my garden’s perennials, nests and reliable bloomers. I know they are there, typically the plantings are predictable and often, the nests are active. It’s not a sure bet (little in nature is), but I’m reassured that many things around me are, within range, still there from one season to the next.

I’ve blogged before about the birds I’ve been lucky enough to watch build nests, lay a clutch of eggs and hatch – it’s a process I will never tire of and it’s like “50 First Dates” with each nesting cycle – each is new, thrilling and unique. Imagine finding that delight with little to no effort via a live camera – perched in bird’s eye view – watched in the comfort of your own home on a computer screen. Yep, just get comfortable, don’t worry about the nest’s location or the weather, just open up the computer, and click on a link and watch nature’s magic act.

It’s the next best thing to being there! In the case of a nest made by Chimney Swifts, I think clicking a link on a computer’s not “cheating” because really, how many of us a) know about nests in our chimney, b) would know what to do other than have it removed and/or c) know about this curious bird and install a live cam? That’s just what the Delmarva Ornithological Society, the Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research and several others did. Courtesy of their important, hard work, we have this tremendous resource at our fingertips and this species can be studied.

Before seeing the link and doing a modest amount of research about Swifts, I knew about the sooty insides of a chimney courtesy of, what else, Mary Poppins! Bert (AKA Dick Van Dyke) the dancing, singing, dapper chimney sweeper makes an indelible impression with his rooftop dancing, chimney sweep in hand like a drum major, singing about the sweep being as “lucky can be . . .” Wasn’t hard to believe that good luck would rub off on me! He was a happy bloke.

Evidently, Chimney Swifts, compact, brown birds usually seen flying above parks, are rarely observed on a perch or feeding on the ground. Nicknamed “flying cigars”, Swifts feed on the fly and build hanging nests in chimneys.  Various organizations have built “Swift Towers” and, if a homeowner discovers a nest in their chimney (unfortunately, sometimes this has a tragic ending) there are rescue organizations to take over if the nest and eggs are in tact. Before chimneys were common, these birds built their nests in hollowed out trees and caves.

When I came across the live streaming camera, I was hooked – this is one strange bird. The nest, only about 3 inches tip to tip, is one of the few built without a platform – hence the website’s title “Life On The Edge.” A breeding Swift produces special saliva used as glue to cement twigs to the chimney wall.  Dexterous, the bird carries a twig and spreads a patch of saliva to the wall at the same time, all while fluttering against the surface but never secured on a platform.

Swifts are so particular about how the twigs are placed that they will begin a new nest near another if they’re not satisfied with the nest’s structure. While incubating, the bird checks the nest to make sure every twig is in place and inspects the nest each time they come and go (both the male and female tend the nest during incubation and there is a “Swift Change” when they take turns, inspection is an important step in the process).

Each egg was laid every other day, almost always in the morning, ending with a clutch of 5 small white eggs. Once the next to last egg was laid, incubation began and an adult was on the nest covering the eggs almost every time I checked on the website.  A few times I caught a glimpse of the Swift Change or the eggs carefully arranged in the tidy nest without an adult nearby, but for the most part viewing was predictable for close to two weeks.  I didn’t say reality television is breathtaking each and every minute, did I?

Things got pretty exciting last Friday night when I just happened to check the site and got quite a sight. I watched two eggs hatch. Reality television at its finest and dumb luck on my part. Instead of falling asleep in front of the television, I fell asleep with my computer screen open, looking at the live streaming video, my hand on the track pad so the light on my computer screen lit up the bedroom.

I watched eggs hatching inside a chimney while I was lying in bed.

Over the weekend, scrawny, helpless little white birds emerged from the eggs and the nest of twigs and salivary glue is filled with hatchlings.  The adults are feeding the hatchlings and protecting them under their wings.  There are Swift Changes to bring food and I’m checking the live cam to watch the hatchlings grow.

If you are interested in Reality Bird Television, here are a few links to try:

Previous successful nests and photographs of this nest tower can be seen on 

 and a good, basic book about this fascinating bird is “Chimney Swifts: America’s Mysterious Birds Above the Fireplace” by Paul and Georgean Kyle.

It’s impossible not to be engaged with nature or be unmoved by the sights and sounds of rebirth, growth and renewal. I am grateful for the opportunity, through modern technology, to witness this unique experience – something I doubt I would ever have seen in my life had it not been for the hard work of these important organizations dedicated to bird populations.  For this amateur nature enthusiast, reality television has taken on new meaning.