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.

A Dog’s Garden – Alice in Wonderland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alice

Alice

 

  

 

 

 

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

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

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

Monarda

Monarda

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Alice in Snowzilla

Alice in Snowzilla

 

 

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

Neighborhood Snowdrops

Neighborhood Snowdrops

 

 

 

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

Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth

 

Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Neighborhood Daffodils

Neighborhood Daffodils

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

Lilacs

Lilacs

 

Camellia

Camellia

      

 

  

 

 

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

 

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

Weeping Pussy Willow

Weeping Pussy Willow

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

Alice - 3/4/16

Alice – 3/4/16

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.

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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

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

Seasons of Change

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Making Sense of Winter

My grandfather was very well known (in our family) for his lack of the sense of smell. We didn’t give it a lot of thought and, embarrassingly, I don’t remember ever asking if it altered his sense of taste (perhaps he was being polite – my grandmother was not exactly known for her prowess in the kitchen). My grandfather’s lack of smell was an accepted Stashower Family Fact. It was accepted, not discussed, questioned, mourned, researched or viewed as anything more than an existing state of being. My grandfather had no sense of smell.

In fact, we thought of it as more than a novelty. His inability to smell was put to good use when it came to chopping onions and doing other chores those of us with sensitive noses rebuked. There was no crying over chopped onions and he was particularly popular during Passover when it came to grinding horseradish. No one was better suited for the job than my grandfather. We handed him a large horseradish root and within minutes, he grated and ground it for homemade, strong, sinus clearing (for the majority of us) horseradish.

Late in life, as my grandfather’s health declined and required increasingly strong steroids, miraculously his sense of smell returned (albeit temporarily). I don’t remember him being overjoyed or making a big deal about it. It was handled much in the same way as his lack of smell was – for a long time he couldn’t smell and then suddenly, he could. I assume my grandmother purchased the horseradish for Passover after that but I don’t know for sure.

This memory randomly came to mind the other day when we experienced the first snow of the season. The sight of the first snow, particularly if it is light, fluffy, fresh and doesn’t pose too many inconveniences, is (for me) beautiful. Snow makes the landscape look different and I begin to appreciate some plants I either don’t notice in other seasons or don’t appreciate.  

 

 

 

As I watched the snow slowly accumulate, I began to remember all of the storms I’ve experienced: Cleveland, Iowa and D.C. And with those storms come many diverse memories and feelings. Cleveland storms were constant and, over time, tedious. The slushy gray tire tracks and accumulations of dirty snow lining the wide streets made winter feel unending. But there was beauty, too. And not all of it was visual; driving through the parks in a snowstorm was quiet, mysterious and treacherous. Sledding on Cain Park’s Hill was a ritual as was (for those of us in generations past) ice-skating outside when they flooded Cumberland Pool’s parking lot. With each season comes a unique set of feelings and memories (as well as the opportunity to create new memories). To really enjoy the landscape around you, it’s important to be in touch with those unique sensory experiences associated with the time of the year.

The first snowdrop and other spring bulbs make me realize that winter’s coming to a close and with that, my garden will not only look different, it will also smell like each season and attract different visitors from nature.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I look at my solar lights, a few of which are sturdy enough to stay outside year round, I can see their reflection changing according to what Mother Nature has brought us. One of my favorite views is the pattern the solar votive makes on a layer of snow.

 

 

 

 

When winter ends and the sun sets a little later each day, I’m amazed by the difference in how our street is naturally lit. The color sets the mood and sunsets can be very dramatic. They “feel” different and help set the mood, or tone, of each season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This might be a difficult time of the year to envision some of the sights, sounds and feelings associated with warmer weather but until we listen to the songbirds returning and see the first firefly and before we collect the beautiful flowers of summer. . .

 . . . isn’t it still beautiful to look at how winter affects the landscape?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fellow Clevelanders, I’m sure it won’t be long until you hear the ice cream truck’s distinct bell and children are running out of the house yelling “Uncle Marty, Uncle Marty – Mom, can I have some money?”

Backwards Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside and out, it’s a different landscape.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted more color and textures:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Out Of The Woods?

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

An Emotional Gardener

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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